Wednesday, November 16, 2016

It looks like I'm done for the season

I've been busy.  I will admit that.  Election season took some time from me.  Medical appointments, including some that require travel.  A weekend at an ultramarathon.  A weekend visiting my daughter at college.  And, on the very limited number of weekend days that I wasn't too busy, it's been cold and rainy.  In some cases, the water was still just too low.  The last time I fished, the White River was the lowest I've ever seen in the 19 years I've been fishing the river.

Pathetic?  Maybe.

But, I had a decent season.  No, I had a really fun season.  I caught way more good sized fish this year than I did last year, and I caught a lot more fish as well.  I probably caught the most fish 16" or larger that I've ever taken in a trout season, and I got fish that size in 4 different states in a year that I never even fished in PA.  Some of them were stocked, but some were wild.  I caught my first ever landlocked salmon this year.  I chased pike on the fly.  I finished third in the White River Open fly fishing tournament.  And, I learned a lot and I'm a better fisherman now than I was a year ago.  I'll take that.

A friend just sent me some pheasant feathers from two birds he shot.  I need to start working on smaller white and olive buggers, PTs (regular and soft hackle), princes, juju baetis, and a few other flies that are getting thin in my fly box.  I didn't tie much last winter, mostly due to going through chemo and just spending my days trying to stay warm.

This year, I'm hoping to get more time at the vise.  I'm hoping that a couple more rounds of treatment buy me time so I can stay healthy for all of fishing season next year.

I was hoping that I could teach skiing all winter and use the money to buy a new rod and reel next spring.  I have two different outfits in mind, both in the 9 foot, 5 weight range, and both expensive.  Since I'll be doing radiation and having more surgery this winter, I doubt that I'll work enough to save up the money for the 2 outfits I've been considering.  I certainly won't have enough money to buy that elusive pontoon drift boat I've wanted for a few years.  But, I can't really complain.

I saw my wife catch some amazing fish this year.  One early summer outing in the rain with my wife, and 2 of our friends yielded some great results, and we shared a nice dinner afterward.

Guides!  Brian Cadoret.  Matt Heron.  Al Karg.  I listed them alphabetically.  There is no preference there.  I'd fish with any of them any chance I get.  I can't say enough about these three truly professional and passionate guides.  If I'm lucky, I'll fish with all of them in the future.

During the years that I focused my free time on running ultramarathons and marathons, I really missed fly fishing.  But, life only gives us so much time.  Yes, I did my first ultramarathon in 6 years this season.  But, not once did I let the training for the race interfere with fishing.  My priority is being on the river these days.  I train during the week.  I fish when I can.

Life is good.  Uncertain at times, but good.

Until next time...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Back out of state to catch some fish

Our long summer of drought has now extended into the autumn.  Every year, I try to take a week off to fly fish during September.  It's one of my favorite times to be out there, and most of the fish still in the rivers are wild fish rather than stocked fish.  But, given our drought right now, I decided to leave Vermont for most of my week of fishing.

So, 2 weeks ago, I left work early on a Tuesday and headed to Pittsburg, NH.  I have to admit that I got lost for a bit on the way there, and I arrived too late to fish on Tuesday evening, which had been my plan.

On Wednesday, I was up well before first light, and I met a guide named Al Karg just below Murphy's Dam in Pittsburg.  You can find Al on Facebook by searching for "Soft Hackle Guide Service".  Al was already fully dressed in his waders and ready to go when I arrived.  He had even brought a mug of coffee along for me, which I drank quickly as I got ready.  By shortly after first light, we were on the river.

I had told Al that my goal for the day was a shot at a big brown.  The stretch below Murphy's Dam may be one of the most underrated fisheries on the east coast for big browns.  Al was a bit disappointed to see another guide's car in the lot, and as he feared, we were not going to be the first people in the hole he wanted to focus on.  So, we fished higher up on the river to start - stripping a big streamer that Al tied to resemble the smelt from Lake Francis.  We fished that streamer through one very long hole with no luck.  By this point, we were able to move into the water that Al had wanted to start in.

After a few casts with the streamer, we switched to tiny nymphs and light tippet as the sun got higher in the sky.  One big brown was all over this hole, feeding on something, but you never knew where the fish would come up again.  So, we kept fishing, hoping that the fish would get close enough to toss the flies his way.  Eventually it happened - the fish came up directly downstream from me, and I cast out and let the flies swing into the spot where the fish had come up.  I had a soft strike, set the hook, and then nothing.  We brought in the line and the flies were gone.  At this point, we realized that I had on a fluoro leader and Al had tied nylon tippet onto the fluoro.  That is where the knot failed.  So, while I'm not positive that I hooked the big guy, there's a decent chance that I had.  That fish rose a few more times, but we had no luck in that hole, so we headed downstream.

I had one more strike where a side stream comes in and it was likely a small brookie.  Around 11:30, we finally moved on from this stretch of water.  We headed downstream to fish a stretch of pocket water, but even with wading staffs, the current and wading were challenging.  From there, we went downstream a bit more to another stretch of pocket water that ended in a deep hole.  I had no luck there either, and we parted ways.  We both needed some food and I needed a shower.  When I got out of the shower at 2:45, Al was already at my campsite to head back out for the second half of the day.  We decided to fish the upper end of the Trophy Section between First Connecticut Lake and Lake Francis.

I had fished this water just a few weeks ago, and I'd caught one nice fish and a handful of other fish.  This time, the flows were much higher and the wading was challenging.  But, we used wading staffs and held onto each other for support on a few of our stream crossings.  At the well known Corner Hole, I finally got a fish.  I think Al was a bit unhappy that I'd insisted on using a purple fly (Batman Prince Nymph) through this stretch.  He really doesn't fish attractor patterns, but I'd had good luck with purple flies through here a few weeks ago.  I got a decent wild Rainbow out of the Corner Hole, and I then missed a strike just downstream where I'd taken an 18" fish a few weeks ago.  We fished the Judge's Pool and the Jury box with no luck to end the day.  Here is the one rainbow I caught that day:

So, I likely hooked one big fish but lost him.  I only caught one fish.  But, I felt like I learned a lot about the water and I had a good day.  The next day, this would pay off a bit.

I started Thursday on the same water, but I went with nymphs from the start.  The big brown was on the prowl again, but there were worm dunkers all around me, and I think they put the fish down with their long lob casts right on top of the latest rise.  I did manage a 10" rainbow in that hole and I got a brookie downstream where I'd missed a strike the day before.  So, I was no longer skunked on this water.

I headed back to my campground for a shower and a nap.  I talked to a younger fisherman in his waders in the campground store and asked him how he was doing.  He said he'd done well, with one big salmon, a big brookie and one big rainbow on the lower half of the trophy section.  He told me the fish had all come on an olive woolly bugger, on the swing.  So, I re-rigged my rod with a size 6 olive woolly bugger and a trailing tiny nymph.  I parked at Carr Ridge Road, and fished the stretch from below the bridge (there were already 3 people fishing at the bridge) down to the Junction Pool.  Halfway down, I had a vicious take and brought in a 20" rainbow.  Just a few casts later, I had another vicious strike in the same pool and got a beautiful wild 16" rainbow.  The bigger fish might have been a stocked fish, based on its coloration.  I fished down some more, and then came back to the bridge and fished there until dark.  I had a couple half-hearted strikes, but nothing noteworthy.  Here is the 20" rainbow as it swam out of the net:

It rained hard all night long, and to be honest, I just slept in the next morning.  I tore down my camp in the morning and headed to Errol, NH and the Dartmouth College Second Land Grant.  I met my friend Joel at the entrance to the grant, and we headed to our cabin for the weekend.  From here, we went out and fished the Diamond for a while before dinner.  To be honest, we didn't see any signs of fish the entire time we were out there.

The next morning, we started on the Diamond again.  Then, we headed upstream on the same river and we got a few small brookies on tiny nymphs.  From there, we headed above the confluence of the Swift Diamond and Dead Diamond (when they meet, the river becomes the Diamond) to a  big slow bend on the Dead Diamond.  We had no luck there, so we decided to leave the land grant and head to the Magalloway in Maine.

