Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Here a brown, there a brown, everywhere a big brown.

We got a few days of rain last week, and I watched the water levels closely on some of my rivers I knew had big, but spooky browns.  The water level spiked, and then started to drop quickly.  I knew it wouldn't be as high as I wanted it to be, but also knew the rain and cold nights were going to get the water temps where they needed to be.

Since my buddy Jerry was going to be in town, I asked if he wanted to join for a Saturday trip to explore some new water and he was pumped to go.  It had been a while since we went out on some trout water together, and he said he wanted to try fly fishing.  I remember the only time he'd tried fly fishing.   It was with me, casting to a salmon in shallow water, trying to get the fly to swing near it to provoke an aggressive reaction.  He just couldn't get the right swing, and handed the rod to me to have me show him what to do.  After he tried for 20 minutes to cast to this fish, I made one cast, let the line swing...and watched the salmon move a few feet and grab my fly.  He was dumbfounded, and I think it put him off fly fishing because of it.  Many people are overwhelmed by everything that goes into fly fishing, but I think Jerry knew he was in good hands, so I set him up with an extra 5 wt rod and reed I have.

We left early Sat, and got to a spot on the river where I'd spotted some seriously big browns before.  The water was back to being quite low, and very clear.  I was worried.  It was an overcast day, and was supposed to rain off and on, so I had high hopes of active fish.

Sure enough, the first pool we stopped at was holding more than one big brown.  Jerry couldn't believe it.  This river was all wild fish, no stocking whatsoever.  We stopped at the pool and watched 2 browns lazily feeding in the middle of the water column.  When it comes to big browns, my go-to flies are streamers, especially for ones in this river system.  I tied on a large, tungsten cone-headed crystal bugger and made a cast in some fast water above the deep pool the fish were cruising around in.  It was a deep, undercut rock structure that we couldn't see into.  I had a feeling something was lurking in the depths.  Sure enough, after the bugger began to swing in the current, and I stripped it...I could see a fish following it.  Jerry was speechless.  He was on the top of a bank looking in the water and had no idea where the fish came from. I did the same thing, this time letting the fly get deeper, and travel further downstream, right by a huge undercut.  Jerry went ballistic, "OH MY GOD!!"  Right as he said that, I felt a small tug.  I set the hook, but no dice.  He was panicking, saying it was a monster, almost twice as big as the already big browns we spotted when we first got there (And these were 18-20" browns)  My heart sank...and I knew that big guy had felt my hook.  He was now a lost cause, at least for now....

We headed downstream to some nice looking, deep water.  I made the mistake of only drifting by a log jam a few times, and when I got closer, spooked a 20" brown out from underneath it.  Yep, figures.

I began to help Jerry with his cast, showing and telling him the basics.  How to hold the rod, what to do with his hands, wrist, elbow, and other hand.  He picked up quickly, but struggled with keeping his wrist straight, causing some pretty nasty loops and tangles.  His problem was he was completely extending his arm out from his body for just a 25' cast.  He had the form and stance to do a 75' cast, so I told him to tuck his elbow and arm closer in to himself, and use his elbow as his pivot point, and to keep his elbow moving in a parallel line to the ground.  Immediately, his loops looked much better, and he was able to get out 35' of line easily.  I set him up with a streamer like mine, just a different color.  I showed him what to do to swing a fly through a run, and when to start retrieving it.  His second cast, he let it swing to a dead stop, and then started to retrieve. This was followed by a "woah!!"  A nice healthy rainbow had grabbed the bugger.  This was his very first fish on a fly rod, how awesome is that?  We somehow both left our phones in my car, which was a bummer.  He continued to fish the same run, getting another rainbow of the same size, and then losing something that seemed to be a bit bigger.  I worked a slower pool while he practiced his casting, swinging and stripping.  He was hooked on it, and would have done it for hours if I hadn't said we should move.  Since the water ahead of us wasn't too great (I was familiar with this stretch) I thought it best we pack up, drive elsewhere and then just explore.  We did that, a few times throughout the day, and it was just amazing.

Jerry was just blown away by the clarity and beauty of this river.  We were walking by and fishing holes that were over 10 deep where we could see the bottom.

We found some amazing log jams, and pockets of water that were holding BIG fish.  I had a few grabs from big browns hiding under log jams, but couldn't seem to get a proper hookset.

