Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New Waders

My waders have been leaking and it's simply been getting worse and worse.  I have had a few days this season where my feet have been soaked for 8 hours or more while wading.  What's the point of even having waders?  And, waders full of hot water are not comfortable at all and they make wading much more difficult.  They are heavier and compromise your safety while wading.

The waders I've been using are the Orvis Pro Guide (or is it Guide Pro) model that was discontinued around the end of 2012.  I bought them as closeouts in February of 2013.  I have probably fished in them 80-100 times (max) and it just seemed amazing to have 6 or more leaks per leg.  Some of the toughest leaks are where the wader leg is sewn to the neopene bootie, and I've had no luck at all repairing these waders.  It's pretty well understood that when waders start to leak at the top of the bootie, they are very tough to fix or use.

I figured I had a handful of options:

  • I could try to find someone local to fix the waders.
  • I could try to have Orvis fix the waders.
  • I could continue the losing battle of fixing them myself.
  • I could get new Orvis waders.
  • I could buy other new waders.

I think it's worth noting that most wader companies have changed their construction techniques in the past few years.  My older waders used much more stitching, with glue to seal the stitches.  Those stitches tend to be areas where leaks occur most often.  The newer waders have much less stitching, if any.  Everything is multi-layered and glued together.  Allegedly, this reduces leaks, but we will see.

So, I looked around locally and didn't find anyone who advertised that they repaired waders.

Orvis wanted my waders for 4-6 weeks, during trout season, to try to repair them.  The idea of giving them up for most of the rest of the summer made no sense, especially because I assumed they'd have new leaks by the fall.  Although, we are getting close to wet wading season, so perhaps I didn't need them for the next few weeks.

I'm not going to fix them.  I think that is simply established at this point.

So, I found myself thinking about new waders.  I have an opportunity to purchase one of the major wader brands at a nice discount.  My thought for a couple years was that my next waders would be that other brand.  But, Orvis truly does have amazing customer service, and they came through again.

As I talked to the Orvis support rep, I told him that 4-6 weeks was simply too much time.  I told him that perhaps it was time to take advantage of a discount and switch to another brand.  Suddenly, he had an upgrade option for me.  For an upgrade fee (it depended on the model I wanted), I could upgrade to the latest Orvis wader models.  When I considered what I paid for these waders originally (on close-out) and that I'd gotten 2 year of use, and I realized my total cash outlay would be less than the current price of a new pair of waders, I took that option.

I am not really into zippered waders; I simply don't see the need.  So, I chose the Silver Sonic Guide Wader.  I did tell the customer support rep that if these guys leak anything like the last waders, they will be my last Orvis waders.  He told me he's heard of very few issues with the newer models leaking, and he was confident I'd be very happy.  I hope he's right.

To prove that I wasn't scamming them (I might have sold the waders years ago, I suppose), I had to cut an Orvis label out of the waders.  I also makes the current waders a lot less useful going forward.  As soon as they had the label in VA, they'd send the new waders.

I was planning to go to the post office today to send in the label, when I got an e-mail from UPS telling me that a package from Orvis would be arriving today.  So, I guess they shipped them right away.

Now, if I'm really, really lucky, the rain will back off some this week, and I can go fishing with dry feet this coming weekend.  I'll post a review after I've had them on the water a few times.

Friday, June 26, 2015

This time, I'm going to name the river

I swear I fished in a theme park yesterday.  Maybe my reaction is jaded by the fact that 7 hours on the water didn't result in a single strike.  Two companions each caught one nice fish and lost another.  But, I don't think that's the reason.

The river was the Black River, between Cavendish and Weathersfield.

I understand the appeal of this river to so many.  The water is beautiful - lots of nice pocket water plus some deep holes.  I was able to fish in shaded water until a few hours after sunrise, and even mid-afternoon, I could find deep water protected by shade.  Access is great.  So great, that it seems the 4 mile stretch is bordered by pull-outs and parking areas almost the whole way.

There is even a hole called The Freight Train Hole along this stretch.  How do I know it's called the Freight Train Hole?  Signs on both sides of the rivers, attached to trees, told me that.  I don't think I'd ever seen anything like that before.

