Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Back out of state to catch some fish

Our long summer of drought has now extended into the autumn.  Every year, I try to take a week off to fly fish during September.  It's one of my favorite times to be out there, and most of the fish still in the rivers are wild fish rather than stocked fish.  But, given our drought right now, I decided to leave Vermont for most of my week of fishing.

So, 2 weeks ago, I left work early on a Tuesday and headed to Pittsburg, NH.  I have to admit that I got lost for a bit on the way there, and I arrived too late to fish on Tuesday evening, which had been my plan.

On Wednesday, I was up well before first light, and I met a guide named Al Karg just below Murphy's Dam in Pittsburg.  You can find Al on Facebook by searching for "Soft Hackle Guide Service".  Al was already fully dressed in his waders and ready to go when I arrived.  He had even brought a mug of coffee along for me, which I drank quickly as I got ready.  By shortly after first light, we were on the river.

I had told Al that my goal for the day was a shot at a big brown.  The stretch below Murphy's Dam may be one of the most underrated fisheries on the east coast for big browns.  Al was a bit disappointed to see another guide's car in the lot, and as he feared, we were not going to be the first people in the hole he wanted to focus on.  So, we fished higher up on the river to start - stripping a big streamer that Al tied to resemble the smelt from Lake Francis.  We fished that streamer through one very long hole with no luck.  By this point, we were able to move into the water that Al had wanted to start in.

After a few casts with the streamer, we switched to tiny nymphs and light tippet as the sun got higher in the sky.  One big brown was all over this hole, feeding on something, but you never knew where the fish would come up again.  So, we kept fishing, hoping that the fish would get close enough to toss the flies his way.  Eventually it happened - the fish came up directly downstream from me, and I cast out and let the flies swing into the spot where the fish had come up.  I had a soft strike, set the hook, and then nothing.  We brought in the line and the flies were gone.  At this point, we realized that I had on a fluoro leader and Al had tied nylon tippet onto the fluoro.  That is where the knot failed.  So, while I'm not positive that I hooked the big guy, there's a decent chance that I had.  That fish rose a few more times, but we had no luck in that hole, so we headed downstream.

I had one more strike where a side stream comes in and it was likely a small brookie.  Around 11:30, we finally moved on from this stretch of water.  We headed downstream to fish a stretch of pocket water, but even with wading staffs, the current and wading were challenging.  From there, we went downstream a bit more to another stretch of pocket water that ended in a deep hole.  I had no luck there either, and we parted ways.  We both needed some food and I needed a shower.  When I got out of the shower at 2:45, Al was already at my campsite to head back out for the second half of the day.  We decided to fish the upper end of the Trophy Section between First Connecticut Lake and Lake Francis.

I had fished this water just a few weeks ago, and I'd caught one nice fish and a handful of other fish.  This time, the flows were much higher and the wading was challenging.  But, we used wading staffs and held onto each other for support on a few of our stream crossings.  At the well known Corner Hole, I finally got a fish.  I think Al was a bit unhappy that I'd insisted on using a purple fly (Batman Prince Nymph) through this stretch.  He really doesn't fish attractor patterns, but I'd had good luck with purple flies through here a few weeks ago.  I got a decent wild Rainbow out of the Corner Hole, and I then missed a strike just downstream where I'd taken an 18" fish a few weeks ago.  We fished the Judge's Pool and the Jury box with no luck to end the day.  Here is the one rainbow I caught that day:

So, I likely hooked one big fish but lost him.  I only caught one fish.  But, I felt like I learned a lot about the water and I had a good day.  The next day, this would pay off a bit.

I started Thursday on the same water, but I went with nymphs from the start.  The big brown was on the prowl again, but there were worm dunkers all around me, and I think they put the fish down with their long lob casts right on top of the latest rise.  I did manage a 10" rainbow in that hole and I got a brookie downstream where I'd missed a strike the day before.  So, I was no longer skunked on this water.

