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.