On the upper stretches of the Diamond, above the gorge:

We fished a location where a slow moving stream enters the river.  It's a beautiful area and it was hard to tell that we were only a couple hundred yards from a road.  It was pure wilderness.  I decided to let the other 2 guys fish the pool at the entrance to the stream and I stepped into the main stem of the river.  I quickly picked up a 10" brookie on a Copper John.  This led to Joel putting on a Copper John and he started catching fish at the confluence.  He had one big fish snap him off, but he got a 20" fish and an 18" fish.  They were beautiful males in spawning colors.  I think Joel hooked 6 fish or so before it got dark, but the other 2 of us got nothing other than my early brook trout.  So, I got 4 brookies for the day.  Here are few photos from in the river:

The next morning, we headed to right where we'd finished the day before.  This time, we put our 3rd fisherman in the sweet spot at the confluence.  He was a fairly new fisherman and we wanted him to have the best shot at the fish.  But, I was suddenly the person catching fish.  It took a while to figure out exactly what would prompt a strike.  The water was very slow and I was fishing a bead head Copper John.  I would cast it, and let it drift until it hit the bottom.  It would travel only a small distance before that happened.  Then, I would slowly raise the rod and the fish would grab the fly as it rose from the bottom.  But, they were super subtle strikes - really it just felt like somebody added a couple split shots to the leader and you had to use that as an indicator to lift faster to set the hook.  The first fish I hooked was big - probably over 20", and I got him into shallow water, but he threw the hook.  The next fish was a beautiful spawning male:

Then, I got a couple other fish, including a 14" fish.  I don't get to fish for wild brookies very often, and the 16" fish was my biggest brookie ever.  But, we weren't done yet.  At about 10:30, we had to head back to the cabin and clean it up and get our stuff out.  After that, our third fisherman headed home, and Joel and I headed to the Magalloway again, but this time, we headed upstream to the famous Mailbox Hole.  This was a bit challenging because the main pool creates a lot of eddies, and I was actually fishing my nymphs by letting them drift upstream.  Joel got a small salmon early on, and I eventually hooked and landed a beautiful 18" brookie.  At this point, I had my 2 biggest brookies of my life in one day, and I'd lost an even bigger fish.

Eventually, I had to head back to Vermont, but Joel stayed and returned to our first spot.  He hooked one more monster and lost it, but got a handful of fish in the 14"-20" range.  What a great little pocket of water that is, although it took a while to get the technique down.

I got to Vermont and spent the night with my in-laws in the Northeast Kingdom.  The next day, I was scheduled to fish the Clyde River for spawning landlocked salmon.  But, the guide called me and told me that water was simply too low for the salmon, so we agreed to fish the Lamoille instead.

We didn't start early because most of the recent hatches had been in the afternoon.  The first few casts I took were to a big brown sunning himself in the Gihon River just above where it enters the Lamoille.  My third cast spooked the fish and I never did get a clean drift past him.  From there we headed to a couple spots on the Lamoille.  The lack of insect life was surprising and there were no rising fish at all.  I did get one decent wild bow on a stripped woolly bugger in slow water.

From there, we headed back to the Gihon, fishing up through some drop-offs and focusing on the pocket water.  I turned two fish - one on a nymph under a hopper and one that chased a Zonker, but no strikes.  Finally, at the top-most pocket in this stretch - a deep pocket that holds some big browns - I had a strike, but I didn't hook the fish.

In the Gihon:

And just like that, my fishing vacation was over.

I got out on the White River in Royalton yesterday and the river is the lowest I have ever seen it.  Holes that are normally deep were shallow and crystal clear.  I fished for about an hour without any signs of fish before heading home.  We got some rain this morning and more is in the forecast for next weekend, but our drought is far from over.  I may try Otter Creek next weekend.

Friday, September 16, 2016

First day out in VT in quite a while

I had last fished in VT on 7/24/2016.  Normally, it's not too hard to find places to fish in August, but certain waters are off limits.  This year, due to record heat and very low water conditions, I didn't fish in VT once during August.  I did fish in NH during August, and that's where I'll be fishing again next week, but I finally got out in VT last weekend.

After a few cool nights and some rain overnight on a Saturday, I got out on a Sunday evening, on the main branch of the White River.  The water temperature was still marginal at 68F, but it was cool enough to fish.  Flows were still low, but adequate for fishing.

As I got to the stream, I saw a few iso emergers and there were a few BWOs in the air.  I had already anticipated those flies, and I had a 3 fly rig with an iso nymph up top, a Batman Prince in the middle, and a juju Baetis last.  This is a series of 4 major pools that I was fishing top to bottom.

On my very first cast into the first pool, my strike indicator went under.  I was guessing the water was too shallow and I'd snagged a nymph, but I set the hook anyway.  I hooked a fish and turned him - a nice brown - and then because of bad line management, he got some slack and threw the hook.  Earlier in the year, I took an 18" brown in this pool, and it may very well have been the same fish.

After that, things slowed down a lot.  I worked down through the first hole with no more strikes.  None in the second hole either.  I was almost through the third when my strike indicator moved again.  This time, I hooked and landed a small wild rainbow.  And that was it for the day.

Well, I had one more strike but failed to hook the fish.  So, 3 strikes in 2.5 hours - not really all that great.  But, it was nice to be on the water.  And, I helped a young boy who was bait fishing and struggling with his equipment.  I always try to help the next generation when I can.  I know that I was a bait guy at his age, and hopefully he will remember a fly fisherman helping him, and he'll consider fly fishing as an option in the future.

Next Tuesday, I'm heading to NH for a week or so of fishing, and during the trip, I'll fish in NH, ME and eventually, back in VT.  I hope to get out on the Winooski this coming weekend as well.

My trip to NH starts on Tuesday.  I will get there somewhat late, but I'm hoping to get a little time on the Connecticut above Lake Francis on Tuesday evening, probably the lower half of the trophy section - Carr Bridge down to Doc's Hole or so.

Wednesday, I'm fishing with a guide below Murphy Dam, and the entire goal for the day is big browns.  We are going to start in darkness with mouse patterns, and then move to nymphs as we get some light.

Thursday, I'm going to fish the entire upper half of the trophy section - from the dam down to the bridge.  After I hike back to my car, I will see if I have time to do any more fishing.  If so, I have a number of places to consider.

Friday, I'll fish in the morning for a bit, but not too long.  I'm meeting friends that afternoon and staying in Dartmouth's Second College Land Grant for the weekend.  I'm guessing we will fish the Dead Diamond Friday night and Saturday morning.  At some point, we will cross into Maine to chase big brookies on the Magalloway.  I will fish until Sunday evening and then head back to Vermont.

Monday morning, I'm going to fish the Clyde for landlocked salmon coming out of Lake Memphremagog to spawn.  In the afternoon, I might hit the Black River in Irasburg on my way home.

That's 7 straight days of fishing and I'm beyond excited.  I know that water flows have been increased on the trophy section of the Connecticut and fishing has been improving.  I will be at most of these places when they aren't crowded, and I'll likely have time on the trophy water all to myself,  Just me and the fish.

This won't be the end of my season - far from it.  But, after next week, all of my fishing will be on weekends, right up until mid-November or so, when I'll put away the fly rods and pull out the skis.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Brodin: Another company with great customer service (and great products)

Earlier this year, I talked about how happy I was with customer service from Sage, Simms and Patagonia.  All of them took great care of me after I had an issue with a product.

On the flip-side, Rio never even acknowledged a problem I reported to them with some of their gear.  This was disappointing to me, because I use their fly lines and their tippet material and their leaders, and I had a problem with a very specialized leader, and just wanted some information.  I haven't stopped using their equipment, but I have stopped using that specialized leader, especially after it cost me a 4 pound brown trout the last time it failed.  But, this post isn't about Rio or any of those other companies.

I now have a new company to add to the "great customer service" list.

I have been using Brodin nets for a long time - probably 20 years.  I still have my first net from them, and it still works.  It's small, and it has the older style mesh fabric webbing, so I don't use it often, mostly because the newer style baskets are more kind to fish.  But, it gets used when I go out with a second fisherman who needs a net for the day.

Two weekends ago, in a very short period of time, I lost my Brodin Ghost Cutthroat net.  It was there when I used it to land a fish, and 15 minutes later, it was gone when I needed it for a bigger fish.  I searched all over the area for it, with no luck.  I've even had a local fisherman in that area keeping his ears open for me, in case a local fisherman finds it.  But, the reality is, it's gone.  I know if I found a net like that on a river, I'd try to get it back to the original owner somehow, but in my heart, I'd want to keep it.  It's that nice a product.
This morning, I sent Brodin a message.  They don't make the same net anymore, and I was asking them about my first choice as a replacement for the net.  I explained how I lost the net, and I assume it was my fault.  I'm guessing that I failed to hook the net to my pack properly.  I tried not to place any blame on them.

I got an immediate response from their "info" e-mail address.  The surname of the person who responded was Brodin.  This is not a giant business like Simms or Patagonia.  This is a small specialty business, where family members answer e-mails (or it's an amazing coincidence of a last name).