I headed back to my campground for a shower and a nap.  I talked to a younger fisherman in his waders in the campground store and asked him how he was doing.  He said he'd done well, with one big salmon, a big brookie and one big rainbow on the lower half of the trophy section.  He told me the fish had all come on an olive woolly bugger, on the swing.  So, I re-rigged my rod with a size 6 olive woolly bugger and a trailing tiny nymph.  I parked at Carr Ridge Road, and fished the stretch from below the bridge (there were already 3 people fishing at the bridge) down to the Junction Pool.  Halfway down, I had a vicious take and brought in a 20" rainbow.  Just a few casts later, I had another vicious strike in the same pool and got a beautiful wild 16" rainbow.  The bigger fish might have been a stocked fish, based on its coloration.  I fished down some more, and then came back to the bridge and fished there until dark.  I had a couple half-hearted strikes, but nothing noteworthy.  Here is the 20" rainbow as it swam out of the net:

It rained hard all night long, and to be honest, I just slept in the next morning.  I tore down my camp in the morning and headed to Errol, NH and the Dartmouth College Second Land Grant.  I met my friend Joel at the entrance to the grant, and we headed to our cabin for the weekend.  From here, we went out and fished the Diamond for a while before dinner.  To be honest, we didn't see any signs of fish the entire time we were out there.

The next morning, we started on the Diamond again.  Then, we headed upstream on the same river and we got a few small brookies on tiny nymphs.  From there, we headed above the confluence of the Swift Diamond and Dead Diamond (when they meet, the river becomes the Diamond) to a  big slow bend on the Dead Diamond.  We had no luck there, so we decided to leave the land grant and head to the Magalloway in Maine.

On the upper stretches of the Diamond, above the gorge:

We fished a location where a slow moving stream enters the river.  It's a beautiful area and it was hard to tell that we were only a couple hundred yards from a road.  It was pure wilderness.  I decided to let the other 2 guys fish the pool at the entrance to the stream and I stepped into the main stem of the river.  I quickly picked up a 10" brookie on a Copper John.  This led to Joel putting on a Copper John and he started catching fish at the confluence.  He had one big fish snap him off, but he got a 20" fish and an 18" fish.  They were beautiful males in spawning colors.  I think Joel hooked 6 fish or so before it got dark, but the other 2 of us got nothing other than my early brook trout.  So, I got 4 brookies for the day.  Here are few photos from in the river:

The next morning, we headed to right where we'd finished the day before.  This time, we put our 3rd fisherman in the sweet spot at the confluence.  He was a fairly new fisherman and we wanted him to have the best shot at the fish.  But, I was suddenly the person catching fish.  It took a while to figure out exactly what would prompt a strike.  The water was very slow and I was fishing a bead head Copper John.  I would cast it, and let it drift until it hit the bottom.  It would travel only a small distance before that happened.  Then, I would slowly raise the rod and the fish would grab the fly as it rose from the bottom.  But, they were super subtle strikes - really it just felt like somebody added a couple split shots to the leader and you had to use that as an indicator to lift faster to set the hook.  The first fish I hooked was big - probably over 20", and I got him into shallow water, but he threw the hook.  The next fish was a beautiful spawning male:

Then, I got a couple other fish, including a 14" fish.  I don't get to fish for wild brookies very often, and the 16" fish was my biggest brookie ever.  But, we weren't done yet.  At about 10:30, we had to head back to the cabin and clean it up and get our stuff out.  After that, our third fisherman headed home, and Joel and I headed to the Magalloway again, but this time, we headed upstream to the famous Mailbox Hole.  This was a bit challenging because the main pool creates a lot of eddies, and I was actually fishing my nymphs by letting them drift upstream.  Joel got a small salmon early on, and I eventually hooked and landed a beautiful 18" brookie.  At this point, I had my 2 biggest brookies of my life in one day, and I'd lost an even bigger fish.

Eventually, I had to head back to Vermont, but Joel stayed and returned to our first spot.  He hooked one more monster and lost it, but got a handful of fish in the 14"-20" range.  What a great little pocket of water that is, although it took a while to get the technique down.

I got to Vermont and spent the night with my in-laws in the Northeast Kingdom.  The next day, I was scheduled to fish the Clyde River for spawning landlocked salmon.  But, the guide called me and told me that water was simply too low for the salmon, so we agreed to fish the Lamoille instead.

We didn't start early because most of the recent hatches had been in the afternoon.  The first few casts I took were to a big brown sunning himself in the Gihon River just above where it enters the Lamoille.  My third cast spooked the fish and I never did get a clean drift past him.  From there we headed to a couple spots on the Lamoille.  The lack of insect life was surprising and there were no rising fish at all.  I did get one decent wild bow on a stripped woolly bugger in slow water.

From there, we headed back to the Gihon, fishing up through some drop-offs and focusing on the pocket water.  I turned two fish - one on a nymph under a hopper and one that chased a Zonker, but no strikes.  Finally, at the top-most pocket in this stretch - a deep pocket that holds some big browns - I had a strike, but I didn't hook the fish.

