Thursday, May 28, 2015

Have I been getting lazy?

My fishing companion made a comment to me on Sunday that really took me off guard.  He said "You aren't really nymphing, are you?".  What he meant, was that I am spending a lot of time with the flies on the swing rather than in a dead drift.  I've been thinking about this all week and thinking about my fishing the past couple years.

I do know that in my initial response to the comment, I got a bit defensive, talked about some topics from the book Dynamic Nymphing, which I've been reading recently.  But, I never really answered the question.

I remember two years ago, in the autumn, I caught some really nice fish, including the 2 biggest rainbows I'd ever caught in VT.  I was using strike indicators a fair amount, doing lots of high sticking, and really working on a nice clean dead drift.  My success rates were going through the roof, and I remember telling a guy at my gym, who also fly fishes, that I felt like I was finally "getting it" with nymphing after all these years.

Early last season, I had a lot of success with fishing buggers on the swing.  I do remember the first half of the day of a local fly fishing tournament, when the fish were being picky, I had to really go for that dead drift with a high stick.  But then, I caught fish through most of the season without having to use the high stick or a strike indicator.  I completely stopped thinking about strike indicators, to be honest.

In the autumn last year, I took 12 days off work to fly fish.  My success rates were pretty low.  I had one really good day on the Winooski, but other than that, I had lots of days of zero or 1 fish.  I was fishing on the swing quite a bit by then.

This spring, I've fished 11 days so far and landed 5 fish.  At this point in time last year, I'd probably caught 60 fish. There is no doubt that we had a more "normal" spring last year, and conditions were easier last year.  But, all spring, I've felt like something else was up.

Maybe I got the answer on Sunday.

"You're not really nymphing, are you?"

I can't fish until Saturday, but I guarantee that I'll be on the water with a different mindset, and most likely, a strike indicator, this weekend.  Fly selection this weekend should be easy - a 3 nymph rig with a Prince nymph, a PT, and a green caddis emerger.  If I can get the presentation right, maybe I'll find out that it isn't about luck so much as presenting the fly properly.  Maybe I won't forget it this time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lots of fishing time over the holiday weekend

Friday night, my daughter had a lacrosse game.  I was glad to be able to go to the game, although she is less than 100% after taking a stick to the wrist and thumb a couple games ago.  But, going to the game gave me another option.  When the game ended a little after 6:00, I had time to sneak out to fish for a couple hours.  It was cold and windy and I headed for the main branch of the White, in the Royalton area.  I fished the same area where I caught a wild brookie a few weeks ago, but I expected different results this time, because the river had been stocked a week earlier.

Because of the windy conditions, I pulled out my older Sage RPL+ (5 weight) and rigged it up with a 6 weight line.  This was my go-to rod for many years, but I simply don't fish it much any more; it's just too stiff.

It didn't take long before the stocked fish started to strike at my flies.  I was fishing a 3-fly rig - olive woolly bugger, Montana Prince Nymph, and a small attractor soft-hackle nymph.  Over the next 2 hours, I hooked fish on all three of the flies.  I probably had about 20 strikes, I hooked 5 fish, but I only got 2 of them to the net.  That is one of the big disadvantages of the super stiff rod, especially with barbless hooks and smaller fish.  It's hard to maintain the right amount of pressure on the fish and they are frequently able to escape.  No big deal though.  It was a fun 2 hours, even if I only caught a couple fish.

The next evening, I headed out on the Third Branch of the White, looking for browns.  This river had been stocked just days before, and I deliberately avoided the logical stocking spots.  I was looking for wild fish.  I did a good job of avoiding the stocked fish, but I also managed to avoid all of the fish.  I fished two normally production stretches of water, although one still isn't the same since Hurricane Irene.  That stretch, by Camp Brook, will likely never be what it was just a few years ago.