And, they did something that totally surprised me.  They offered me a discount on the replacement net to "help to ease the pain", as they phrased it.

I was already a fan of their products.  Now, I'm fan of their entire company.  I'm looking forward to the new net arriving before I go on a short fly fishing vacation later this month.  This is what I love about our sport.  The best companies out there know that we, as consumers, have a lot of options when it comes to gear.  And, many of us spend a lot on gear (our wives will back us up on that claim).

It's nice when a company goes out of the way to earn or keep your business.  Here's a pic of the new net:

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Pittsburg, NH area fishing

I finally got some fishing done a week ago, up in the Pittsburg, NH area.  I picked up a friend on Saturday morning and we headed north and east.  It took a couple hours to get there, and we did a quick drive through Pittsburg and up to First Connecticut Lake before picking our first spot to fish.  We decided to start at a bridge about halfway through the Trophy section (fly fishing only) between First Connecticut Lake and Lake Francis.  We were camping at Lake Francis that night.

We did check out the upper end of the trophy section before we fished downstream, but it was crowded and the two most obvious holes were being used to teach some young kids to fly fish.  We saw one of them catch a small wild rainbow before heading downstream.

I enjoyed the pocket water we were fishing.  But, my fishing companion apparently didn't.  I had settled in on a handful of flies I wanted to use for this trip, and I didn't change up very often.  I was using a hopper up top, a size 14 Batman Prince Nymph and a size 18 purple Juju Baetis as my droppers.  Walking was challenging, but there were fish in that pocket water and I caught a couple small wild fish early on.  The biggest excitement was a large brook trout following my hopper for 10 feet or so before declining to eat it.  It would have easily been my biggest brookie ever, but no luck.

After a couple hours in the midday sun, I felt like I was dialing in the water and I had a few things figured out.  The takes were subtle.  They almost always came on the first or second cast into an area, so the best strategy was cast and move, cast and move.  I'd missed a few fish, caught a couple, and was having fun, but my friend was catching nothing and complaining.  Eventually, he insisted it was time for lunch.  We went to the campground, set up our tent, got some food, and he then wanted to drive to Colebrook to fish.

I had my best day of last year in Colebrook with this person, but I much preferred to stay in the upper water.  But, there were 2 of us, so I gave in.  Unlike a year ago, the fishing was very challenging at Colebrook this year.  I got one strike and one small wild fish.  My friend got 2 fish.  And suddenly, darkness was approaching, so we called it a day.  We had access to so much water full of big wild fish in NH, and I knew I didn't want to return to this site the next day.  The bridge at Colebrook can be very productive.  But, it's open to bait fishing and lots of people fish there simply to catch their limit and go home.  There is nothing wild or remote about it, although there are some wild fish in the area.

I suggested an early start for the next day, and suggested we fish the top of the trophy section, before it got crowded.  We were the first people there, and within a couple minutes, I had a nice 12" rainbow on the Batman Prince.  I continued my tactic of cast and move on.  I went downstream and caught another fish right below the previous fish, this time on the Juju Baetis.  By now, some other fishermen were showing up, so I headed downstream even more.  At the next hole, I was fishing some small water that had just been abandoned by another fisherman, but on my second cast, I landed a 10" landlocked salmon on the baetis nymph.  This was my first landlocked salmon ever -a fish I have never really targeted even in VT.  I leapfrogged the fisherman below me, and caught another small rainbow just below him and some downed trees.  I fished a handful of holes on the way downstream, and then realized I was getting away from my buddy.  So, I circled back around and found him.  Somehow, between my 4th fish and the time I found him, my net disappeared, but I didn't notice right away.

I also changed flies, tying on a size 16 Psycho Prince nymph - still purple.

As I resumed fishing with my friend, he moved downstream quickly to some bigger water.  I worked slowly through the pocket water and at one point, I waded halfway across the river to put a fly in front of a very fishy looking rock.  And, it paid off as I hooked a nice rainbow on a very subtle take.  This is when I noticed that my net was gone and I had my buddy net the fish.  The fish was a bit lethargic with warm-ish water temperatures, so I released him immediately with no photo.  So, you'll have to trust me that it was a beautiful 18" rainbow.  I went off looking for my net after that, and my buddy caught a second smaller fish where I'd just taken the big fish.  By the time I returned, he wanted some coffee, so we headed back to the campground.

We packed up everything, got some coffee, and headed to a fly fishing only section above First Connecticut Lake.  I thought this water was close to a mile long, but the river dropped into the lake after maybe 1/4 mile.  My friend worked this water more slowly, and it paid off with a nice wild brookie (this water holds mostly brookies and salmon).  I had no strikes and I fished the entire FFO section.  By now, it was noon and we had time to fish one more area before we had to head home.  Plus, rain was in the forecast for the evening.

I suggested below Murphy's Dam, the outlet of Lake Francis, just above the village of Pittsburg.  This water was being released towards the bottom of the dam, and was clearly below the thermocline.  I measured the water at 54F, and we knew there were big browns in this water.  But, to be honest, fishing had really slowed down, I hadn't had much sleep, and I was getting pretty tired.  I fished a big white streamer trailed by 2 tiny nymphs, but after half an hour, I'd had enough and called it a day.  I told my friend I was done, but told him to keep fishing.  I went back to the car for something to eat and drink, and I listened to the Tigers pummelling the Red Sox on the radio.

After an hour or so, an older gentleman with a fly fishing license plate showed up at his truck, which was parked right beside me.  We talked for an hour or so, and he told me he'd lost a brown he estimated at 8 pounds on a tiny fly.  He had actually hooked a small brown, and the bigger brown attacked the smaller fish and managed to get hooked.  After a 20 minute fight, the fish threw the hook, and he reeled in the dead carcass of the baby brown he'd originally hooked.  This was the second time he'd hooked this particular fish (although he said it's possible 2 huge browns are in the small pool where he hooked it), and it got away both times.

He turned out to be a guide, and he was very willing to share his knowledge of this stretch of river.  I'm hoping to go back in September and maybe fish with him for a day.  I told him that if we fished, my goal would simply be to have a shot at a big brown.  Numbers are meaningless, but give me a shot at a big eastern brown.  I'm hoping to do that in 3 weeks or so, when I've got a week off work to go fly fishing.

Even if I don't fish with him, I will fish in the Pittsburg, NH area again this season, despite the high pressure that anglers put on the Connecticut River through that area.

I did some stream measurements this past weekend, and some local waters are cooling down.  The Little River is cool enough to fish all day, and the Dog is cool enough to fish in the morning.  But, after a tough hike with my wife and friends on Saturday, I slept in on Sunday and never made it out fishing.  I probably can't fish this coming weekend, but I'm guessing that water temperatures will be much better by the time I can fish 11 days from now.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Not much to report

We don't have a lot of tailwaters in VT, and most of them are a long drive from my home.

I managed to fish a couple weeks ago near Rochester, VT, along Rt. 125, upstream of Texas Falls.  It was 66F up there.  I got a few very small wild brookies that day.  But, other than that day, I haven't been fishing.  Here are some recent water temperature readings:

White River - Main Branch - 76F
Locust Creek - 75F
Stony Creek - 72F
Barton River, near Glover - 71F
Black River in Irasburg - 75.5F

We need rain and we need cooler temperatures.  Until then, I either have to travel to fish or just do something else on the weekends.  I kind of doubt that my wife would support me getting a fishing boat to use on Lake Champlain, but it would sure be nice to have this summer.

On 4 of those waters listed above, I have never recorded a temperature above 70F before this season.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A River Making a Comeback

I'm not going to name the river where I fished on Saturday, but locals should be able to figure out what water I'm talking about.

This is special regulations water - catch and release only.  I fish there a few times a year, always in search of the big browns that allegedly inhabit this water, but I have yet to land one.  A friend of mine had a good morning there Saturday - fishing big streamers for big browns after thunderstorms the night before.  He got two big browns - one of them bigger than any brown I've ever caught.

I got to a well known spot with easy river access around 4:30 p.m.  I fought through some brush to get to the river.  I was hoping I wasn't going to fight to get to the water, only to find it was too warm to fish, but luckily, it was 64.5F - well within the safe parameters.  The first couple holes are slow water, and I drifted some nymphs with a strike indicator as I scouted around for insect life.  Those first few holes gave me nothing.