I wouldn't say the river was crowded.  The parking lot where I initially parked usually had 3-6 vehicles parked at once.  Every car but mine was from out of state.  Some people were fishing spinners but most were  fly fishing.

This stretch of river was stocked this season with approximately 7000 trout, over 4 distinct stocking days.  Many of those fish were larger 2-year old fish.

Early in the season, those fish are easier to catch, and I've heard stories of people catching 50-100 fish per day.  Fishermen may keep up to 2 fish per day.  Apparently, by mid-June, a lot of those fish have been removed from the river, and the remaining fish have learned a lot.  I know a lot of fishermen who love this river, and I think it's one of the most fished rivers in the state.  I saw more fishermen yesterday (a Thursday) than I'd ever see on the White on the weekend, or the Dog, and maybe more than I'd see on the Winooski.

One of the guide services who works this river ends their guiding by 6/15.  I think that's a sign that there are simply fewer fish and the fish have been fished hard.

This honestly isn't sour grapes.  Yes, I failed to catch any fish, but enough people caught a fish or two that I should have been able to do that.  I think it took me a while to get the right fly configuration, and by the time I did that, the sun was high and things were warming up.  One small change earlier (putting a small PT nymph as my dropper rather than the middle position in a 3-fly rig) might have led to a very different outcome.

I grew up fishing trout streams that were filled with stocked trout, the trout were caught by Memorial Day, and the streams were deserted by mid-June.  Sometimes, we would stand elbow to elbow to try to catch stocked trout.  We killed what we caught.

It's always fun to catch a trout, especially a big trout.  I will return to this river, probably very early in the morning, mid-week, in mid-May.  I'm sure I'll catch fish and have fun.  At the same time, I'm glad this isn't my home river.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this river and how it's managed.  It simply isn't what I'm looking for in a trout stream on a regular basis.  To each his own.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Almost a repeat of last Saturday

This time I fished Saturday morning rather than Saturday evening.  I didn't get out until 9:00 a.m., on a bright sunny day.  I fished a different White River tributary, but on the advice of a friend, I went upstream a few miles (although not as far as he'd recommended).

I managed to stay in the part of the river that still has rainbows, rather than getting up to the brookie water.

I found a place to park and worked my way down some steep hills into a beautiful meadow.  I still had a size 20 Parachute Adams on my line from last Saturday, so I started with that.  As it turned out, I never changed flies.

My first 5 casts brought a fish to the surface.  There were so many fish that I assumed, at first, that they were brookies.  I hooked  a fish, after the fly sank, a few casts later, but the fish got off.  I finally caught a fish about 20 yards downstream.  A few casts later, I took a beautiful 9" wild rainbow.  

I simply kept working downstream, and there were plenty of deep holes with wild rainbows willing to come to the surface.  At one point, a fish about 12" came up to the fly and then rejected it.  That would have been a huge fish for this little tributary.  I had about 2 hours to fish - too much work to do at home, so I had to move fast.  By the time I got to a bridge (someone's driveway), I was about out of time.  I did put my fly right on the surface by a big rock, and a fish came up immediately.  This was the 5th and final fish I got to the net.  I probably hooked 10.  I brought 30-40 fish to the surface, although fewer fish hit the flies this week vs. the tributary last week.

Later that day, I got a chance to look at the Winooski River.  It was completely blown out - bubbling chocolate milk would be a good description.  More rain on Saturday night pushed the levels higher and I never got out on Sunday.

But, even when people are complaining about too much rain, about rivers being blown out, about tough wading conditions, there are fishing opportunities out there.  Change your expectations.  The little tributaries might not be full of huge fish (although you can certainly be surprised on occasion), but the fish make up for their size with their enthusiasm, creating a fun fishing experience.

We may see a bunch of rain this week again.  If so, I have a different White River tributary that I plan to fish next weekend.  And I'm sure I'll have fun.  The White and the Dog and the Winooski and the Otter and the New Haven will be there once the water levels drop some more.  I am wondering if those rivers may be too warm to fish by the time the water levels drop.  If so, I'll just have to wait until later in the summer to fish them, and I'll stay in the cooler tributaries until then.

Friday, June 19, 2015

More rain just before the weekend

It rained hard overnight last night.

