Thursday, May 29, 2014

Getting ready for the weekend

This weekend is the White River Open Fly Fishing Tournament.  It's a first year event on the river that I fish most often.  It's not expensive either, so I had to enter.  I've been doing reasonably well on the White the past few weeks, so I'm confident I won't get skunked like I did in the Otter Creek Classic on opening weekend the past two years.

Work has been really busy this week, with a new customer getting started with my company.  This and trips to the gym and have prevented me from spending any time at the vise.

So, today at lunch, I went to the local shop and picked up some soft hackle PTs, and a variety of dries for our recent hatches - Quill Gordons, Cahills, and the fading Hendricksons.  Plus, BWOs will be showing up soon, so I got a few of those as well.  I don't get to fish dries very often here in VT, but the White River's hatches seem to finally be recovering from Hurricane Irene, so I'm hopeful I'll start taking more fish on dries this summer.

In the meantime, those soft hackle PTs will be my second fly in my tandem rig on Saturday.  My first fly will likely be one that I've found both smallmouth bass and rainbows like, and I'm planning to start on a section of river where I can find both.  That fly is one I'm going to need to tie myself, either tonight or tomorrow night.  I just have to find the time.  It's a variation on a classic fly, with the addition of some fluorescent orange chenille at the head, which the smallies seem to love.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Weekend Fishing Report

We had a fair amount of rain last week and early in the weekend.  Some Facebook posts I saw on Saturday told me that many of the local rivers were running high and off-color.  It's now past Memorial Day weekend and I've been unable to fish the main branches of two of my favorite rivers because water levels are too high for safe wading.  It's odd that growing up in PA, fishing for stocked fish, I would usually transition from chasing trout to chasing bass after Memorial Day.  This year, I feel like I've barely gotten started with trout.

Saturday, my daughter had a lacrosse game and I used the trip downtown to watch the game in order to scout out two local streams.  I live near the Third Branch of the White River, although I don't fish it very often.  OK, I probably fish it 5-10 times per year when time is tight and I want to get in a little bit of fishing time.  There are wild browns in the river, but I probably get skunked 3 out of every 4 trips on this river.  And too often, if I catch anything at all, it's a stocked fish.  On Saturday, the Third Branch looked a bit high, but clear enough to fish.

I also checked out Ayers Brook, which empties into the Third Branch.  Years ago, it sustained a decent population of small wild browns, but things are a bit tougher these days.  I know browns from the Third Branch spawn in Ayers Brook, but other than that, it seems desolate at times.  The river meanders through a lot of open fields and gets very warm in the summertime.  Yes, there are still fish in there, but fishing can be tough.  The water on Ayers Brook was running a bit high and a bit cloudy.

There is a smaller brook that I'd never fished, called Adams Brook.  It empties into Ayers.  It parallels a long downhill road section.  When I've been running, I've been able to see pockets that look like they might hold fish.  Given that I didn't really want to fish the Third Branch and Ayers was cloudy, I opted for an adventure on Adams.

I started on Ayers and immediately noticed a significant Hendrickson hatch  Even though no fish were rising, I put on a dark Hendrickson and started working upstream.  In the first 15 minutes, my fly was popular.  I don't know if it was tiny brookies just slapping at it, or legit strikes, but there was some action, just no fish hooked.  But, as I continued to work upstream, the hatch thinned out and the action quickly dissipated.

I tried a number of flies in the various small pockets of water I found, with no luck.  I did see one fish about a foot long in one of the holes, but I was fishing with the sun behind me and I got lazy with my shadow, sending him under a rock.  After 2+ hours of boulder-hopping and trying to navigate fallen trees and even a small waterfall, I was soaking wet (with sweat) from the effort.  I called it a day.

On Monday, I had a lot to do, but saved some time in the evening to get out fishing if the weather cooperated.  At 4:30, I'd done all I needed to do and I headed for the town of Pittsfield on the upper part of the main branch of the White.  It rained most of my drive to the river, but rain was intermittent while I fished.  This is where I'd caught a lot of stocked fish a couple weeks ago, but I wanted to see if the Hendricksons would still be hatching and if I could lure some wild fish to the surface.  The answers were yes on the Hendricksons (as well as Cahills and Quill Gordons) and no on the dry fly fishing.  I did managed to pick up one stocked fish on a Psycho Prince and a wild rainbow on a soft hackle.  I missed a handful of strikes as well.

The hatch was a thing of beauty.  What surprised me was that the Cahills easily out-numbered the Hendricksons, but both were there in quantity.  This was easily the best hatch I've seen in VT since Hurricane Irene.  The White River is still heavily silted at places from that storm, but it was nice to see insect levels returning to pre-hurricane levels.  Now, if only the fish remembered how to eat bugs on the surface, the real fun would start.