The first hole with some moving water was much better though.  I had about 5 strikes in 10 minutes and landed 3 small wild rainbows.  Considering that I often get zero fish on this river, or maybe 1, getting 3 fish, even small fish, felt like a good day already.  I continued fishing downstream.  The next hole was devoid of fish, due to low flows.  Two years ago, I'd hooked a big brown in that hole on a huge black stonefly, but there were no fish to be found Saturday.

In the next hole, I'd briefly hooked a big rainbow last year, but I had a few bad casts and then a snag this time.  After I snapped off my snag, my strike indicator came loose and floated into the next hole and stopped.  So, I ruined that hole by wading in to retrieve my indicator.  I fished another 4-5 holes downstream with no luck, and decided to move on.

At my second location, a bit downstream, I had a few deep holes to work, with long stretches of calm water in between.  I worked hard to get some good clean drifts through these holes, and repeatedly changed my fly depth.  No luck at all.  I was seeing some BWOs by now, and I had a mayfly nymph, a stone nymph, and a BWO nymph, in that order, on my rig.  The latter two nymphs had produced those first 3 fish.  I got no strikes at all on the second stretch and debated what to do next.  I had a third spot I was considering - one that I like for nymphing.  But, it was after 7:00 by now, and I was exhausted from a few tough gym workouts the previous day.  So, I headed for my "secret" hole on this river.

It's not easy to get to, especially this time of year.  You can park way downstream and wade up quite a ways.  You can park way upstream, walk the road, and access the creek through a horrible jungle of knotweed.  Or, you can find the secret parking spot and wade down through a tiny creek to get there.  I have never seen another fisherman in this stretch.

There are 2 main holes here, and before Hurricane Irene, there were 3.  But, after some work on the nearby railroad tracks, the river flow changed and the middle hole disappeared.  I fished the top hole with the nymphs and was honestly surprised to have no strikes at all.  I waded down to the lower hole and just watched for a while.  Before the hurricane, I consistently did well with dries in this hole.  But, some repair work after the hurricane really re-configured the hole, and it's been slow to rebound.  I took a friend in there last year and he got a nice 18" wild rainbow on a dry.

I saw no fish working the surface, so I stuck with my nymphs.  But, as I got to the bottom of the hole, I started to see a few smaller fish rising.  I think they were going after BWO emergers, but there were also a few hexagenia in the air.  I put on a small (size 16) BWO and landed a rainbow on my first cast.  In the next 15 minutes, I got 2 browns.  But, the fish were still small, and I was after something bigger.  The hexagenia were becoming more numerous, so I switched to a bigger hex pattern to try to scare up a bigger fish.  I had one brown come up to the fly twice before refusing it, and a couple small fish batter the fly around.  But, no luck on the bigger fish.  By now, it was almost 9:00 and I still had to drive home and cook dinner, so I called it a day.  But, taking 6 small fish in this river is very promising for its future and its continued recovery from the hurricane.

On Monday, my wife and I tried to fish the White.  Above the Third Branch, the main branch had a temperature above 71F.  Below the confluence, it was as high as 76F.  People were swimming in the first hole I wanted to fish.

I drove upstream to a side stream that is never too hot to fish, and measured 71F there.  I opted to not push higher into the side streams.  My wife struggles with casting under tight tree canopies, so we called it a day.  The weather the next 2 weeks does not look promising for restoring the streams to being fishable.  I may travel up towards the Canadian border in search of cooler water next weekend.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Fishing in the Sierra Nevada

Thanks to the generosity of some friends, my family and I took a recent vacation to the Sierra Nevada.  I've mentioned here before that I've been dealing with a tough cancer the past year or so, and my wife and I each had a previous cancer in the past couple years.  This hit us very hard financially.

Over the winter, a number of friends offered to send me on a skiing trip, but I was between chemo and surgery, very busy trying to stay caught up at work, and I said I had to decline.  They then offered us another option - a trip that would work for my schedule.  My daughter's high school graduation was coming up, and I'd wanted to take her to Lake Tahoe for a week to celebrate (we had a free place to stay there, and we all love the area), so we opted for that.  I can never thank my friends enough for what they did.

Over the winter, because I now have one child in college (soon to be 2), my income tax refund was more than I expected.  I asked my wife if we could put the money away for some spending money on vacation, primarily to do some guided trout fishing.  She agreed to let me spend part of the money on fishing, which was fair.

I immediately spent a week reading about Lake Tahoe area guides before settling on Matt Heron as the guide I wanted to fish with.  I originally booked 2.5 days (one day on private water, one on the Truckee and a half day on the Little Truckee), but eventually reduced that to 2 full days.  My wife and I both fished the first day on private water, an area called Pleasant Valley in the Markleeville area.

We got there mid-morning on a Tuesday, and one other fisherman was already on the 3 mile stretch of water.  Otherwise, we were all alone.  Matt knew that most fish had been stocked upstream from the parking area, but he spotted a nice fish at a bridge right by where we had parked.  It was an area with some tough casting, so Matt had me start fishing for that fish first.  We tried a number of casts and drifts with little luck to start.  But, eventually, with a green drake on the surface and a trailer, the fish came up and hit the drake.  I set the hook too hard and snapped the tippet.  This would be a theme for me the entire day.  I retrieved the flies as they drifted past me, but I'd already missed one nice fish.  We weren't sure if the fish had felt the hook or not, but after a few more fruitless casts, we headed upstream.

We saw the other fisherman and leapfrogged him to a spot below a nice waterfall.  I think my wife hooked three fish here and landed one:

I crossed over and missed a couple as well but got one fish.  By now, the other fisherman had leapfrogged us, and was fishing above the small waterfall in this photo:

We saw him catch a handful of fish, and our guide went up to help him net one of the larger fish.  When we eventually walked up into that hole, it was stacked full of fish.  My wife and I alternated some casts in there and had a few takes.  From there, we moved up to another hole stacked full of fish.  The fish didn't seem very interested, so the guide and my wife moved upstream some more, while I stayed downstream.  I hooked three different fish and they all snapped me off while they were upstream.  One was my fault - the yips on the hook set again.  Fishing in VT, I rarely see the strike, and I kept over-reacting when I could see the strike occur.  I ended up snapping off more fish than I caught for the day.  Another was a big fish that I worked hard to keep out of a bush that was in the water.  Just when I thought I'd won the battle, the fish went downstream and the leader snapped on a small stick protruding from a downed log.

My wife had a few strikes upstream, but they soon headed down and we took a lunch break.  Right after lunch, we got into some fish at a hole lower than we'd fished in the morning.  They kept coming right to the fly and then refusing.  One one occasion, I had a fish hit a hopper, and I snapped the line setting the hook.

From there, we moved up to some still water full of fish.  It wasn't 100% still, but it was mostly a side pond fed by the river.  There were a lot of big fish in here and we caught fish on hoppers and PTs.  Again, I lost a few fish on my hooksets.  By now, the guide was working more with me to slow down the sets, and I was getting frustrated.  My wife took a couple nice fish out of this hole, including this beauty:

Matt estimated the fish at 20" and 4 pounds.  From here, we started to run out of time.  The guide had driven a long way and didn't want to stay out until dark, with a 2.5 hour drive home.  My wife moved up 2 holes, to where I'd hooked the three fish earlier and I moved upstream a bit more.  While I was upstream, she caught and released 3 nice fish of at least 16" or more.  I got nothing.  At that point, she was done.  I think it was 6:00 by then.  I didn't want to quit, but I knew my wife was done and the guided needed to wrap things up.  So, I started fishing downstream, working every hole we'd fished all day.  I hooked a nice fish below that waterfall.  I was using nymphs and a strike indicator, and I set the hook perfectly.  I played the fish perfectly.  It threw the hook anyway.

On our last hole, I got in a couple decent casts, and then snagged a tree on the far side.  The guide held that rod, while I fished another.  Two casts later, I snagged the other rod.  So, I waded out, freed the flies and we called it a day.  I think I got 4 fish in the 12"-14" range.  My wife had 4 fish in that range, and another 4 in the 16"-20" range.  She was thrilled.  I was frustrated.  I should have caught 15+ fish, but I managed to do everything wrong all day, it seemed.  I learned a lot and spent a lot of time the next day visualizing my strikes.  I needed to quell the yips and get my hook sets under control.

Matt and I met right by the Truckee early, 2 days later.  A few minutes later we were into a nice hole as the sun rose behind us.  In this bigger water, Matt had me very focused on my mends and getting really clean dead drifts.  He liked how the drifts were going and was shocked that we had no strikes.  Finally, as I got to the last part of the hole, I had a very strong strike and I was onto a fish.  This time I did everything right.  And, instead of a trout, I caught my first ever whitefish:

After an hour or so in this first hole, we headed downstream.  I started in a deep hole, stripping streamers.  The guide saw one very large brown follow one cast, but the fish wouldn't commit.  Eventually, I hooked a nice rainbow on a very subtle take, but the fish was only on for seconds before throwing the hook.