The flows on the White River have been increasing all day today, from about 1400 cfs to 2100 cfs.  It does look like the increase has stopped, but it's hard to imagine the river dropping a huge amount before first light tomorrow.  So, for the first part of the weekend, it looks like I'll be limited to smaller streams again.  This is starting to get old.

If I get lucky, maybe the main branch of the White will be fishable by Sunday evening.  If I'm lucky.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Lots and lots of rain recently

My Facebook feed taunts me.  I follow a number of local guides.  A local teen who is a great fisherman with lots of time to fish.  I have local friends who simply have way more free time than I have, and they fish more than I do.  I follow the feeds of lodges out west, lodges in the northeast, and fly shops all over the country.  Pretty much every day, I see a fish or two on Facebook that would make my entire season.  It's hard not to get jealous at times, to be honest.  It also messes with my expectations every single time I head out to fish.  I'm always thinking about that big brown or rainbow I'm about to catch.  And, it rarely ever happens.  I need to constantly remind myself to relax and enjoy the experience, and not tie my enjoyment to ideal outcomes that rarely happen.

Right after the White River Open, which was held under very low and warm water conditions, the rain arrived.  We've had a number of very rainy days over the past 2 weeks.  One week ago, the Winooski was high and off color.  This past Saturday, it was even higher and more off color, to the point where I wouldn't even consider wading it.

The northern half of the state seemed to get more rain than the south, so the Winooski and Lamoille have been tougher to fish than the White or other rivers to the south.

Still, I prefer the water flows in Hartford, VT (USGS measuring station) to be no more than 1400 cubic feet per second if I'm going to wade the main branch of the White, and I really prefer 1200 cfs or less.  It was just over 1400 cfs this past Saturday.

So, I hadn't fished at all the previous weekend (my wife's birthday, work to do around the house, blown out rivers, etc.), and I was determined to get out this past weekend.  It was another busy weekend, but I managed to secure 3 hours of time Saturday evening.  So, then I had to decide where to fish.  The Dog was an option, but I'd fished there just a few weeks ago.  The Third Branch of the White was an option, but I've honestly not caught a fish there yet this year, and some other friends have reported similar (lack of) luck.  The Winooski wasn't an option.  The upper main branch of the White was an option, but that's a longer drive.  I finally settled on a White River tributary that will remain unnamed here.

I'm not trying to be elitist by not naming the tributary.  I've told a few of my catch and release friends where I fished.  The tributary is easily located on maps and it's easily accessible.  But, it is small water with wild fish, and if someone were to fish this tributary and keep the fish, the local population could be adversely affected fairly easily.  I really, really dislike Vermont's 12 fish per day bag limit.  There is no reason any fisherman needs to keep 12 fish in a day, especially wild fish.

This is a stream where I tend to do well with dry flies, even when fish are not actively working the surface.  Not knowing what insects I would encounter, I put on an attractor pattern to start - a size 14 humpy.  I know this fly isn't fished as much on the east coast as the west, but it's still a favorite of mine after all the fish I caught on humpies in the Sierra Nevada when I lived in CA.

This creek is really just pocket water and the first few pockets yielded nothing.  Finally, about the 4th or 5th little hole I was fishing, a trout came to the surface and rejected the fly.  A few casts later, a fish hit the fly but evaded the hook.  This happened a couple more times.  I had been watching for insects in the air, and so far, I'd see a few small caddis flies and my first yellow sulfurs of the year.  I decided to switch to a size 16 elk hair caddis.  In the next 10 casts, that fly was hit at least 5 times, although I suspect it was just 1 or  2 fish.  I cast further upstream in this hole, and a fish hit the fly hard as soon as it hit the water.  It was a wild rainbow, about 8".

It was interesting, as I worked upstream, that some pockets that usually yield nothing at all, contained willing fish.  And, the two pockets where I tend to always catch fish had no rises at all.  I took 2 fish out of a pocket that had never yielded a rise before.  It seemed like the fish had simply changed locations.  As I missed more and more fish, I kept trying smaller flies.  I eventually moved to a size 18 yellow sulfur comparadun and then a size 20 parachute Adams.  I hooked fish on every fly except the size 14 humpy, and every fly brought fish to the surface.