In the Gihon:

And just like that, my fishing vacation was over.

I got out on the White River in Royalton yesterday and the river is the lowest I have ever seen it.  Holes that are normally deep were shallow and crystal clear.  I fished for about an hour without any signs of fish before heading home.  We got some rain this morning and more is in the forecast for next weekend, but our drought is far from over.  I may try Otter Creek next weekend.

Friday, September 16, 2016

First day out in VT in quite a while

I had last fished in VT on 7/24/2016.  Normally, it's not too hard to find places to fish in August, but certain waters are off limits.  This year, due to record heat and very low water conditions, I didn't fish in VT once during August.  I did fish in NH during August, and that's where I'll be fishing again next week, but I finally got out in VT last weekend.

After a few cool nights and some rain overnight on a Saturday, I got out on a Sunday evening, on the main branch of the White River.  The water temperature was still marginal at 68F, but it was cool enough to fish.  Flows were still low, but adequate for fishing.

As I got to the stream, I saw a few iso emergers and there were a few BWOs in the air.  I had already anticipated those flies, and I had a 3 fly rig with an iso nymph up top, a Batman Prince in the middle, and a juju Baetis last.  This is a series of 4 major pools that I was fishing top to bottom.

On my very first cast into the first pool, my strike indicator went under.  I was guessing the water was too shallow and I'd snagged a nymph, but I set the hook anyway.  I hooked a fish and turned him - a nice brown - and then because of bad line management, he got some slack and threw the hook.  Earlier in the year, I took an 18" brown in this pool, and it may very well have been the same fish.

After that, things slowed down a lot.  I worked down through the first hole with no more strikes.  None in the second hole either.  I was almost through the third when my strike indicator moved again.  This time, I hooked and landed a small wild rainbow.  And that was it for the day.

Well, I had one more strike but failed to hook the fish.  So, 3 strikes in 2.5 hours - not really all that great.  But, it was nice to be on the water.  And, I helped a young boy who was bait fishing and struggling with his equipment.  I always try to help the next generation when I can.  I know that I was a bait guy at his age, and hopefully he will remember a fly fisherman helping him, and he'll consider fly fishing as an option in the future.

Next Tuesday, I'm heading to NH for a week or so of fishing, and during the trip, I'll fish in NH, ME and eventually, back in VT.  I hope to get out on the Winooski this coming weekend as well.

My trip to NH starts on Tuesday.  I will get there somewhat late, but I'm hoping to get a little time on the Connecticut above Lake Francis on Tuesday evening, probably the lower half of the trophy section - Carr Bridge down to Doc's Hole or so.

Wednesday, I'm fishing with a guide below Murphy Dam, and the entire goal for the day is big browns.  We are going to start in darkness with mouse patterns, and then move to nymphs as we get some light.

Thursday, I'm going to fish the entire upper half of the trophy section - from the dam down to the bridge.  After I hike back to my car, I will see if I have time to do any more fishing.  If so, I have a number of places to consider.

Friday, I'll fish in the morning for a bit, but not too long.  I'm meeting friends that afternoon and staying in Dartmouth's Second College Land Grant for the weekend.  I'm guessing we will fish the Dead Diamond Friday night and Saturday morning.  At some point, we will cross into Maine to chase big brookies on the Magalloway.  I will fish until Sunday evening and then head back to Vermont.

Monday morning, I'm going to fish the Clyde for landlocked salmon coming out of Lake Memphremagog to spawn.  In the afternoon, I might hit the Black River in Irasburg on my way home.

That's 7 straight days of fishing and I'm beyond excited.  I know that water flows have been increased on the trophy section of the Connecticut and fishing has been improving.  I will be at most of these places when they aren't crowded, and I'll likely have time on the trophy water all to myself,  Just me and the fish.

This won't be the end of my season - far from it.  But, after next week, all of my fishing will be on weekends, right up until mid-November or so, when I'll put away the fly rods and pull out the skis.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Brodin: Another company with great customer service (and great products)

Earlier this year, I talked about how happy I was with customer service from Sage, Simms and Patagonia.  All of them took great care of me after I had an issue with a product.