At the next hole, frustration continued.  I caught another whitefish (that wasn't frustrating, but it wasn't a trout).  I saw one strike by a smaller fish and snapped him off.  And then, Matt pointed out a fisherman downstream and we both took our eyes off the strike indicator for a couple seconds.  When we looked again, it was obvious that I had a strike.  I set the hook and felt the fish, and saw it briefly, but again, it threw the hook.  By the time we left this hole, it was 2:00 or so, and Matt needed to be off the water by 5:00-5:30.  He decided we'd try the Little Truckee for a bit.

His first choice was occupied by one of his guides and a client.  So, we moved upstream.  He was amazed to find only one car in a parking lot that often holds 8 cars, so we hopped out and hiked downstream for a mile or so, moving quickly.  We both knew that time was tight.  We were right below a spot where some still water and the main water met, creating a nice seam.  We could see fish moving in and out of the seam, including one very visible rainbow that looked like it was scarred from an osprey attack.  That fish was feeding, but we couldn't get it to take anything.

We saw a few fish rising to PMDs, and tried them with no success.  We saw one fish crush a green drake, so we tried them for a while.  Still no luck.  We worked up and down through this whole, watching fish in the seam and watching the occasional rise, but nothing was happening.

Then, Matt noticed 2 big fish move into the top of the seam  He had me throw a 3-nymph rig at the fish.  My first few casts weren't right on the fish, but somewhere around my 4th cast, I got it right.  The strike indicator never moved, but Matt saw the white of the fish's mouth as it took a fly.  At this point, we had 6x tippet on the bottom fly.  Matt told me to set the hook and I did it perfectly.  That fish felt the hook and took off downstream like a bat out of hell.  I have never had a trout take off like that.  As the fish pulled all slack tight, I'm not sure exactly what happened.  Matt said I had a death grip on the line, but I didn't.  Maybe the reel paused for just a bit as the line straightened.  Maybe the pressure where my left hand was touching the line was too much.  Whatever it was, the fish snapped the tippet rather than the reel picking him up and letting him run.  And in seconds, it was over.

I knew as soon as that happened that I would end up with no trout for the day.  But, I'd told Matt that I simply wanted a chance at a big wild fish, and I'd had 3 on my line during the day.  I failed to execute each time.  The guide did his job.

I would highly recommend Matt as a guide.  His coaching, his patience, his attention to detail, and his optimism make him a great guide to work with.  He listened to what I wanted out of each day and delivered.

I sent Matt an e-mail earlier this week.  I had just read A River Runs Through It on the plane to CA.  The famous final line of that book is pretty well known, but if you don't know it, the line is simply "I am haunted by waters."

I told Matt that I'd probably be forever haunted by that last fish, and even he admitted it was an amazing take and run by the fish.

On Tuesday of this week, I boarded a very early train to Manhattan.  I had a CT scan and a meeting with my surgical oncologist.  My cancer is completely undetectable at the moment.  I'm already dreaming of a return trip to CA to chase trout with Matt.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mid-week on the White River

Last week, at the WRO, there were a handful of small prizes on the table after everyone had either gotten a prize or gotten picked in a raffle.  There were a handful of fly boxes - maybe 6 or so.  People were allowed to grab whatever they wanted after everyone had a prize.  Because I'd placed and won a very nice prize, I stayed back at first.  But, two of the fly boxes were nearly untouched.  I didn't know the name of either of the patterns, but one looked like a great fly for the White River - a sculpin/leech/bugger type of pattern.

Some internet research later revealed that it was a Charlie Craven pattern called the Gonga.  This fly is usually tied in a large size, but these were smaller than normal.  I grabbed a handful of these flies after others opted not to take them.  And today, I'm glad I did.

I worked from home yesterday due to a medical appointment.  I'd worked out hard the three previous days, so I decided I would fish after work rather than work out.  I opted to head to a spot where I knew a couple people had done well in the WRO the previous week.

During the day, I was talking to a friend on FB, and he told me that he'd fished the same spot the previous evening, and that he'd done well with black leech patterns.  So, I opted for a Gonga and a Prince Nymph to start.

I got to the spot around 5:30 and headed to the upper reaches of about 300 yards of water I wanted to work.  I was all alone and looking forward to fishing this entire stretch.  It only took a couple minutes and I'd hooked and landed a stockie.  I was very surprised to catch him on the Gonga and not the Prince Nymph.  I few minutes later, I had a second fish, this time on the Prince Nymph.

A couple minutes later, I had a hard hit early in my drift and I missed the fish.  I repeated the cast and immediately got another strike, and this time, I hooked the fish.  I knew right away this wasn't a normal stockie.  But, unlike most wild rainbows, it wasn't jumping, so I wasn't sure what was on the line.  It was probably 5 minutes before I even saw the fish.  My first thought when I saw it was surprise that it was a brown trout.  Since Hurricane Irene, I've caught very few browns in the main branch of the White.  I do OK with browns on the Third Branch, but not in the main branch.  But, I was also fishing within sight of the Third Branch, so a brown should have been less surprising.  The other thing that excited me when I saw the fish was its size.  I finally got it to the net, and quickly unhooked it, measured it, and released it.  It was an 18" brown - my biggest ever brown from the White River drainage:

The fish didn't have the distinctive yellow belly of wild browns from the Third Branch.  I'm guessing that it was a holdover stocked fish from last year that had moved downstream, but I could easily be wrong on that.

I kept moving downstream and noticed another angler just below me.  At first, I thought he was spin fishing, but eventually, I realized he was tossing flies from the shore and stripping them back in.  I saw him catch a fish.  I got closer to where he was fishing, making sure to give him plenty of room when another hard strike happened.  This time, the fish immediately went airborne.  Then deep,  Airborne.  Deep.  He was putting quite a bend in my rod and the other fisherman thought I had a big fish on and came over with a big net.  I told him I was fine and eventually netted a 13" wild rainbow.

The other guy and I got talking, and it turned out he was a guide who was leading a trip on the White the next day, so he was prospecting.  He was also a Facebook friend, although we'd never met in person before.  We had connected on Facebook through mutual fishing friends.  We talked for a while.  I gave him one of the flies that was working for me.  We talked about cancer - something that has touched both of our lives recently.  We talked about fishing together in the future and made a plan to float the Upper Connecticut later this summer.

He eventually moved down into the water I'd hoped to fish next, and I saw him catch a few stocked trout plus some smallmouth bass.  Because of where he was fishing, I decided to re-fish the same stretch I'd just fished.  I had a few strikes on the way back through.  But, it was getting late, I had dinner to cook, a hockey game to watch, and I was getting cold.

When I got home, I had messages from two friends telling me about another spot just upstream that I should have fished, but I saw them too late.  But, I'll be back there tomorrow, looking for more big fish.

White River Open - Always a Bridesmaid

Last Saturday, I fished in the third iteration of the White River Open fly fishing tournament.  Unlike the Otter Creek Classic, which is on the opening weekend in early April, in this tournament, we are fishing in prime season, after stocking has occurred, and fish are always caught.  Plus, the White is my home river, so I know a lot of the system pretty well.  However, given that there are over 100 miles of water in the White River drainage, I don't know anywhere near all of it.

In the first year of the tournament, I caught 6 fish.  The amateur winner caught 16, I believe.  However, lots of people got skunked and I finished in the top 3 or 4.  Last year, I caught 5 fish, but I was only 9 inches or so out of first place.  I lost 2 fish right at the net, and either of them might have won it for me.  So, I'm always close, but never at the top, it seems.

This year, there was some controversy.  For the time of year, the river was at near record low flows and very warm.  A number of friends decided not to fish due to water conditions.  One friend was planning to fish until Friday, when he took a number of water temperature readings in the 70s, including one at 78, and he bailed.  I had a number of messages from friends that weren't going to fish, and they seemed to be hinting that dropping out would be the right thing for me to do as well.

At the pre-race meeting, I voiced some concerns about water temperatures.  One competitor made a very sarcastic comment to me, saying that it sounded like I wanted the tournament to be cancelled.  I stated that this wasn't completely true, but that with so many connections to Trout Unlimited, we were responsible to be good stewards of our fishing resources, and I was concerned that we had no rules in place to prevent people from fishing water that was too warm.

