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.

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 fishes 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.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mid-week on the White River

Last week, at the WRO, there were a handful of small prizes on the table after everyone had either gotten a prize or gotten picked in a raffle.  There were a handful of fly boxes - maybe 6 or so.  People were allowed to grab whatever they wanted after everyone had a prize.  Because I'd placed and won a very nice prize, I stayed back at first.  But, two of the fly boxes were nearly untouched.  I didn't know the name of either of the patterns, but one looked like a great fly for the White River - a sculpin/leech/bugger type of pattern.

Some internet research later revealed that it was a Charlie Craven pattern called the Gonga.  This fly is usually tied in a large size, but these were smaller than normal.  I grabbed a handful of these flies after others opted not to take them.  And today, I'm glad I did.

I worked from home yesterday due to a medical appointment.  I'd worked out hard the three previous days, so I decided I would fish after work rather than work out.  I opted to head to a spot where I knew a couple people had done well in the WRO the previous week.

During the day, I was talking to a friend on FB, and he told me that he'd fished the same spot the previous evening, and that he'd done well with black leech patterns.  So, I opted for a Gonga and a Prince Nymph to start.

I got to the spot around 5:30 and headed to the upper reaches of about 300 yards of water I wanted to work.  I was all alone and looking forward to fishing this entire stretch.  It only took a couple minutes and I'd hooked and landed a stockie.  I was very surprised to catch him on the Gonga and not the Prince Nymph.  I few minutes later, I had a second fish, this time on the Prince Nymph.

A couple minutes later, I had a hard hit early in my drift and I missed the fish.  I repeated the cast and immediately got another strike, and this time, I hooked the fish.  I knew right away this wasn't a normal stockie.  But, unlike most wild rainbows, it wasn't jumping, so I wasn't sure what was on the line.  It was probably 5 minutes before I even saw the fish.  My first thought when I saw it was surprise that it was a brown trout.  Since Hurricane Irene, I've caught very few browns in the main branch of the White.  I do OK with browns on the Third Branch, but not in the main branch.  But, I was also fishing within sight of the Third Branch, so a brown should have been less surprising.  The other thing that excited me when I saw the fish was its size.  I finally got it to the net, and quickly unhooked it, measured it, and released it.  It was an 18" brown - my biggest ever brown from the White River drainage:


The fish didn't have the distinctive yellow belly of wild browns from the Third Branch.  I'm guessing that it was a holdover stocked fish from last year that had moved downstream, but I could easily be wrong on that.

I kept moving downstream and noticed another angler just below me.  At first, I thought he was spin fishing, but eventually, I realized he was tossing flies from the shore and stripping them back in.  I saw him catch a fish.  I got closer to where he was fishing, making sure to give him plenty of room when another hard strike happened.  This time, the fish immediately went airborne.  Then deep,  Airborne.  Deep.  He was putting quite a bend in my rod and the other fisherman thought I had a big fish on and came over with a big net.  I told him I was fine and eventually netted a 13" wild rainbow.

The other guy and I got talking, and it turned out he was a guide who was leading a trip on the White the next day, so he was prospecting.  He was also a Facebook friend, although we'd never met in person before.  We had connected on Facebook through mutual fishing friends.  We talked for a while.  I gave him one of the flies that was working for me.  We talked about cancer - something that has touched both of our lives recently.  We talked about fishing together in the future and made a plan to float the Upper Connecticut later this summer.

He eventually moved down into the water I'd hoped to fish next, and I saw him catch a few stocked trout plus some smallmouth bass.  Because of where he was fishing, I decided to re-fish the same stretch I'd just fished.  I had a few strikes on the way back through.  But, it was getting late, I had dinner to cook, a hockey game to watch, and I was getting cold.

When I got home, I had messages from two friends telling me about another spot just upstream that I should have fished, but I saw them too late.  But, I'll be back there tomorrow, looking for more big fish.

White River Open - Always a Bridesmaid

Last Saturday, I fished in the third iteration of the White River Open fly fishing tournament.  Unlike the Otter Creek Classic, which is on the opening weekend in early April, in this tournament, we are fishing in prime season, after stocking has occurred, and fish are always caught.  Plus, the White is my home river, so I know a lot of the system pretty well.  However, given that there are over 100 miles of water in the White River drainage, I don't know anywhere near all of it.

