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.