The White River, below where the Third Branch joins the main branch, is way too warm to fish right now. The Third Branch just gets so warm, and pushes up the temperature below the confluence. I'm guessing some mornings have been OK, but I'm more of an evening fisherman. I just hate getting out of bed super early unless I'm on a fishing vacation.
Last week, I was able to go upstream from Bethel, about 5 miles, and find 67F water. I know that most fly fishermen cut off their fishing at 70F, but I usually use 68F as my cutoff. I've seen too many fish struggle even at 68F, so I use the lower number.
Last night, about 4 miles upstream from Bethel, the water was over 70F.
But, I found a tributary where I measured a 67F. Game on.
Plus, I love this little tributary. It is full of small wild bows that are willing to come to the surface for small attractor dries, even without hatches. I catch more fish on dry flies here than anywhere else I fish. Only the Dog River comes close, and those are bigger fish. But, I bet the Dog is too warm right now as well.
Did I mention that these are all wild fish? They are so beautiful compared to the stockies in the main river right now.
Anyway, I almost always fish the same stretch of water in this tributary. I have never seen another fisherman on the water when I've been there. I will occasionally find footprints. Last night, I found a package from a Cabela's leader. It was a 9 foot, 4x leader. I usually fish 6x in this water and you don't really need long leaders. The fish are pretty willing to take a fly, so maybe a 4x doesn't even scare them, but it seemed like a poor choice to me. And, not to be too much of a snob, I think it's worth the extra money I spend to fish Rio and Orvis leaders, rather than the cheaper brands. I usually stock up when someone offers a good deal, but I think Rio and Orvis leaders and tippet are just top notch stuff.
I fish this stretch working upstream. Always. And, then walk back to my car on the road when I'm done. The first 200 yards tend to be fairly barren, although I occasionally get a fish in that stretch. I saw a few fish flitting about in that water last night, but no strikes. The water was very clear.
Oh yeah, I started with a size 18 Klinkhammer, only because it had a fluorescent orange wing post. I was working through this first stretch when my FitBit told me I had an incoming phone call from one of my doctors. I thought it was very odd, but I answered the call. The doc was just trying to clarify an appointment. I was originally scheduled to see him today and he's not working today, so it was moved to tomorrow. He wanted to make sure I had the right day and time. He is also a fly fisherman, so he was happy to find that I was feeling good enough to be out on the water. Just as our phone call was ending, a small rainbow swam right in front of me, heading downstream. I was trying to be very stealthy on this small creek with super clear water, but this fish seemed spooked, so I must have done something to scare him.
As soon as the call was over, I moved up to the next hole. On my first cast, I caught my first fish of the day - a rainbow about 5" long - probably a yearling. The next 100 yards or so yielded nothing, and then I got to the biggest hole on the stretch. On my first cast, a fish missed my fly on the surface. On my second cast, the fly sank early, and I started to retrieve it. A nice fish (for this creek), close to 12" hit the fly underwater and I had him hooked for a second. And then, a few casts later, I caught a rainbow about 8" or so. After those three strikes and one caught fish, the hole went dead. I kept working up.
The next major hole is a challenge. Casting is blocked by a large tree, and it's been a challenge for years. From a distance, I noticed that the tree was gone. This excited me a lot, because I've seen some bigger fish in this hole. Regretfully, the loss of the tree affected the hole, and it's now just a riffle. I had one fish slap my fly twice, but it had to have been tiny.
To encourage some bigger fish, I switched to a size 16 parachute Adams, the fly I use most often in this water. In the next hole, I took two fish on that fly and missed two more. Despite a liberal application of Loon's Top Ride after each fish, the Adams decided it wasn't going to float any more.
On a whim, I switched to a Royal Wulff, size 16. In the next hole, I had a small fish batting my fly almost every single cast. I had to have been tiny, and it was very persistent. But, no hookups. This hole is created by a large piece of concrete. I have no idea where it came from or how it got there. I've taken fish on the downstream side of the concrete barrier, but never upstream. There isn't a lot of water above the barrier, and it's easy to get snagged in the water that is there. But, I gave it a shot and a fish slammed the Wulff. It was about a 9" rainbow, big enough that I wondered if it might have been a stocked fish that wandered up from the main branch, even though I was a mile above the main branch and there were a few little waterfalls between me and there.
This fish took the fly deep and there was some blood. I came very close to keeping the fish for dinner, afraid that it wouldn't survive. But, after I got the hook out, and held him in the current for a while, he seemed relatively OK. When I released him, he immediately took off for deeper water. I know that even with the best C&R tactics, some fish aren't going to make it. I try to be very careful, but at 67F and hooked deep, this one might not have made it.
In that kind of situation, I'm always torn. If I keep the fish, it definitely dies. But, if I keep it, I will eat it, so the death won't be completely in vain. If I release the fish and it lives, that's the ideal situation. If I release it and it dies, that's the worst possible outcome - dead and not eaten. These incidents bother me, I must admit. It's a time where I question how "harmless" catch and release fishing really is (or isn't).
After this stretch, there's a barren stretch of water. I'm always kind of glad there aren't fish in that stretch because the landowners on one side of the river consider fishermen in the river to be trespassing on their land. They don't own the land on both sides, I never get out of the river, but they have accosted me a few times. And, their neighbor has warned me to be careful around them because they are always carrying and they are quick to threaten people. I would report them if they ever flashed a gun in my direction, but luckily, it hasn't happened yet. And, they weren't home last night, which was a relief.
I made it to the last series of productive holes just before sunset. My fly wasn't floating so well any more after that bigger fish had inhaled it. And, for the first time in a long time, I fished this stretch with no strikes. A downed tree has made the best hole here very difficult to fish, but there are 4 total holes with fish in them, and I got nothing. By now, it was sunset, so I walked back to my car.
I'd caught 5 fish, and at least 4 were wild. If the fifth was indeed stocked, it had worked very hard to get to where it's living, so I'm guessing it was simply a wild fish with muted coloring.
Thanks to my surgery and chemo earlier this year, I have caught fewer fish this year than any year in recent memory. Last night was more fish than I'd caught previously this entire year. But, the season still has plenty of time in it.
Next weekend, I'm heading to northern VT to fish in two streams I love. One is full of 8" wild rainbows that just slam nymphs, if you present them well. The other is a brookie stream and can be challenging, but it's in a beautiful area, and fun to fish even if you get skunked.
The weekend after that, I'm going to fish the Battenkill for the first time ever. Honestly, there is no excuse for a fly fisherman who has lived in VT for 18 years to have never fished this river. I've always been put off by the driving distance and then having to guess where to fish. A friend has volunteered to go along and show me a few spots, so I'm looking forward to fishing this famed river for the first time.
And, in the middle of next month, I've got a week of vacation to pursue trout in NH and ME. At least two days will be guided, and one of those will be a float trip on the upper CT river. And, there is a possible third guided day, floating on the Kennebec. That person had offered to float me for free on the Kennebec last winter, after I'd posted some recent bad news about my cancer on FB. So, maybe this one will happen and maybe it won't. I'm not going to hold him to the promise or make a big deal if he can't pull it off. I appreciate the support from a fellow fisherman, and I'm not going to complain if he can't make it work. He's got a life of his own and his own bills to pay.
But from 9/15-9/21, I will be on the water every second I can. Most of the trip will be on the upper CT, but part will be in ME as well. I will certainly fish the Magalloway.