Something funny I noticed was that we even saw fish in slow-moving, shallow water....where were they?

They were stationed on top of big piles of leaves, completely camouflaged.  I thought it was awesome to see a 14-16" trout just appear out of nowhere next to a pile of leaves to chase our streamers.  We even spooked a couple BIG fish that were in seemingly motionless water.  It was a learning experience for both of us.  We explored quite a bit of the river, spotting or getting a take from a big wild brown every now and then.  We were just absolutely blown away by the numbers and size of fish we were seeing.  One of our last stops were below a waterfall, which had some scary deep water, probably over 15' in some spots.  But the water was so clear, we could see a few 12-14" rainbows in the middle of the water, alongside a rock feeding.  Jerry had a few takes on his bugger, but couldn't get them to stay on.  I chose to add a ton of weight and stand right near the waterfall and throw out my streamer until I thought it was close to bottom.  The first time doing this, I hooked up and landed one of the most beautiful brookies I've ever caught..

Amazing contrast!

After a while, the pool seemed pretty spooked, and we wanted to cover more water, so we headed back to the car, fishing our way to it.  We chose to head downstream to see what it was like, but stopped at the first hole where Jerry saw the monster grab my streamer.  It had been a few hours, so we hoped the fish weren't as spooked.  I let Jerry give it a go, and told him where to cast, etc.  He made perfect casts, and I was able to follow his fly as it sank and began to drift downstream.  I spotted a brown working his way upstream near bottom, and told jerry to cast upstream from him and let it dead drift.  His cast couldn't have been any better.  The fly drifted downsream, right until it hit bottom.  I told Jerry to twitch it a few times and then tighten his line so it started to swing.  Sure enough, the fly was twitched and swung right in front of the brown.  He turned around, chased the fly down and grabbed it. I told Jerry to set the hook, and I watched as the fish shook his head - the hook was in.  Jerry did a great job at playing the fish, and lead him right into my net.  A stunning brown with amazing color.  Jerry couldn't believe it!

We were so pumped, and I was so happy for him!  Of course, after that fish, the other fish in the same area were spooked, so we took off.

We picked a spot a few miles downstream to try and bushwhacked our way to the river.  We fished some great looking runs, but couldn't produce anything, or even see a follow.  Finally, a smaller fish, appearing to be a brown, grabbed my streamer but shook off.  It was starting to rain, and get dark, so we decided only a few more holes.  Not too long after, we came upon a huge, wide and infinitely deep pool that looked very promising.  We both stood upstream from it, casting at 45 degree angles, letting our streamers swing down and then strip them back.  After a few minutes, I felt my line stop dead, so I set the hook and felt the head shakes of something big...followed by slack line.  UGH!  This was probably the 4th fish of the day over 18" that I'd gotten to take but had shake off.  Of course, I'm not complaining...now I know where they live.

We fished til' dark, in the rain (left our rain jackets in the car, smart right?) but couldn't land another big beastly brown.  It made me super happy that Jerry had landed such a great fish earlier in the day, and the fact that we'd spotted and/or had action from about 8 fish over 18" just blew me away.

Needless to say, we plan on going back next weekend, and will be exploring even more new water. 

New small water, big fish!

Katlyn and I booked a camping spot about an hour from home, and of course, I'd checked Google Maps for possible fishing spots before we left.  We already knew where to go for a ton of smaller brookies, but I wanted to check out new water!

We arrived, set everything up, cooked over the campfire, then headed out in the morning to the water.  We drove until we could see some of the water.  We kept driving until we found a decent parking spot.  This time, I'd brought my 3 wt for Katlyn to use, and got her all setup with a big Madame X dry fly.  Not wanting to be redundant, I opted for a small, weighted bugger.

We found out way to the water, and it was just beautiful.  It was pretty small, and barely looked over 20 cfs.  I took a temp and got 58, wow!  Perfect!

I had no idea what to expect until Katlyns Madam X was engulfed by a beautiful, wild 10" brookie.  This was a great sign, and I was pumped!

We found pool after pool, just deep and fast enough to hold a decent sized fish.  Katlyn and I both took turns fishing pools, catching plenty of beautiful brookies, and even a little brown.

As we worked our way up, I had Katlyn fish the pools before me, to give her a chance at some dry fly fun.

