Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Looking ahead to the next season

My wife and I had a pretty low key Christmas.  We both dealt with some health issues this past year that cost us a lot of money, so we reigned things in a bit for the holidays.  If we were 15 years older, these health issues would be less of a surprise, but I think we just had some bad luck, and I hope it's behind us, for the most part.

I ordered some fly tying materials in December, mostly to re-tie my collection of woolly buggers, which I lost late last season somehow.  That was my Christmas present, and I waited until Christmas day to do any tying.  I got enough material (150 hooks, lots of marabou, hackle, chenille, and beads) to tie at least 150 buggers, split between the tried and true colors of white, olive and black.  I spent Christmas afternoon sipping a very tasty Madeira and tying flies.

After I get caught up on woolly buggers, my next targets will be the classic nymphs - PT, prince, hare's ear, and zug bugs.  Normally, I'd include RS2's in that list, but I tied a lot of them a year ago and didn't use them a whole lot.  Oh yeah, I will need some small hooks to tie one of my new favorite flies from this past season - the ju ju baetis, which supplanted the RS2 for me quite a bit.  Fished in a small size, it is deadly effective as a dropper off a dry fly.

My sister-in-law got me an Orvis gift certificate for Christmas.  I turned that into a chest pack for my time on the water.  I've been meaning to move away from a vest for the past couple years, and the gift certificate plus a nice post-Christmas sale at Orvis made the pack a good deal.  I just hope I end up liking it more than my vest.

Lastly, I'm teaching skiing every weekend right now.  I enjoy the winters and summers here in VT.  I miss skiing in the summer and I miss fly fishing in the winter, but I'm lucky to live somewhere that I can participate in at least one of these sports year round, and there are brief periods where they even overlap for me.

Teaching skiing really isn't a money-making proposition for me.  By the time I count my gas money, food bills at the mountain, beer money, clothing, and ski equipment costs (skiing and fly fishing really do have a lot in common, at least in terms of how much money you can spend for such a specialized endeavor), I am lucky to break even.  Typically, I save my paychecks from skiing and use them to pay for my clothing and equipment.  But, this year, my equipment bill was small compared to most years, so I'm just putting the paychecks in the bank.

If I can avoid touching that money for the entire winter, I'm hoping to buy an Outcast pontoon boat in the spring.  Ideally, I'd love to get the PAC 1400, but I think that boat is really overkill for me here in VT.  I would rarely have three people in the boat, and if I was going to spend that much money, I'd probably look for a used Hyde drift boat instead.  So, I'm targeting the PAC 1200, which can be a 1 or 2 person boat.  The idea of being able to float the White, Connecticut or Winooski without paying a guide is very appealing.  And, I have enough fishing friends (plus my wife and son) that I'm sure I'd have company most of the time I was on the water.

I probably won't know if I can pull this off until the spring, but it's a dream that I'll keep thinking about as I tie flies all winter and spend my days shivering on the mountain.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Off Season

I know that many of my acquaintances are still out there fishing, despite the foot of snow we got last Wednesday into Thursday.  I saw lots of photos of people fishing the Salmon River out near Pulaski over the weekend.  I saw some photos of nice rainbows and chromes from Lake Champlain tributaries.  I spent the long holiday weekend cooking and stacking firewood and skiing.  I'm pretty sure I'm done with the fly rods for the season with ski season now firmly underway.

I have returned to the last couple spots I fished this season, and my box of woolly buggers appears to be permanently gone.  Perhaps I'll stumble across that box upstream on Ayers Brook next season, and I'll ask a local friend who also fishes that brook to keep his eyes open next spring.

But, for now, I'm assuming those flies are gone.  And, they are hugely important flies to have with me at almost all times.

I mentioned in another post that Orvis had very kindly refunded my purchase price for some wading boots that fell apart earlier this season.  I had fished those boots for 2.5 seasons and they gave me a full refund.  I bought a different brand of boots, but I was determined to give that money back to Orvis.

So, over the weekend, I ordered some hooks, maribou, hackle for woolly buggers, chenille, and beads - enough material to tie at least 150 woolly buggers in white, olive and black/grizzly.  I paid Orvis back for the boots and then some.  But, these are easy flies to tie, they are important to carry in all but the lowest and clearest water conditions, and I now have better hackle material for them than I've been using.

So, I probably won't fish much for a while.  But, I'll be tying flies and dreaming of the next opening day.  I also intend to tie some big, bright streamers that will be useful on Opening Day, in the Otter Creek Classic tournament.  I have a nice selection of big heavy streamers from Montana Fly Company, but many of them are colors too dark for the early season "chocolate milk" water colors.  So, I'll work on some big, brightly colored flies for those conditions over the winter.

Plus, I need to tie some hare's ears, zug bugs, prince nymphs of various flavors, pheasant tails, RS2's, Ju Ju baetis, lots of stone fly variants, and a few other patterns that I use a lot.

So, my "off-season" should still be pretty busy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I almost fished

Saturday morning, I was getting ready to go fishing.  It was cold and windy, but I knew I could stay warm enough.  My plan was to fish the Winooski below the Bolton power dam.

I was in the garage, setting up my rod, when I ran into a problem.  I'd put on a sinking tip leader and added some 2x and 3x tippet material.  Next, my plan was a woolly bugger as my lead fly.  Except, when I reached for my box of woolly buggers in my vest, instead I found an unzipped pocket and no box of flies.

I spent the next half hour looking all around the house.  I searched the cars.  I searched the garage.  My fly tying gear.  I couldn't find the flies anywhere.

This was a box of flies I'd tied myself.  The woolly bugger is about as easy to tie as any fly out there.  Maybe the greenie weenie or San Juan worm is easier, but I rarely use those flies at all.  After about half an hour, I hopped in the car and drove to the last place I had fished (or at least, that's what I thought).

I looked all around the place where I parked, hoping the fly box might have dropped when I was putting my gear away.  I hiked down to the White River, looking carefully for the flies.  No luck at all.  Dejectedly, I drove home.

The financial loss isn't huge.  I had maybe 40 woolly buggers in that box.  For about $200, I can buy enough material to tie 300 woolly buggers.  I can easily tie 2 dozen of them in an evening rather than wasting time watching television.  If I buy them rather than tie them, I can replace the 40 flies for about $100 plus the cost of a fly box.  Given that I have too many fly boxes already, I won't even need to buy another one.

By the time I got home, it seemed like the air was colder, the wind was harsher, and I opted not to fish.  I watched college football instead.

Today, I double-checked a spreadsheet to see where I'd fished my last time out.  It turns out that I'd fished on Ayers Brook in Randolph, rather than the White River in Royalton.  So, I now have a new place to look for my missing flies, although with the short days, it might be the weekend before I get there to look.

My plan for this week is to tie some more woolly buggers.  I don't have to have them, and I could have fished without them on Saturday.  But, that's a fly I use a lot both early and late in the season, and I feel unprepared without them.

I think I have about 600 flies on hand at any point in time.  I'm sure that I could find other flies that the fish would take.  Or maybe, I was just being a weenie, and I let the missing fly box be an excuse to stay warm on a raw day.

I skied yesterday and I'm planning to ski again next weekend.  Hopefully, I'll find my flies or tie some more, and get out fishing for a bit next weekend.  But, it's also possible that my 2014 season is over.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Regular season ends tomorrow

I got out last weekend on Ayer's Brook, a tributary of the Third Branch of the White.  It can be a fun little stream at times, especially in the fall when browns leave the Third Branch to spawn in Ayer's Brook.  My previous time out, I hooked one brown but didn't get it to the net.

I was fishing that day with a friend who had taken a couple nice rainbows in Ayer's recently as well, and he turned two bows that night, but got nothing to the net.

But, this past weekend, the river seemed dead.  I was very careful as I approached some of the holes where browns will spawn, and I saw nothing.  Not one strike.  It was pretty frustrating actually, as I lost 5 dropper nymphs (fished behind a streamer) in 2 hours.  The stream is small and full of downed wood, so losing flies is not uncommon.  But, losing 5 with 0 strikes was frustrating.

The regular season for Vermont's trout waters ends at the end of October.  I had hoped to take off work tomorrow and fish that last day, but it just isn't going to happen.  So, as I think back on the season (it's not really over, but lots of water will be closed before the weekend), I'm torn on how to summarize things.

I caught more trout in Vermont this year than any other season in my life.

I had the most prolific trout day of my life outside of the Sierra Nevada or Alaska on the main branch of the White River.

I failed to catch one big fish this year, after taking 3 last year that I'd put in the "big" category.  I see pictures on Facebook all the time from people who are catching big fish here in Vermont.  The truth is, most of those fish are taken by guides that I know, by their clients, or by people who get to fish way more often than I fish.  If I'm lucky, I get in about 40 days per year.  And, I do consider myself lucky to have a life that allows me to fish that many days per year.  Every year, I try to ski 50 times and fly fish 50 times.  I rarely make that goal, but any time I get to 40 for either, it's a good year.  I'm not quite there for this year yet.

I got completely shut out this year on the Middlebury, Furnace Brook and Otter Creek.  The only trout I caught in Addison County came on the New Haven.