In the first year of the tournament, I caught 6 fish.  The amateur winner caught 16, I believe.  However, lots of people got skunked and I finished in the top 3 or 4.  Last year, I caught 5 fish, but I was only 9 inches or so out of first place.  I lost 2 fish right at the net, and either of them might have won it for me.  So, I'm always close, but never at the top, it seems.

This year, there was some controversy.  For the time of year, the river was at near record low flows and very warm.  A number of friends decided not to fish due to water conditions.  One friend was planning to fish until Friday, when he took a number of water temperature readings in the 70s, including one at 78, and he bailed.  I had a number of messages from friends that weren't going to fish, and they seemed to be hinting that dropping out would be the right thing for me to do as well.

At the pre-race meeting, I voiced some concerns about water temperatures.  One competitor made a very sarcastic comment to me, saying that it sounded like I wanted the tournament to be cancelled.  I stated that this wasn't completely true, but that with so many connections to Trout Unlimited, we were responsible to be good stewards of our fishing resources, and I was concerned that we had no rules in place to prevent people from fishing water that was too warm.

My personal rule to stop fishing is 68F.  I know most people stop at 70F, and many just keep fishing no matter what the water temperature is.  I've seen fish struggle at 68F, including one fish I'd caught a week earlier in the White, at just under 68F.  I deliberately chose my most stout rod for fishing, so I could land fish quickly and release them quickly.  Despite the low, clear water, I also stuck with 4x tippet.  I might have had more strikes with 5x or 6x, but I wanted the stouter tippet material to land the fish more quickly.

The tournament organizers did change the rules somewhat, although I wish they'd gone a bit further.  The end of the tournament was moved from 3:30 in the afternoon to 11:00 a.m.  I wish we'd had a thermometer requirement and we would have been required to record the water temperature every time we caught a fish.  I'm guessing some fishermen weren't carrying thermometers, but I'd reply that any responsible catch and release trout fisherman should own a thermometer and carry it if temperatures are marginal.  But, enough with the proselytizing.

I had a beer with my wife at Worthy Burger after the meeting, headed home, loaded the car with my gear, ate some dinner, and got to bed early.  The legal start time was a bit unclear.  At the meeting, they explicitly said first light.  The written instructions said 5:00.  I decided to go with the instructions at the meeting.  I was planning to fish a well known spot, so I wanted to make sure I got there before anyone else.  I set my alarm for 3:40 and I was out of bed before 4:00 and on the road by 4:15 or so.  As I pulled into the turnout at my first spot, I was happy to see no other cars, despite the fact that it was past first light.  I geared up quickly and stepped into the river at 4:45.

I often fish three flies at once, but for the tournament, I wanted to maximize fishing time.  Three fly rigs tangle a lot more often than 2 fly rigs, so I went with just 2 flies.  I started with a small olive woolly bugger and a size 14 Prince Nymph.  I really expected to only catch fish on the nymphs, but my hope was that the bigger fly would help to get my flies deeper and also perhaps attract some fish to the general location of my flies.

On my third cast, I hooked a fish.  And, I lost it almost immediately.  I was in a pool where I'd caught 8 or 9 fish the previous Saturday, and despite a few strikes, I caught nothing in 15 or so minutes.  I started moving down, and quickly hooked and landed a fat stocked fish.  My first fish came at 5:09 a.m. and its length was 10.75 inches.  It would be my biggest fish of the day, but not my best catch.  I worked through the next 100 yards of water slowly over the next 2 hours.  Despite numerous strikes, hook-ups were rare.  By the time I'd gotten to the bottom of the run, I'd caught 3 fish, had one snap me off (bad knot, not a big fish), and I'd missed many strikes.  At the bottom of the run, the water runs into a long rock ledge that creates some deep water.  It's tough to get the fly the whole way to the ledge and get a clean drift, so I tried an alternative approach.  I waded out far into the shallower water above and cast.  Then, I would strip line and let the fly drift.  Reel it in a bit.  Strip more than I'd reeled in.  Reel in.  Strip, Etc.  Eventually, I was at my backing, so I decided to slowly reel in the entire 25 yards of line.  On this slow retrieve, I managed to catch my 4th fish of the day.

I fished back upstream, moving more quickly this time, and got very little action.  Plus, the sun was starting to hit the water, so I opted to head for a different spot.  It was about 8:30.  The water temperature had been 65.7F when I'd started and I checked it again before moving on.  It was down to 64.5F - a good sign.