It was my first time fishing with 2 pieces of equipment.  The rod I used was an 8'6" 5 weight St. Croix Imperial that I got on closeout from a local store that's going out of business.  The other new item was Rio Perception line.  At first, the combo was a disaster for me.  Short casts just didn't want to go.  The rod has a lot of tip flex and the line seemed to want to bunch up near the tip on short casts.  But, with a little patience, I found my rhythm.  I was amazed by how much distance I was able to get with this combo.  I was able to put some dry flies on the far edge of the stream with a fairly light touch, giving me a nice drag-free drift for a while.  The key to the casting was simply remembering that this isn't my old Sage RPL+.  It is slower and it takes a lot longer to load.  But, as soon as I slowed things down, casting got easy.

The Perception line is a low stretch line that I expect to help me with nymphing.  And, I felt like I was able to pick up strikes there pretty well.  But, where it surprised me was performance with dries on long casts.

I'm hoping that the water levels drop some this week, so I can try the lower main branch of the White and the Winooski below Waterbury next weekend.  If water is still high on those streams, I may make the longer drive to fish the New Haven or Middlebury.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


For years, I got by with just one rod and one reel.  The rod was a Fisher 9' 5-wt, and the reel a Ross Gunnison G-2.  Then, I added a Sage RPL+ in 1995 or so (also 9', 5-wt), and I just stopped buying equipment.  Well, I bought a lower end Sage rod (8-wt) and a Ross Cimarron reel in 1997 for salmon fishing in AK, but I haven't touched it in years now.  I think I need to pull it out to chase pike on Otter Creek though.

In the last few years, I've added some new gear.  My favorite set-up these days is a 4-wt. Hardy Zenith  with a Hatch Finatic Plus reel (my personal review here).  This year, I added an 8 foot, 4-wt Winston Passport rod for my son to fish in smaller streams, but he hasn't used it yet.  I've been enjoying it a lot though.

And, my Fisher rod broke opening weekend, so I'm currently in the market for a true 5-wt, either at 8'6" or 9'.  In reality, the Sage fishes best at a 5.5 or so - Rio GPX in a 5 wt is a good line for it.  I have a spare reel set up with a 6 wt. (Rio Gold) for when I fish that rod on big water.

So, my primary outfit is the 4-wt Hardy/Hatch set-up.  I have a spare spool for the Hatch with 5-wt Rio Perception line, but I haven't put it on the Sage yet.

My back-up set-ups include the Sage 5-wt and the Winston 4-wt.  The Ross reel and the Hatch reel are set up with 4 and 5 lines.  Then, I have on older Orvis reel with 6-wt line that I use with the Sage rod on occasion.

But, there's still a gap.  I need that true 5 wt.  I've been looking at a local VT company - Rock and River Rods - a great value rod that I've fished once.  But, our local fly fishing store is currently going out of business.  Everything is marked down there at least 20%.  Today, I'm going to cast some rods there and see if anything really grabs me.

I'd love to pick up one more reel during the close-out sale as well.  Something better than the Orvis Battenkill (not a bad reel at all, but not the smoothest drag release) that is currently third in my reel rotation.

But, the truth is, like most fly fishing gear junkies, I could probably take ten grand into that store during the closeout sale, and spend it all - rods, reels, line, fly tying materials, flies I don't tie myself, fly tying tools, a new pack, new waders for my wife, new wading boots for my wife, a wading staff, etc.

It's really a crazy sport.  I spend my winters teaching skiing and I always marvel at how many dollars I have invested in all the gear I wear/use on the mountain.  When I think about fly fishing, where I frequently have a rod and reel that costs more than a pair of skis with bindings, and I have six fly boxes with over 500 flies, and my vest and Brodin net and lanyard with tools, waders and boots, skiing almost seems cheap.

I guess it's true and the difference between men and boys being the price of their toys.

Assuming we don't get too much rain, I'm planning to fish the White, Mad, Winooski and New Haven (and maybe the Middlebury) this coming holiday weekend.  Best of luck to all my fishing friends out there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Last Thursday

My season has gotten off to a slow start.  My son and I fished in the Otter Creek Classic Fly Fishing tournament on opening weekend.  There were about 80 fishermen in the tournament, maybe a few less than that, and over 2 days, a total of twelve trout were caught.  Neither of us had a strike.

I've been out on the local branch of the White, with one tiny fish to show for it.  I've spent an entire day on the Dog, with two small brookies for my effort.  I've spent some time below Bethel on the White and found dangerous wading conditions and high winds, and I simply gave up.

And then, there was last Thursday.  We were scheduled for a lot of rain heading into the weekend and it was obvious rivers would be in rough shape.  So, I took off work last Thursday.  I wrote this on a post on my other blog after that day:

Luckily, I had taken Thursday as a vacation day to go fly fishing.  I had tried the main branch of the White River on Sunday and there was too much water.  But, I was downstream from where two other branches of the White dump into the main branch.  This time, I stayed on the main branch, but went about 15 miles upstream from where I fished last Sunday.  I went to a popular spot to start and fished there from about noon until 4:00.  There were a few bugs hatching, mostly Hendricksons, so I used a pheasant tail nymph to try to approximate the Hendrickson in its nymph phase.  It took me a while to figure things out, but I finally realized the fish were holding high in the holes, often in some white water just below a drop-off.  They wouldn't touch anything that wasn't drifting exactly with the current.  And, the takes were very subtle.  After all of this finally registered with me, I hooked into 5 wild rainbows and got 3 of them to the net.