I caught only 2 small brookies on the Dog River, and I can't remember the last time I caught a brown on that river.  The Dog was listed as one of 5 Vermont streams in a new book published this year that listed the top 50 fly fishing waters in the northeast US.  If you count the Connecticut, on the VT/NH border, there were 6 local rivers in that book.  I've never fished 2 of them, and I fish 3 of them every year, but the Dog is a river that I still don't understand.

I caught fish on some new waters this year and found a really fun White River tributary that gave me one especially memorable morning of dry fly fishing.

I caught way more fish on the White this year (main branch and Third branch) than ever before, and I had one really short but fun evening with dries on the Third Branch.  Both rivers are still recovering from Hurricane Irene, but my best fish of the year all came from the Third Branch.

I caught my first ever browns on the Winooski, and I got 5 of them in that one day.

Rivers I fully intended to fish this year, but I didn't include the Lamoille, Clyde, Batten Kill, West Branch of the Au Sable in NY, Waits, Wells, Lewis, and the Black in southeastern VT.  I did fish the Black in northeastern VT.  Of those rivers, it's the Clyde and Batten Kill that I most want to fish, and I need to get there.  Sometimes, the learning curve of a brand new river that requires a long drive leads me to stay closer to home on waters I know.

I've still never taken a landlocked salmon (that's why I need to fish the Clyde) or a Vermont steelhead (Lewis).

I wish I had the money to fish with guides on a regular basis.

I'm hoping to save enough money over the winter to buy a 2-person pontoon float boat.  If I can pull that off, I'd use the boat mostly on the White, but also the Winooski and Connecticut.

Lastly, thanks to a new law that went into effect on January 1 of this year, a number of waters are now open year round for catch and release fly fishing.  Those include the main branch of the White and the Winooski, which is where I spent almost 50% of my fishing days in the regular season.  Plus, I can still explore the Waits in the extended season as well.

Tomorrow, my snow tires go on my car.  Ski resorts are getting ready to make snow.  Thanksgiving is coming.  But, I'm not quite done with the fly rod yet.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Season winding down and I'm not catching anything

A friend of mine just posted a picture on Facebook of a nice rainbow he caught at lunch today.  It seems that everywhere I turn, local fishermen are taking nice fish, even as we approach the end of the "regular" season here in VT.  And yet, I'm catching nothing at all, it seems.

I've gotten out just once each of the past two weekends.  The first weekend, I hooked a brown briefly on my third cast and that was it.  I was hoping to get out again that weekend, but my wife and I needed to help her parents with a few things, so it never happened.

Last weekend, I had a lot to do, but I did get out for a few hours on Saturday evening.  I was mostly working streamers with a trailing nymph.  We'd had a lot of rain and the water levels had come up over 18" since I'd last fished this spot.  I was a bit dismayed when a drift boat came by just as I'd started to fish, and the boat not only didn't go around me, but instead the occupants drifted right through my hole and even cast into the hole while I was fishing it.  I was livid.  This is simply not an acceptable practice on a huge river that they otherwise had to themselves.

I started with a chartreuse weighted streamer and had one soft strike early.  I'm guessing the strike was on the nymph rather than the streamer.  For a while, I moved to a tan streamer with no luck.  Eventually, at the best spot in the stretch I was fishing, I went to a weighted white woolly bugger.  On my very first cast, I had a hard strike only a few feet from where I was standing, but I didn't hook the fish.  That was the last strike I had that day.

The last 5 days that I've fished the main branch of the White, I've caught a total of zero fish.  It's been over a month since I've caught a fish in that river.  I've been catching fish on the Winooski.  I've been getting an occasional fish on the Third Branch of the White.  But, in general, I've been averaging about one fish per day of fishing over the last 2 months.  If not for a 7-fish day on the White river, the average per day would be well under 1 fish.

So, maybe I've got a mistake in my blog.  Others are catching fish.  Big browns.  Rainbows.  Lake Champlain salmon and steelhead.  Lake Memphremagog salmon.  Just not me.  So, maybe I was overly kind when I wrote that I was a mediocre fisherman.  The last 2 months have been very frustrating.

Unlike last fall, I haven't caught a single big fish.  I've caught very few fish recently.

As the season winds down, I know I've caught more trout in Vermont than any previous season.  But, I've caught no big fish at all.  And, I find myself questioning what is going on.

Due to changes in state laws, some of the waters I fish are now open year round to catch and release fishing, instead of closing on 10/31.  If I'm lucky, I'll get out this weekend.  The next weekend would normally be too late, but I can now continue to fish.  I will probably still be out there until I find myself skiing instead.

But, it would be nice to be catching some fish, especially when my Facebook news feed shows that others are catching fish regularly.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The fishing did get better thankfully

I'm not going to say that my wife is a jinx.  First of all, I enjoy being on the water with her.  I've had some very successful days while with her as well.  But, this is her first season fly fishing.  When I point out different bugs in the air, she just sort of listens.  Last week, I got excited when I saw my first Northern Case Maker caddis of the season in the air.  It meant absolutely nothing to her, but it certainly made a difference in my fishing the past few days.  I'll point out various bugs and then explain to her why we are using certain flies.  I do this as I'm tying her flies on for her.  Or getting her un-snagged (I did teach her to roll cast to try to get herself un-snagged this past week), or untangling knots.  Or simply checking her tippets for wear or her hooks for sharpness.  I guess the point is that I'm still doing all of these things for her, plus coaching her on how to cast, where to cast and where to stand when casting.  This takes time away from my fishing.

Still, I love being out there with her.  It's time we can share together.  It was fun to simultaneously hook some browns last week, even though neither of us landed the fish.  But, on Monday of this week, she went back to work and I still had three days of vacation time. - time that I'd be fishing alone.

Monday, I headed north to the Black River.  There are (at least) 2 Black Rivers in Vermont - one in the southeast portion of the state that empties into the Connecticut River and one in northern Vermont that empties into Lake Memphremagog.  The southern Black River is a well known trout stream and it can be crowded at times.  The northern Black River seems to be much less well known, and I've never seen another fisherman on that river.  Last September, I had a very fun 8-fish day on that river.

I started this Monday a few miles upstream from the town of Coventry.  In this part of the river, the primary fish are small wild rainbows.  The water was a little bit higher and cloudier than I expected, and not long after getting started, I changed my 2-nymph rig into a white bugger with a trailing BWO nymph.  On my third or fourth cast with the new set-up, I hooked a fish, but I never saw which fly it had taken.  A bit later, after no action for a while, and after losing my nymph to a snag, I switched to a small beadhead PT nymph.  Almost immediately, I hooked and lost a fish.  A few minutes later, I hooked and landed a feisty rainbow in fast water.  Fifteen minutes later, I hooked a slightly bigger fish in fast water, and after a nice fight, it threw the hook just as I was about to net it.  And then, things died.  I went 2 hours without another strike.  I even went into the town of Coventry and fished for a while at the falls.  This spot usually gives up at least a couple browns on stripped white woolly buggers.  Be careful not to fish this spot early in the year.  It is closed for fishing to protect spawning rainbows in the spring.  I think it opens on 6/1 every season.

So, despite an interesting period of time when the fish were "on", the day ended with only one rainbow in the net.  But, I'd had 3+ hours of fishing time just for me, and I'd had some strikes and hook-ups.  This was much better than any day the previous week.

On Tuesday, I headed to the Winooski.  I got to the river at 2:30 in the afternoon and I was surprised by the number of people fishing mid-afternoon on a week day.  Doesn't anybody have a job anymore?  Luckily, a popular spot that I fish on occasion was not occupied.  Both parking spots for this area were empty.  On the weekends, both are full all the time.  This spot is a long riffle leading into a sharp corner up against a stone face.  The best fishing tends to be higher in the riffle, in the moderately deep water, but the current is fast there.  I started with my rig from the day before - a white woolly bugger and a PT nymph.  This is a frequent tactic of mine.  Rather than change flies right as I arrive at a stream, I'll start with what is on my rod while I look into the water and into the air to see what insects I can find.  After 10 minutes with no strikes, I'd seen plenty of BWOs and one Northern Case Maker caddis.  I had the appropriate nymphs for these insects, but they weren't weighted and they were small.  So, I switched to a sinking tip leader and went with a 3-fly rig - size 14 Beadhead Prince Nymph to help get the flies down, size 16 orange caddis pupa, and size 18 ju ju baetis.  I continued to fish where I'd started, and after about 10 casts or so, decided to move downstream.  One thing I always do when I move up or down there days is leave my flies in the water.  You never know when just moving down or up a bit can lead to a strike, and that can't happen if the flies aren't in the water.

Just as I completed my 3rd or so step downsteam, I got a strike and hooked a fish.  It turned out to be a holdover stocked rainbow that had taken the baetis nymph.  Over the next hour, I caught 5 more fish, but surprisingly, they were all browns.  I got 1 on the prince nymph, 2 on the caddis, and 2 more on the baetis.  I rarely catch browns in the Winooski, so getting 5 was quite a surprise.  And, if I hadn't been paying attention, I could have completely missed that they were browns, and assumed they were light colored rainbows:

This is some of the lightest coloring I've ever seen on a brown trout, and all 5 of them were similar.

I kind of hated to leave this spot, but with about an hour of daylight left, I wanted to try a spot upstream that holds some big fish.  The river was really crowded by now, as the 9-5 workday people had descended on this stretch.  Someone immediately grabbed my parking space as I drove away, and I saw at least a dozen fishermen on the river during my drive upstream.  I was pretty sure my second destination would be empty, although it seems like more and more people are finding this spot these days.

