Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ditch Pickle Classic

Well, I had the opportunity to fish the Ditch Pickle Classic this year(  It's a fly-fishing only tournament mainly aimed at bass, but had other categories such as exotic species and even pike.  There was about 50 teams of two (or three in some cases I think) and we all met on the morning of the tournament to get a grab bag of goodies and to sign in.  It was nice to see some familiar faces there, but for the most part everything was new to me. 

I've never been one for competitive fishing.  I guess I lack the confidence needed since I still consider myself a beginner at fly-fishing.  I got a text a week prior from my friend Mike, asking if I wanted to join him for it.  I really couldn't say no, I knew it would be fun even if we didn't win.  Mike is very knowledgeable and I always have a good time fishing with him.  The tournament didn't start until late afternoon on a Saturday, so I had time to relax and get geared up in the morning.  After check-in, we headed from the Missiquoi Wildlife Refuge to the closest launch.  Some guys took a long drive to some other water, but we figured we'd stay local and poke around.  I kind of wished the rivers weren't so blown or we'd head back and fish the Winooski.  I knew they were still in there deep, and have quite a few areas to fish for them.  Couldn't change the weather or water height, so we changed the game plan accordingly. 

We launched and headed towards a huge flock of seagulls on the water.  Where there's birds there's fish right?  We immediately ran into wasteland of hex carcasses.  There was a huge hatch going on!  We were in about 10 feet of water, and could see bottom for the most part.  We geared up, Mike with full-sinking line, and myself with about 15' of sink-tip.  We thought for sure we'd get fish right off, but for whatever reason, they weren't keyed in on the hatch that was going on, or we couldn't find them at least.  We didn't manage to see any follows, or any surface action either.  There was thousands of bugs still buzzing on the water, and not one strike?  Bummer.....we motoroed half a mile to a cove that looked promising, but nada once again.  We fished in 4-20 ft of water with clousers, buggers, zonkers, marabou streamers....even this guy had no love

  We tried near the surface, hitting bottom, but just couldn't make anything happen.  After a few hours we switched the game plan up.  We headed over to some wooden pylons we passed by that I thought right away looked good and knew would hold fish.  Approaching shore in about 10 ft of water, we had our first decent sized bass (we picked up a few rock bass prior to moving from the previous area)

We spent quite a while poking around the area, and then we started to see some fish cruising near the surface.  I immedately thought they were carp because of the color, shape and size of them.  The behavior was a little off because they weren't roaming in groups, and were in about 10 ft of water.  We also spotted some that were suspended stationary.  We tried casting to a few, but just like carp they didn't like the splash.  We weren't seeing them regularly,  and ones we did see were close to the pylons, so we had no way of casting beyond them and then stripping to them and letting it fall (carp style) so we brushed them off for a while.  After a few hours of catching small bass, we headed to the same area we first spotted them. We started seeing a few, and had some good fly placements right on their nose, but they'd look at it and refuse it (I had some nice buggy carp flies too).  I knew something was off about them, so I tied on a great crayfish pattern I whipped up the night before.

I let my fly sink to bottom, and started a slow retrieve to the surface while the boat was almost motionless.  A big snag turned out to be a big fish - yeah baby!

A very snag-like take from this guy....he must've grabbed it on the run.  The first run it took immediately sent backing through my guides, I thought for sure it was a carp.  Mike had to turn the boat and chase the fish.  My 9 wt with 12 lb tippet was being laughed at.  I was pumped, and it was great knowing I'd have a chance at winning the exotic category!

Once I got the fish close enough to the boat to get a good look - it was a sheepshead! (freshwater drum)  I was so surprised, and honestly never thought I'd ever get a sheepshead on a fly.  Turns out he liked how my crayfish pattern looked and gulped it in.

I was happy and told Mike we should just keep fishing for them.  He still wanted to try to find some big bass to try to win the prize for biggest bass (the prize was a nice lump of cash, I don't blame him) so we ended up ignoring all of the sheepshead around us unfortunately.  I really wanted to get a few more, or at least a bigger one.  I was seeing fish approaching 40" regularly, and my 28" was quite small.  I wanted to lock in the exotic category, but Mike had other plans.  We fished a different area just before the tournament ended for the day at dark, and found a TON of smallies around structure.

We had 3 doubles in less than 20 minutes, and almost a dozen fish on for each of us.  We lost quite a few of the bigger ones (17"+) but managed to boat about 6 of them that were qualifying size.  I also hooked up with a little pike (24") that I thought was our biggest bass winner for a few minutes until we got it close.

The tournament ended at 9, so our lines were in and we were headed back to the boat launch right at 9.  We ended the day on a great note.  Found a ton of fish and got some points on the board.  After check-in everyone quickly learned that one team had an utterly fantastic day in terms of bass points.  They had something like 50 points, which would be like catching 20 smallies over 16".  Some teams didn't put any points on the board, and we pretty much knew we couldn't win for points, and had to go for the biggest the next day.  After the drive home, I got less than 4 hours of sleep before I was in Mike's car with the boat in tow.  Our plan of attack was to fish the same area we found fish the night before.  We found out pretty quick that they had gone elsewhere, so we decided to try a few areas Mike thought would be good.  We picked up a few here or there, nothing too great.  With only a few hours left before the DPC ended, we decided to try to lock in the exotic category with some bigger sheepshead (it was on our way back to the launch anyway) but just like the bass, they were pretty much gone.  In the last hour or so I tied on a few big pike flies to see if I could get any toothy love but had no such luck...the day wasn't as good as we'd hoped it would be, but that's fishing isn't it?

I think we did pretty well for not even knowing the area!  I've rarely fished from a boat, and it was pretty much my first time fly-fishing from one.  I had a great time, even though my 28" sheepshead got beat out by a 32" pike/pickerel hybrid (awesome fish!)

Mike and I stayed at the check-in spot for quite a while, chatting with some people, finding out what the scoop was.  Looks like the highest point earners on day 1 kept their momentum into day 2 and had another epic day!

It was great to see so many fly fishermen in one spot..I enjoyed it and hopefully Mike and I will be back next year with a vengeance!

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