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.