While soaking up the beautiful scenery, I happened to look over at Katlyns fly, right as she was about to lift it off the water, a swimming log came to check it out, wait what?

A perfect pool for a large predator

The fish was BIG!  I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Katlyn missed it, and probably thought I was nuts.  I was freaking out over seeing this huge fish chase her dry before she pulled it off the water.  I collected myself and had her wait a few minutes before casting again, but nothing...

My heart sank, I hope he didn't get spooked!  She drifted quite a few times, and we gave it a rest before I decided to give the olive bugger a drift.  I casted at the top of the pool, and followed my bugger as it drifted down, right by the large rock the fish was obviously hiding besides.  After the bugger passed the rock, the big shape came out from besides it, chased down the bugger and swiped at it.  It was a complete miss, but my heart was about to explode.

I was so estatic to see such a big fish in this small water that I'd never even fished before.  All of the brookies seemed to be wild, and after checking the States website, this water did not get any stocked fish, meaning whatever we'd caught would be wild.

After the swipe, I let the pool calm for a while, hoping to get another chance.  After throwing the bugger through all the water and not seeing any signs of movement, I wasn't ready to give up.  I was seeing black and golden stones on the rocks all around me.  I added a black, rubber-legged stone dropper to my bugger and began high sticking the fast water at the top of the pool (Katlyn said she saw it head into the white-water)  Sure enough, a few drifts later, I watched my leader stop dead in place.  I set the hook, and this big guy took off downstream.  Woo!!!!  He was on!  My click & pawl reel was screaming - ahhhh what a beautiful sound.  I was ecstatic, and couldn't believe it.  I finally netted him to discover it a was a beautiful brown.  Not as big as I originally thought, but an awesome sized brown for the size of the water it was in.

Well, within an hour of fishing we'd gotten into a 17" brown...good start!

Katlyn continued to fish dries before I fished below the surface, missing and landing quite a few more brookies. 
Katlyn working a great section of water.  She landed two brookies about 5 feet downstream of this, and another just after this picture was taken.  I pinched the barbs on the dries of course, so we opted to not stress these little gems by taking pictures.
We called it a morning, and were off the water before noon to enjoy the rest of the day camping in the woods.

I was surprised when Katlyn asked when we were going fishing again in the morning.  Naturally, we slept in and woke up to the birds chirping, and the chipmunks fighting.  I checked Google Maps to see where we should park to start where we left off the day prior.  I asked a store owner if we could park in their lot, they obliged and were excited to see we were fly-fishing.  We trekked through a field, and then woods to the river.  We had the same setup, her with a dry, me with a streamer and/or nymph.  We got into more brookies right off.  I opted to fish the harder water first because of either log jams or overhanging trees.  I decided to get in on the dry fly fun, so we switched rods and I got a few nice brookies of my own on dries.  I even missed a few bigger fish that appeared to be 12-14" browns.

We worked our way up, and I was very pleased with the water we were seeing.  It was all great holding water with plenty of cover and undercut banks.  We worked on up and found a run that was a bit hard for her to fish with a dry because of the overhanging trees.  I gave it a shot with a dead-drifted bugger.  I couldn't see my fly, but noticed my leader stopped moving downstream - so I set the hook.  A few head shakes later, and a big brown began flailing around the pool.  WOW, another nice brown!  We were hooting and hollaring!  This guy tried to run me in between two large boulders 3 times, luckily I could stick my rod tip in the water to turn him.  I was running 6X, so I knew if he ran in between the sharp rocks, it was over.  I managed to keep his head pointed away from the sharp rocks, but he started to run downstream.  I put the brakes on just enough so I could get behind him to have him run back up into safer netting water.  After a failed net attempt, he gave me another chance, and I found myself throwing my hands up in the air in excitement.

Another healthy, beautiful & wild brown.....wow!  I couldn't believe it.

Another healthy brown, almost 17"

I released this guy and just sat for a few minutes, soaking it all in.  I was so happy, wow!

We continued upstream, catching the usual brookie  or two every other hole, and we came across an absolutely beautiful log jam.  It appeared to be very deep along the downed tree, so I grabbed Katlyns rod, and added a bead-head PT dropper about 18" from her dry fly.  I showed her where to stand, and pointed to where she should try to get the fly to land .

