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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Is it Ethical? Why do it at all?

I saw this quote on Twitter yesterday, and it got me thinking (again) about something that I wonder about all the time:

"All the romance of trout fishing exists in the mind of the angler and is in no way shared by the fish." - Harold F. Blaisdell, 'The Philosophical Fisherman'

As much as I enjoy fly fishing, I really wonder at times if it's an ethical thing to do.  I wonder what the point is for doing it at all.  The comments below are somewhat rambling, but this is just how they came out of my head and onto the screen.  I'm just going to put this out there, rather than try to make it more coherent or cohesive.

When I was a teenager, I kept and ate most of the fish I caught.  I fished for trout from mid April until mid-June.  After that, I focused on bass.  The streams where I fished for trout had no sustaining populations, and all the fish we caught were stocked.  The two primary lakes where I fished for bass were different though.  They weren't huge, and I had a handful of high school friends who fished the same two lakes.  We created enough pressure on these two lakes to seriously affect the population of bass if we kept fish, or if we didn't.

One of the lakes in particular, Lake Lehman, was owned by a local company - a paper mill.  They sold memberships to "The Lake Club", where people could swim, canoe, play tennis, picnic, and fish.  The paper mill really maintained the property as a back-up water supply.  Paper-making is a water-intensive business, and the company needed reliable water sources.  The Lake Club, in those days, was managed by a curmudgeonly older man named Guy Bievenour.  He had managed the Lake Club since at least 1948, according to a reference I found on  I started fishing there about 1974 or 1975.

Mr. Bievenour wanted to preserve the fish population in the lake, and we quickly discovered a way to take advantage.  He would pay fisherman $1 per fish to release fish that they had caught and they were planning on keeping, assuming the fish were still alive.  We took advantage of this for a couple years, making some money.  We had no sense of "catch and release"; it was only a way to make a buck.  I remember my dad being constantly mad at me for spending time fishing and not bringing home any fish to eat, despite the fact that I caught fish all the time.

Over time, something changed in the lake.  As the only people who fished the lake hard took advantage of the bounty paid to release fish, the number of fish in the lake increased.  We were very competitive fishermen (boys, really), and we kept track of how many fish we caught and who caught the biggest fish.  In our junior high years, a good season might be 20 fish or so over the course of a summer.  But, our skills improved with age and time on the water, the fish population increased, and I remember taking 26 fish on opening day one year, probably 1979.  By then, no bounties were available, because Mr. Bievenour would have gone bankrupt paying half a dozen of us for all the fish we caught.  I was by then routinely catching 100+ bass per season from this lake.  On our own, a catch and release ethos had been created.  We liked the hunt, but had no taste for the kill.  We felt good about releasing the fish.  It was a small enough lake that we would catch some fish multiple times, often recognizing larger fish from their "home location" in the lake.

But over time, we stopped catching large fish.  By not keeping any fish at all, the lake became over-populated and the fish fought for food.  Catching them was easy, but the plentiful fish were small.  Despite our belief that overpopulation was the cause, we never did start to keep fish from the lake, to see if larger fish would return.

We used barbed hooks in those days.  Rubber worms were our primary weapon.  After a fish took a rubber work, often by the tail, we would let the fish "run" with the worm, until it stopped and swallowed it.  I am sure that those big (hook size up to 2/0) hooks deep in the gullet of the bass inflicted way more harm than we realized.  Yet, we had no compassion or thoughts for the health of the fish.  We were just "scoring points" in an adolescent fishing competition.

The fish certainly didn't enjoy it.  We did.  But, what was the allure?  Was it competition?  Was the fishing itself what we loved?  I assume it was both, to some extent.

I am still in touch with a few of the people I fished with in those days.  To the best of my knowledge, I am the only one who still fishes regularly.  So, perhaps it wasn't simply the love of fishing itself that had us out there.  Who knows?  Perhaps my other friends simply don't have time in their busy lives to fish any more.  Perhaps they don't have the financial resources.  Fishing can certainly be expensive, although it doesn't have to be that way.