On the flip-side, Rio never even acknowledged a problem I reported to them with some of their gear.  This was disappointing to me, because I use their fly lines and their tippet material and their leaders, and I had a problem with a very specialized leader, and just wanted some information.  I haven't stopped using their equipment, but I have stopped using that specialized leader, especially after it cost me a 4 pound brown trout the last time it failed.  But, this post isn't about Rio or any of those other companies.

I now have a new company to add to the "great customer service" list.

I have been using Brodin nets for a long time - probably 20 years.  I still have my first net from them, and it still works.  It's small, and it has the older style mesh fabric webbing, so I don't use it often, mostly because the newer style baskets are more kind to fish.  But, it gets used when I go out with a second fisherman who needs a net for the day.

Two weekends ago, in a very short period of time, I lost my Brodin Ghost Cutthroat net.  It was there when I used it to land a fish, and 15 minutes later, it was gone when I needed it for a bigger fish.  I searched all over the area for it, with no luck.  I've even had a local fisherman in that area keeping his ears open for me, in case a local fisherman finds it.  But, the reality is, it's gone.  I know if I found a net like that on a river, I'd try to get it back to the original owner somehow, but in my heart, I'd want to keep it.  It's that nice a product.
This morning, I sent Brodin a message.  They don't make the same net anymore, and I was asking them about my first choice as a replacement for the net.  I explained how I lost the net, and I assume it was my fault.  I'm guessing that I failed to hook the net to my pack properly.  I tried not to place any blame on them.

I got an immediate response from their "info" e-mail address.  The surname of the person who responded was Brodin.  This is not a giant business like Simms or Patagonia.  This is a small specialty business, where family members answer e-mails (or it's an amazing coincidence of a last name).

And, they did something that totally surprised me.  They offered me a discount on the replacement net to "help to ease the pain", as they phrased it.

I was already a fan of their products.  Now, I'm fan of their entire company.  I'm looking forward to the new net arriving before I go on a short fly fishing vacation later this month.  This is what I love about our sport.  The best companies out there know that we, as consumers, have a lot of options when it comes to gear.  And, many of us spend a lot on gear (our wives will back us up on that claim).

It's nice when a company goes out of the way to earn or keep your business.  Here's a pic of the new net:

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Pittsburg, NH area fishing

I finally got some fishing done a week ago, up in the Pittsburg, NH area.  I picked up a friend on Saturday morning and we headed north and east.  It took a couple hours to get there, and we did a quick drive through Pittsburg and up to First Connecticut Lake before picking our first spot to fish.  We decided to start at a bridge about halfway through the Trophy section (fly fishing only) between First Connecticut Lake and Lake Francis.  We were camping at Lake Francis that night.

We did check out the upper end of the trophy section before we fished downstream, but it was crowded and the two most obvious holes were being used to teach some young kids to fly fish.  We saw one of them catch a small wild rainbow before heading downstream.

I enjoyed the pocket water we were fishing.  But, my fishing companion apparently didn't.  I had settled in on a handful of flies I wanted to use for this trip, and I didn't change up very often.  I was using a hopper up top, a size 14 Batman Prince Nymph and a size 18 purple Juju Baetis as my droppers.  Walking was challenging, but there were fish in that pocket water and I caught a couple small wild fish early on.  The biggest excitement was a large brook trout following my hopper for 10 feet or so before declining to eat it.  It would have easily been my biggest brookie ever, but no luck.

After a couple hours in the midday sun, I felt like I was dialing in the water and I had a few things figured out.  The takes were subtle.  They almost always came on the first or second cast into an area, so the best strategy was cast and move, cast and move.  I'd missed a few fish, caught a couple, and was having fun, but my friend was catching nothing and complaining.  Eventually, he insisted it was time for lunch.  We went to the campground, set up our tent, got some food, and he then wanted to drive to Colebrook to fish.

I had my best day of last year in Colebrook with this person, but I much preferred to stay in the upper water.  But, there were 2 of us, so I gave in.  Unlike a year ago, the fishing was very challenging at Colebrook this year.  I got one strike and one small wild fish.  My friend got 2 fish.  And suddenly, darkness was approaching, so we called it a day.  We had access to so much water full of big wild fish in NH, and I knew I didn't want to return to this site the next day.  The bridge at Colebrook can be very productive.  But, it's open to bait fishing and lots of people fish there simply to catch their limit and go home.  There is nothing wild or remote about it, although there are some wild fish in the area.