It was picture-perfect.  She made a cast, the dry fly landed right at the top part of the pool, directly in the "feeding lane" of the pool.  I knew if something was lurking under that log it would see her flies.  That's when it happened.....

This big brown comes flying out from underneath the log jam and grabs her dropper.  At the time, she didn't realize he had grabbed her dropper, so she instinctively set the hook after she thought he went for her fly.  She turned to me in disappointment and excitement at the same time, thinking he missed her dry.

"He's on!  You got him, you got him!!!!"

"Huh?" "Oh my god!"

She started to freak out.  Having only really used a fly rod for less than 10 hours, she had no idea what to do with such a big fish.  I could tell by her left hand holding the fly line she was doing the "death grip".  Something beginners do with big fish without even knowing it.  They'll hold the fly line in one hand so tight that when a fish runs it usually breaks the tippet.  I walked her through what to do, and to let the fly line slip through her hands until all of the slack line was gone and the line leading to the reel was tight.  She did great, and had the fish on the reel in seconds.

I was super nervous....  There were about 4 trees downed underwater, and it was heading right to them.  I told her to put the rod tip right in the water whenever he went towards the log to disorient him, and it worked perfectly.  I managed to slip the net under the fish while it was disoriented from being spun around.

I was so proud, wow!!!  It's not every day you hook into and LAND a big wild brown on a fly the third day fly fishing (a dry-dropper setup at that!)

All 3 browns have a blue spot on the cheek, but this one was very prominent.  So pretty!

She was scared of hurting the fish by doing the grip'n'grin so this was the best shot we got.  It was just a little bigger than the 2 other fish, coming in at 18"  I was unbelievably proud, and she was so stoked!  We had just an amazing fishing experience so far, and it couldn't have gotten any better. 

We fished for a few more hours before calling it.  We continued to catch brookies, but couldn't find any more deep holding water for big browns.  We started the trek back to the car with smiles on our faces, and rightfully so. 

The last day of our camping trip, we decided to fish a little on our way back home.  We fished the same water, but a few miles lower.  The temp was 63 at about 10 A.M. which wasn't too bad at all.

Since it was a short trip, we didn't fish more than 3/4 of a mile, but I noticed how much wider and flatter the river was in this area.  I wasn't really impressed with the water, but we did find a few holes that held fish.  There was quite a few section that had no shade, and it was a sunny day.  We noticed a lot of minnow life though.  There were thousands of creek chubs swimming around in the warmer, shallower water.  After a dozen or so fish and/or takes, we decided to call it and head home to unpack.

All in all, it was an incredible fishing trip, and I'll never forget it.  Watching Katlyn cast a dry-dropper setup perfectly on a run, and then watching this nearly 18" brown come out from underneath the log jam and grab her fly...just...wow!

Needless to say, I will be back to explore more of this river before trout season closes.  


Every year, I like to visit a few honey-holes that I've only showed a few people, and have never seen anyone fish.  It is a small stream with big pools that holds a variety of wild fish.  A few weeks back, after we'd just got a few days of light rain, I figured it would be a good chance to check out the stream to see how it's doing.

I got a later start than I wanted, but arrived just before the fog lifted, which was a great sight.

I rigged up my 4 wt and started the walk to the stream.  There is something to be said about heading out to fish early in the morning while it's still chilly and foggy...I just love it.  It reminds me of some of the best fishing I've ever had.

The stream was surprisingly low, even though we'd gotten quite a bit of rain over the last week.  Not unusual to see after a long dry spell though.  I started off nymphing a golden stone with a small pt dropper without much to show for it.  It wasn't until that I switched to a size 8 olive crystal bugger that I started to see fish on the move.  I could see a few fish in a large pool, one looking to be over 16"  I was stoked, but after landing a gorgeous 10" brookie, knew that I had no chance of landing the bigger fish(he found a spot to hide and refused to budge).  From my experience, these wild trout are very spooky and get lock jaw when spooked(more-so than say, a salmon that is just aggressive and will hit the same fly more than once).  It can be very frustrating, but humbling at the same time. 

I took my leave and worked my way upstream.  I decided to fish higher up than I usually do, which is difficult because of the private property surrounding the water.  I knew if I stayed on the side of the stream the whole way up, I'd be fine.  After missing a few nicer fish swinging the bugger, I arrived at a hole I hadn't fished in a few years because of the hard access.  It was much different than last time, but still looked great.