My personal rule to stop fishing is 68F.  I know most people stop at 70F, and many just keep fishing no matter what the water temperature is.  I've seen fish struggle at 68F, including one fish I'd caught a week earlier in the White, at just under 68F.  I deliberately chose my most stout rod for fishing, so I could land fish quickly and release them quickly.  Despite the low, clear water, I also stuck with 4x tippet.  I might have had more strikes with 5x or 6x, but I wanted the stouter tippet material to land the fish more quickly.

The tournament organizers did change the rules somewhat, although I wish they'd gone a bit further.  The end of the tournament was moved from 3:30 in the afternoon to 11:00 a.m.  I wish we'd had a thermometer requirement and we would have been required to record the water temperature every time we caught a fish.  I'm guessing some fishermen weren't carrying thermometers, but I'd reply that any responsible catch and release trout fisherman should own a thermometer and carry it if temperatures are marginal.  But, enough with the proselytizing.

I had a beer with my wife at Worthy Burger after the meeting, headed home, loaded the car with my gear, ate some dinner, and got to bed early.  The legal start time was a bit unclear.  At the meeting, they explicitly said first light.  The written instructions said 5:00.  I decided to go with the instructions at the meeting.  I was planning to fish a well known spot, so I wanted to make sure I got there before anyone else.  I set my alarm for 3:40 and I was out of bed before 4:00 and on the road by 4:15 or so.  As I pulled into the turnout at my first spot, I was happy to see no other cars, despite the fact that it was past first light.  I geared up quickly and stepped into the river at 4:45.

I often fish three flies at once, but for the tournament, I wanted to maximize fishing time.  Three fly rigs tangle a lot more often than 2 fly rigs, so I went with just 2 flies.  I started with a small olive woolly bugger and a size 14 Prince Nymph.  I really expected to only catch fish on the nymphs, but my hope was that the bigger fly would help to get my flies deeper and also perhaps attract some fish to the general location of my flies.

On my third cast, I hooked a fish.  And, I lost it almost immediately.  I was in a pool where I'd caught 8 or 9 fish the previous Saturday, and despite a few strikes, I caught nothing in 15 or so minutes.  I started moving down, and quickly hooked and landed a fat stocked fish.  My first fish came at 5:09 a.m. and its length was 10.75 inches.  It would be my biggest fish of the day, but not my best catch.  I worked through the next 100 yards of water slowly over the next 2 hours.  Despite numerous strikes, hook-ups were rare.  By the time I'd gotten to the bottom of the run, I'd caught 3 fish, had one snap me off (bad knot, not a big fish), and I'd missed many strikes.  At the bottom of the run, the water runs into a long rock ledge that creates some deep water.  It's tough to get the fly the whole way to the ledge and get a clean drift, so I tried an alternative approach.  I waded out far into the shallower water above and cast.  Then, I would strip line and let the fly drift.  Reel it in a bit.  Strip more than I'd reeled in.  Reel in.  Strip, Etc.  Eventually, I was at my backing, so I decided to slowly reel in the entire 25 yards of line.  On this slow retrieve, I managed to catch my 4th fish of the day.

I fished back upstream, moving more quickly this time, and got very little action.  Plus, the sun was starting to hit the water, so I opted to head for a different spot.  It was about 8:30.  The water temperature had been 65.7F when I'd started and I checked it again before moving on.  It was down to 64.5F - a good sign.

I got in my car and headed upstream to another well known spot.  A friend's car was parked there, but when I got to the water, I couldn't see him anywhere.  I really wanted to fish a 50 yard section right near the parking area that was still in the shade, and he wasn't visible, so it seemed like I wouldn't be crowding him.  The water temperature was 63.5F - even lower than downstream.

On my third or 4th cast, I tried a slow retrieve in some deep, clear water and caught a small stockie.  A few minutes later, I caught my 6th fish of the day.  I eventually worked my way to my favorite part of this water, and dropped my flies (I was now fishing a double nymph rig - a yellow stone and a Prince nymph) into a riffle above a deep hole.  As the flies drifted past me, I felt a bite and set the hook.  The reaction was odd.  I'd hooked a fish, but its movements were really erratic.  I finally decided that I must have foul hooked the fish, but kept trying to get it to the surface.  When I got the fish to the surface, I was shocked to see that I had 2 fish hooked - one on each fly.  I was guessing I'd never get both of them to the net, but eventually, I did:

I was pretty happy at this point in time, with 8 fish on my scorecard at 9:30.  I'd gotten 4 fish at this spot in less than an hour, after working hard for 4 fish at the previous spot in more than 3.5 hours.  I had covered this water pretty well, and decided to finish my fishing at a favorite spot that rarely gets fished, and was much closer to the tournament headquarters.  This would allow me to fish later and know I'd still turn in my scorecard in time.

I was dismayed when I saw the water at this next spot.  Despite it being a favorite spot, I'd only caught one fish (it's a series of 4 holes) there so far this year, and the water was super low and clear.  The best water is a seam that requires some stealth in good conditions, and these were not good conditions.  The water was 67.8F and the sun was fully on the water.  

Pretty quickly, I caught a stocked fish.  And then, a wild fish - my only wild fish of the day.  Because of the low conditions, I was able to wade farther across the river than normal, and fish a small deep run that I rarely fish.  I got another fish here as well.  After a few minutes of no strikes, I moved upstream.  The next hole was too low to give me much luck.  My flies kept hanging on the bottom.  Plus, I was running out of time and I still had one good hole to fish and it was 150 yards upstream.  I normally fish the length of water on my way upstream, but time was important.  I hiked to the best water, and I had maybe 10 minutes to fish there.  My first 5 minutes were fruitless.  So, I decided to try the slow upstream retrieval of my flies.

Almost instantly, the water boiled as I had a strike right below the surface.  Over those last few minutes, I had about 8 strikes overall, and a strike on 5 straight casts, but I couldn't hook the fish.  I finally bailed, waded downstream quickly (there were now some out-of-staters fishing the hole where I started.  I'd seen them park right in front of my car earlier, and I really wish I could park somewhere stealthier for this spot, so it remains unknown), and headed to the car.  

I turned in my scorecard - 11 fish and 107 total inches - at 10:55.  I was told that I was in the lead as of that time.  I didn't see anyone else turn in a scorecard before 11:00, but when it came time for awards, first place was 120 inches of fish.  Second place was 112 inches.  I was third.  I'm just going to assume that I misunderstood the comment about being in the lead or there was an error when I turned in my scorecard.  I'm hoping that no one allowed a late scorecard, because I likely could have caught a fish or two more if I'd been allowed to be a couple minutes late.

I won a nice collapsible wading staff from Folstaff as my prize.  It had been donated by LL Bean, and I very much appreciate their support of the tournament.  After that, a bunch of us headed to a nearby tavern for some lunch and fish stories.

One of these years, I'm going to win this thing.  I finished third this year, but I know of at least 3 very good fishermen who stayed home due to water conditions, including the person who won 2 years ago.  Luckily, I was able to fish in waters cool enough to protect the fish.  I know that some people fished water over 70F, and I find that dismaying.  This year was certainly a weather anomaly, although it may become the norm in the future.  When Vermont streams are too warm to fish the first weekend in June, something is wrong.  Luckily, 2.5 inches of rain the next day and a cool weather week dropped river temperatures quite a bit.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Finally catching some fish

I took off work 2 Thursdays ago and headed south to some "special regulations" water that is stocked with 2-year old fish.  This is a river that gets a lot of pressure, and I was expecting the fish to be a bit finicky.  So, I took my nymphing rod - a 10 foot, 3 weight with a Rio Euro Nymph leader.  That rod selection was the only thing that went wrong that day.

I started early, but there were plenty of other people out already.  I was working upstream through a stretch I'd fished in the past when I got my first strike of the day.  It was a 16" rainbow and I struggled to land it with the light rod, and the somewhat rapid current.  I was fishing a bugger with a prince nymph trailer and the fish took the nymph.  A couple minutes later, I caught another fish out of the same hole.  Hooked another.  And then hooked another.

And then, the sun hit the water and everything just slowed down.  I worked upstream for a while.  Back down.  Below my car.  I drove downstream and fished a well known stretch there.  Nothing was going on at all.

I went to the nearest town and had some lunch.  I saw a warden's truck there and the clerk at the store told me they were stocking the stream again that day.  By the time I was back on the water, the stretch I'd been fishing had been stocked with browns.  Fishermen were everywhere.  This is an odd river.  It gets a lot of pressure every single day.  But, it's mostly a retired crowd, often out-of-staters.  Despite the stocking, fishing remained slow.  I did see a worm slinger catch a fish.  Another guy who I'd met and is a part time guide hooked a fish, but it snapped him off.

