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.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Second weekend

I got out on the Third Branch of the White River this weekend.  I only fished Sunday, and it was a beautiful day.  Two of us fished a nice stretch of water for about 5 hours.  We didn't have a single strike between us.

I started with a big white streamer, stripping it through some big deep holes in the cold water (43F).  I then played around with woolly buggers of various colors and some stone and caddis nymphs.  I fished the flies in a dead drift, on the swing, and via stripping.  Nothing at all.  A neighbor, who fished a few miles upstream from where we fished got 2 fish during the day, so there are some willing fish in there.

Despite not catching anything, it was a good day - great weather, good water conditions, although a bit cold still, and hanging out with a friend.  The day reminded me very much that you can have fun while fly fishing without catching anything.  Sometimes, I get so focused on the result that I forget to simply enjoy being out there.  Yesterday was a day to just appreciate being on the water.

Five weeks ago, I was in the hospital in NYC.  Four weeks ago, my abdomen was still stapled together.  Every day, I'm getting stronger and I'm able to do more.

The fish will come.  As of right now, I have nothing at all planned for next weekend, although I am hoping to ski before Sugarbush closes for the season.  Other than that, I hope to fish.  The long term forecast doesn't look quite as nice as yesterday, but it doesn't look bad.

Oh yeah, while our fishing doesn't usually get productive until the first of May or so, I did see some midges, stone flies, caddis flies, a couple BWOs and a single March Brown yesterday.  The insects are on their way as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Opening weekend redux

First things first.  I got shut out in the Otter Creek Classic again.  The first day, I was using the same flies that others were using to catch fish - woolly buggers, San Juan worms and Prince nymphs.  I started the day on Otter Creek, which was unusually low for the time of year, but still too high to get a decent drift.  It seemed that I couldn't get my weight dialed in properly.  I was either snagged on the bottom on every cast, or the flies weren't sinking at all.  I just couldn't find that sweet spot.

Eventually, I switched to the most popular spot on the New Haven River, and it was bedlam.  People were casting over each other, fishing right over each other, etc.  We live in a state that just isn't that crowded and I'll never understand the need to fish over other people like that.  To be honest, it happened again on Sunday and I was even more unhappy about it that day.

Just before I arrived at the New Haven, a guy had caught a nice fish near where I planned to fish.  It turned out that the winner of the pro division spent all day Saturday and Sunday in this area and caught a total of 8 fish.  There are fish in there, but the pressure was intense.  Around 3:30 in the afternoon, I'd had enough and returned to Middlebury to turn in my blank scorecard.

It was freezing cold the next morning when I left the house.  I should probably admit here that I didn't fish that many total hours over the weekend.  I'm still not 100% from my surgery last month, I'm still using pain meds at times (although not while wading), and I just decided to limit my hours on the stream.  The people that were most successful in this tournament are the guys who work hard all the time, fishing every available stretch of river, every available minute, changing flies, changing tactics, and just doing whatever it takes.  That's just not an enjoyable kind of fishing for me.  I love to be out there, but fly fishing is my downtime.  I only fish the tournament as an excuse to socialize with friends and donate some money to the New Haven River Anglers.  Well, there is cool swag too, but I'll get to that in a bit.

So, it was freezing on Sunday.  I arrived at my planned fishing spot at 9:30 or so, and I was shocked to find it empty.  I started with a few casts under a bridge.  Snagged.  Three flies gone.  I re-rigged.  Snagged again and three more flies gone.  I re-rigged, moved downstream and got hung up on my very next cast.  I only lost one fly this time, but I was now cold, down 7 flies in 15 minutes, and kind of pissed off.  I moved downstream to a pair of holes where I knew snags wouldn't be a problem.  And then, the invaders showed up.

Suddenly, there were 6 fishermen at the bridge above me and they started moving downstream towards me, on both sides of the river.  One eventually stood on a rock and started blatantly fishing the same hole I was fishing.  Another mentioned that he wanted to fish the tail of the hole I was in.  I mentioned that I was working downstream towards that spot, and there was another productive hole just 20 yards downstream.  He ignored me and fished just below me, almost on my left elbow.  This was infuriating.  Plus, my feet were frozen.  I was constantly having to clear the ice out of my guides.  And, I wasn't catching anything.  Not a fun combo.

Finally, at 11:30 or so, I called it a day and turned in another empty scorecard.  I ran into a friend at the shop who had caught two nice 14" browns on Saturday, but nothing on Sunday.  He was hoping that would hold up for a third place finish in the amateur division (it did and he won a nice Simms waist pack).  We went for some coffee and talked for a while.  It was nice to be indoors and getting warm.  We talked about getting together during the season to fish.  That's the great thing about this tournament.  Getting together with other fishermen, sharing information, planning future fishing trips, and just sharing our love of the sport.

We headed to the barbecue/awards ceremony and started to hear more about how the day had gone.  With the cold weather, the flies that had worked so well on Saturday hadn't really worked for anyone.  The people that caught fish were using big (and I mean big) white streamers and mostly stripping them, although the guide who finished 4th in the pro division had taken one fish on the swing.  The preferred flies were white bunny leeches and white Sex Dungeons.  If you click on the link and look at Kelly Galloup's flies, be forewarned that the names he gives to his flies are R-rated or worse.