A little after 4:00, I decided to find another area to fish.  I drove around for a bit before finally settling on a stretch I'd never fished before near the town of Stockbridge.  It looked like some fishable riffles that would eventually lead me to a couple holes that looked very promising.  On my third cast in the shallower water, a fish slammed my fly hard.  It turned out to be a stocked rainbow.  I had wandered into an area visited by the stocking truck the day before.  While stocked fish aren't my first choice, they can provide a lot of fun and they aren't very picky.  I caught a second fish on my 6th cast and a 3rd on my 10th cast.  As I moved downstream, the fishing just got better.  Eventually, I caught 5 fish at one spot without moving my feet at all.  By the time I'd fished down to the deeper holes that had intrigued me earlier, I had caught close to 20 fish at this spot already.  The deeper holes yielded nothing, so I started to slowly work my way back upstream.  By the time I got back to where I'd started, I'd caught 31 stocked trout, making it 34 for the day.  I'd been in my waders for 9 hours and I was tired, and darkness was approaching, so I got out of there.

Stocked fish aren't very smart, but I still had some fun.  And, maybe by catching and then releasing them, they will learn something and not be such easy prey for the next fisherman that comes along, one who might be looking for dinner.  On occasion, these stocked fish can adapt to the wild and thrive in the river.  Last year, I took a large holdover rainbow that had spent more than a full year in the river.  It's rare, but it happens.  But, most stocked fish end up on a dinner plate somewhere.  I have no objections to that at all.  They really are a consumable resource.  I even wonder if we should stock the rivers here in Vermont that have reproducing fish populations.  But, stocking is popular and is not likely to go away soon.  And, it provided me with 3 hours of fun yesterday.

Getting Started

I live in central Vermont.  I spend as much of the spring, summer and fall as possible on the streams, mostly chasing trout.  Compared to a lot of my local fly fishing friends, I don't get out that much.  If I get out 30-40 days per year, that keeps me pretty happy.  It's late May and I think I've fished 6 or 7 days so far this season.

I've been at this a long time (30+ years), but I had periods of time where I would go years without fishing.  I fished a lot in high school, a little in college (caught my first trout on a fly that I'd tied on Penn's Creek in 1983 or so), a little right after college, and then I took a break.

In 1992 or so, I bought my first decent fly rod, a Fisher rod and Ross Gunnison reel.  That rod snapped a few weeks ago, but the reel is still in use.  In those days, I lived in Silicon Valley and most of my fishing was on backpacking trips to the Sierra Nevada or an occasional weekend on the Truckee River.  I was primarily a distance runner in those days, training for marathons and ultra marathons, and that and my job were very time consuming.  And then kids happened.

I did manage to add a Sage RPL+ along the way and that was my primary rod for years.  In late 1996, I moved to AK and my fishing picked up again.  I bought an 8 weight Sage and used that for salmon a lot.  The only king I ever took on a fly came purely by accident while fishing for grayling with my Sage 5 weight trout stick.  It took 2 hours to land that fish on 4x tippet (the fish was 30-35 pounds), and I immediately released him.

While in AK, my wife and I had our second child, and late in 1998, we were pretty sure we were going to return to the lower 48.  My last fishing day in AK was bittersweet, knowing that I was likely to move before spring.  I was fishing on the Russian, just above the Kenai, sight fishing egg patterns to huge rainbows.  I hooked the rainbow of a lifetime that day, probably 6-8 pounds and close to 30 inches, but he was able to snap me off.

The next spring, I was living in Vermont, and for quite a few years, I spent most of my weekend time running and hiking rather than fishing.  I've even traveled to some amazing locations to run ultra marathons, but I never took my fly rod along.

And then, a few years ago, I backed off on the running.  I dusted off my fly rods.  I started fishing again.  Then, my son showed some interest, so I got him set up and we started to fish together.  His interest seems to be waning these days, but my wife is now starting to fly fish.

I'm tying flies again after a long, long break.  I fish just about every chance that my busy life allows it.

I live in the center of Vermont, and I spend the majority of my time on the White River (all branches), the Dog River, the Winooski River, and the Mad River.  When I feel like driving a bit more, I often head to Addison County to fish the Otter, the New Haven, the Middlebury and the Neshobe.  When I visit my in-laws in the northeast kingdom, I fish the Barton, the Clyde and the Black, and occasionally the Lamoille.  I have a handful of new rivers that I'd like to explore this season, including the Waits and the Ottauquechee.  Someday I'll make it down south to the Battenkill.  Someday I'll make it to NY for salmon and steelhead.  Or, I'll get some steelies from a Lake Champlain or Lake Memphremagog tributary.

And, when I can, I still return to PA, where I often fish the Codorus (my high school stream), the Yellow Breeches, Spring Creek, Fishing Creek, Penn's Creek, the Little Juniata, the Loyalsock (both of them) and tributaries, and sometimes the Delaware.