The spot was empty, but the fishing was challenging.  Due to slower currents, I had to get rid of the sinking tip leader.  Otherwise, I kept the same fly rig.  I managed one wild rainbow on the baetis just after sunset, but that was it.  Even though a full moon was rising behind me and I intended to fish into the darkness for a bit (I was wishing that I had some mouse patterns with me), that ended abruptly when some kids who live nearby started throwing large stones into the water near me.  I yelled to them a few times but only heard laughter in return.  Rather than risking a rock in the noggin, I called it a night.  But, 7 fish in a day was my best day in months.

Yesterday was my last day of vacation.  The weather forecast called for intermittent rain.  My son needed to use the car in the morning.  My daughter had a 4:00 soccer game.  This limited my time, so I opted to fish the Third Branch of the White.  This is a river that has been challenging to me for years, despite the fact that I can access it less than 2 miles from my house.  But, it seems to finally be recovering from Hurricane Irene and the number of wild fish is definitely on the rise.  Due to my limited time, I had to fish quickly - a few casts in each hole and then move on.  This allowed me to cover over half a mile of water in less than 2 hours.  Early on, while still in a tributary named Ayers Brook, a fish flashed at the bugger, but never struck. Fifteen minutes later, in a hole that was crystal clear, I noticed my woolly bugger being sucked under a branch, and I was afraid of a snag.  I pulled the fly back to try to avoid the snag and was shocked to discover that I'd hooked a brown on my trailing PT nymph.  I don't know if the change in direction triggered the strike, or if the timing was just lucky.  Either way,  I managed to catch a stunningly beautiful wild brown:

The rest of the fishing resulted in no strikes at all, although I wish I'd had another hour to fish the last 2 big holes.  I hiked through town, back to my car, and caught the second half of my daughter's soccer game.  And just like that, my vacation is over.

However, fishing season is far from over.  There are 3 weeks left in the regular season, and I can fish the lower Otter, lower Winooski and lower White all winter if I want.  I'm sure I'll be out there again this weekend, with or without my wife.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Not what I expected

My fishing vacation has pretty much been a bust so far.

I took a week off a bit earlier last season and did pretty well.  I've been at it for over a week now and the fishing has been unbelievably slow, while at the same time, I am seeing reports of lots of fish and big fish from around the state.  It's been very disappointing, to say the least.

We started just over a week ago - my wife and I - on a Saturday morning on the White River.  This has been a consistently good spot for me, but there was just nothing going on that morning.  We went through the standard flies for this time of year - Hare's Ear, Prince Nymph variations, BWO nymphs (small ju ju baetis, RS2's and tiny bead-head swimmers), pheasant tail, orange caddis pupa (the Northern Casemaker caddis is one of our latest hatches), etc.  I also tried an iso dry for a while with no luck.  Despite a sunny morning, we saw just a few BWOs and tricos in the air.  No surface action.  no strikes.

The next evening, we headed further downstream on the same river.  Same flies.  Same lack of luck.  Again, no bugs in the air, despite some warm sunlight.

The next day, we fished the Winooski in two different spots.  The first one almost always produces fish, especially when there are BWOs around.  There were just a few BWOs in the air, but neither wets nor dries produced fish.  Not one strike.

Now, to be honest, our water levels are low and the water is clear, especially on the White.  We have stayed away from big streamers so far, waiting for some water to cloud up the rivers and bit.

We moved downstream on the Winooski to a spot that doesn't give up many fish, but frequently gives up big fish.  Just before sunset, my wife and I each caught one fish on an iso nymph, while on the retrieve.  That is a funny thing about this hole; dead drifting and fishing on the swing seem to fail often, while fish will attack on the retrieve.  Hey, whatever works.

The next day, we headed to Addison County.  My son came along this day.  We started on the New Haven, just above Bristol, in some nice pocket water.  Absolutely nothing.  We got some lunch and stopped in at the local fly shop.  I picked up a few extra ju ju baetis and orange caddis pupa, and the guy at the shop said that our next destination was fishing as well as anywhere.  So, we headed to Belden Falls on the Otter Creek, fishing from the far side.  But, the water was low and the fishing was just plain slow.  I caught one smallmouth on a Montana Prince Nymph.  The takes were all very subtle.  At one point, my wife and I each hooked a brown at the same time.  I don't think she ever really set the hook and the fish was gone quickly.  For me, it was just bad luck.  I was fishing a double-nymph rig and the fish was on the upper fly.  I had him almost to the net when the trailing fly snagged for a moment and that allowed the fish to easily escape my barbless hook.

After that, we had a couple days of other obligations, including an expensive trip to Boston to see Bryan Ferry, who cancelled the show long after all of our gas, food and lodging money had been spent.  This was very disappointing.  I really wanted to see the show, but I also hated spending so much money to see nothing at all.

Last night, we got back out on the river.  We fished the White again, in some pocket water between our last two fishing spots.  We'd had some decent rain the night before, so I pulled out some streamers.  The best colors in that river are usually olive or black, so I concentrate on those, plus the normal nymphs.  I had one strike in 3 hours.  My wife had none.  Just as we'd started to fish, a local friend had sent me a text, asking if I wanted to join him and a friend in a river closer to home.  We passed, not wanting to create a group of 4 on a small river.  He later caught a 20" (or so - my best estimate from photo) rainbow, got half a dozen fish to net including one nice brown as well, and missed more than he caught.  The one difference in terms of flies was that he was using white streamers rather than dark.

My wife is back at work today.  After 5 days of fishing, we have each caught 1 trout.  I have three days of vacation left, and I'm leaving shortly for a long drive to northern Vermont to a river where I usually do well with small wild rainbows and occasionally a big brown downstream.  It's supposed to rain the next two days after today, so I'm not sure where I'll fish, but I'll be out there, I'm sure.

Compared to my vacation a year ago, this one has pretty much been a bust.  I caught 2 big rainbows last fall and I got fish almost every day out.  These days, it seems like a good day if I simply hook one fish.

Maybe I really do suck at this game.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Third Branch of the White

I consider the White to be my "home" river.  I fish there at least 50% of the time that I fish.  But, I tend to fish the main branch despite living only 2 miles from the Third Branch.  Why?  Because I tend to find that the Third Branch sucks.  The other guy in my small town that fly fishes a lot says that he gets skunked at least every other trip to the Third Branch.  Recently, he's had some better luck, running into a yellow sulphur hatch and getting some fish, and he's even taken rainbows with mouse patterns.  But, he's a good fisherman and even he admits he struggles on the Third Branch.  A fisherman that I see once a year in Addison county for a fly fishing tournament tells me how lucky I am to live by that river.  I think he may have last fished it 20 years ago, when it had a reputation as a decent river.  These days, it's a struggle and a little more driving almost always yields some fish.  (Well, Saturday morning, I was skunked on the Winooski, so other rivers are not always better.)

Upstream from the town where I live, the state stocks brookies in the river.  From the middle of town down to Bethel, the state stocks browns.  I usually catch a few of those browns every year, but not too many.  I know that there are large wild fish in the river as well.  One of my son's co-workers took a brown close to 30" 2 summers ago.  A friend saw a fish at least 24" spawning in a tributary last fall.  A few years earlier, someone kept a stringer-full of 5 browns and they were all huge.  So, those fish are in there, but I find it to be a very tough river.  For the most part, to be honest, I just ignore it and drive a bit more to fish the main branch.

Yesterday afternoon, I was taking a nap on the couch, planning to fish, closer to sunset, about 20 miles downstream from where we live.  While I was taking a nap, the aforementioned local friend sent a text.  He had found a huge hatch of flying ants midday and was fishing on the Third Branch.  I saw this text a few hours later and assumed I'd missed it completely.  But, shortly after I saw the first text, he sent two more.  He told me where he'd been fishing and said to "just head down to the river and listen for the splashes".

Dry fly fishing opportunities like that don't come along very often, so I headed out quickly.  I found the spot, but had a few issues.  It was a steep descent to the river.  The land was posted against trespassing.  And, even down at the river, I didn't see any easy way to cross to where I needed to fish.  But, I could see fish rising, so I knew I had to fish.  This was right where a small stream entered the third branch.  So, I hopped in my car and drove to a spot where that smaller stream crossed a road, and waded/hiked about 20 minutes downstream.

As I arrived at the spot, things were very quiet.  The flying ant hatch appeared to be over.  I approached the water very stealthily, keeping a low profile, even though the sun was already behind the distant peaks.  As I knelt down to tie on an ant pattern, a fish broke the surface.  Then another.  And another.  By the time I was ready to cast, there were 8-10 fish working the surface.

I tried a few casts (I had tied on an ant pattern hoping to match the flying ant hatch that was winding down) into the lower, slower pool, which is where the fish seemed bigger.  But, they were also wary and I couldn't tempt them to the surface.  Even with a long, fine leader, each cast seemed to put the fish down for a bit.  So, I worked on the lower end of a riffle where some smaller fish were working the surface pretty loudly.  After 10-12 casts and no strikes, I wasn't sure what was up.  I couldn't see my fly in the water, so it was hard to know if it was floating or even in the right lane for the fish.

