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.