A large pool with a smaller, much deeper pool was above it (and I mean DEEP, 10+ feet..) made the fishing difficult because of the swirling current, so I started by stripping the bugger in the top of the water column for fish looking up.  It worked just as I thought, and I had two fish in hand within 5 minutes.

I switched tactics to try to reach fish closer to bottom and ended up with a 14' leader with quite a bit of weight that really wasn't easy to toss, but I made it work.  I added a golden stone dropper to the same bugger that had been producing and began to find the right spot to cast to get that good drift without the swirl pulling my line.  It was evident that I found the sweep spot when I felt a hard tug on my line, followed by a spunky 14" rainbow flying out of the water.  So much fun on a click & pawl reel!  I was running 6 and 7x tippet, so this guy ended up taking me down a few pools before I could lead him into the net.

I was psyched! I let the pool rest for 5 minutes and gave it another go by high-sticking with the very long leader.  Within minutes, my line stopped dead in place...fish on!  I had another bigger fish on.  When it got close to the surface, it looked like a nice brown.  It wasn't until it turned on its side that I could see it was a big brookie!  An obvious male with a huge snout and wicked vibrant color.  I'm always a bit more cautious about handling brookies for some reason, and he got the better of me before I could snap a quick pic in the net.  He flopped out and went on his way.  Judging by when he was stretched out in the net, he could have hit the 13" mark!

After that, the pool was pretty well spooked and I headed back to the car to drive downstream.  I drove down a few miles and parked on the side of the road and walked to the water.  It's 100 times easier to fish upstream than downstream, so I stayed away from the water while walking downstream, until I spotted some water I liked.  I hit the water and picked up a small brown on the bugger, but ended up hitting a wide, flat section of the stream with no holding water.  After a while, I hit a section of water near an open field, with a couple of nice log jams with very promising pools.  Surprisingly, I got no love until I was near the end of my adventure. 

To me, this looked like brownie heaven.  I stood behind the jam, to the left and tossed the bugger upstream to the right of the picture.  When the fly sank and drifted almost underneath the log jam, I gave it a twitch and started retrieving it.  Right as it got to the surface, this spunky little brown took it upon himself to make it his lifes work to destroy this bugger.  He came out and hit so fast, he nearly flew out of the water!

What a great way to end my morning jaunt!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Brookies and bowfin

Katlyn and I spent the afternoon a few weeks back scoping out the Smuggs campground for our upcoming camping trip, and I figured it'd be a great opportunity to check out some brookie water nearby.  We packed a lunch in our bags and headed out Sat morning.  I picked one of the "easier" to get to streams(thanks, Google Maps!), so after checking out the campsites, we headed towards it, parked the car on the road and trekked into the woods to the stream.  The simplicity of brookie fishing can be the most relaxing thing on a hot Summer day.  It was mid-80's back in Town, but barely over 70 in the mountains.  The thermometer barely hit 57, and the fish were as active as could be.  The stream was beautiful, and had plenty of cover.  A sign of a great brookie stream.

Within minutes of getting on the stream, I could just sense how fishy this stream was.  As we approached the first fishy looking water, it took no more than 2 drifts of a dry before a little wild brookie zealously chased the fly down, splashing twice while attempting to eat it. 

After the 20th brookie, I offered the fly rod to Katlyn, showing her how simple it was to high-stick a dry through this small of water.

The look of determination!
She really enjoyed watching these brookies chase down and hit these dries!  I know I'll be bringing another rod and reel next time!  She managed to trick half a dozen brookies, and loved it.  After a while, we found a spot to eat lunch, fished for another hour or so and then bushwhacked our way back to the road and then back to the car.  It was an awesome day, and couldn't have been any better (well, a 15" brookie would have been nice)

