Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Otter Creek Classic 2015

First things first.  My streak remains intact.  I have still never caught a fish in this fly fishing tournament.  I've never hooked a fish.  I'm not even sure if I've ever had a strike.  This was the 7th edition of the tourney and my 3rd time there.  To be fair, the last time the fishing was decent and a lot of fish were caught was the 4th edition - the year before I started fishing here.  Even 2 years ago, when the fishing wasn't horrible (the winner had 6 or 7 fish), it wasn't close to the year before.  I also had very limited knowledge of the streams in Addison County at that point in time.  By now, I'm pretty familiar with the waters in that area.

We were allowed to fish 6 bodies of water - Otter Creek, the New Haven River, Lewis Creek, the Middlebury River, the Neshobe River and Furnace Brook.  I have fished all of those waters except for Lewis, and on Friday, Lewis looked high and unfishable as I drove past.

I checked in on Friday night and got my scorecard.  I picked up some tippet material, a few leaders and a few stonefly patterns that I haven't yet mastered tying on my own.  My wife and I had a drink before heading to the Fly Fishing Film Tour movie.  This movie is a lot like Warren Miller's "ski porn" movies, except it's about fly fishing.  Each year, the movie is a series of vignettes set in different locations, targeting different fish.  I have to admit that I found a couple of the more overtly political segments the least interesting.  I don't disagree with the points they made, but it's just not what I'd prefer to see.  There were some segments about big browns (somewhere way south of Montana), a couple Alaska segments, and a segment on steelhead in Canada that I really liked.

By the time the movie was over, we had a late dinner and headed to the hotel, where I had some last minute set-up work to do.  I got to bed after midnight and we were allowed to start fishing at 5:00 a.m., although, there really wasn't enough light to fish until closer to 6:00.

Without a lot of sleep, I was a bit slow to get out of bed on Saturday morning.  I knew that the water was cold, it was going to be a cool, grey day, and I saw no point in being the first person on the water.  I headed to the Upper New Haven River - way above any spot I'd ever fished on that river before.  The first spot I'd hoped to fish really didn't have any safe parking spaces, so I continued up the river.  About another mile upstream, near the town of Lincoln, I finally found a spot that looked promising, there was a spot to park, and no other fishermen were nearby.  To be honest, I hadn't seen any other fishermen this far up the river on my drive there.

The water up in that part of the river holds wild rainbows and wild brookies, but there are none of the browns that populate the lower river.  I also knew that the fish here tended to be smaller than the fish typically caught downstream.  So, it was a calculated risk that I might catch multiple smaller fish and somehow get lucky in the standings.

The water was very cold - 33.5F.  I had to deal with some ice shelves to get to some prime water that I wanted to fish.

The bottom picture is the area that I wanted to fish.  I had also fished downstream a bit, but this was my primary target.  After about 45 minutes standing in the water and catching nothing, my feet were so cold that I had to abandon the spot.

I headed downstream to a popular fishing hole at a bridge.  There was only one other car in the parking area.  The reason became obvious when I saw how dirty and swift the water was.  After only 15 minutes and 4 lost flies, I headed downstream even more.  At this point, seeing practically no one on the New Haven, I headed for Belden Falls on the Otter.  I talked to a couple fishermen on the near side, but my goal was to cross and fish the other side.  There is a bridge across the top of the dam here, so I was able to cross safely.  Over the past few days, some warm temperatures had pushed the Otter from about 2000 cubic feet per second to 2200 cfs.  I really enjoy this stretch of water best when it's about 1200 cfs.  So, wading and casting were difficult, but I fished for about 90 minutes.  In many cases, I was not even able to cast out as far as I would wade in lower water flows.  As I worked downstream, a family of three showed up and positioned themselves at the next three holes I was going to fish.  So, I left the Otter.

I drove by the Dog Team Tavern corner on the New Haven, but as expected, it was packed.  I then opted for some lunch so I could re-think my strategy.  I called my wife to see how she was doing.  And, I decided to fish the Middlebury near our hotel.  Moments before I got to my first choice of locations, a car pulled into a parking spot and a fisherman jumped out and headed to the water.  I opted to go downstream and not crowd him.  The Middlebury sees run-off from Middlebury College's Snow Bowl ski resort.  The water was high, there were still ice shelves to deal with, and the wading was dangerous.  After about 90 minutes, I decided I'd had enough for the day.

I headed to the hotel room, took a nap, took a shower, and then returned to Middlebury to turn in my blank score card.  There were 89 entrants (no idea how many actually fished), and when all the score-sheets were returned, a total of 5 fish had been caught, all on Furnace and the Middlebury.

My wife and I had a cocktail at The Lobby in Middlebury and then headed back to our hotel for dinner.  After a nice dinner, I got to bed fairly early, intending to fish right across the street from the hotel in the morning.

