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.

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