I got in my car and headed upstream to another well known spot.  A friend's car was parked there, but when I got to the water, I couldn't see him anywhere.  I really wanted to fish a 50 yard section right near the parking area that was still in the shade, and he wasn't visible, so it seemed like I wouldn't be crowding him.  The water temperature was 63.5F - even lower than downstream.

On my third or 4th cast, I tried a slow retrieve in some deep, clear water and caught a small stockie.  A few minutes later, I caught my 6th fish of the day.  I eventually worked my way to my favorite part of this water, and dropped my flies (I was now fishing a double nymph rig - a yellow stone and a Prince nymph) into a riffle above a deep hole.  As the flies drifted past me, I felt a bite and set the hook.  The reaction was odd.  I'd hooked a fish, but its movements were really erratic.  I finally decided that I must have foul hooked the fish, but kept trying to get it to the surface.  When I got the fish to the surface, I was shocked to see that I had 2 fish hooked - one on each fly.  I was guessing I'd never get both of them to the net, but eventually, I did:


I was pretty happy at this point in time, with 8 fish on my scorecard at 9:30.  I'd gotten 4 fish at this spot in less than an hour, after working hard for 4 fish at the previous spot in more than 3.5 hours.  I had covered this water pretty well, and decided to finish my fishing at a favorite spot that rarely gets fished, and was much closer to the tournament headquarters.  This would allow me to fish later and know I'd still turn in my scorecard in time.

I was dismayed when I saw the water at this next spot.  Despite it being a favorite spot, I'd only caught one fish (it's a series of 4 holes) there so far this year, and the water was super low and clear.  The best water is a seam that requires some stealth in good conditions, and these were not good conditions.  The water was 67.8F and the sun was fully on the water.  

Pretty quickly, I caught a stocked fish.  And then, a wild fish - my only wild fish of the day.  Because of the low conditions, I was able to wade farther across the river than normal, and fish a small deep run that I rarely fish.  I got another fish here as well.  After a few minutes of no strikes, I moved upstream.  The next hole was too low to give me much luck.  My flies kept hanging on the bottom.  Plus, I was running out of time and I still had one good hole to fish and it was 150 yards upstream.  I normally fish the length of water on my way upstream, but time was important.  I hiked to the best water, and I had maybe 10 minutes to fish there.  My first 5 minutes were fruitless.  So, I decided to try the slow upstream retrieval of my flies.

Almost instantly, the water boiled as I had a strike right below the surface.  Over those last few minutes, I had about 8 strikes overall, and a strike on 5 straight casts, but I couldn't hook the fish.  I finally bailed, waded downstream quickly (there were now some out-of-staters fishing the hole where I started.  I'd seen them park right in front of my car earlier, and I really wish I could park somewhere stealthier for this spot, so it remains unknown), and headed to the car.  

I turned in my scorecard - 11 fish and 107 total inches - at 10:55.  I was told that I was in the lead as of that time.  I didn't see anyone else turn in a scorecard before 11:00, but when it came time for awards, first place was 120 inches of fish.  Second place was 112 inches.  I was third.  I'm just going to assume that I misunderstood the comment about being in the lead or there was an error when I turned in my scorecard.  I'm hoping that no one allowed a late scorecard, because I likely could have caught a fish or two more if I'd been allowed to be a couple minutes late.

I won a nice collapsible wading staff from Folstaff as my prize.  It had been donated by LL Bean, and I very much appreciate their support of the tournament.  After that, a bunch of us headed to a nearby tavern for some lunch and fish stories.

One of these years, I'm going to win this thing.  I finished third this year, but I know of at least 3 very good fishermen who stayed home due to water conditions, including the person who won 2 years ago.  Luckily, I was able to fish in waters cool enough to protect the fish.  I know that some people fished water over 70F, and I find that dismaying.  This year was certainly a weather anomaly, although it may become the norm in the future.  When Vermont streams are too warm to fish the first weekend in June, something is wrong.  Luckily, 2.5 inches of rain the next day and a cool weather week dropped river temperatures quite a bit.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Finally catching some fish

I took off work 2 Thursdays ago and headed south to some "special regulations" water that is stocked with 2-year old fish.  This is a river that gets a lot of pressure, and I was expecting the fish to be a bit finicky.  So, I took my nymphing rod - a 10 foot, 3 weight with a Rio Euro Nymph leader.  That rod selection was the only thing that went wrong that day.