So, on Saturday, I had the right flies in the wrong location.  On Sunday, I feel I was in a good location, but with the wrong flies. C'est la vie.

I did get picked fairly early in the raffle and I won a Reddington reel and a 4 weight Orvis fly line.  The reel is primarily designed for 2/3 weight rods, and my only rod that light has a high end reel on it already. But, the 8 foot 4 weight rod that my wife uses is sort of an orphan in terms of reels.  I often put on an older Orvis Battenkill that has a slight bend in the spool from a fall.  Or, a much older Ross Gunnison whose best days are in the past.  So, I think I'll give this new reel and line a try on that rod and see how it fishes.  If it balances well, I'll let that be my wife's primary set-up.

I never did resolve the issues with my Patagonia Foot Tractor boots.  This was a major disappointment, as it left me without a pair of boots whose traction I trusted in cold fast moving water.  I ended up buying a pair of Simms G3 Guide boots Saturday morning.  They are light and very comfortable.  I was warned that the add-on bolts often come loose and disappear.  I installed them in the suggested locations and used a power drill to get the screws in there.  I still lost 4 of the 10 while wading, so I'll have to find a better way to install them.  At least I know these bolts come out and can be replaced, which seems to be an improvement from the Patagonia boots.

In the interim, my Patagonia boots are being returned for repair.  I hope it wasn't too passive-aggressive, but I returned them in the box that my new Simms boots came in, complete with the price tag, and I gave them a note telling them I felt their product had cost me a fair amount of money when they couldn't be repaired by me.  Part of my reason for buying that boot was the ability to replace the aluminum traction bars myself, and I simply couldn't do it.  I'm not sure if I want Patagonia to repair the boot or give me store credit.  Having two pairs of boots won't hurt, but it is overkill, and I could always use the credit for some other things.  But, I also like the boots a lot when they are functioning properly.

It's supposed to be warm and sunny for the next few days, and I have time to fish all day on Sunday.  Hopefully, with the warmer weather, the fishing will heat up a bit.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Opening Day tomorrow

On the drive to work this morning, it was snowing pretty hard.  Last year, the day before trout season opened, the roads were slick with ice and we saw numerous accidents on the way to work.  Two years ago, I remember having ice in my rod guides on opening morning.  Three years ago, we had freezing rain the night before the season opened, and I had just had my snow tires removed.  What should have been a 45 minute drive home (my son and I had just seen the International Fly Fishing Film Tour in Middlebury) took almost 2 hours, going way out of our way to find clear roads.

So, it's April in VT, and once again, our season will open before the fish are really active.  But, like always, I'll be out there.  And for the fourth year in a row, I'll be fishing in an opening weekend fly fishing tournament - The Otter Creek Classic.  It remains a goal of mine to catch just one fish in this tournament, one of these years.  I've been skunked every previous time I've participated.

I'm not expecting much different this year.  We had some pretty heavy rain last night, and one of the places I was hoping to fish is likely going to be very tough to wade.  Plus, I had some real issues with my wading boots last night.  I use Patagonia's Foot Tractors and it was time to replace the aluminum bars on the bottom of the boots.  I ordered the replacement kit, but really struggled to get the old bars off the boots.  The screws are rusty, the allen head wrench that Patagonia sent to me is cheap, and both the wrench and the screws were getting stripped last night.  I only managed to replace one of the 10 bars on my boots.  I'm going to try it again tonight with a power drill and see if I have better luck.  I'll use a hacksaw to turn the wrench into a "bit" and then hopefully the drill can generate the pressure and torque to remove the old screws.  When I've gotten the old screws out, the new ones have installed easily.

I rigged both of my rods last night.  My nymphing rod is set up with a small woolly bugger, a San Juan worm and a Prince nymph, on a Rio Euro Nymphing leader.  My 4 weight is set up similarly, but with a sinking leader to try to get more depth.

My 5 weight that I would normally use for streamers is currently at Sage, being repaired, so I'll use my backup 5 weight if I need to strip streamers.

Because I spend the winter having chemo and then had some pretty invasive abdominal surgery just 4 weeks ago, I will not fish all day both days of the tournament.  I simply don't have the endurance to do that safely right now.  With the rain we had yesterday, I'm guessing the water will be high and off color.  So, wading will be a bit more treacherous than later in the year, but probably better than opening day last year, when I had to walk across ice shelves to reach the water in a few locations.

I have to say that I wish I was a bit healthier and up to fishing all day.  I've been dealing with illness, finally diagnosed as liposarcoma, for close to a year now.  After this latest surgery, my body should be cancer-free, at least for now.  Liposarcoma is a tough disease though, and it recurs frequently.  If I'm lucky, I'll be able to fish a lot this year and not spend any days in hospitals.  Since last Thanksgiving, I've spent close to 4 weeks as an inpatient, I'm ready to get back to living my life normally, which includes lots of fly fishing.