I suggested an early start for the next day, and suggested we fish the top of the trophy section, before it got crowded.  We were the first people there, and within a couple minutes, I had a nice 12" rainbow on the Batman Prince.  I continued my tactic of cast and move on.  I went downstream and caught another fish right below the previous fish, this time on the Juju Baetis.  By now, some other fishermen were showing up, so I headed downstream even more.  At the next hole, I was fishing some small water that had just been abandoned by another fisherman, but on my second cast, I landed a 10" landlocked salmon on the baetis nymph.  This was my first landlocked salmon ever -a fish I have never really targeted even in VT.  I leapfrogged the fisherman below me, and caught another small rainbow just below him and some downed trees.  I fished a handful of holes on the way downstream, and then realized I was getting away from my buddy.  So, I circled back around and found him.  Somehow, between my 4th fish and the time I found him, my net disappeared, but I didn't notice right away.

I also changed flies, tying on a size 16 Psycho Prince nymph - still purple.

As I resumed fishing with my friend, he moved downstream quickly to some bigger water.  I worked slowly through the pocket water and at one point, I waded halfway across the river to put a fly in front of a very fishy looking rock.  And, it paid off as I hooked a nice rainbow on a very subtle take.  This is when I noticed that my net was gone and I had my buddy net the fish.  The fish was a bit lethargic with warm-ish water temperatures, so I released him immediately with no photo.  So, you'll have to trust me that it was a beautiful 18" rainbow.  I went off looking for my net after that, and my buddy caught a second smaller fish where I'd just taken the big fish.  By the time I returned, he wanted some coffee, so we headed back to the campground.

We packed up everything, got some coffee, and headed to a fly fishing only section above First Connecticut Lake.  I thought this water was close to a mile long, but the river dropped into the lake after maybe 1/4 mile.  My friend worked this water more slowly, and it paid off with a nice wild brookie (this water holds mostly brookies and salmon).  I had no strikes and I fished the entire FFO section.  By now, it was noon and we had time to fish one more area before we had to head home.  Plus, rain was in the forecast for the evening.

I suggested below Murphy's Dam, the outlet of Lake Francis, just above the village of Pittsburg.  This water was being released towards the bottom of the dam, and was clearly below the thermocline.  I measured the water at 54F, and we knew there were big browns in this water.  But, to be honest, fishing had really slowed down, I hadn't had much sleep, and I was getting pretty tired.  I fished a big white streamer trailed by 2 tiny nymphs, but after half an hour, I'd had enough and called it a day.  I told my friend I was done, but told him to keep fishing.  I went back to the car for something to eat and drink, and I listened to the Tigers pummelling the Red Sox on the radio.

After an hour or so, an older gentleman with a fly fishing license plate showed up at his truck, which was parked right beside me.  We talked for an hour or so, and he told me he'd lost a brown he estimated at 8 pounds on a tiny fly.  He had actually hooked a small brown, and the bigger brown attacked the smaller fish and managed to get hooked.  After a 20 minute fight, the fish threw the hook, and he reeled in the dead carcass of the baby brown he'd originally hooked.  This was the second time he'd hooked this particular fish (although he said it's possible 2 huge browns are in the small pool where he hooked it), and it got away both times.

He turned out to be a guide, and he was very willing to share his knowledge of this stretch of river.  I'm hoping to go back in September and maybe fish with him for a day.  I told him that if we fished, my goal would simply be to have a shot at a big brown.  Numbers are meaningless, but give me a shot at a big eastern brown.  I'm hoping to do that in 3 weeks or so, when I've got a week off work to go fly fishing.

Even if I don't fish with him, I will fish in the Pittsburg, NH area again this season, despite the high pressure that anglers put on the Connecticut River through that area.

I did some stream measurements this past weekend, and some local waters are cooling down.  The Little River is cool enough to fish all day, and the Dog is cool enough to fish in the morning.  But, after a tough hike with my wife and friends on Saturday, I slept in on Sunday and never made it out fishing.  I probably can't fish this coming weekend, but I'm guessing that water temperatures will be much better by the time I can fish 11 days from now.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Not much to report

We don't have a lot of tailwaters in VT, and most of them are a long drive from my home.

I managed to fish a couple weeks ago near Rochester, VT, along Rt. 125, upstream of Texas Falls.  It was 66F up there.  I got a few very small wild brookies that day.  But, other than that day, I haven't been fishing.  Here are some recent water temperature readings:

White River - Main Branch - 76F
Locust Creek - 75F
Stony Creek - 72F
Barton River, near Glover - 71F
Black River in Irasburg - 75.5F

We need rain and we need cooler temperatures.  Until then, I either have to travel to fish or just do something else on the weekends.  I kind of doubt that my wife would support me getting a fishing boat to use on Lake Champlain, but it would sure be nice to have this summer.