I started early, but there were plenty of other people out already.  I was working upstream through a stretch I'd fished in the past when I got my first strike of the day.  It was a 16" rainbow and I struggled to land it with the light rod, and the somewhat rapid current.  I was fishing a bugger with a prince nymph trailer and the fish took the nymph.  A couple minutes later, I caught another fish out of the same hole.  Hooked another.  And then hooked another.



And then, the sun hit the water and everything just slowed down.  I worked upstream for a while.  Back down.  Below my car.  I drove downstream and fished a well known stretch there.  Nothing was going on at all.

I went to the nearest town and had some lunch.  I saw a warden's truck there and the clerk at the store told me they were stocking the stream again that day.  By the time I was back on the water, the stretch I'd been fishing had been stocked with browns.  Fishermen were everywhere.  This is an odd river.  It gets a lot of pressure every single day.  But, it's mostly a retired crowd, often out-of-staters.  Despite the stocking, fishing remained slow.  I did see a worm slinger catch a fish.  Another guy who I'd met and is a part time guide hooked a fish, but it snapped him off.

I met a nice man from NJ - a retired accountant who reminded me a lot of Lindsay Graham.  We fished near each other and talked off and on.  I saw him take a brown on a dry.  In the afternoon heat (it was our first 80F day of the year), some fish were rising intermittently, and he'd gone to a hopper/dropper configuration, although it was actually a small Stimulator on the surface.  After a very slow afternoon for me, the other guy told me he was taking off.  The crowds were finally dissipating.  He suggested I work the large hole he'd been working.  So, I stepped in and started to fish where he'd been.

By now, I had on a big black/grizzly woolly bugger and a Batman Prince Nymph.  Before the guy could even get to his car, I'd hooked a big brown on the nymph.  After 10 minutes, he threw the hook beside the net with one final jump.  And then, the fishing really started to pick up.  The browns were starting to eat and they weren't being subtle.  But, they were mostly in the 16"-20" range, fat, and strong, and my 3 weight just didn't have enough backbone.  One fish took me into my backing and then slipped between two boulders, getting some slack just long enough to throw the hook.  Another dove under a rock and got my leader tangled up somehow.  I was using a Rio Euro Nymph leader and I was very surprised when the leader popped at the tippet ring.  I assumed my tippet or my knots would fail long before the leader.

By 6:00, I'd hooked half a dozen fish in the last hour and landed none.  My stout 5 weight was an hour to the north.  I had a shorter 4 weight in the car, but I didn't want anyone to steal my hole, so I stuck with the 3 weight.  I moved to the top of the hole and on my first cast, I got snagged.  I tried for a while to release the snag with no luck.  Finally, I pointed the rod right at the flies and pulled hard to snap them off.  I noticed that my bugger was still there, so I assumed I'd lost my nymph.  I was stripping in the fly to replace it when a big brown came out of nowhere and hit my nymph.  Now, I was sure I was doomed.  I assumed the knot was compromised, so I was careful with the fish.  I was also starting to figure out that I needed to fight the fish by stepping backwards and getting them into shallow water, where they couldn't take off on long runs.  This time, I landed the fish.

I immediately replaced that bottom tippet section, and went right back to it.  I had been hitting the top and the bottom of the hole, so I went to the middle.  On my first cast there, something slammed one of my flies, and this turned into an epic fight.  I eventually landed the fish, which had hit the size 4 woolly bugger.  It was 20" and fat - probably 3 pounds.



By now, sunset was approaching, so I started to wade downstream towards my car.  I hooked 2 more fish on the way, but both were in fast water and I knew neither would ever make it to the net.  Both managed to throw the hook less than a minute into the fight.

By the time I'd gotten to my car, I'd hooked between 15 and 20 fish on the day, and landed 4 fish in the 16"-20" range.  Yeah, they were stocked fish, but a whole lot of fun.


Two nights later, I got out on the main branch of the White River - my home stream.  I've had a very slow start on that river this year, and only got 2 hits that night.  But, the first strike produced a small wild rainbow.  The second snapped me off.  I'll be fishing the White this coming weekend, most likely.

That night, a cold front came through and I headed west to fish with a guide for pike on Otter Creek the next morning.  Brian Cadoret of Stream and Brook Fly Fishing is an avid pike fisherman and a great guide.  The cold front had the fish acting a bit sluggish, but we spent 4+ hours sight fishing to pike anywhere from 2 feet long to nearly 4 feet long.  I did get some fish to show some interest, but they just wouldn't commit.