Sunday, I met up with another local fisherman to fish the Dog River.  The other guy, Jack, has been fishing the White River for 28 years, and fly fishing for 40 years, but he had never fished the Dog.  We worked 5 different stretches of water over 8 hours.  This is an un-stocked river with a reputation for big browns, but I honestly catch more rainbows than browns in this river.  It's been a few years since I last caught a brown.  I even catch more brookies in the headwaters of this river than browns.

We were only 30 minutes into fishing when I briefly hooked a beautiful rainbow - probably 16" and brightly colored.  I turned the fish when I set the hook.  It then jumped and threw the hook.  And then jumped once more to laugh at me, I assume.  It was a pretty fish and I know where to look next time.  After that, things were quiet for a few hours.

The water was low and clear and we did sight fish to a few nice browns.  One even took a bug off the surface, but we couldn't draw them up.

Finally, after almost 8 hours on the river, I think we were getting tired.  But, I suggested we still had one "must fish" spot to go to - a spot that was also damaged by Hurricane Irene, but one that still produces nice fish on occasion.  Because I was playing tour guide, I let Jack take the first casts in the nicest part of this stretch.  He had decided to try a dry fly, and he enticed a fish to take it.  It ended up being a really fat, beautiful rainbow, about 18".  That was the nicest fish I've seen out of the Dog in quite a while.  The Dog is a wild and challenging river, and we managed to hook just 2 fish in over 8 hours on the water.  But, both of the fish we hooked were beautiful wild fish - the kind of fish that most fly fishermen dream about.

Next weekend, I'm fishing in the White River Open - a 1-day fly fishing tournament with over 90 miles of river to choose from.  I really have 2 choices.  I can target stocked fish and try to compete for the overall title.  Or, I can go to more obscure spots and target bigger, wild fish, knowing that I might easily get skunked for the day.  I'm still not sure how I'll approach things.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Slightly better results

I got out last Friday night on the main stem of the White River, near Royalton, VT.  Water flows were down to 1400 cfs downstream in Hartford, meaning I could safely wade one of my favorite stretches of the White.  And, for 3 hours, it was just like every other day this season.  By the time I'd wandered upstream to the best of the four large zones I was fishing, I was desperate.  At the top of this last hole, there are 2 rocks and it's very rare not to get some strikes here.  But remember, until this point of the season, I'd had zero strikes at all in a month.

On my 4th or 5th cast, I got a strike, but failed to hook the fish.  As often happens in this pool, it was a hard strike.  Somehow, the fish here seem to have some superpower where they can slam a hook and not get pierced.  A few casts later, I had another strike, and this time, I made contact.  Due to the water conditions, this turned into quite a battle, and I had to wade downstream to net the fish.  It turned out to be a female brookie about 13" or so.

It was the first time I've ever caught a brooked in the main stem of the White, below Bethel.  I've caught them in the higher reaches of a number of tributaries, but never in the main branch.  It was very surprising.

I fished another half an hour or so, and had one more very hard strike, but I failed to hook the fish.

On Sunday, I headed north and east to the Waits River, a river I'd never fished before.  I focused on a stretch about a mile long between Flanders Brook and the East Corinth General Store.  I hit three distinct "fishy" looking stretches, but I had absolutely no luck at all.  This was my first time on the Waits, but it's close enough that I'll return, hopefully with more success the next time.

Yesterday (Thursday), I worked half a day and then arrange to meet a local Trout Unlimited friend on the upper part of the main branch of the White.  I will be honest.  The water had been stocked the day before and I was well aware of this.  The day after this stretch was stocked last year, I caught 34 fish (3 wild, the rest stocked).