I reeled in to change flies, and discovered I couldn't see my ant because it wasn't there.  It had snapped off, probably on my first cast or two, and due to a bad knot.  I was really torn on what fly to use.  Finally, I opted for a size 16 Royal Wulff, primarily because it seemed the fish were eating small bugs and this one would be easy to see.

By the time I changed flies, I knew my fishing time was short.  It was already sunset or close to it, and I had a decent hike back to the car.  But, on my third cast to the riffle, a fish hit my fly hard.  It was a decent brown, although I couldn't be sure if it was a wild fish or a holdover from spring stocking:

I apologize for the poor pictures, but when I'm solo, I try to keep the net wet, land the fish, unhook it quickly, snap a quick photo, and get the fish back in the water.  This brownie was probably just short of 12".

It was only a few casts later that I had another take.  This time, the fish was clearly bigger, and it moved downstream to fight in the big, deep water.  At one point, it had taken out most of my fly line, and it was showing no signs of getting tired.  The fish was deep, my fly line was deep, and suddenly the water erupted on the other side of the stream as the fish streaked for the surface.  At that point, I was finally aware that it was a rainbow and not a brown.  After a good fight, I landed the feisty fat rainbow - one of the my better fish of the year.  I quickly got this fish unhooked and back into the water, but I got a decent photo:

At this point, the fish were all down.  The rainbow had seemingly notified every fish within 100 yards to be careful.  I sat on the bank, waiting for any fish to return to the surface.  The first fish to return were the bigger fish in the slower water.  However, they were still very wary and any cast in their direction put them down immediately.  Not long after that, the fish in the riffle started rising again.  This time, it only took one cast and I hooked another fish.  My first thought was that it was a rainbow, because it was tail dancing on the surface the second it felt the hook.  Instead, it turned out to be a brown - the smallest of the 3 fish I'd caught:

At this point in time, it was about 20 minutes past sunset.  I had a tough hike back to the car.  But, I didn't want to quit quite yet.  I waited 3-4 minutes to be sure no fish would return to the surface, but it remained very quiet.  So, I headed to the car.

All told, I probably drove 40 minutes.  I hiked another 40 minutes.  I fished maybe 25 minutes, and probably 5 of those minutes, I had no fly on my line.  Other times, I was simply in a waiting mode.  So, in 15 minutes of real fishing, I took 3 nice fish from a river that rarely gives me any fish at all.  I'd call it quite a successful little adventure.

In 5 days, my fly fishing vacation starts, not that I'm counting down the days...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Isonychia Dry Flies

Below are pics of some of the isonychia dry flies that I've been using.  The comparadun certainly got smacked around on the White River on Sunday night.

If you like them, contact Vermont Fly Guys on Facebook and order some for yourself:

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sunday Evening on the White River

I got to the White last night with over 2 hours to fish before darkness.  The first thing I did was check the water temperature, even though I was sure it would be cool enough to fish.  Just 2 weeks ago, a friend had measured the river at 72F near the town of Sharon.  A week ago, a small tributary of the White that is almost always very cool was 67F.  Last night, the White was at 59.6F.  This was in the main branch, downstream from Bethel and upstream from South Royalton.  I was very surprised that the water had cooled that much so quickly.

Because I had a good chunk of time for fishing, I opted to start in the lowest part of this stretch of river.  I rarely fish this lowest part and I don't know if I've ever taken a fish there.  But, I had plenty of time and with low water levels, I could wade to a spot that allowed me to access some deeper water that I rarely ever get to fish.  I spent about 20 minutes in this stretch and then decided to move up to a more reliable fishing spot.  When I turned around to head upstream, I was shocked to see 2 other fishermen right in front of me.

I'd checked for cars when I parked.  I'd looked up and down the river as well.  If I'd been able to see anyone fishing anywhere in this stretch, I would have gone elsewhere.  The White is not a crowded river.  The only time I've shared this stretch with anyone other than my son or my wife was during a fly fishing tournament earlier this season.  That day, I was the second person to arrive and I gave the guy who was there first a wide berth.  I fished far away from him, talked to him for a couple minutes, and then went somewhere else.

These two guys had parked close to my car and basically stepped into the river not very far from where I was fishing.  If I'm in Pennsylvania, I'm used to seeing stuff like this on the Yellow Breeches or Little Juniata.  Those are streams that get a lot of pressure, especially on the weekends.  Even in VT, I can think of spots on the New Haven or Otter or Winooski where I might see another fisherman.  But, I've never had anyone step into the river right beside me like that.  But, the White is a big river and I knew I could go around them and get upstream to some better fishing.

On the way past, I talked to them a bit.  They had never fished the river before.  I pointed out a seam in the main pool that they were working, and suggested they focus on that.  I suggested some flies to them, but they had never heard of isonychia (or the more common name - Slate Drake).  I tried to find some in the air to show them, but the iso's were sparse last night.

They didn't have any of the standard nymphs that they should have been carrying - Prince, Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tail, RS2, etc.  One of them was fishing a muddler minnow and I don't know what the other guy was using.  If they hadn't crowded me out of a spot I was going to fish, I might have given them a couple flies to try.  But, I guess I'm not that nice, so I simply headed upstream.

I got at least 50 yards upstream before I put in another cast, determined that I would not crowd them as they had done to me.  I did see them each catch one fish in the lower pool, so maybe I should fish muddler minnows in the White more often.  To be honest, I don't think I've ever thrown a muddler minnow in the White - a river dominated by rainbows (my last brown in the White was caught almost 2 years ago).  I tend to find that if rainbows are going to eat streamers, a white or olive woolly bugger is usually going to work.  And, I had no luck in the pool above them.  By now, I'd tried hare's ears, an isonychia nymph, a BWO nyph and a prince nymph variation, along with a grasshopper pattern.  No strikes at all.

I headed further upstream.  This was where I had a clear advantage over the other 2 guys on the river.  I know this stretch of water inside-out, and the best fishing is the topmost pool in this half mile stretch of water.  I continue to work the nymphs as I headed up.  With the cooler temperatures, I worked some shallow riffles that never produce anything when the water is warm, but sometimes produce in cooler water.  Nothing.

As I got to the lower end of the top pool, I decided to try a strike indicator.  I prefer to fish without them and really work hard to feel the strikes on my own.  This is probably foolish, as I know they work and they can really help with a dead drifted nymph.  I had no luck with the added strike indicator either.  I was now wondering what was going on.  I don't think I'd fished this stretch this year without a strike, and it was getting close to sunset.

Insects in the air were sparse.  I'd seen two iso's and a couple BWOs.  I hadn't seen one fish rise, although the 2 guys below me had seen one fish come to the surface.  But, I was looking at getting skunked, so I decided to try a local version of an isonychia comparadun.  I know a local guide who claims he fishes this fly all through the autumn, even when no fish are rising.  As I was tying on the fly, I saw two more iso's in the air, which I took as a good sign.

On my third cast, I got a strike. I was so surprised that I didn't even set the hook.  A few casts later, a big fish came up for the fly and missed it, but flew completely out of the water.  He was easily in the 16"-18" range.  A few casts later, I caught a feisty wild rainbow.  Not long after that, after the fly had sunk at the end of the drift, I hooked a fish while retrieving the fly underwater.  Then, I caught another fish.  Missed a few more.  Had another strike while the fly was underwater.  Caught another on the surface.

By the time it got dark, I'd had at least 10 strikes on the surface and 2 sub-surface.  I only got 3 fish to the net, but it was a very exciting 30 minutes.  I guess I'm going to be a bit quicker to go to this pattern for the next few weeks, even if we don't have many bugs in the air or fish coming to the surface.

A 12-day vacation devoted to fly fishing around the state of Vermont starts on 9/27.

Monday, September 8, 2014

White River Tributary

Late last week, I got some flies from The Vermont Fly Guys.  It's great to have a local company that will custom tie flies at a reasonable price.  They know the local waters, they fish the same rivers I fish, and I can give them a rough idea of what I want, and they'll hook me up.  If you fly fish in VT, and you don't tie all of your own flies, I highly recommend these guys.

I had ordered a bunch of isonychia patterns.  I wanted them to cover the entire life cycle, from swimmer through spinner.  I expected to get some comparaduns, the standard dun pattern for isonychia.  They also did some articulated duns, which was pretty cool.  The spinners are very interesting, taking advantage of more modern materials and adding a little bit of bright foam for visibility and flotation.

For swimmers, this is what I got (both pictures are from the Facebook page of the VT Fly Guys.  I didn't take these photos):

For emergers, this is what I got:

And, I got a few other bead head nymphs as well.

The delivery of these flies cause me all sorts of logistical problems.  I spent Saturday going through my flies and fly boxes.  To be honest, I had no idea how many flies I owned.  I have two big boxes of large streamers that I only use early season, in high water, or in the fall for browns.  I have a box of various woolly buggers.  I have 2 boxes of all dry flies.  One box dedicated to stoneflies of all sorts.  And then, I had 3 more boxes of nymphs.  I did a quick count of the flies.  There were too many to be precise, but there were over 600 flies spread among 9 boxes.  The buggers and big streamers are boxed appropriately.  I carry those boxes only when I expect to need them.  The stones are boxed appropriately and I carry them all the time.  The classic dries for Vermont (Hendricksons, BWOs, Cahills, Quill Gordons, Caddis, sulphurs, terrestrials, plus attractors like Adams, Royal Coachman and varieties, stimulators, humpies, etc.) are all in the 2 boxes of dries.  I catch fewer than 20% of my fish in VT on dries, so it's not a huge collection.  But, it's probably at least 150 dry flies.  Then, the nymphs needed some work.  I re-organized them into a box of the core patterns that I always need - mostly the classics like PT's, hare's ears, zug bugs, various baetis nymphs, Sloan emergers, RS2's, etc.  The other bigger nymph box got was filled with the flies I use less frequently, but I need them sometimes.  And finally, because the iso's are so seasonal, I put them in a box of their own.