As I moved into the final stretch of water, I was surprised when a German Shepard Dog came running at me.  I had never seen a dog in this area, and the closest house to me was never occupied.  It turned out to be a house owned by tourists, and I got a chance to finally meet the owner.  I asked his permission to fish through his property, explaining that I'd wanted to ask before, but there was never anyone home.  He was happy to oblige, although he did warn me about some downstream neighbors who seem to have a habit of pulling out a gun on people they think are on their property.  Good information for the future.

The landowner was surprised when I told him that he lived on a great stretch of the stream.  He asked me how I was doing, and I told him that I'd hooked 4 fish in the previous 5 minutes, but got none of them to the net.  I hooked another while he was standing there, and also failed to land that fish.

As I called it a night, there was a quick blast of March Browns, but I resisted the temptation to tie on a new fly in the fading light.  I still needed to hike back to my car in near darkness.

In the end, on a stream where no fish were actively working the surface, I pulled at least 30 fish up to look at or hit my fly.  At least 20 of them (some the same fish, I assume) had hit the fly.  I'd hooked over 10 fish, and I think I got 4 of them to the net.  While there are some bigger fish in this stream, the biggest fish I caught was about 9", and the smallest was maybe 5".  All were wild rainbows within walking distance of a paved road.

It's always a successful day when you catch a big fish.  But, there are other experiences that make fly fishing fun and this was one of them.  I hope this stream remains undiscovered.  I only know a few people who ever fish there and I've never seen another fisherman on this water.

We are expecting rain off and on this week.  If the main streams are still high next weekend, I have two other White River tributaries in mind for a little bit of exploration.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

White River Open

We knew it was going to get hot, so it was important to get an early start.  I had picked my starting spot well in advance - a spot I'd fished three times already this season.  It's a series of 4 holes, where the lower hole is rarely productive, but the second and top holes are often very productive.

Keeping in mind what I wrote in my last post, I got to the river about 5:15, rigged up with a strike detector, a leading Prince Nymph, a middle Pheasant Tail, and a trailing green caddis emerger.  We were allowed to start fishing at 5:30 and I was standing in the river ready to go at 5:28.  As soon as my watch switched to 5:30, I made my first cast - a close cast designed to get a nice clean dead drift, and I started intently at my strike indicator.

For 4 or 5 casts, I saw nothing, but then, I noticed my strike indicator move upstream just the smallest amount.  The fish was a native rainbow, about 12", and it fought hard.  It had taken the prince nymph.  My first fish was recorded on my score-sheet at 5:39.  I had to untangle a bit of a mess (the fish had hit the top fly but was tangled a bit in the trailing tippet material.  I finally got everything done and cast again.  This cast - close in - brought a quick strike from a stocked fish.  I landed this fish quickly, and I had 2 fish by 9:45.  Last year, it had been at least 11:00 by the time I caught my second fish.

And then, things slowed down for a while.  No more strikes in this huge hole/seam.  It just seemed to go dead.  Eventually, I moved to another hole maybe 30 yards upstream.  I usually have good luck in this hole early in the year, but nothing at all was happening.  I thought I had the right flies and good drifts, but nothing at all.  By now, I was glad the morning was overcast.  This was going to give us a little extra time before the river really got hot.

I did lose my bottom two flies, and I made a slight change.  For my middle fly, I switched to a Montana Prince Nymph, and for my trailer, a different green caddis emerger with a bit of red and a soft hackle.

And then, I started to work upstream to my favorite hole at this spot.  I worked things thoroughly on the way up, taking advantage of the low water and the strike indicator to put my flies on as many fish as possible.  At the top of the hole, I got one stocked fish on the caddis emerger.  That was 3 fish before 9:00.  Last year, it had taken 16 fish to win the amateur division, so I had no dreams of winning, but I was just hoping to beat my 50.5" of fish from last year, and maybe finish a little higher in the rankings.  Eventually, I gave up on the upper hole and started working back downstream.  In the middle hole, still nothing.