Today, I'd like to claim my fishing is more "civilized".  I use barbless hooks.  I follow regulations designed to protect waterfowl (no lead weights) and rivers (no felt soled wading boots that can easily spread didymo, an invasive diatom that can easily spread from one river to another).  But, I still catch trout.  When I hook a trout, it doesn't just swim to the net to be released.  It fights with all of its strength to escape, coming to the net only when exhausted.  I rarely touch a fish.  I have an expensive net designed to reduce harm to the fish's outer "slime" layer.  I use hemostats to remove the hook, make sure the fish is breathing OK, and send it on its way.  Clearly the fish feels some sort of pain when the hook penetrates its skin.  However, most scientists seem to agree that it's not like a human's reaction to pain as we know it.

I am a meat eater.  I try to eat local meat, raised ethically by farmers that I know.  I visit the farms that produce my food.  I know the farmers.  I recognize that by eating meat, I'm participating in the death of an animal.  I accept that.

Fishing is different.  I am inflicting some level of pain or discomfort on an animal for the purpose of my own "sport" or entertainment or passion or hobby, or whatever you want to call it.  If that discomfort is minimal, is it OK?  I guess I'm not sure.

Which always leads me to my next thought.  I have thousands of dollars worth of fishing equipment.  I spend more money every year to replace worn out equipment, replace flies that I lose or that are destroyed, to travel to fishing locations, for my fishing license, etc.  I truly enjoy my time on the river.  I enjoy the time whether I catch fish or not.  There is a very rhythmic and peaceful pattern to fly fishing that is quite relaxing.  The surroundings are beautiful.  I get to spend quality time with my wife or my son.

But at the end of the day, I'm spending time and money (and natural resources) to try to fool a fish into thinking a pile of feathers is a meal, I inflict some level of pain on that fish, and then I release the fish.  I have photos and memories.  No tangible "reward" for my time on the water.  It seems absurd.  The part about trying to "outsmart" a fish seems especially ridiculous, to be honest.

At the same time, doesn't this describe most human leisure activities?  Going to a sporting event?  Playing a game?  Competing in a marathon or a triathlon or other athletic event?  Playing golf?  Going out to dinner at a restaurant?  Skiing?  CrossFit?  Are they all essentially pointless or is some kind of leisure activity like this necessary for our mental or physical health, or both?  None of them seems essential to survival, yet we all have some leisure activity that we enjoy and pursue.

Clearly, in the parlance of the day, this is a first world problem.  I am not starving and using fishing to feed my family.  If I wanted to feed my family by fishing, I would pursue small warm-water species that are easier to catch than trout.

I have no intention of giving up fly fishing.  I'm not apologizing for doing what I do.  But, I do certainly think about these things at times.  I don't claim to know the answers.  But, I haven't quit fishing either.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Or maybe not..

I love this store and their staff.  I think the guy who writes these reports has done a tremendous amount of good for fly fishing in the state of Vermont.  But, I find this report on water levels to be a bit optimistic, given that it's pouring outside right now:

Middlebury Mountaineer Fishing Report

I do think the rain is good for the season in the long run.  I don't buy that wading will be OK this weekend, but I could be wrong.

Looking at the USGS water flow reports, the White has dropped a bit already and the Winooski has stabilized.  We'll see how fast things drop once the rain stops.

Weekend not looking good for fishing

I was hoping to fish on the White and Winooski this weekend.  One spot that is difficult to access on the White seemed like it was finally going to be safe to wade.  I had similar thoughts about a particular spot on the Winooski.  But, we've had more rain than forecast this week, and here are the current water flow graphs.  Both of these are downstream of where I fish normally, but they are good indicators of how the river flows will be in the middle stretches of each river:

Both of these graphs are taken from USGS web sites.  The top graph is where I've been fishing the past few weekends.  It's easy to see that the White's water level tends to be way less volatile than the Winooski, but neither is safe at the moment.  I fished the White two weekends ago in the fly fishing tournament, and the flows were in the 1500 cfs range.  I was unable to access the spot I had hoped to fish this weekend with those water flows, and wading was still tough at some other spots.  Last weekend, flows were closer to 900 cfs and the wading was much safer and the fishing had improved.  Once the rain stops, the river levels will drop quickly, but I doubt we'll see anything below 1500 cfs before the end of the weekend, with more rain due all day today.

For the Winooski, I like to see numbers in the 500-600 cfs range to feel I can wade safely at some of the spots I like to fish.  Again, that's not going to happen this weekend.