Finally, at a place where we couldn't see the fish, I had a little bit of action.  I briefly hooked one fish, but I didn't realize it was a fish at first, so I never really set the hook.  That fish threw the hook immediately.  A couple minutes later, I had another strike, and I set the hook hard.  I was fishing an 8 weight rod, sinking tip line, 50 pound test mono, and a 9" steel leader.  Somehow, this second fish managed to simply cut the mono above the leader.  As I set the hook, after feeling the strike, there was no resistance at all.  My fly was gone, the leader was gone, and the fish was gone.  We finished the day fishing the confluence of the Otter and Lower Middlebury, but I was getting cold.  I was standing in cold water on a cold day, stripping big streamers, and I was freezing everywhere.  So, we called it a day, but it's something I really want to try again.  I've got an 8 weight, although I need new line and backing, some strong mono, some steel leaders, and some pike flies.  Oh yeah, a bigger net. as evidenced by the pictures above.  That net isn't going to work for pike.

With warm days recently and lots of stocking completed,  I'm expecting this weekend to be very fishy.  I have way more places that I'd like to fish than I have time available to fish.  Plus, there are thunderstorms in the forecast.  But, I'll be out there as much as I can be, within safety limits.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

More on Customer Support and Some Nostalgia

I have to admit that I've complained a bit about Sage's "Lifetime Warranty" on their rods.  They charged me $10 to ship the rod back to them and another $60 for shipping, insurance and handling, or something like that.  It seemed to be an excessive fee for a lifetime warranty, to be honest.  But, read on, because the end result was not what I expected.

I bought my first Sage rod about 1995.  The rod has always had a lot of sentimental meaning to me.  When I was growing up, I learned to fish on my own.  I went on my own, fishing with friends for the most part.  But, my grandparents also did a little fishing, and my grandmother was always game to take me to a remote location.  She would spin fish for trout with her Ronco Pocket Fisherman.  Every once in awhile, she would even catch a trout on that thing.

In the early 1990s, after my grandfather had died, my grandmother asked me if she had anything that I'd like her to leave me in her will.  I knew my brother and sister each had something in mind, but I honestly didn't.  I told her that I just wanted her to be around for a long time, to hopefully spend time with future great grandchildren.  That was the last I thought of it.

In 1995, after apparently getting past uterine cancer, it was discovered that the cancer had metastasized to her liver.  She was told it was untreatable.  My company had a bereavement time policy, allowing me to take up to a week off for a funeral.  I went to my boss, and offered him a deal.  I told him I wanted to visit my grandmother while she was still alive, rather than going to a funeral.  I wanted to take a week off, and offered to use 2 vacation days if the company would front me 3 days of bereavement pay.  I assumed everyone would win.  The company would pay out 2 fewer days in benefits, and I'd spend time with my grandmother while she was alive.  I spent that whole week with her, and I took my young son along, so she got to spend that week with her only grandson as well.  She was still eating, and I was able to cook for her all week.  It's a week that I truly treasure.

She died about a month later, and a month after that, I got a check for $500 from her estate.  I wasn't expecting that at all, and it was a good chunk of money at that point in our lives.  I spent a week or more trying to figure out what to do with the money.  I wanted to do something to honor my grandmother, rather than just pay bills with it.  Eventually, I asked my wife about buying an expensive fly rod that I'd been wanting, but simply couldn't afford.  The rod, a Sage RPL+ cost about $500.  A reel and line would run a couple hundred more.  My wife knew about my grandmother being the person who encouraged and supported my fishing habit growing up, and she thought it was a great idea.  So, I bought the Sage rod and a Ross Gunnison reel.  It was my primary rod for the next 15 years or more.

Once, while grayling fishing in Alaska, I hooked a 35# king salmon on the rod.  It took 2 hours, but I landed that fish on 4x tippet.  I've taken the rod backpacking all over the place.  I've caught many beautiful wild fish in Alaska and California's Sierra Nevada, including a lot of golden trout.  I used it for my first ever float trip on the upper Connecticut in 1997 - one of my favorite days of fishing ever.  I have caught all of my biggest trout of my life on that rod. I once hooked a rainbow on the Kenai that easily hit 30" (I was sight fishing to big rainbows eating salmon eggs late in the season).  Despite the rod being stiff, that fish bolted for the bottom and some rocks, and snapped me right off.  There are 2 fish in my life that I lost that I'd really loved to have gotten to the net, and that was 1 of the 2.  The other was a very large bass that I lost on ultralight gear in 1979 or so.

