I left the conference Thursday about lunchtime, and I was at my campsite at Lake Francis by 4:00 or so. I got my tent set up and headed straight for the upper end of the trophy section below First Connecticut Lake. I started out with a Montana Prince nymph and a very small purple juju baetis dropper. Both of these flies have served me well in this water in the fall in prior years.
In my first 15-20 minutes, I caught two fished from the pool on the trophy section that might get the most consistent pressure, day after day, all season long. I have caught fish in that pool before, but never two in a day. Both were wild rainbows, and one came on each of the flies.
From there, I started moving downstream, focusing first on the pocket water directly below me. Regretfully, I'd just watched another fisherman work through there and take three fish, and I got no love. I did quickly discover that flows were high enough (they'd been increased recently) that I wished I had my wading staff. It was in the car, but I took a chance without it and did OK. I managed the stream crossing below the pocket water to start fishing to the Corner Pool. I got nothing in the stretch above the corner pool, but I did lose my flies.
I tied on a Frenchie with a tungsten bead so I could get the flies deep, and another small dropper. The truth is, I didn't need the dropper. I got one fish on the Frenchie in the Corner Pool. Then, two more at a rock downstream where I've caught some big fish in the past. I was going to continue downstream, but there were four fishermen visible in the Judge and Jury pools, so I headed back up.
Again, I got nothing in the pocket water stretch, but I did pull a third fish out of the pool where I'd started. Six fish, five of them wild, in 90 minutes. That kind of action is why I love the trophy section. Regretfully, it never fished like that again for the rest of the trip.
The next morning, I headed out very early to below Murphy Dam. I know that the big browns feed in the shallower water overnight, so I approached my very first spot carefully. I was getting ready to make my first cast, pulling line through the guides of the rod when I discovered I was snagged on the bottom. Then, the snag started moving and in the dim light, I saw a brown of about 18" head for deeper water. Regretfully, my line wasn't fully through my guides, and my loop to loop connection got hung up for a second and the tippet popped. As it turned out, that would have been my best fish of the week. I worked that hole - Starters - for a while. I knew another fisherman was below me in Sweepers, so I gave him some time to work through that hole, and then I followed him. Nothing.
Finally, I moved past him to near where the brook comes into the CT from Back Lake. Here, I took a 14" rainbow and a 10" spawning male brookie. The colors on the brookie were incredible. And then, everything died.
A friend met me (he hadn't wanted to start quite as early because he was fighting a head cold), gave me some flies, and we fished down into some deeper, slower water, prospecting for browns. He got one about 18" but I got nothing.
Finally, I called it quits and got some lunch. I came back to the river about 4:00, when shadows start to cover some of the prime holes. I fished until dark with no luck at all. On the way back to the car, I stepped off an island into some water that was deeper than I expected, and took a hard fall. My shoulders and wrists are still sore, and I cut my palm pretty badly. I was bleeding fairly profusely on the walk back to the car, but I finally got there and got things bandaged up by the light of a headlamp. Luckily, my Helios 2 rod was unscathed in the fall.
The next day, I started a bit later - after sunrise. I put in 5 solid hours in the lower part of the trophy section, around Carr Ridge Road. Then, 3 more in the upper stretches. I went 8 hours without a strike. I had never gotten skunked like that on the trophy section. I've had zero fish days on occasion, but never a zero strike day.
I quit before the evening hatches really got going; I was having dinner at my friend's house that night, and the food and company won out over fishing. My friend is also an independent guide, and I was planning to fish with him on Tuesday. So, we spent a lot of dinner talking about how the fish had moved around recently due to changes in flows below Murphy Dam and in the trophy section. Below Murphy Dam, they had lowered the flows. On the trophy section, they had increased them. Lake Francis was low while I camped there, so perhaps the goal was to increase the water level in that lake.
On Sunday, I truly slept in. Went out for breakfast. Spent the afternoon reading. And then, I headed for the FFO section above First Connecticut Lake at Magalloway Road. That section is known for landlocked salmon and brookies. I was focused on salmon, so I was fishing old classic salmon patterns - Mickey Finns, Grey Ghosts, etc. I had one nice brookie completely miss a white and yellow streamer that was similar to a Mickey Finn. Then, I caught a tiny landlocked salmon on the fly. He was so small that I have no idea how the point of the hook got into his mouth.
On my way downstream, as sunset approached, I had a decent salmon take a swipe at my fly and miss it. This was my first time fishing upstream of the bridge and there's some nice water there, but wading in this stretch is tough. I was by myself, I'd fallen hard once on the trip already, and I decided to be cautious and get back to my car by sunset, just to be safe. If I'd had more time, there was plenty of water to explore upstream. Next time.