I got to our designated meeting spot and I was slowly working my way downstream.  I was trying to avoid the best water until Paul arrived.  Around 12:30 or so, I heard him yell to me.  Before he could gear up, I'd landed 2 stocked fish.  When he got to the water, we moved down into the zone were I tend to catch the most fish.  I got one more.  And then, the fishing just died.  About 2:30 or so, we gave up and headed to another spot.  Here, I was disappointed at how high the water flows were, and also how cold the water was.  What a change the last week had brought us, especially the heavy, cold rain the previous Monday night.  We couldn't even get close to the best hole here.  At this spot, my standard technique is a strike indicator with a couple nymphs, trying to get a nice dead drift.  The water was way too fast to have any chance with this at all.  At one point, Paul was using 4 (non-lead) split shots to try to get his flies deep.

About 5:00 or so, we bailed on this spot and grabbed a quick snack and a drink.  We had a few options, but the higher water ruled out a few.  I suggested we return to where we had started, knowing it would now be shady, and perhaps the fish would be less cautious.  Paul focused on the slower pools below me, hoping a fish - any fish - would respond to the Hendricksons on the surface.  He had no luck at all.

I stayed with my flies from earlier in the day.  After maybe 30 minutes, I had a strike, but failed to hook the fish.  Fifteen minutes later, I hooked a fish, but failed to land him.  Finally around 7:30, Paul, who had a long drive home, had had enough, and we called it a day.  I had three stocked rainbows to show for the day (photos only - the fish were released), and Paul didn't even have a strike.

It's now mid-May and I've caught 4 trout.  We've had really, really weird weather, starting with a very cold winter.  Our hatches are all out of whack.  I've talked to a lot of fishermen who are also struggling.  Things will get better.

But, it's mid May and I've caught 4 trout so far this season.  That's terrible.  The only way to fix that is to fish some more.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Still no fish

I usually get my first trout of the year somewhere around the first of May.  I never seem to catch anything in the Otter Creek Classic, and after the opening weekend, I frequently don't fish again until the water warms up and levels drop after snow-melt run-off in late April.

So, I got out this past Friday.  I hate to say it, but having caught no fish this year, I targeted stocked brook trout.  Earlier in the week, the upper reaches of the Third Branch of the White River had gotten 400 brookies.  But, those 400 fish were distributed over a stretch of water at least 12 miles long, meaning a very low fish density.  There are wild fish in this stretch as well, but I rarely catch any of them, to be honest.  I think the last time I caught a trout through this stretch was 3 or 4 years ago.

I assumed the fish would have been stocked in places where there is easy access to the river.  I fished at a number of bridges, while heading upstream from Randolph towards Roxbury.  I didn't have a single strike, despite nice water clarity and water temps.  I am still fishing a sinking tip leader, given that the water is still cool and I'm assuming the fish are deep.  With our current warm weather, I'm thinking I'm likely to abandon the sinking tip in the next week or so.

The next evening, I headed out on a White River tributary.  This tributary sees very little pressure,  I have never seen any signs of another fisherman there.  No footprints, no other fishermen, and no litter.  Well, I did find a lime wedge in a pool of water last Saturday, but that was not a usual find.  There are a few houses upstream of where I was fishing, and one in particular has a deck that comes almost to the water.  I assumed the lime was the remnants of a cocktail, tossed casually into the water.

I really like this tributary in the summer, especially when the main branch starts to heat up.  This is a stream where I can fish dries when no fish are rising, and catch 10+ fish in a couple hours.  I had never been shut out on this stream.  That is, until last Saturday.  Not one strike.  Nothing.

I did see my first caddis flies of the year and my first BWOs.  I still haven't seen any Hendricksons or March Brown's, but I expect to see them shortly given how it's warmed up the past few days.  And I've heard the bigger stoneflies are starting to show up in places.

When I got home Saturday night, I told my wife I was selling all of my fishing gear.  If I can't at least catch fish some of the time, why bother?

Of course, that was frustration talking.  It seems like I've put a lot of time into fishing already this season, and I haven't had a single strike.  I'm sure that will change shortly.  Right around this time last year, I had a 30+ fish day (mostly stocked fish) and the fishing just took off after that.  I'd rather catch wild fish, but right now, I'd settle for any fish at all.