So, tomorrow may be a complete washout.  But tomorrow and Sunday will be dry, so the water levels will be dropping.  By Sunday, perhaps I can find some good fishing high in the watershed of some smaller rivers.  I have one in particular in mind - an unstocked river in northern Vermont with wild and willing rainbows.  I just have to decide if I want to drive that far.

If the rain was going to continue through the weekend, my choices would be easier.  I have had a lot of pheasant tail and hare's ear nymphs chewed up by fish the past two weekends, and I need to tie some more of each.  But, with nice weather for the weekend, I don't want to sit inside tying flies when I could be outside.  But, I suppose that's what the evenings are for.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I never thought that would happen

A few people in the CrossFit gym where I train (you need to be in shape for 12+ hour days on the water) do some fly fishing.  One guy in particular is into it as much as I am, and his wife also fly fishes.

He and his wife are headed out tonight and he just called to get some information from me - spots on the Winooski to fish, fly suggestions, the kind of drifts I've been using, etc.  I never thought that anyone would think of me as the source of actual useful fly fishing information.

Yes, I love fly fishing.  I fish when I can.  I buy the gear.  I tie some flies.  But, even after all these years, I still consider myself to be a hack.  I still fish with guides on occasion just to improve my skills and knowledge of water bodies.

When people are coming to me for advice, the first thing I tend to think is "they're desperate".

But, maybe I am finally starting to understand this sport and I have useful information to share with other fishermen.

As my friend talked to me about where he was going to fish, I told him a spot I was planning to fish this coming weekend.  It's one of my "secret" spots on the Winooski.  I took my friend there last fall and he took two big wild rainbows on a day that I got skunked.  I figured that if I told him I was going to fish it this weekend, he'd leave it alone for me, and he said he wouldn't go there because I was planning to fish it this weekend - nice guy.  He is heading to another place that I showed him, but everyone knows that spot.  It's just a matter of your willingness to wade half a mile upstream from the only parking access.

Here's a photo of a nice fish I took at that "secret" spot last fall:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Another weekend on the White River

In a lot of ways, I wish the White River Open had been this past weekend instead of the week before.  I might have won the amateur division if it had been this weekend.  Or maybe everyone would have caught more fish.

Saturday morning, I was thrilled to have my wife with me as a fishing partner.  It was her first time fly fishing and she had a good time.  We had practiced casting ahead of time, but nothing beats the real experience of being on the river.  I chose a stretch of the river where the wading was easy and the back-casting was fairly safe.  At first, my wife really struggled with her casting.  But, it just took some practice and things improved quickly.  The next thing to work on is mending.  She was trying to mend her line, but she got in the habit of always mending upstream, rather than reacting to the current.  But, that's a minor point.

There was a nice hatch on Saturday morning - mostly caddis and March Browns.  It was once again encouraging to see such a good hatch on the White, where hatches have been sporadic since Hurricane Irene.  We saw one fish rise one time, and we never considered switching to dries.

I set my wife up with an 8', 4 wt. Winston Passport rod that I knew would be the easiest rod I have for her to cast.  I gave her a double fly rig, but didn't even bother talking about the flies themselves, why I'd chosen them, tippets, knots, etc.

I put on a sinking leader because the fish had been fairly deep the week before.  I was afraid my wife would struggle with the sinking leader, given the length of the sinking portion of the leader plus the tippet extension.  My total leader length was 12' - too much for a newbie.

We worked upstream through a series of nice pools.  Things were pretty slow at first.  I had my wife fishing a green woolly bugger and a soft hackle PT.  I was fishing a Psycho Prince nymph and a PT.  A week ago, PTs had been the main fly, but things seemed different this morning.  We eventually discovered that flashback hare's ears and zug bugs were the way to go.  I also switched from the Psycho Prince to a Montana Prince and that fly drew some action.  After an hour or so, my wife finally hooked into a fish - her first ever on a fly rod.  It seemed to fight really hard and for a while, I thought she might have a big fish on.  Eventually, we realized it was foul hooked and I waded downstream to net and release the fish.  A few minutes later, I had a fish slam a PT nymph (we were still on our original flies but we changed soon after) and I got it to the net.  It was a stocked rainbow.