Because it would be cold overnight, I didn't want to start too early.  With warmer temperatures in the forecast, it seemed likely that fishing would improve on Sunday.  I got out as the sun was coming over the spine of the Green Mountains, happy to discover no one else was at my intended fishing spot.  I was happy with how the water had dropped and gotten clearer overnight, but it was still very cold.  About 15 minutes after I got there, a well-known local guide (2 time winner of the pro division in the tournament) showed up to fish the same spot.  We agreed that I'd stay on the lower end of the stretch and he could have the upper water.

We fished in silence for a while, talked for a while, and after about 90 minutes, he headed to another spot.  I stayed on the water until about 10:30.  No strikes and I bet I lost at least 10 flies.  One rock alone took 6 flies from me and the water was just a bit too steep to wade out and get them.  Another fisherman will likely harvest all of them in the next couple weeks.

I took a shower, had some coffee to warm up, and we checked out of our hotel.  I then drove to Middlebury again to turn in a blank score-sheet.  Fishing had been better on Sunday, but not by a lot.  The big result was someone who had caught three rainbows, two of them fairly large, in a short period of time on the New Haven Sunday morning.  With those three fish, he easily won the amateur division.  Only one other fisherman had at least 2 fish, and he won the pro division.  After that, there were 8 other fishermen with a single fish - 13 fish in total over 2 days.

We headed to the barbecue and raffle after the score-sheets were turned in.  This year, I won a fly box and a nice scissor/hemostat tool.  And then, it was over.

I'm hoping to fish some this coming weekend, and I think I've got a good idea for a small stream that won't be too high or dangerous to wade.  If I'm lucky, I may even pull off my goal of catching a trout and skiing in the same day.

I typically catch my first fish of the season around the first of May.  From there, fishing is usually very good until the end of June or so, before warmer water starts to become an issue.  But, we are just getting started, and there are plenty of fish still to be caught.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The final countdown

My license is purchased.  My new Orvis Sling Pack is packed and ready to go.

I completely re-organized my fly boxes last weekend.  I have a dozen fly boxes, and 7 of them will be on the water with me this Saturday.  I have 5 more boxes (dry flies, baetis, isonychia, and salmon flies) that will just sit in the car.  And, I still have a couple hundred more flies that aren't in any boxes at all.

I need a couple new leaders, some tippet material, and a couple flies, but I'll get those on Friday afternoon at the Middlebury Mountaineer.

The Otter Creek Classic fly fishing tournament starts at first light this coming Saturday morning.  We are expecting a little bit of precipitation between now and then, but the river flows shouldn't be too bad.

I have a rough strategy for the tournament.  I think I'm going to start high up on the New Haven on Saturday.  From there, I'll work my way down the New Haven through the fishing day.  On Sunday, I'll probably start right outside my hotel room, and fish the Middlebury upstream to the entrance to the gorge.  After that, if I'm having a tough weekend, I'll drive south for a while and see if I can get lucky with one of the big browns in a river I'm not even going to name right now.  If things are going well, I may head north to some of the more popular spots on the New Haven, or even the Otter if flows are low enough.

I'm still a bit torn on what rod will be my primary weapon.  My favorite rod is a Hardy Zenith 4 weight.  And, some of the spots I'm fishing will be small water with small fish, where that rod is appropriate.  But, I'll also probably hit a couple spots on bigger water, where my old Sage RPL+ 5 weight would be more appropriate.  I'm sure I'll rig both of them and just choose as I get to each spot.

I do know that my first cast of the weekend will be a white woolly bugger up front with a San Juan worm dropper.  I may mix some black stones in there as well, and some attractor nymphs, but those first two flies are about the best bets there are for early season high water here in Vermont.

And, maybe, just maybe, I'll finally catch a fish in this tournament.  Just one.  In another 6 or 7 weeks, when I fish the White River Open (the White is my home river), I know I will catch fish.  When I fish the OCC, I never have any idea.  I think that 80 or so anglers took about 12 fish over 2 days last year.  This year's weather looks to be better, so I'm guessing the numbers will be better.  But, one fish would make me happy.  Two would have me thrilled.  Four might have me in contention to win.  But, let's not be silly here.

On another note, I was contacted about a fishing job today.  It's a short gig - 5 hours per day for a week at a youth camp.  But, the agenda looks like fun - fishing in lakes and streams, talking about laws and ethics related to fishing, going after panfish, bass, trout, and other species.  Even a segment on fly tying.  I don't have the job yet.  I still have to apply and be interviewed, but the program director came to be to talk about it, so I'm hopeful I'll get it.  I will just take a week of vacation from my primary job and spend those days teaching kids about fishing.