Before the season closed after the 31st, a friend and I took a trip out to some Otter Creek and Winooski tribs to explore, hoping to find some huge spawning browns. The time of the year was right, but the flows were off. Everything was super low, and fish weren't in the typical areas (around the redds) We suspect someone had fished the same areas we had just a day or two before us. Our first stop was on an Otter trib, which was 20% water, 70% log jams, and 10% debris in the water. Of course that made for tough sight fishing and it would have been even tougher to land. We came across a fish slowly cruising upriver, and thought right away it was a massive 26-28" brown. When we got closer, we realized by the shape of the head that it was a pike! By then, he didn't want anything to do with us and went into hiding.
We walked until we hit an impassible waterfall for the fish, and had no such luck finding any big browns that should have been there. We scratched our heads, headed to his jeep and moved on.
Next stop was another Otter trib, and this time we'd decided that we would fish the upper section, my old friends stomping grounds when he was younger. We parked and walked to the water, which looked more like brookie water than water that would hold big browns.
Sure enough, about 4 drifts through the first nice looking run, a big brown in the 20" range came out from beside a boulder and chased my pink-headed stonefly I had on, but rejected it at the last minute. I changed flies a few times, and managed to get him to come out once more before he hunkered in his spot and wouldn't budge. We had to leave him and move on, so on we went.
Not to far upstream from that, while fishing our way up, I drifted quite a large bugger through any holding water I saw, until eventually a respectable 16-17" brown slammed while swinging it through a tiny little run I'd never to have thought had fish. It took me by surprise, and because of that I only got a half-hearted hookset on him and he shook off.
By this time, it was starting to get dark, but we kept fishing in hopes of getting another big brownie to fly out from under a rock and grab a fly. We had it happen too - just not the grabbing part. Another big brown came out from hiding to chase a fly but wouldn't committ. We were bummed, yet humbled. The water we were fishing really was brookie stuff, so to see browns that big in the upper sections was just amazing (I still can't wrap my head around it)
So, the next day it was Winooski trib time. It had rained a bit the night before and the flows had increased a little which was great. We fished up from some good looking water I'd spotted last year and knew there had to be spawning activity there every Fall. Sure enough, 15 minutes after setting foot near the water we came upon a fresh redd - but with no signs of a fish around. Odd......usually the males will be hugging these for a while even if the hen is gone. I knew we came up on it quietly, so it wasn't our fault there was no fish there. Oh well, we moved up. At the end of the day, we'd spotted 7-8 redds that looked relatively fresh, but had no fish on them. The only explanation I can think of is someone had been there RIGHT before us, probably the day before!
Well, on to the next spot...we moved upriver a few miles and started over, this time finding BIG browns right off. There were 4 browns, each one bigger than the other sharing the same huge pool. The sun was right above us, making it easy to spot them. We were careful to not spook them, and I snuck downriver, waded into the water and then got behind them while my friend watched from the bank.
I tied on a trusty size 8 coneheaded bugger and made a cast upstream and in the middle of all 4 fish. Two seemed to be actively feeding, and the other two just cruising. I was relying on my friend to tell me if they were following or about to hit my fly, but I didn'y relay that message to him for some reason.
I was stripping at a medium pace when my line came to a dead stop. I let it sit there, thinking it was a snag and that I shouldn't set the hook because it may spook fish near it. 2 seconds after, my friend yells "He grabbed it!" ....!!!....what!? That stop was a fish crushing my bugger, and I hadn't even realized it. By the time I set the hook, he'd dropped it and took off, along with the other TWO fish that were chasing my bugger! My friend told me that out of the 4 browns in the pool, 3 of them chased my bugger down before one grabbed. Of course he didn't know I was expecting him to tell me so I was kicking myself over it for a while.
All good though, at least I had a chance at some. We decided to check out the next run above the big pool, and I'm glad we did. I spotted two shapes that were moving in some skinnier water. I knew right away they probably weren't browns, but feeding bows. They were in faster water than you'd see browns in this time of the year, so I had Mike wade down behind the fish with a tandem rig of a small bh hares ear and something else (forgot what it was) and throw out a cast upriver from the fish. I was watching closely to see one turn and open it's mouth for his fly but I was just barely too far away to tell. His first cast was perfect, just far enough river to let his flies sink to where the fish were feeding, and directly in front them. I watched his fly line instead, getting ready to tell him to set it when I saw it stop floating at the same pace as the river. When I saw it stop, he set the hook before I could even say anything. Right away we knew it was a rainbow by the sporadic head shakes and the silvery flashes during the fight. It fought INCREDIBLY hard for its size, and after almost knocking him off during my netting, I got him in the net for Mike and we hooted and hollered!
This was the smaller of the two, and the bigger one spooked after landing this. We sat and hoped it would come back but it never did. Either way, a beautiful wild rainbow!
We called it shortly after that, and I think we were both pretty satisfied with how the weekend went. If I can help someone get into a quality fish like that, I'll take none landed myself any day!