So, all of a sudden, it was Sunday night, and except for a bait-sized salmon, I hadn't caught a fish since Friday morning. But, Monday, I'd scheduled a float trip on the Androscoggin with Bill from Lopstick. What a day we had.
Fish were rising all day, and although we couldn't see any bugs, we assumed they were taking caddis emergers. They were eager to hit caddis dries and caddis nymphs. I spent the day moving back and forth between nymphs and dries. In the end, the dries produced more touches and more fish, but the nymphs got me the bigger fish.
We didn't get any salmon (they are kind of rare in the Andro), but we got the three trout species plus chubs and smallmouths. The biggest fish was a 17" rainbow. I lost a decent brown, but it was no bigger than the rainbow. Here's the rainbow:
By the time we were done, I'd "touched" about 50 fish, hooked close to 30, and boated more than 20. If I'd had better reflexes, I could have caught even more. It was just an epic day all around. I wrote a review on Tripadvisor here. Bill is one of the best guides I've ever fished with.
The next day, I met my friend and guide at 7:00 a.m. We started at the bridge at Carr Ridge Road. I had never caught a fish there, and Al had taken a bunch there this season. We worked the water very methodically, almost like filling in every square in a piece of graph paper. The strategy paid off after about an hour when I hooked a nice brookie. It was a stocked fish, but it was close to 15" and put up quite a battle.
From there, we went to the upper part of the trophy section. We fished the uppermost pools to start, with no luck. Before heading downstream, I had to get something from the car, so Al used that as an opportunity to lead us towards Judge and Jury pools, and skip the intervening water, which was somewhat crowded. We could see all kinds of fish on the edges of the Jury Box, and they looked like they were feeding, but they didn't like our flies. I had asked Al when we got there if he'd ever tried stripping buggers through that hole and he admitted he hadn't. After an hour or so in one pool, and having crossed to the other side, I think Al was desperate and he handed me a brown sculpin-like bugger that he'd tied. It probably took me 50 casts, but I finally caught a beautiful rainbow with that fly:
The picture honestly doesn't do the fish justice. Its colors were stunning.
A few minutes later, we decided to break for lunch. There was some potential rain in the forecast, and Al had invited me to pull my camp and sleep at his house that night. After five nights in a tent, I didn't argue. So, I went back to my site, tore down my tent and other supplies, packed the car, got some lunch, and went to meet Al for more fishing. This time, we were going to target big browns on some of the lower pools below Murphy Dam.
Al worked with me for a while on the technique he uses in that river to get a perfect dead drift, but I just couldn't get it right. And, the fish weren't cooperating. About 4:45, Al had to leave for a pool tournament, but I stayed on the river. I stayed focused on the browns until almost 6:00, but finally, the lack of bugs and the lack of rising fish got to me a bit. Plus, it was getting cold in the shadows and the breeze.
I decided to go upstream to the brook out of Back Lake and see if I could scare up a rainbow or brookie. I was getting chilly, so I decided that if I got a fish, I'd call it a day. And, within just a few casts, I hooked a fish. It took a while to maneuver him to slower water to net him, but it was an obscenely fat rainbow, although it was only 10" or so.
So, I released the fish and was ready to call it a day. And then, a fish rose right where I'd just caught the rainbow. I waded back to where I'd been standing and the fish rose again. So, I targeted that fish for maybe 20 minutes, with no luck at all. And, about 6:30, I left the river.
I fished all or part of six days, two of them with guides. I got 30+ fish, but 2/3 of them came in one day, on the float trip. The fall isn't the time of year to get really high numbers of fish in this area, but it was a good trip. I was mostly disappointed to not get any bigger fish. On a similar trip last fall, I got fish up to 20" on the trophy stretch. And someday, I'm going to get one of those big browns below Murphy.
Maybe sometime I'll make it earlier in the season and have one of those 30 fish days I hear about from people. But, I really enjoy taking a week every September to fish. The stocked fish are mostly gone, and I'm fishing primarily for wild fish.
Also, there is so much more insect life on the Connecticut that on my home river, so it's an interesting change from my normal fishing. I still do more nymphing than anything else, but I caught almost as many fish on dries as nymphs on this trip, which was a nice change of pace.
I'll keep fishing for another month or so, but some of our rivers close on 10/15. After that, options are more limited, but I've taken trout into November in VT, so I'm not done yet.