I can't imagine how guides deal with carrying so many flies and always having the correct fly for their customers.  There are times I feel the need to carry up to 6 of these boxes, which is a pain.  But, I'd rather not be a mile from my car and find fish feeding on something when the appropriate fly is back in the car.

So, after all of that work, I headed out to a favorite White River tributary last night.  Despite easy access, I've never seen another fisherman on this stream.  The wading is easy.  The water temperatures are usually cool, although at 67F last night, it was as warm as I've seen it.  But, the main branch nearby was 74F and not fishable.

At the car, I tied on a yellow humpy.  I know this fly doesn't get used a lot in VT.  It's probably a throwback to my days fly fishing in the Sierra Nevada in CA, where all you needed most of the time were elk hair caddis and humpies.  And, they were often interchangeable.  I like the humpies because the little bit of extra color makes them easy to see.  They also float well.

After tying on that humpy, I brought 6 boxes of flies with me - 2 boxes of dries, two of nymphs, one of stones, and one of isonychia patterns,   I then fished for 2.5 hours and never changed my fly.

That's the conundrum at times.  When I hit the water, I can probably name 3-4 flies that will be all I need most of the time.  If I could go to 10 flies, I'd be covered 99% of the time.  Yet, I somehow carry over 100 patterns on a regular basis.

As I got to the stream, I looked in the air and in the water.  Everything came up caddis flies, although there were a few midges around.  I did see a solitary BWO at sunset.

The fishing was a bit slower than the last time I fished this stream.  The water was clearer and two holes that always seem to produce gave me nothing.  I did have 8 strikes in the first 30 minutes or so, hooking 2 and landing 1.  And then things went dead for a while.  I did see 2 decent size fish in one pool and they didn't seem to have seen me.  But, multiple casts right over them provoked no interest at all.  I debated changing flies, but I'd just had a bunch of hits on the humpy, so I stuck with it.  Finally, as sunset approached, the action picked up again, despite the lack of bugs in the air.  I caught another fish.  Missed a couple.  Hooked and lost another.  Missed a couple more. 

By the time it got dark, I'd hooked 4, landed 2, and missed maybe 10 other strikes.  Not bad given the low, clear, warm-ish water.

I've got some time off work later this week, and with our temperatures heading down, I might try to see if the White is fishable in the morning late in the week.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Lots of Bugs, One Fish, and a Quick Look at Patagonia's Foot Tractor Wading Boots

My wife and I rarely skip going to the gym during the week.  But, we've had a lot of hard workouts the past couple weeks and we decided to skip it last night.  We tried to get out of Burlington as quickly as possible, to get home early for once.  Traffic was a nightmare, but we made it to the highway eventually.

On the way home, I decided I was going to sneak out for a little bit of fishing.  I opened a weather app on the way home and was disheartened to see that sunset was at 7:36.  It was at 8:00 not that long ago.

I got home and got my gear together as quickly as I could.  I ditched the mono leader that caused me problems last time out.  I took a best guess on what flies would work, going with a Prince nymph trailed by a baetis nymph.  I got this all done as quickly as possible and left for the river at 6:45.  I got there at 7:00 and got my waders on.  I also had my new Patagonia Foot Tractor wading boots (online review here).

I mentioned recently that Orvis was amazing with their customer service when my left wading boot fell apart.  Regretfully, as I looked around for new boots, the best deal I could find on a sufficient boot was not an Orvis boot.  I will give the refund I'm getting from Orvis back to them in business.  I think I owe them that based on how they treated me.  But, after reading reviews and checking prices, I chose a non-Orvis boot.  But, they sell plenty of other things I can use on the water.

I ordered the boots in my true shoe size based on online recommendations and that was clearly the right size.  They slipped on quite easily and laced easily.  Despite their reputation for being a heavy boot, they are lighter than my previous boots.  I did slip on grass going downhill to the river, but once in the water, I was amazed at how them gripped rocks that felt slick the last time I fished this section.  I was instantly sold on them in the water.  For hiking, probably not.  But for in-water safety, I am simply sold.  They were comfortable and supportive.  I hope they are durable, but time will tell there.

I had a limited amount of time, so I decided to work three holes in the 75 or so minutes that I had.  The first hole typically generates some action, and I'd hooked a big fish on a prince nymph the last time I was here.  As I started to cast, I was watching the air and the water surface.  At first, I noticed the caddis.  Then, I saw there were a number of small BWOs as well.  Midges are always there.  But, bit by bit in the fading light, I started to notice isonychia duns.  Just a couple at first, but then more.  They were big too.  Regretfully, I had just ordered some isonychia flies from the Vermont Fly Guys, but they haven't arrived yet.  I worked the nymphs I had started with and kept my eyes open for any surface feeders.

Surprisingly, the first hole produced nothing at all.  No surface feeders and no strikes.  The last time I fished here, I not only hooked a big fished, but watched another good sized fish rise at least half a dozen times.  So, I moved up to the second hole.  This is where the new boots were really amazing.  For this second hole, it's really nice to get pretty far out to get a clean drift, and you are wading in fast water.  Normally, I stop short of where I'd like to cast because I'm concerned about the safety.  Last night, it felt safe and easy to go the whole way out.

I had one soft strike on my second or third cast, but I missed the set.  Then, a good sized brown cleared the water, going after something.  I stopped fishing for a while to see if he would return.  As I waited for the fish to rise again, I was trying to decide between an Elk Hair Caddis, a BWO, or something to approximate an iso, if needed.  A Dark Hendrickson was probably the best I had in that department.  While I was waiting, a smaller fish rose a few times well downstream.  I finally gave up on the big fish returning and made a few more casts with my nymphs.  Nothing, so I moved upstream to the most productive of the three holes.  I worked the lower part of the hole, that sometimes gives up wild brookies, but no luck.  As I got near the top, I missed one fish on a subtle strike.

I also saw another good sized fish rise, but after waiting a while, that one didn't return either.  As I got to the top of the hole, I hooked and landed one small wild rainbow.  He had taken the baetis nymph.  Shortly after releasing this fish, I noticed three different fish rising.  Two were clearly small and rose multiple times.  The third was far away and would have been difficult to reach with a cast.

It was getting dark, so I started back downstream.  I fished down to where I started, staying there until the last bit of light had faded away.  Near the end, the bugs were all gone, the fish weren't biting and it was just me a and a bunch of bats flying above me in the air.

So, 75 minutes, three soft strikes, one small fish, some fish to the surface but I stuck with nymphs, my first iso's of the season, the boots seem like they'll work, and it was a good day.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hatches everywhere and I'm not on the water

Flying Ants showed up last week - all through central VT.

Yellow sulphurs showed up in the tiny river in the town where I live.  I know of at least two people who took fish on the surface on sulphurs in a river where I rarely catch anything.  They even caught rainbows in a river where almost every fish that I do land is a brown or a brookie.

And late last week, isonychias were reported all through the center of the state.

I have no wading boots.  I ordered a new pair to replace the boots that fell apart, but they won't be here until Wednesday.  Maybe I'll get out after work one night this week, after the new boots show up.

I could fish my old Simms felt-soled boots, but they are illegal here in VT.  Not only do I not want to be fined, I don't want to risk spreading rock snot from one river to another either.

Water temperatures are unusually cool for August and I hear the fishing is great.  I just didn't get out this past weekend to verify that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wading boots - great customer service from Orvis

After my left boot fell apart on Sunday night, I sent an e-mail to Orvis.  I told them about the boot problem and asked about a repair or perhaps a partial credit towards a new pair of boots.

I had purchased the boot that fell apart just before our season opener in 2012 - about 2 and a half seasons ago.  I probably have 100 days on the boots.  I had also purchased them as a closeout item for about 60% of the original retail. I had gotten this boot as Orvis transitioned to an updated model.

Orvis responded that they don't do repairs on boots.  But, if I am willing to send the boots back, they are willing to refund my entire purchase price.  I spent $99 for the boots and used them about 100 days (which I honestly explained to Orvis).  And, they still offered me a full refund on them.

That's amazing customer service from Orvis.

I don't own any Orvis rods, but I have 3 pairs of wading boots (mine, my son's and my wife's boots), 2 pairs of waders, 2 reels, 2 lines, lots of leaders, flies and fly tying materials.  They've certainly earned more of my business.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Not skunked on the White this time, but leader problems instead

With the cooler than average temperatures and one big rainfall this week, the White was in good shape for fishing this past weekend.  I got out late yesterday afternoon, hoping to take advantage of the cloud cover to get an early start.  I parked downstream from where I usually fish, hoping to explore one new stretch of water.  I found some nice pocket water in the lower stretches.  For the most part, I was guessing on what flies to use.  The White is way different than the Otter or New Haven, where you can flip over a rock, inspect the insects, and make a good guess on what flies to start with.  I started with a double rig of a Montana Prince and an BWO nymph.  I got a few strikes in the lower reaches and finally landed one small rainbow on the prince nymph.