On 4 of those waters listed above, I have never recorded a temperature above 70F before this season.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A River Making a Comeback

I'm not going to name the river where I fished on Saturday, but locals should be able to figure out what water I'm talking about.

This is special regulations water - catch and release only.  I fish there a few times a year, always in search of the big browns that allegedly inhabit this water, but I have yet to land one.  A friend of mine had a good morning there Saturday - fishing big streamers for big browns after thunderstorms the night before.  He got two big browns - one of them bigger than any brown I've ever caught.

I got to a well known spot with easy river access around 4:30 p.m.  I fought through some brush to get to the river.  I was hoping I wasn't going to fight to get to the water, only to find it was too warm to fish, but luckily, it was 64.5F - well within the safe parameters.  The first couple holes are slow water, and I drifted some nymphs with a strike indicator as I scouted around for insect life.  Those first few holes gave me nothing.

The first hole with some moving water was much better though.  I had about 5 strikes in 10 minutes and landed 3 small wild rainbows.  Considering that I often get zero fish on this river, or maybe 1, getting 3 fish, even small fish, felt like a good day already.  I continued fishing downstream.  The next hole was devoid of fish, due to low flows.  Two years ago, I'd hooked a big brown in that hole on a huge black stonefly, but there were no fish to be found Saturday.

In the next hole, I'd briefly hooked a big rainbow last year, but I had a few bad casts and then a snag this time.  After I snapped off my snag, my strike indicator came loose and floated into the next hole and stopped.  So, I ruined that hole by wading in to retrieve my indicator.  I fished another 4-5 holes downstream with no luck, and decided to move on.

At my second location, a bit downstream, I had a few deep holes to work, with long stretches of calm water in between.  I worked hard to get some good clean drifts through these holes, and repeatedly changed my fly depth.  No luck at all.  I was seeing some BWOs by now, and I had a mayfly nymph, a stone nymph, and a BWO nymph, in that order, on my rig.  The latter two nymphs had produced those first 3 fish.  I got no strikes at all on the second stretch and debated what to do next.  I had a third spot I was considering - one that I like for nymphing.  But, it was after 7:00 by now, and I was exhausted from a few tough gym workouts the previous day.  So, I headed for my "secret" hole on this river.

It's not easy to get to, especially this time of year.  You can park way downstream and wade up quite a ways.  You can park way upstream, walk the road, and access the creek through a horrible jungle of knotweed.  Or, you can find the secret parking spot and wade down through a tiny creek to get there.  I have never seen another fisherman in this stretch.

There are 2 main holes here, and before Hurricane Irene, there were 3.  But, after some work on the nearby railroad tracks, the river flow changed and the middle hole disappeared.  I fished the top hole with the nymphs and was honestly surprised to have no strikes at all.  I waded down to the lower hole and just watched for a while.  Before the hurricane, I consistently did well with dries in this hole.  But, some repair work after the hurricane really re-configured the hole, and it's been slow to rebound.  I took a friend in there last year and he got a nice 18" wild rainbow on a dry.

I saw no fish working the surface, so I stuck with my nymphs.  But, as I got to the bottom of the hole, I started to see a few smaller fish rising.  I think they were going after BWO emergers, but there were also a few hexagenia in the air.  I put on a small (size 16) BWO and landed a rainbow on my first cast.  In the next 15 minutes, I got 2 browns.  But, the fish were still small, and I was after something bigger.  The hexagenia were becoming more numerous, so I switched to a bigger hex pattern to try to scare up a bigger fish.  I had one brown come up to the fly twice before refusing it, and a couple small fish batter the fly around.  But, no luck on the bigger fish.  By now, it was almost 9:00 and I still had to drive home and cook dinner, so I called it a day.  But, taking 6 small fish in this river is very promising for its future and its continued recovery from the hurricane.

On Monday, my wife and I tried to fish the White.  Above the Third Branch, the main branch had a temperature above 71F.  Below the confluence, it was as high as 76F.  People were swimming in the first hole I wanted to fish.