As we headed upstream, we got into a really productive stretch of water, at least for me.  I hooked and lost two fish at the tail end of a big pool.  One of them appeared to be a wild fish, based on the fact that it was at least 12", and the stocked fish are all exactly 10.5", or so it seems.  My wife was working ahead of me and not getting any strikes that she could detect.  I was curious if this was due to her missing the strikes or if my sinking leader was making the difference.  I also noticed that as the sun got higher in the sky, the takes became way more subtle.  The first few fish I hooked slammed the fly, but things got progressively more subtle as the sun rose higher.  Finally, my wife hooked into another fish, but it threw the hook.  I had followed behind her, and I ended up hooking 10 and landing 7 rainbows.  One of them that I got to the net was a wild fish, but the rest were stocked.  So, I think I hooked two wild fish.  Those 7 fish came in just 3 hours, and it took 15 fish to win the amateur division the week before.  If I'd had all day to fish on Saturday, I might have gotten enough to 15 fish.

It was a blast fishing with my wife and she's excited to go out again.  We do need to get her wading boots though.  She used an over-size pair of running shoes and took one minor spill in shallow water.  She was reluctant to buy them before this weekend, but she now seems to believe she will keep fishing and she doesn't want to take any more falls.

Sunday evening, I got out by myself for two hours.  I fished right where we'd fished on Saturday.  I was hoping after the nice hatches on Saturday morning that I might get into some dry fly fishing in the evening.  Regretfully, insect life was almost absent.  I saw one yellow sulphur (first of the year) and two BWOs (also first of the year), but that was about it.

I got to the water about 6:45 and the sun was still on the water, so I started with the same rig I'd finished with the day before.  In the first 30 minutes of fishing, I had 4 solid strikes, but no hookups.  As I moved upstream, things improved and I ended up landing 5 stocked rainbows on the hare's ear.  I waded back downstream as sunset approached, hoping to entice the fish I'd missed earlier.  But, I had no luck with that.

A little after sunset, I thought I saw one fish break the surface.  I watched for a while and the fish came back again.  Then, it jumped out of the water.  I saw it hit the surface at least 5 times.  I had no idea what fly to try, but I decided to give it a shot.  And then, I remembered I had the sinking tip leader on.  I needed to cut off two flies, remove a leader, put on a new leader, pick a fly, tie it on in the near-darkness and then cast to a single fish.  I decided to skip it and headed home to have a late dinner.

Next weekend, I'm hoping to try the Winooski River for the first time this season.  I'm also hoping that if water levels are lower than this weekend, I might finally be able to access a favorite spot on the White that's been unapproachable so far this year.

And, hopefully the wild fish will soon start to show up more frequently.  Right now, the stocked fish seem to be in a hurry to get to the flies first.

Monday, June 2, 2014

White River Open

Saturday was the inaugural White River Open Fly Fishing Tournament.  It was modeled after the Otter Creek Classic, a tournament I've fished the past two opening days.  Now, first and foremost, I'm not really into the concept of competitive fishing.  I enjoy fly fishing.  I enjoy being around other fishermen.  I enjoy the fish stories.  And, the revenue from the tournaments goes to local organizations that use the money to improve trout habitat.  The beneficiary this past weekend was the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, of which I'm a member.  But, trying to catch more fish than someone else is not why I fish.  I fish to enjoy the time on the water, the time in nature, and I fish to relax.  Competing is the opposite of relaxing.

Friday night, I showed up to register and paid my $20.  Pretty cheap compared to the Otter Creek event.  There ended up being about 55 participants, including two under 18.  At registration, there was a casting contest.  I struggle enough on the creek, and I certainly didn't want to embarrass myself in front of a bunch of serious fly fishermen, so I passed.  The competition was won by a local guide, Matt Stedina.

I headed home after the meeting for a quick dinner and an early bedtime.  I wanted to be one the water by first light.  The alarm went off at 3:30.  I hit the snooze button one time, then another, and then another.  But, I was up before 4:00.  I got dressed quickly, grabbed some coffee and hit the road.  The car had been packed the night before.

By 4:45, I was parking at my favorite spot on the White, and I was happy that there were no other cars.  Regretfully, this spot remains difficult to fish.  High water over the winter re-configured the access point to this stretch of water, and I've been unable to find a way to wade safely to the stretch of water I want to fish.  Basically, there is an island in the river and my plan is to fish on one side of the island.  Parking is easy on that side of the island, but wading is dangerous.  Twice last year, I fell in the river while trying to access the site.  I then found that I could park on the other side of the river and wade safely and easily across the back side of the stream to the island to access the fishing.  But, over the winter, a new deep spot was carved out at the bottom of the island.  And, a rock "island" that facilitated wading above the island is gone.  Essentially, there is no safe way to this spot at the moment.  Maybe this will change when water levels drop.  Maybe I'll use my canoe next time, but they were prohibited for this event.