Early on, the insect life was pretty limited.  There were plenty of midges, but nothing was rising to them.  I saw a few Tricos as well, and  a couple BWOs.  But, with no surface action, I stayed underwater with the nymphs.  After a while, I switched to a different BWO nymph - the RS2 - as my trailer.  But, it seemed that the fish only cared about the Montana Prince.

Eventually, I headed upstream to one of my favorite stretches of the river.  It's a series of 4 holes.  The lower hole has never been very productive for me.  The second often has some fish on the surface and it has a really nice seam where fish congregate.  The third hole is small, but I always get a strike or two there.  The fourth "hole" is really a long, deep stretch with decent fishing in the lower part, but the fishing just gets better as you move to the top of the hole.  It's also a hole that holds wild brookies, which are not common that far down on the White.

As usual, the first hole yielded nothing, so I moved to the second.

I waded in to the first good access point and fished for about 15 minutes with nothing at all.  So, I moved upstream and that's where things started to happen.  On my first cast from the new spot, something slammed my fly.  I set the hook and could feel a couple head shakes and then the fish was gone.  Regretfully, the fish snapped me off, and it felt like a good fish.  I re-tied the same two flies and things were quiet for a while.  Well, except for one decent rainbow that was feeding on the surface.  He cleared the water completely 3 times and I saw him rise another half dozen times.  But, he was wandering all over the place, with no consistency to the rises.  I also couldn't figure out what he was feeding on, so I stuck with my nymphs.

Suddenly, while watching for the surface feeder, I had another strike.  I set the hook and nothing.  I brought my fly rig in to inspect it and both flies were gone again.  WTF?  But, I did suddenly think about something.  I almost always fish fluoro leaders, although I carry nylon/monofilament for dry fly hatches.  A few trips ago, I was fishing mostly on the surface and I needed a new leader, so I put on a mono leader.  To be honest, I was in a small creek fishing for small fish, so I grabbed an older leader from my vest.  I think we all have those - leaders that have been in the vest for a long time and eventually, you get around to using them.  A couple years ago, I tied on an Umpqua leader that might have been 20 years old and caught two big browns on that leader.  Sometimes, you get lucky.

I'm not sure if the leader had degraded with time, or if the new knot I'm using this year (the Double Davy) doesn't work as well with mono as it does with fluoro or if maybe I just tied some poor knots.  It is very important to get the Double Davy seated well before clipping so it can't come undone.

But, suddenly, I had lost two fish due to the knot failing.  Plus, it was my lead fly, so I was losing two flies at a time.  As I was getting ready to tie on another fly, I got a clue to what the one fish on the surface was eating.  I saw a few light Cahills come off the water.  This was unusual, because they are usually done by mid July or so, but there they were.  Maybe the cooler than average weather for the past six weeks has messed up some hatch timing.

So, I tried a light Cahill for a while, but I couldn't seem to get the fly where the fish was.  Every time I got a nice float through the zone where I'd last seen the fish, he would rise somewhere else.  After 15 minutes or so, I gave up, and I went back to the Montana Prince and RS2 combo.

I moved up to the third hole, and got one strike but failed to hook the fish.  From there, I moved up to the bottom of the fourth hole.  The wading is a little bit tough here because you have to wade right on the edge of an island and the drop-off is somewhat steep.  I was being careful, trying not to kick up too much mud, and trying to not fall in, when my boot felt funny.  I looked down and my left boot had come apart.  The bottom part of the sole had separated from the rest of the boot everywhere but the tip.  I contemplated calling it a day, but this fourth hole is the best of the bunch.  I had to fish even though walking/wading was awkward.

Casting is also difficult here, because you are tight to the bank and the bank is about chest level, so back-casting is almost impossible.  Roll casting is the way to go here and I worked upstream doing just that.  I only had one hit (and missed him) on the way to the top of the hole.  At the top of the hole, it is framed by a rock on either side and it's best to wade out so you can keep the fly between those rocks.  On my first cast at the top of the hole, I felt my fly simply slow down for a second.  I set the hook and brought a decent wild rainbow to the net.  This one had taken the RS2.

Two casts later, I had a hard strike, but I failed to hook the fish.  It was now heading towards sunset.  Some smaller fish were rising just upstream from me, but they seemed too small to be worth the effort, when the hole below me holds some big fish.  I was also starting to see some Yellow Sallies, which might explain why the Prince Nymph was working so well, although I probably should have had a different color stonefly pattern on the line.  A few casts later, I had another hard strike, and again, I failed to hook the fish.  I made about 10 more casts and called it a day, as it was getting dark and I still had to get downstream to my car with a messed up boot.  As I reeled in my line, I discovered that my flies were gone.  A third distinct knot had failed on that last strike.  Altogether, I probably lost $20 worth of flies, a handful of fish I should have caught, plus my boot fell apart.

Nonetheless, being able to fish the main branch of the White in August is rare, so it was still a good night.  And, I'll go back to a Rio Fluorflex leader before I go out again.

Hatches:  A couple BWOs, a few light Cahills, Yellow Sallies at sunset, lots of tricos and midges.  Only a limited amount of surface action.  All of my strikes came underwater on Beadhead Montana Prince Nymphs - size 14 and 16, except one on a size 14 dark olive RS2.  No Isonychia, but they should start showing soon.  And, the BWOs should start to become more plentiful shortly.

P.S. - I sent Orvis a note about my wading boots.  I still have a 20 year old pair of Simms boots that are in great shape.  I can't use them in VT any more because of their felt soles, but I use them in PA when I visit there.  They probably have 2-3 times more days on them than the Orvis boots that just fell apart.  I'm hoping Orvis will offer me some kind of repair or return on the boots.  I didn't mention the leader issues in my message.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Skunked on the White

We have had some cooler than average weather for the past couple weeks.  Because of this, I was starting to think that perhaps the main branch of the White River would be heading back towards 70F, and I could fish there again.

My last two outings had been on small tributaries.  One was below 62F in the morning, and the other was not far under 70F in the evening.  I assumed I would need to go out in the morning to catch the river at its coolest temperature.

My wife and I were planning to fish Saturday morning, but I felt a little bit stuck.  If the White was going to be too warm, my back-up plan was a 75 minute drive to the upper New Haven.  But, by the time I got to the White in the morning to check the temperature, it would be rather late to be heading over to the New Haven if the White was too warm.  Luckily, my wife decided to get some pizza for dinner on Friday night at a place in Bethel - right by the main branch.  I felt somewhat bad for asking, but she willingly took my stream thermometer and got a reading - 69.5F.  This was in the evening, so I knew it would be lower in the morning.

So, we set our alarms for very early and we were on the river just after 6:00.  I checked the water temperature and it was 66F.  Perfect.  We geared up and waded in.  I was really excited to be on my favorite stretch of the White for the first time all season.  This is the spot where I have taken my second largest rainbow in Vermont.  A spot where I occasionally get a brown, even though they aren't that common in the White.  Smallmouths are also a treat.  When you hook an 18" smallie, it feels like you have a 30" trout on the line.  Then, you see that flash of green and understand why it's pulling so hard.  The toughest part about fishing here has always been the wading.  I've taken falls twice getting across the river to where I wanted to fish.  Eventually, I discovered that I could park on the other side of the river and wade more easily to my fishing zone.  There is a big island in the river here, and most of the water flows on the side where I fish.  The water on the other side of the island was easy to wade.

But, over the winter, something changed.  A new channel developed on the back side of the island, and suddenly, wading from that side wasn't safe either.  So, I've been waiting for months for the water to get to a safe level to wade to my fishing spot.

Here is a satellite photo of the area we were fishing:

The big island that splits the river is near the top/center of the photo.  The fishing spot is on the Rt. 14 side of the river, but you fish back towards the road, from near the big island.  The river is flowing up and to the right in this photo.

But, as soon as we'd waded from the road to the island, I knew something was up.  The flows were really, really low - lower than could be explained by the lack of rain that we've been experiencing.  It quickly became obvious that the river had truly changed over the winter, and a lot of the water flow was now on the other side of the island.  Almost all of the pools that have consistently given up fish were low and very calm.  The rock where I'd taken the big rainbow last year wasn't even fishable any more; there's no hole there at all.  I was extremely disappointed to find that one of my favorite places on the White was not what it used to be.

But, we were there and we started fishing.  I had set my wife up with a Hopper/dropper rig, and I put on a stonefly nymph and a caddis pupa.  The water was so calm that I pretty much let my wife fish the stretch.  My nymphs weren't really going to move at all due to the lack of current.  I said that maybe we should concentrate on the two pools below the island, although I've never taken a fish out of either of those pools.  I was guessing that's where the fish were, given that they had likely abandoned the stretch we were fishing.

But, we continued upstream.  My wife had a smallmouth hit the hopper 4 times in 3 casts, but she couldn't hook it.  We decided to explore terrain upstream from where we were.  We fished a nice stretch just below the railroad bridge.  Here, I got my only strike of the day on a large yellow stonefly.  My wife had one fish come to the surface for her hopper, but the fish evaded the sharp point of the hook.