I drove upstream to a side stream that is never too hot to fish, and measured 71F there.  I opted to not push higher into the side streams.  My wife struggles with casting under tight tree canopies, so we called it a day.  The weather the next 2 weeks does not look promising for restoring the streams to being fishable.  I may travel up towards the Canadian border in search of cooler water next weekend.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Fishing in the Sierra Nevada

Thanks to the generosity of some friends, my family and I took a recent vacation to the Sierra Nevada.  I've mentioned here before that I've been dealing with a tough cancer the past year or so, and my wife and I each had a previous cancer in the past couple years.  This hit us very hard financially.

Over the winter, a number of friends offered to send me on a skiing trip, but I was between chemo and surgery, very busy trying to stay caught up at work, and I said I had to decline.  They then offered us another option - a trip that would work for my schedule.  My daughter's high school graduation was coming up, and I'd wanted to take her to Lake Tahoe for a week to celebrate (we had a free place to stay there, and we all love the area), so we opted for that.  I can never thank my friends enough for what they did.

Over the winter, because I now have one child in college (soon to be 2), my income tax refund was more than I expected.  I asked my wife if we could put the money away for some spending money on vacation, primarily to do some guided trout fishing.  She agreed to let me spend part of the money on fishing, which was fair.

I immediately spent a week reading about Lake Tahoe area guides before settling on Matt Heron as the guide I wanted to fish with.  I originally booked 2.5 days (one day on private water, one on the Truckee and a half day on the Little Truckee), but eventually reduced that to 2 full days.  My wife and I both fished the first day on private water, an area called Pleasant Valley in the Markleeville area.

We got there mid-morning on a Tuesday, and one other fisherman was already on the 3 mile stretch of water.  Otherwise, we were all alone.  Matt knew that most fish had been stocked upstream from the parking area, but he spotted a nice fish at a bridge right by where we had parked.  It was an area with some tough casting, so Matt had me start fishing for that fish first.  We tried a number of casts and drifts with little luck to start.  But, eventually, with a green drake on the surface and a trailer, the fish came up and hit the drake.  I set the hook too hard and snapped the tippet.  This would be a theme for me the entire day.  I retrieved the flies as they drifted past me, but I'd already missed one nice fish.  We weren't sure if the fish had felt the hook or not, but after a few more fruitless casts, we headed upstream.

We saw the other fisherman and leapfrogged him to a spot below a nice waterfall.  I think my wife hooked three fish here and landed one:

I crossed over and missed a couple as well but got one fish.  By now, the other fisherman had leapfrogged us, and was fishing above the small waterfall in this photo:

We saw him catch a handful of fish, and our guide went up to help him net one of the larger fish.  When we eventually walked up into that hole, it was stacked full of fish.  My wife and I alternated some casts in there and had a few takes.  From there, we moved up to another hole stacked full of fish.  The fish didn't seem very interested, so the guide and my wife moved upstream some more, while I stayed downstream.  I hooked three different fish and they all snapped me off while they were upstream.  One was my fault - the yips on the hook set again.  Fishing in VT, I rarely see the strike, and I kept over-reacting when I could see the strike occur.  I ended up snapping off more fish than I caught for the day.  Another was a big fish that I worked hard to keep out of a bush that was in the water.  Just when I thought I'd won the battle, the fish went downstream and the leader snapped on a small stick protruding from a downed log.

My wife had a few strikes upstream, but they soon headed down and we took a lunch break.  Right after lunch, we got into some fish at a hole lower than we'd fished in the morning.  They kept coming right to the fly and then refusing.  One one occasion, I had a fish hit a hopper, and I snapped the line setting the hook.

From there, we moved up to some still water full of fish.  It wasn't 100% still, but it was mostly a side pond fed by the river.  There were a lot of big fish in here and we caught fish on hoppers and PTs.  Again, I lost a few fish on my hooksets.  By now, the guide was working more with me to slow down the sets, and I was getting frustrated.  My wife took a couple nice fish out of this hole, including this beauty:

Matt estimated the fish at 20" and 4 pounds.  From here, we started to run out of time.  The guide had driven a long way and didn't want to stay out until dark, with a 2.5 hour drive home.  My wife moved up 2 holes, to where I'd hooked the three fish earlier and I moved upstream a bit more.  While I was upstream, she caught and released 3 nice fish of at least 16" or more.  I got nothing.  At that point, she was done.  I think it was 6:00 by then.  I didn't want to quit, but I knew my wife was done and the guided needed to wrap things up.  So, I started fishing downstream, working every hole we'd fished all day.  I hooked a nice fish below that waterfall.  I was using nymphs and a strike indicator, and I set the hook perfectly.  I played the fish perfectly.  It threw the hook anyway.