I met a nice man from NJ - a retired accountant who reminded me a lot of Lindsay Graham.  We fished near each other and talked off and on.  I saw him take a brown on a dry.  In the afternoon heat (it was our first 80F day of the year), some fish were rising intermittently, and he'd gone to a hopper/dropper configuration, although it was actually a small Stimulator on the surface.  After a very slow afternoon for me, the other guy told me he was taking off.  The crowds were finally dissipating.  He suggested I work the large hole he'd been working.  So, I stepped in and started to fish where he'd been.

By now, I had on a big black/grizzly woolly bugger and a Batman Prince Nymph.  Before the guy could even get to his car, I'd hooked a big brown on the nymph.  After 10 minutes, he threw the hook beside the net with one final jump.  And then, the fishing really started to pick up.  The browns were starting to eat and they weren't being subtle.  But, they were mostly in the 16"-20" range, fat, and strong, and my 3 weight just didn't have enough backbone.  One fish took me into my backing and then slipped between two boulders, getting some slack just long enough to throw the hook.  Another dove under a rock and got my leader tangled up somehow.  I was using a Rio Euro Nymph leader and I was very surprised when the leader popped at the tippet ring.  I assumed my tippet or my knots would fail long before the leader.

By 6:00, I'd hooked half a dozen fish in the last hour and landed none.  My stout 5 weight was an hour to the north.  I had a shorter 4 weight in the car, but I didn't want anyone to steal my hole, so I stuck with the 3 weight.  I moved to the top of the hole and on my first cast, I got snagged.  I tried for a while to release the snag with no luck.  Finally, I pointed the rod right at the flies and pulled hard to snap them off.  I noticed that my bugger was still there, so I assumed I'd lost my nymph.  I was stripping in the fly to replace it when a big brown came out of nowhere and hit my nymph.  Now, I was sure I was doomed.  I assumed the knot was compromised, so I was careful with the fish.  I was also starting to figure out that I needed to fight the fish by stepping backwards and getting them into shallow water, where they couldn't take off on long runs.  This time, I landed the fish.

I immediately replaced that bottom tippet section, and went right back to it.  I had been hitting the top and the bottom of the hole, so I went to the middle.  On my first cast there, something slammed one of my flies, and this turned into an epic fight.  I eventually landed the fish, which had hit the size 4 woolly bugger.  It was 20" and fat - probably 3 pounds.

By now, sunset was approaching, so I started to wade downstream towards my car.  I hooked 2 more fish on the way, but both were in fast water and I knew neither would ever make it to the net.  Both managed to throw the hook less than a minute into the fight.

By the time I'd gotten to my car, I'd hooked between 15 and 20 fish on the day, and landed 4 fish in the 16"-20" range.  Yeah, they were stocked fish, but a whole lot of fun.

Two nights later, I got out on the main branch of the White River - my home stream.  I've had a very slow start on that river this year, and only got 2 hits that night.  But, the first strike produced a small wild rainbow.  The second snapped me off.  I'll be fishing the White this coming weekend, most likely.

That night, a cold front came through and I headed west to fish with a guide for pike on Otter Creek the next morning.  Brian Cadoret of Stream and Brook Fly Fishing is an avid pike fisherman and a great guide.  The cold front had the fish acting a bit sluggish, but we spent 4+ hours sight fishing to pike anywhere from 2 feet long to nearly 4 feet long.  I did get some fish to show some interest, but they just wouldn't commit.

Finally, at a place where we couldn't see the fish, I had a little bit of action.  I briefly hooked one fish, but I didn't realize it was a fish at first, so I never really set the hook.  That fish threw the hook immediately.  A couple minutes later, I had another strike, and I set the hook hard.  I was fishing an 8 weight rod, sinking tip line, 50 pound test mono, and a 9" steel leader.  Somehow, this second fish managed to simply cut the mono above the leader.  As I set the hook, after feeling the strike, there was no resistance at all.  My fly was gone, the leader was gone, and the fish was gone.  We finished the day fishing the confluence of the Otter and Lower Middlebury, but I was getting cold.  I was standing in cold water on a cold day, stripping big streamers, and I was freezing everywhere.  So, we called it a day, but it's something I really want to try again.  I've got an 8 weight, although I need new line and backing, some strong mono, some steel leaders, and some pike flies.  Oh yeah, a bigger net. as evidenced by the pictures above.  That net isn't going to work for pike.

With warm days recently and lots of stocking completed,  I'm expecting this weekend to be very fishy.  I have way more places that I'd like to fish than I have time available to fish.  Plus, there are thunderstorms in the forecast.  But, I'll be out there as much as I can be, within safety limits.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

More on Customer Support and Some Nostalgia

I have to admit that I've complained a bit about Sage's "Lifetime Warranty" on their rods.  They charged me $10 to ship the rod back to them and another $60 for shipping, insurance and handling, or something like that.  It seemed to be an excessive fee for a lifetime warranty, to be honest.  But, read on, because the end result was not what I expected.

I bought my first Sage rod about 1995.  The rod has always had a lot of sentimental meaning to me.  When I was growing up, I learned to fish on my own.  I went on my own, fishing with friends for the most part.  But, my grandparents also did a little fishing, and my grandmother was always game to take me to a remote location.  She would spin fish for trout with her Ronco Pocket Fisherman.  Every once in awhile, she would even catch a trout on that thing.

In the early 1990s, after my grandfather had died, my grandmother asked me if she had anything that I'd like her to leave me in her will.  I knew my brother and sister each had something in mind, but I honestly didn't.  I told her that I just wanted her to be around for a long time, to hopefully spend time with future great grandchildren.  That was the last I thought of it.

In 1995, after apparently getting past uterine cancer, it was discovered that the cancer had metastasized to her liver.  She was told it was untreatable.  My company had a bereavement time policy, allowing me to take up to a week off for a funeral.  I went to my boss, and offered him a deal.  I told him I wanted to visit my grandmother while she was still alive, rather than going to a funeral.  I wanted to take a week off, and offered to use 2 vacation days if the company would front me 3 days of bereavement pay.  I assumed everyone would win.  The company would pay out 2 fewer days in benefits, and I'd spend time with my grandmother while she was alive.  I spent that whole week with her, and I took my young son along, so she got to spend that week with her only grandson as well.  She was still eating, and I was able to cook for her all week.  It's a week that I truly treasure.

She died about a month later, and a month after that, I got a check for $500 from her estate.  I wasn't expecting that at all, and it was a good chunk of money at that point in our lives.  I spent a week or more trying to figure out what to do with the money.  I wanted to do something to honor my grandmother, rather than just pay bills with it.  Eventually, I asked my wife about buying an expensive fly rod that I'd been wanting, but simply couldn't afford.  The rod, a Sage RPL+ cost about $500.  A reel and line would run a couple hundred more.  My wife knew about my grandmother being the person who encouraged and supported my fishing habit growing up, and she thought it was a great idea.  So, I bought the Sage rod and a Ross Gunnison reel.  It was my primary rod for the next 15 years or more.

Once, while grayling fishing in Alaska, I hooked a 35# king salmon on the rod.  It took 2 hours, but I landed that fish on 4x tippet.  I've taken the rod backpacking all over the place.  I've caught many beautiful wild fish in Alaska and California's Sierra Nevada, including a lot of golden trout.  I used it for my first ever float trip on the upper Connecticut in 1997 - one of my favorite days of fishing ever.  I have caught all of my biggest trout of my life on that rod. I once hooked a rainbow on the Kenai that easily hit 30" (I was sight fishing to big rainbows eating salmon eggs late in the season).  Despite the rod being stiff, that fish bolted for the bottom and some rocks, and snapped me right off.  There are 2 fish in my life that I lost that I'd really loved to have gotten to the net, and that was 1 of the 2.  The other was a very large bass that I lost on ultralight gear in 1979 or so.

In the past 7 years, as I've really gotten back into fly fishing, I've slowly added more fly rods to my arsenal.  The RPL+ started to see less and less action, to be honest.  It's a very stiff rod that has some weaknesses in some situations.  Newer rods cast just as well, but are more forgiving and lighter.  Newer rods aren't so stiff that just setting the hook a little bit too hard can result in a popped tippet.  In the wind, though, it has always been my favorite rod.  It really punches line through the wind, and it handles both a standard 5 weight or a 6 weight very well.  I still want to put a Rio Grand line on the rod, to see if that might be its ideal line.