Right at the bridge, there was a huge hole, but we couldn't safely wade to the bridge trestle that would give us access.  So, we went above the hole and fished down towards it.  Nothing.  We hiked further upstream to a pool I'd always wanted to fish, but it usually has poor wading access.  This time it was easy to wade, but we had no strikes.  By now, I'd fished small stones, larger stones, caddis pupa, BWO nymphs and even a Hendrickson emerger.  Nothing worked.

The only insects we saw in the air were a few Tricos, but they weren't bringing any fish to the surface.  I dropped down to a size 20 nymph, but even that nymph was way bigger than the few flying bugs we saw.  Nothing.

And then the sun came out.  It had been foggy all morning, but as the fog burned off, we realized we were pretty much done.  So, we hiked back downstream.  I was able to entice the same stupid smallmouth to hit a hopper pattern again, but once again, he avoided the sharp point.  As we got to the car, I realized that I hadn't caught a fish for the first time in a long time.  It turned out that my last fishless day was 5/25, when I did some scrambling up a gorge on a tiny stream named Adams Brook.  Every day since then had seen at least one trout to the net, and it was only 1 time that I caught just 1 fish.  I've been getting 6-8 fish most days since then, but not Saturday.

I don't know what will happen with this fishing spot now.  It's been a favorite spot for years, but it seems to not be worth my time any more, unless the current shifts again.  Luckily, I've found a few other spots on the White this year that are a lot of fun, and it's a huge river.  I won't be lacking for places to fish.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Another new (to me) White River tributary

I only had a couple hours this weekend, but I took advantage by visiting a tributary of the White River.  Just like the tributary I fished on Monday, this is one I have driven across many, many times.  I've often talked of fishing there, but until Saturday, I never had.

Monday morning, on a different tributary, I had encountered cool water.  This time, I was surprised to find the water just under 70F.  I know that the Middlebury Mountaineer has reported seeing temperature swings of 10 degrees in a day on some small streams recently.  This stream might have been cool in the morning, but it was barely safe to fish there Saturday evening.

The hardest part about fishing this stream was getting to the water.  The bridge over the stream is way above the stream with a steep descent to the water.  A nearby pull-out provides even worse access - an eroded wall of dirt that cannot possibly be safely navigated.  I finally found another place to park and hiked a bit to get easier access to the water.

Overall, this stream was smaller than the one I fished on Monday.  And, I quickly noticed that most of the deeper water was incredibly still.  I initially worked a deep hole for a bit, but a snag created enough turbulence to scare away any fish that hadn't seen me yet.  I did return to this hole a couple hours later, and despite my stealth, I saw no signs of fish.  So, I headed upstream.

On Monday, it seemed like I'd found one fishable pocket after another.  On this stream, I had to hike a bit between possible holding spots.I was about a quarter mile upstream, working the riffles above a deep, slow pool when I saw my first fish.  The fish rose to the fly and then changed its mind.  But, a few casts later, that fish, or another of similar size, took the fly.  It was a wild rainbow, about 8".  I landed and released the fish as quickly as I could, given the water temperatures.  That hole provided one more strike, but I missed it.

Upstream I went.  I found a fairly nice riffle just above another big hole, and this spot produced one more small rainbow.  The next few riffles gave me nothing.

Next, I tried a deep pool that was well protected by a huge boulder and low hanging trees.  I managed to avoid getting snagged and I got some good drifts, but no fish rose to the fly.

From here, the travel got difficult.  This stream took a big hit in Hurricane Irene, and there is still substantial debris that makes navigating the stream challenging.  After working through a bunch of debris, I found a series of nice looking riffles and smaller pockets of water, but I had no luck whatsoever.  I tried a few different flies, although I stayed with dries the entire time.  I went smaller (size 18 parachute Adams) and brighter (size 16 yellow humpy), but a size 14 Elk hair caddis was all that produced strikes.

As I continued to head upstream, the light was fading on me, and suddenly, I was at the bottom of a very long, slow, shallow stretch of water.  I took that as a good sign to head back downstream.  A re-visit to the first pool I'd fished produced nothing, so I headed home to cook a late dinner for my family.

Two small wild rainbows.  That's it.  I hoped to get to the New Haven on Sunday, but some early thunderstorms messed up those plans.  Next weekend, I have a lot more free time than I had this weekend, so I'll plan on the upper New Haven again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finally got out again

This is why I'm clearly an amateur and not a guide or someone who writes for the fly fishing magazines.  I fished yesterday and it was the first time in over 4 weeks.  I had tried to fish one evening late in June, and the water was too warm.  Since then, life has been full of work, a wedding, a long weekend of volunteer work, and some health issues for my father-in-law.  Fishing wasn't at the top of the list, especially with my favorite streams being unfishable due to warm water.

Yesterday, I took the day off work.  My wife and I had done some volunteer work from Friday through Sunday and I wanted the day to recover.  But, I also needed to get out to fish, so I got up early yesterday and headed to a tributary of the White River.  I was assuming the water temperature would be cool enough to fish, and I even got my waders on and geared up before measuring the temperature.  It was 61.4F - perfect.

My last time out, I'd ended the day fishing a parachute Adams as an attractor (truthfully, that fly was on because I was able to see it as it got dark the last time I'd been out), while dangling a size 18 Ju Ju Baetis below it.  The nymph had taken the fish last time.  There were no bugs in the air, so I figured I'd start with these same flies.  The stream was small.  It was really just pocket water.  But, with the water so clear, pocket water is perfect; it allows you to sneak up on fish from downstream without spooking an entire large pool if you make a mistake while wading.  And, I did spook a number of fish and got to watch them swim away despite wading carefully.

On my 4th or 5th cast, a rainbow slammed the parachute Adams.  It was a wild fish, about 9" or so, and just beautiful.  I snapped a couple photos and released him.  I realized it was my first fish on a dry fly this season.

The fish hit the fly so hard that he destroyed the "parachute" part of it, so I switched to a BWO with a dropper.  Shortly after switching flies, I saw a couple BWOs in the air, so I was hopeful that I had the right fly.  But, the fly produced nothing at all.  I was seeing some fish in the crystal clear water, but they didn't seem interested at all.  I started to notice a few caddis flies in the air, so I made a quick fly change.  I also got rid of the dropper and just went with a size 16 Elk Hair Caddis.  About this time, I also emerged from the tree canopy into a stretch with sunlight.  I had to be extra careful about my shadow and the shadow of the fly rod.  I'd also switched to 6x tippet, assuming the only fish in the stream were fairly small and I wanted the finer tippet in the clear water.

The first small pool I hit with the caddis yielded nothing, so I moved upstream a bit.  I found a spot that looked perfect, until I realized that casting was going to be tough.  The little pocket I wanted to target was just below a drop-off.  There were rocks on three sides, and just below my target area, a downed tree was an additional hazard.  I made a few short casts into the closer water, working my way towards my prime target.  After nothing on those casts, I went for the prime spot and managed to land the fly perfectly.  I was still trying to find my fly in the foam when the fish hit.  As soon as he felt the hook, he flew downstream towards the tree.  I managed to not get hung up and a couple minutes later, landed my second fish of the day.

A second cast into the same location produced another smaller rainbow.

As I worked my way upstream, I had a blast with the caddis fly and the rainbows.  Over the next two hours, at least 20 fish hit the fly, rose to it and then snubbed it, or simply inhaled it.  I think I ended up getting 7 to the net.  None were bigger than 9" and a couple didn't make it to 6".  But, the fish were beautiful and fought like much bigger fish.  It was great to watch them take off like rockets when they felt the hook.  And, with a 4 weight rod and 6x tippet, I had to be careful to not let them snap me off.

In the last stretch that I fished, I was essentially in someone's back yard.  I hooked 4 fish in a 10 yard stretch of water.  I'd bet the people who live there have no idea what a great fishing resource they have in their back yard.

I had never fished this tributary of the White before, but I'll certainly fish it again.  My next time out, I'm planning to hit the next tributary upstream from this one.

If you really want to know where I was, drop me a note and I'll tell you.  When the pictures were posted, the geo-location information was stripped.  But, I'd suggest just exploring.  These tiny, cool streams can be amazing, although they can be busts as well.  But, this one is on my list to visit again.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Too busy to fish, regretfully

I was shut out one weekend by high water temperatures in my local streams.  Since then, some water bodies have cooled off a bit, but we also had a lot of rain.  And, I've had all kinds of stuff going on that has prevented me from getting out fishing.  Next weekend will not involve fishing due to a family wedding.  The weekend after that, I'm doing volunteer work all weekend.  By then, it will be August with lots of warm water.

I need to get rid of my job and all of the other things in my life that are messing with my fishing.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Time to seek out the smaller waters

My wife and I tried to get out fishing Saturday night.  Our target was the main branch of the White River, near Royalton.  I was happy when I saw the water levels at my targeted spot.  I haven't fished this spot yet this year because wading has been too dangerous.  The water was finally low enough for wading to be safe.

But, before we geared up, I needed to check the water temperature.  Regretfully, it was 71.5F - too hot for catch and release fishing.  I didn't really have a backup location in mind, and every option I could think of meant a significant drive.  So, we headed back home without fishing.