But, the lower hole was exciting.  Early on, I hooked a wild rainbow.  The fish was jumping like crazy on the way in, and as it got closer to me, I noticed that it was flanked by two large rainbows in the 20" range.  Very odd.  I wasn't sure if they wanted to rescue the fish or perhaps eat it.  Either way, it seemed that the combination of being hooked and being trailed by 2 big fish was too much excitement.  Inches from the net, the fish managed to get off.  I know that doing things the "right" way - barbless hooks, in particular - is going to cost me fish.  But, sometimes in tournaments, I wonder if I'm doing myself a disservice with barbless hooks.

When the fish shook loose, one of the big rainbows disappeared with the little guy.  The other settled onto the bottom of the river, about 5 feet in front of me.  For 5 minutes or so, I drifted my flies right past that big guy, with no response at all.  Finally, that fish took off as well.  On my next cast, I hooked a stocked fish, and it also shook free right at the net.  It was now 9:30, and I had 32" of fish on my scorecard and it could have easily been 50".  Next, is where I might have made a mistake.

I'd hooked 4 fish from one large pool/seam, seen 2 other large fish, but I was guessing it was time to move on.  I wonder now if I would have simply moved around a bit and stayed in the area if I might have picked up a few more fish.  Instead, I went to my car, got a quick drink of water, and drove downstream half a mile.  I was surprised that no other tournament fishermen were on this water.  It starts out with some long slow pools that hold stocked fish.  Then, some fun pocket water.  And way downstream, there is a railroad bridge that results in 3 distinct holes that can produce fish.  It's a long hike, but I decided to give it a shot.  It was now almost 10:00, the sun was high, the clouds were gone, there were no hatches, and it was getting hot.

I fished quickly through the upper deep pools, knowing that lots of local fishermen hit this spot with bait and spinners as well as flies.  By the time I got to the pocket water, I slowed down.  I was far enough from the bridge that I was in water that rarely gets fished.  Most people simply won't wade downstream for half a mile for a few small pockets of decent water.  I worked these pockets carefully, and at 10:15, I hooked and landed my 4th fish of the day - a 9.5" stocked rainbow.  This caused me to slow down and work the water more carefully, hoping that perhaps there were more fish in these little pockets.  But, I had no luck and I eventually headed for the railroad bridge.

Here, the wading to a bit more treacherous, with the risk that a misstep would lead to be being washed into a very deep pool.  I was very cautious, and while I got some casts into the limited shade, my casts were probably not to the ideal locations.  But, safety comes first and I did as much as felt safe.

From the bridge, I headed downstream to a stretch of water that I used to love.  It's where I caught my biggest White River trout ever.  But, two winters ago, the river flow, split by a nearby island, had changed and the majority of the flow moved to the other side of the island, essentially strangling a great stretch of water.  I fished through this water quickly, and then exited the river.  It was now 12:30, hot, sunny, and I hadn't had a strike in over 2 hours.  I had a 30 minute walk back to the car.

By the time I got to the car, I was hot and exhausted.  I needed some water, but I had one more little stretch of pocket water to fish.  After no luck there, I drove downstream to the nearest convenience store and got an ice cream bar and a drink.  I sat in the air conditioned car, contemplating my next move.  Finally I decided on an area of the river where I'd done well late in the day last year - lots of ledge dropping off into deep pools.

I got there about 1:30, leaving me with about 90 minutes to fish.  A group of 2 men and 2 kids pulled up beside me and I was pretty sure they were heading to the same spot as me.  But, we talked a bit and they just wanted to drown some worms, so I pointed out a good spot for them.  They had caught 3 fish in deep water on worms before I had fished around the corner.

Despite my best efforts, the heat seemed to be in control.  I fished almost 90 minutes without a strike before calling it a day.

The largest fish this year was only 15" - smaller than last year.  Either of the big fish I'd seen would have won that category easily.  Also, the winning total in the amateur division was just over 60"  If I'd simply landed the 2 fish that escaped beside the net, or gotten lucky with the 2 big fish I saw, I might have won.

Next year, I guess.

While this was my best fishing day of the year, I am still averaging less than one fish per day of trout fishing.

We've had lots of rain this week, so streams may not even be fishable this weekend.  It may be time to work on some projects around the house and take a weekend off fishing.