The next day, I talked her into checking out what fishing for bowfin on flies was all about.  We arrived at where I'd landed my biggest bowfin to date, and immediately spotted a small male bowfin (still in spawning color) actively cruising around, chasing the panfish that were still guarding their nests.  She was amazed to see a fish of that size in very low, and crystal clear water.  Not too long after, I noticed a large bowfin laying on bottom with her head lodged underneath a log.   The male was too busy chasing panfish, so I had Katlyn stand at a higher vantage point to let me know where my casts needed to go.  My casts were accurate, dropping right in front of its nose, but it showed no interest whatsoever.  I quickly changed flies, and put the bright orange crayfish pattern with foam claws back in the box and tied on an olive rubber legged large carp fly that has great action.  She made quick work of this fly, doing a 180 after it was stripped past her line of vision.  Even at a bad angle, I could see the wake behind her as she chased the fly down and grabbed it.  I straight-set it and she missed the hook, bummer....!  It didn't take long before she was back near her log, and chasing the fly again.  This time, the hook connected, and she exploded!  She headed right for a downed log, that crafty fish

She didnt hang me up on the log, but did a good job of changing the direction of the line pull by going under the log.  Shortly after, she was off, bummer...she was one of the biggest bowfin I'd tangled with too, probably 7-8 lbs, twice as big as the smaller male cruising around. 

Since we were on a time limit, we had to leave right after, so I didn't get a third chance (she went and hid in the weeds about 40 yards away anyway) but Katlyn thought it was the coolest thing that such big fish were right out in the open.  Next, it'll be her turn to get one on a fly!

Dry Fly fun

When the Summer heat is on, it pays to seek out colder, mountain-fed streams, which is exactly what Chris and I did on a beautiful Saturday morning.

We started things off with a bang, fishing a Winooski trib that held an abundance of fish.  We both ventured into water we'd never fished before, and were rewarded.

This 11-12" brookie slammed a bright pink and purple foam hopper

We had a blast for half of the day, climbing up the rocky terrain, fishing pool to pool, catching dozens of brookies, some almost 13"!  Chris even tricked a few beautiful wild rainbows about 14" on a spinning rod.  Almost all of my fish were on dries too, which made the trip even better!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Other side of the spectrum

I told myself this would be the year I start targeting warmwater species, mainly carp, bowfin, and gar.  I consider myself a very observant angler, and always seem to remember key factors when fishing for certain species.  For carp, it was determining which fish to target.  They are broken up into different categories, which vary from person to person.  Off the top of my head, my first carp experience showed me sunbathing carp, spawning carp, cruising carp, and tailing(feeding off the bottom, tail pointed up).  The spawning behavior was obvious.  A few male carp were harassing a large female, knocking her around.  I later learned their motives for being so aggressive - it was so the female would drop her eggs.

I remember casting flies to a couple of sunbathing carp, they were stationary, and could care less about anything around them, food wise.  I wasted hours trying to get them to eat before realizing it just wasn't going to happen.  Cruising carp were just like they sound, they were constantly moving.  Was it because they were spooked, or was it spawning behavior?  Honestly, I'm not sure.  All I know is that they rarely stopped, and rarely ate. 

Tailing carp, of course were the most fun.  I remember seeing a small group close to eachother that were sifting through the bottom with their telescopic mouths.  Small puffs of mud was a dead giveaway in water that was too deep to spot the carp in.  A friend of mine told me this behavior was called, "mudding" which is probably the result of a tailing carps muddy puff clouds from feeding.

I learned quickly that casting on top of a carp, regardless of what it's doing (besides spawning, they're pretty thick headed to the point where I've gotten hit by a pod chasing a big hen) will most likely spook them, especially with a weighted fly.  I learned that casting 10-20' beyond a fish and then stripping the fly so it drops in front of them was a great way to get them to take.  The tailing carp I targeted didn't seem to want to move more than a few feet for the fly, so a close proximity was necessary in my case.

All of this info was learned in just one carp outting, so it defeinitely pays to be an observant angler.

Now, let's fast-forward to the LCI weekend.  My friend Jerry who I regularly fish with and my Brother, Nate wanted to go catch some big fish.  The rivers weren't looking too great, they were pretty high on the Winooski, and very dirty. None of us were competing in the LCI, so it was just an exploratory journey to have some fun. 

A coworker of mine told me about where he fishes for warmwater species in the Vergennes area, around Otter Creek.  Having limited experience with that river, I hit Google maps and plotted out some warmwater fishing for the 3 of us. 

