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.