I fished a few holes on the back side of the island, searched for ways across, and finally bailed.  I arrived back at my car at 5:20 to find a state police cruiser parked behind me.  The crazy, busybody lady who lives across the street and seems to stalk me every time I park here, had called the police and told them someone was parked in the middle of the road, had their dome lights on, and they were clearly up to no good, likely coming for her.  I was infuriated by the police response.  They called my wife at 5:15 to ask why our car was there.  She explained that I was fishing.  They then interrogated me and suggested I talk to the woman across the street.  It's not even her property.  They checked my ID.  And, when I left, the cruiser followed me for 15 miles as I headed to my next destination.  I'd done absolutely nothing wrong, yet I was the one under suspicion.  Apparently, fishing early in the morning is a subversive activity.

Back to fishing.  I headed way upstream on the White, above the town of Stockbridge.  I went to a spot where I'd caught 31 fish in one day recently.  I'd never been skunked there.  But, three hours later, I hadn't had a strike and I had to admit defeat.  I was shocked to not even have one strike in three hours of hard, methodical fishing.  My next destination was already being fished, so I went to a fallback location that gets a lot of pressure.  In 2 hours there, I got one strike, but I landed that fish (first fish of the day at 10:00 despite a 4:45 start).  I wouldn't be skunked, at least.  The fish was a typical stocked rainbow in VT - 10.5".

I fished there until 11:30 and then headed for a new spot.  I stopped for some food on the way, and then went to the northern edge of Royalton.  I asked a landowner for permission to park and access the river.  I was excited to see no other cars, thinking I'd have this excellent stretch of water to myself.  However, as soon as I got to the river, I saw a fisherman where I wanted to be.  So, I headed upstream rather than down.  I managed one stocked rainbow (same size) in an unlikely hole, but that was the end.  I waded downstream and talked to the other fisherman, a local guide.  He caught a wild brookie (rare in that stretch of river) while I was there, and it was his 7th or 8th fish.  He was using a sinking tip leader.  Out of respect for him being there first, I headed back to my car.  I still had one spot to try that has been kind to me in the past.

I got to the final spot in the town of Sharon, and re-rigged my Hardy 4 wt. with a sinking leader and a dual flies - a Psycho Prince Nymph up top and a Pheasant Tail on the bottom.  Both of my earlier fish had come on PTs.  Here, despite the sun and warm afternoon temps, things started to happen.  I was getting strikes.  Catching fish.  I had one wild rainbow throw the fly in the air.  I had a stocked fish snap me off on the PT.  I think my fluoro tippet was dinged up because it snapped above the knot.  I need to check that material more often to look for damage.  I hooked six fish between 1:30 and 3:00 and got a few of them to the net.  At 3:00, I quit fishing to return to headquarters to turn in my sheet - 5 rainbows totaling 50.5" of fish.

I heard about 1/3 of the field got skunked.  But, the guide who won the casting competition caught 386" of fish, fishing very close to where I'd been skunked for over 3 hours early in the day.  Clearly it was me and not the fish.  A few other people had 10-15 fish, including the amateur division winner who had 156 inches of fish.  I was about mid-pack with my 5 fish.  If I'd figured things out earlier, I might have been in the running for the amateur division, but it took too long to dial in leaders, flies and location.  Next time...

Sunday evening, I snuck out for an hour or so, trying to see if I could pull some browns to the surface.  My first destination is a stretch I hadn't fished since Hurricane Irene.  The stream really wasn't there any more.  Apparently, it was re-routed during the hurricane.  What remained was standing water and mud and a bog.

I decided to switch to Ayers Brook for a bit.   There was a small Quill Gordon hatch going on, so I put on a size 14 Quill Gordon, trying to lure some fish to the surface.  I had no luck at all.  The highlight was a close encounter with a beaver.

With rain in the forecast this week, streams may still be running high next weekend.  But, with warm temperatures expected, the water temps should rise as well.  I doubt that I'll get out again before Saturday morning.