Next weekend, we are going to head north to stay with my in-laws at their summer camp for a few days.  In that part of the state, there are a few rivers that I'm sure will have cooler water temperatures, so we will be able to get some fishing done.  I will certainly target the Black River and its population of small wild rainbows.  If the temperatures downstream are acceptable, I may try for browns below Coventry.

I really need to re-think my options closer to home.  Only the smaller mountain streams are going to be under 70F for the next month or two.  Regretfully, the higher quality streams of this type are not really close to our house.  This will mean driving anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes each direction to go after small native brookies.  I guess I'll be doing some exploring unless our current heat wave breaks and the closer waters cool down a bit.  We could use a break from the heat and it's still June.  We also could use more rain, although most rivers are running a bit above their median water flows for this time of year.  But, the water levels are below optimal for fishing on a lot of rivers.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rising Water Temperatures

I took a vacation day to fish yesterday, heading to Addison County in western VT in search of big browns.  But, due to rising temperatures, the day went nothing like I'd originally hoped.

The day before, I'd checked in with the Middlebury Mountaineer, and their main fly fishing guy told me that some of the waters I wanted to fish were at 70F already.  Both of those spots were on Otter Creek, so that ruled out those waters for the day.  Regretfully, the Otter is a tough spring river and I still haven't fished it this year.  It is a big river (don't let the Creek in the name fool you), and it takes a while in the spring for water levels to drop low enough for safe wading.  This year, about the time the wading was getting safe, the river got too warm for catch and release fishing.  Most people who practice catch and release fishing for trout advocate never fishing water at or above 70F.  I tend to cut things off at 68F, just to be a bit safer.  I don't want to be responsible for the death of a fish in warmer waters.

So, with my plans changed, I first fished on the Middlebury River.  Given its sources, the Midd stays cold a lot longer than some other rivers.  I checked the water and it was 60.5F.  The water was also low and the pocket water I was fishing was challenging.  I opted for a stonefly as my lead fly (I tried golden and brown stones), and played around with various nymphs for my trailing fly.  As careful as I was in and around the water, I did manage to spook a few trout, and I had no strikes.

Next, I stopped at the Middlebury Mountaineer to buy some flies and talk about fishing options.  As I looked at some of the recommended flies, I realized my flies on the Midd had been way too big.  I'd been fishing size 6 stones, with a size 12 dropper.  I picked up five patterns at the store:

  • Size 14 Yellow Sally stonefly (bead head)
  • Size 14 Kyle's Yellow Sally (bead head, a bit more orange than the first fly)
  • Size 16 Sloan emerger (Hendrickson nymph pattern, bead head)
  • Size 18 Master Baetis  (bead head)
  • Size 18 JuJu Baetis 
I can easily tie the latter three flies, and I will plan on adding them to my tying rotation.

The guide at the store recommended a couple places to fish, well south of Middlebury.  I headed that way and immediately ran into two things when I arrived at the river - a dense cloud of mosquitoes and two high school boys fly fishing in the same area.  I covered myself with bug spray and found a place to fish away from the boys.  At one point, one of them decided to invade the area I was fishing, which made me rather unhappy.  So, I took off upstream, driving to a new location.

I spent the next three hours fishing up a narrow gorge, fishing for allegedly big browns and brookies in small pockets of water between the drop-offs.  This was some of the most challenging wading/hiking I've ever done for trout.  At one point, I was thinking that I was working harder than if I'd gone to the gym instead of fishing.  I had the water to myself, but I did not see a single fish, I didn't get a single strike, and I saw no bugs other than mosquitoes.  I did find a very large black stonefly fly in a tree, so some other fisherman at some other time allegedly believed there were big fish in this river.  I also saw very recent footprints low in the gorge, so someone else had fished there as recently as yesterday morning.  But, after three physically intense hours, I hiked out of the gorge and returned to my car.  I decided to head back to Middlebury and see if I could find some cool water on the New Haven.  I pulled into a parking area about 15 minutes before sunset.  I was surprised there were no other cars at this very popular fishing spot.

I hiked to the water and pulled out my thermometer - 66.5F - cool enough to fish.  I started with an elk hair caddis and a juju baetis dropper.  On my fourth cast, my elk hair caddis submerged unexpectedly and I set the hook, eventually landing a wild brown.  A couple casts later, I missed a second fish. Both strikes had come on the baetis and there were no fish on the surface, so I decided to try to double my odds by fishing the baetis behind a yellow sally.  This failed miserably, and 20 minutes later, I went back to the dry and dropper configuration.  It was getting dark and a few fish were working the surface by now.  I got a small wild rainbow on the baetis very quickly.  I had other fish come after the dry fly, but they were either just playing or they were too small to even get it into their mouths.  It was a size 14 and I assume they were small fish.

Finally, it was too dark to see my dry fly any more, so I called it a day.  I had fished hard for 9 hours and I landed 2 trout.  The first 8 hours produced no strikes at all.  Despite arriving home at 10:30, sweaty, smelly from bug juice, and completely exhausted, it was a good day.

It's raining today, which might help our water temperatures a bit.  But, we might soon be entering a period of limited stream fishing, except for high up in the mountains in small, well-shaded streams.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Slow morning on the Winooski

I was lucky to fish at all this past weekend.  Friday night, we had dinner with friends from the gym.  Saturday, most of the day was reserved to celebrate my son's birthday.  Sunday, I had to mow the lawn and we were going to a party at another friend's house.  I also needed to get in a run sometime, do some cooking, and I wanted to tie some flies.  That's simply too much for one weekend unless you don't sleep at all.  As much as I would like to decline every single social engagement and just fish, my wife insists that I participate in the non-fishing world at times.  I'm not really sure why, but she is adamant.

After dinner Friday night, we got home at 11:00.  I set my alarm for 4:45 and I was up by 5:15.  I packed the car and my wife and I were off to the Winooski River.  The flows were low, which helped with wading, but the fishing turned out to be pretty slow.  We fished at the confluence of the Mad and the Winooski, a spot that always seems to give up a few fish, and occasionally a big fish.  Because of the low water, we fished it a bit differently than normal.  My plan was to put my wife high in the seam where the clearer waters of the Mad met the murkier waters of the Winooki.  But, despite new wading boots, she was a little bit uncomfortable in the water, so I stayed with her and helped her.  After she worked through a portion of the large hole we were fishing, I would use some longer casts to hit areas she hadn't reached.  We got a few gentle strikes at the top of the pool, but no hook-ups.  I tried an RS2 for the first time this year because there were some BWOs in the air.  Not a lot, but they were there.  After no luck with the RS2, and having lost it, I switched to a green caddis larva.  I had seen a few caddis flies as well and wondered if that might work.  Essentially, we crossed the river above the hole, fishing the top of the pool, then fished down the other side, crossed back, and my wife took a break while I fished the final section we hadn't touched.

I did managed to get one small wild rainbow, on the green nymph.  Hare's ears, various versions of Prince nymphs and PTs did not really get much action.  The water temperature was 62F.  We are now at that part of the year where my thermometer is with me all the time.  I heard that the Otter Creek (really a misnomer - it's a huge river) hit 70F today, so we might be done with that river until September.  That is disappointing to me because I planned to fish the Otter tomorrow.

Back to Saturday...

After we finished at the initial location, we went downstream, to the other side of Waterbury, but above the Bolton power dam.  I posted a picture in a recent post of a big fish I'd taken on the Winooski last fall.  We went to that hole.  There are a number of approaches to this hole, but most of the action seems to come by wading to the middle of the river, above a big hole and then casting towards the shore where we started, letting flies drift into the main part of the pool that way.  Other times, long casts from the other side can be effective as well.  And, it's often effective to let your fly drift in the current, and occasionally strip 3-5 feet of line, letting the fly head downstream.  Pickups are common at the end of these drifts.  Lastly with woolly buggers or muddler minnows or sirloins, fish will take the fly on the strip or while it's being reeled in slowly.

We tried all of these techniques.  We even tried some dries after one huge trout cleared the water completely twice and a third fish also rose.  There were a few light Cahills around, so we tried that pattern with no success.  It seemed like the fish were playing rather than feeding.  Or perhaps they were taunting us.

My wife did manage to hook one fish on the strip and drift method, but it wasn't on too long.  I'm guessing it was a good fish, primarily because I never catch small fish here.  It seems to be a pool full of large wild rainbows and nothing else.

Finally, about 11:00, the sun was high, the wind was making casting difficult, and we needed to head home.  So, we got just one fish for the day, and maybe half a dozen strikes.

Saturday turned into a late night with a nice restaurant dinner for my son's birthday, and when the alarm went off at 4:45 on Sunday, I was exhausted.  This was my only chance to fish on Sunday, and I have to admit that I opted for sleep instead.  It was a bit easier to do that, knowing that I am taking a vacation day to fish tomorrow.

I'm heading to Addison County, the land of big brown trout, for the day tomorrow.  I haven't caught a brown yet this year, and my goal for the day is one large brown trout.  More would be nice, but the goal is size over quantity.  Regretfully, with the Otter at 70 degrees, two of my planned fishing holes are now non-options.  A third spot is perilously close to 70F as well.  I e-mailed the local fishing shop for advice, and told them I'd be stopping by tomorrow.  They told me they can give me some good advice on some cooler streams that hold big browns.  That sounds great to me.  I'll report back on Wednesday.