Last fall, I had the rod out on a windy day and the tip broke.  It was no big deal at the time.  I had another rod in the car, and it wasn't my most commonly used rod anyway.  I checked the Sage web page later and saw it would cost $70 total for them to honor the lifetime "warranty".  I didn't like that news at all.  So, over the winter, the broken rod sat in its tube.  I was undergoing cancer treatments all winter, so fishing was rarely in the forefront of my thoughts.

And then suddenly, opening day was close.  My treatments were over, and I realized I really wanted that rod for stripping streamers opening weekend.  So, I got it packed up and mailed off.  On the Sage web site, it sounded like they had a "repair first" policy, and I was curious if they would be able to fix the tip section.  They also had a requirement that I ship them the entire rod, which I found a bit odd.

I got the rod back after opening day, but it did take less time than they'd told me to expect.  When I inspected the tip section it looked flawless.  It was clear that they had replaced it rather than repaired it.  I was fine with that and put the rod away.  Last Saturday, it was fairly breezy as I headed out to fish, so I decided to use the Sage.  As I pulled the butt section out of the tube, I was very surprised.  The cork was brand new.  The reel seat was brand new.  As I pulled out the other sections, it appeared that they had sent me an entirely new rod.  This left me very curious.

On Monday of this week, I sent them an e-mail.  I was curious why they'd sent a new rod rather than just a tip section.  I wondered if that was policy or if they had a specific reason for doing the repair that way.  They replied very quickly, and stated that they had found minor issues with every section of the rod, not just the tip.  I think I'd taken good care of this rod, but it's been fished a lot in the past 20 years.  Because of the other issues they found, they pulled out an old RPL+ blank, and built me a brand new rod to replace the original.  They could easily have replaced the tip alone, and then charged me another $70 when another section failed.  But, they preemptively replaced an entire $500 rod.  I was shocked at that level of service, and felt bad about my earlier complaints about the price.  They went well above and beyond what they needed to do.

My only disappointment is that it's no longer really the rod that I bought with the money from my grandmother.  Yes, I still have the original tube and rod sock, but the rod is different.

I took the rod out fishing on Saturday night.  Water temps are still cold, and I missed two strikes - both of them fairly lethargic.  The week before, on the same stretch of water, I'd had six hard strikes, but also no hookups that day.  The rod might be different, but I still spent part of my fishing time thinking about my grandmother and her Pocket Fisherman.  Twenty years later, I still miss her terribly, but the rod still connects me to her.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Quick Customer Support Update

Patagonia completely replaced my wading boots.  This is great for the short term, but what does it mean the next time the aluminum bars need to be replaced?  Even they couldn't replace the bars, or they found it easier to just send new boots.  I'm a huge fan of Patagonia, but I now have two pairs of top end boots, and I'm considering selling the Patagonia Foot Tractors, given that they are brand new in the box at the moment.  Having Simms's best boot and Patagonia's best boot is certainly overkill.

Also, Sage completely replaced the tip section on my rod.  I know they have a "repair first" policy, but I didn't see any way they could repair the break (just below the tip of the rod) and have it perform like it had before.  I was happy to see that they simply gave me a new tip section for the rod.

I keep reading about other fishermen doing well around the state.  Maybe I spend too much time reading Facebook posts from guides, but I know people are catching fish.  Just not me.  With the exception of the Dog River, which is never stocked, most of the waters I fish will change dramatically over the next couple weeks as the state puts more effort into stocking rivers.

So far, none of the rivers I fish regularly have been stocked, but it can happen anytime in May.

The forecast for this weekend looks great for tomorrow and not so good for Sunday.  Regretfully, I'm pretty busy tomorrow and free all day on Sunday.  I may try to sneak out tomorrow for a bit, but I'll probably end up fishing in the rain on Sunday.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A little fishing and some customer support comments

I got out on Saturday evening on the Main Branch of the White River.  Despite the wind, I stupidly took my three weight with me, hoping to do some tight-line nymphing.  The water flows on the White were at 1150 cfs - well within my parameters for safe wading.  The water temperature was in the mid-40's.

To combat the wind and get my flies deep enough, I ended up with a bizarre rig.  My 3 weight is a 10 foot rod - my primary nymphing set-up.  I had a Rio Euro Nymph leader as my starting point.  But, knowing that woolly buggers have been producing fish for some locals, I put on a weighted olive woolly bugger and a bead head Prince Nymph.  I felt like I wasn't getting deep enough in the main hole I was fishing, so I added a split shot above the tippet ring.  And then, to get a cleaner dead drift, I added a foam strike indicator.  I'm sure this is not how most people fish a nymphing rod with a nymphing leader.  Oh well.

The wind made casting challenging, but the split shot helped.  I started at the bottom of a pool that I really like, and slowly made my way upstream.  My shadow was downstream of me, so I worked slowly to the better water at the top of the pool, trying to keep my shadow off the fishy water for as long as possible.  At the top of the pool, you can wade out a bit more and it becomes easier to get a nice dead drift.  And suddenly, I started to get strikes, at the end of the drift, as the flies were moving up in the water column.  In 15 minutes, I had 6 solid strikes, yet I never managed to hook a fish, even for a moment.  I was guessing that the fish were short-striking the bugger.  I thought about cutting off the tail of the bugger to eliminate the possibility of a short strike, but by the time I was ready to try it, the strikes had ceased.  I fished another hour until sunset with no more strikes.  With warm weather forecast for next weekend, I'm hoping I finally catch a fish.  It seems that last season was one of my poorest seasons ever in VT (being sick for a lot of the season didn't help), and I'm off to a slow start again this year.

I know I'll do well with fish when I go to CA and fish with a guide in June, but I'd like to be catching some fish on my own as well.  I am also trying to schedule a day with a local guide to fish for Pike on Otter Creek next month.  It would just be a half day, to see if I enjoy it, to learn a bit about fishing for pike on the fly, and to decide if I want to start tying the big pike flies I would need.  Luckily, the 8 weight rod I used for salmon when I lived in Alaska is perfect for pike fishing.

On another subject, I've had a few equipment issues recently, and thought I'd add some comments about customer support from 3 major players in the fly fishing industry - Patagonia, Simms and Sage.

Let's start with Patagonia.  I use their Foot Tractor wading boot and I like it a lot.  But, it was time to replace the aluminum bars and I ordered the kit to do that.  Regretfully, the bars couldn't be removed.  There was too much rust on the old bolts, the allen head wrench that came with the replacement kit stripped easily, and it also stripped some of the bolts.  I sent the entire thing back to Patagonia.  They charged me $5.00 for shipping.  I just got notification that I have a package arriving on Wednesday from them.   I don't know yet if they were able to install the new bars or if they sent me new boots.  But, the price was great and the service was fast.

Because the Patagonia boots were out of service, I purchased some Simms G3 Guide boots for the first few weeks of the season.  I also bought a set of aluminum studs to bolt to the bottom of the boots.  Regretfully, in just 2 days of fishing, 9 of the 10 studs were gone.  I contacted Simms technical support.  They told me I should have used Aquaseal on the screws when I installed the boots.  I went back and looked the documentation I had.  The only comment I could find about the studs was that the boot midsole is made from a special material that helps to retain the screwed-in studs.  I went back to Simms and suggested that they should improve their documentation, and also consider adding a tube of Aquaseal to the kit for the studs.  They agreed that the documentation needs work, and offered to send me some Aquaseal and a new set of studs for free.  The shipment arrived in 2 days.  My biggest dilemma now is having 2 pairs of boots I like a lot.  My wife has suggested that I try to sell one of them.  But, to be honest, I like them both, and I'm hesitant to get rid of either, despite knowing that I will never need both of them at once.  Simms did a great job supporting their product and it's a great boot.

Lastly, I broke the tip on an older Sage rod last fall - an RPL+ that I purchased around 1995 or so.  The rod has a lifetime warranty.  Regretfully, that warranty isn't cheap at all to use.  I had to spend $10 for a mailing label to return the rod to Sage and then another $60 for the repair and return postage.  So, a lifetime warranty comes with a pretty hefty fee, in my opinion.  Paying $70 to fix a $500 product isn't exactly what I feel like I was promised when I bought the rod.  Yes, it's not a new rod, and I've gotten a lot of use out of it.  But, the lifetime warranty was part of what I purchased and paid for when I got the rod.  I find their price to be a bit excessive, to be honest.  They claim the $60 covers processing, insurance and return postage.  The rod is due to arrive on Wednesday, and I'm curious if they replaced the tip or repaired it.  Either is fine with me, but their pricing for a lifetime warranty seems excessive.