In the past 7 years, as I've really gotten back into fly fishing, I've slowly added more fly rods to my arsenal.  The RPL+ started to see less and less action, to be honest.  It's a very stiff rod that has some weaknesses in some situations.  Newer rods cast just as well, but are more forgiving and lighter.  Newer rods aren't so stiff that just setting the hook a little bit too hard can result in a popped tippet.  In the wind, though, it has always been my favorite rod.  It really punches line through the wind, and it handles both a standard 5 weight or a 6 weight very well.  I still want to put a Rio Grand line on the rod, to see if that might be its ideal line.

Last fall, I had the rod out on a windy day and the tip broke.  It was no big deal at the time.  I had another rod in the car, and it wasn't my most commonly used rod anyway.  I checked the Sage web page later and saw it would cost $70 total for them to honor the lifetime "warranty".  I didn't like that news at all.  So, over the winter, the broken rod sat in its tube.  I was undergoing cancer treatments all winter, so fishing was rarely in the forefront of my thoughts.

And then suddenly, opening day was close.  My treatments were over, and I realized I really wanted that rod for stripping streamers opening weekend.  So, I got it packed up and mailed off.  On the Sage web site, it sounded like they had a "repair first" policy, and I was curious if they would be able to fix the tip section.  They also had a requirement that I ship them the entire rod, which I found a bit odd.

I got the rod back after opening day, but it did take less time than they'd told me to expect.  When I inspected the tip section it looked flawless.  It was clear that they had replaced it rather than repaired it.  I was fine with that and put the rod away.  Last Saturday, it was fairly breezy as I headed out to fish, so I decided to use the Sage.  As I pulled the butt section out of the tube, I was very surprised.  The cork was brand new.  The reel seat was brand new.  As I pulled out the other sections, it appeared that they had sent me an entirely new rod.  This left me very curious.

On Monday of this week, I sent them an e-mail.  I was curious why they'd sent a new rod rather than just a tip section.  I wondered if that was policy or if they had a specific reason for doing the repair that way.  They replied very quickly, and stated that they had found minor issues with every section of the rod, not just the tip.  I think I'd taken good care of this rod, but it's been fished a lot in the past 20 years.  Because of the other issues they found, they pulled out an old RPL+ blank, and built me a brand new rod to replace the original.  They could easily have replaced the tip alone, and then charged me another $70 when another section failed.  But, they preemptively replaced an entire $500 rod.  I was shocked at that level of service, and felt bad about my earlier complaints about the price.  They went well above and beyond what they needed to do.

My only disappointment is that it's no longer really the rod that I bought with the money from my grandmother.  Yes, I still have the original tube and rod sock, but the rod is different.

I took the rod out fishing on Saturday night.  Water temps are still cold, and I missed two strikes - both of them fairly lethargic.  The week before, on the same stretch of water, I'd had six hard strikes, but also no hookups that day.  The rod might be different, but I still spent part of my fishing time thinking about my grandmother and her Pocket Fisherman.  Twenty years later, I still miss her terribly, but the rod still connects me to her.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Quick Customer Support Update

Patagonia completely replaced my wading boots.  This is great for the short term, but what does it mean the next time the aluminum bars need to be replaced?  Even they couldn't replace the bars, or they found it easier to just send new boots.  I'm a huge fan of Patagonia, but I now have two pairs of top end boots, and I'm considering selling the Patagonia Foot Tractors, given that they are brand new in the box at the moment.  Having Simms's best boot and Patagonia's best boot is certainly overkill.

Also, Sage completely replaced the tip section on my rod.  I know they have a "repair first" policy, but I didn't see any way they could repair the break (just below the tip of the rod) and have it perform like it had before.  I was happy to see that they simply gave me a new tip section for the rod.

I keep reading about other fishermen doing well around the state.  Maybe I spend too much time reading Facebook posts from guides, but I know people are catching fish.  Just not me.  With the exception of the Dog River, which is never stocked, most of the waters I fish will change dramatically over the next couple weeks as the state puts more effort into stocking rivers.

So far, none of the rivers I fish regularly have been stocked, but it can happen anytime in May.

The forecast for this weekend looks great for tomorrow and not so good for Sunday.  Regretfully, I'm pretty busy tomorrow and free all day on Sunday.  I may try to sneak out tomorrow for a bit, but I'll probably end up fishing in the rain on Sunday.