On our last hole, I got in a couple decent casts, and then snagged a tree on the far side.  The guide held that rod, while I fished another.  Two casts later, I snagged the other rod.  So, I waded out, freed the flies and we called it a day.  I think I got 4 fish in the 12"-14" range.  My wife had 4 fish in that range, and another 4 in the 16"-20" range.  She was thrilled.  I was frustrated.  I should have caught 15+ fish, but I managed to do everything wrong all day, it seemed.  I learned a lot and spent a lot of time the next day visualizing my strikes.  I needed to quell the yips and get my hook sets under control.

Matt and I met right by the Truckee early, 2 days later.  A few minutes later we were into a nice hole as the sun rose behind us.  In this bigger water, Matt had me very focused on my mends and getting really clean dead drifts.  He liked how the drifts were going and was shocked that we had no strikes.  Finally, as I got to the last part of the hole, I had a very strong strike and I was onto a fish.  This time I did everything right.  And, instead of a trout, I caught my first ever whitefish:

After an hour or so in this first hole, we headed downstream.  I started in a deep hole, stripping streamers.  The guide saw one very large brown follow one cast, but the fish wouldn't commit.  Eventually, I hooked a nice rainbow on a very subtle take, but the fish was only on for seconds before throwing the hook.

At the next hole, frustration continued.  I caught another whitefish (that wasn't frustrating, but it wasn't a trout).  I saw one strike by a smaller fish and snapped him off.  And then, Matt pointed out a fisherman downstream and we both took our eyes off the strike indicator for a couple seconds.  When we looked again, it was obvious that I had a strike.  I set the hook and felt the fish, and saw it briefly, but again, it threw the hook.  By the time we left this hole, it was 2:00 or so, and Matt needed to be off the water by 5:00-5:30.  He decided we'd try the Little Truckee for a bit.

His first choice was occupied by one of his guides and a client.  So, we moved upstream.  He was amazed to find only one car in a parking lot that often holds 8 cars, so we hopped out and hiked downstream for a mile or so, moving quickly.  We both knew that time was tight.  We were right below a spot where some still water and the main water met, creating a nice seam.  We could see fish moving in and out of the seam, including one very visible rainbow that looked like it was scarred from an osprey attack.  That fish was feeding, but we couldn't get it to take anything.

We saw a few fish rising to PMDs, and tried them with no success.  We saw one fish crush a green drake, so we tried them for a while.  Still no luck.  We worked up and down through this whole, watching fish in the seam and watching the occasional rise, but nothing was happening.

Then, Matt noticed 2 big fish move into the top of the seam  He had me throw a 3-nymph rig at the fish.  My first few casts weren't right on the fish, but somewhere around my 4th cast, I got it right.  The strike indicator never moved, but Matt saw the white of the fish's mouth as it took a fly.  At this point, we had 6x tippet on the bottom fly.  Matt told me to set the hook and I did it perfectly.  That fish felt the hook and took off downstream like a bat out of hell.  I have never had a trout take off like that.  As the fish pulled all slack tight, I'm not sure exactly what happened.  Matt said I had a death grip on the line, but I didn't.  Maybe the reel paused for just a bit as the line straightened.  Maybe the pressure where my left hand was touching the line was too much.  Whatever it was, the fish snapped the tippet rather than the reel picking him up and letting him run.  And in seconds, it was over.

I knew as soon as that happened that I would end up with no trout for the day.  But, I'd told Matt that I simply wanted a chance at a big wild fish, and I'd had 3 on my line during the day.  I failed to execute each time.  The guide did his job.

I would highly recommend Matt as a guide.  His coaching, his patience, his attention to detail, and his optimism make him a great guide to work with.  He listened to what I wanted out of each day and delivered.

I sent Matt an e-mail earlier this week.  I had just read A River Runs Through It on the plane to CA.  The famous final line of that book is pretty well known, but if you don't know it, the line is simply "I am haunted by waters."

I told Matt that I'd probably be forever haunted by that last fish, and even he admitted it was an amazing take and run by the fish.

On Tuesday of this week, I boarded a very early train to Manhattan.  I had a CT scan and a meeting with my surgical oncologist.  My cancer is completely undetectable at the moment.  I'm already dreaming of a return trip to CA to chase trout with Matt.