We got up, packed the jeep and left early that next morning.  Our first location was packed with anglers that had tents, and a gazeebo setup.  We moved on and found open water  that looked promising and fishy.  Before we even parked the jeep, I could see two fish just below the surface cruising around.  I couldn't make out what they were, but they looked long (30"+)  We were pumped, and geared up to fish.

Since Nate and Jerry have no fly fishing experience, it was going to be a spin fishing day for them, and of course I brought my 7 wt for when the opportunity to sight fish presented itself.

We were seeing a ton of commotion a few 100 yards away in the swampy area.  It looked as if the carp were still spawning.  They were running into thick sections of grass, almost beaching themselves.

It didn't take long for us to get a bite on bait, and in the next few hours, we had a ball catching almost a dozen bowfin, some of which were huge!  I couldn't get over how the males were a beautiful emerald green color for spawning.

While standing next to the water, my Brother spotted a bowfin almost poking his nose out of the water, looking right at us.  This was the type of behavior I remember seeing when I caught my first bowfin on a fly.  I told my Brother to do the same as I did when I witnessed this behavior - drop your bait right in front of his face and wiggle it.  Sure enough, a second after it hit the water and wiggled, the bowfin inhaled it.  When I knew the hook was far enough in, I told Nate to set it, and wham!  The fish exploded and took off.  Nate won the battle, and the bowfin was soon in the net.

Nates first bowfin in a very long time, and a huge female at that.  I'd say almost 30"

Jerrys smaller male - check out the coloration of the fins!

The first action we had was actually doubles.  My bait rod went off while I was tossing a fly to some commotion in the water and as Nate grabbed my rod, Jerry set the hook on this fish.  The fish that was on my rod was huge, and bolted toward the grass like a hippo.  Shortly after, the hook came out.  Not sure what it was, but whatever it was, was massive!

After a few hours, we decided to head back to the first spot that had more open water.  The group was still there, so we decided to fish out of their way, in a spot about 50 yards away.  We could see fish rolling everywhere, which got us pumped!

Unfortunately, the little catfish and bullhead had other plans for our bait.  Every fish we were catching was one of them, which was concerning.  I was starting to wonder if the carp even had a chance to get to our bait.  I looked over in some shallower water and saw bubbles coming to the surface, "Maybe the result of a tailing carp?" I thought to myself.  I casted beyond the bubbles and reeled up so my bait fell on top of it.  Within minutes, something was showing interest.  I let it grab it for a few seconds before setting the hook.  I could tell right away it was no small catfish.  Soon after the hookset, I let the guys know it was something big, and to be ready with the net.  After a tough time steering the fish away from the sharp rocks near us, the fish showed us its power.  Without even seeing what the fish was, its tail was creating quite the commotion on the top of the water - what power!  Finally, it was in the net!

I took the hook out, got a quick weight in the net, did a grip'n'grin and sent the fish back on its way.  Mission accomplished!

An almost 20 lb carp, not bad!

After that, we went back to catching the small bullhead and catfish until we decided it was time to go explore a few other spots.  Before we left, we did manage to see a big gar skim the surface right in front of us, which was awesome!

We ended up in a common spot which was insanely dense with anglers.  All of the LCI participants setup camp all along the side of Otter Creek.  I hadn't seen fishing pressure like this since the Salmon River.  They were there for good reason though, and seemed to be regularly catching sheepshead.

We couldn't manage to fit in with the other anglers, so we opted to fish the opposide side of the road, where the backwater was.  It took a while, but Nate finally had something big on, and it gave him a run for his money.  It started to make a big run underneath a bridge, which would make it nearly impossible to get the fish from.  Unfortunately, he had a gear malfunction, and his drag almost crapped out, leaving too much slack in the line.  The fish got off, and we were all bummed...judging by the power and speed, it had to of been a big carp or sheepshead.

A little while later, we had to pack it up and head home.  Jerry had to be back in town for something, so we left.  Overall it was a great day, especially since we'd never fished any of that water before.  Now I understand why it gets so much pressure.  We will definitely be back!!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Finally (Salmon Hole opener)

Most people that know me know that I love to practice catch and release for almost every species of fish besides the occasional panfish, and on rare occasion I'm able to target river walleye, and this year was no exception.  The annual Salmon Hole opening was looking very promising.  After a long, and quite chilly Spring, I was really looking forward to fishing the Salmon Hole.  Since it legally opens June 1st, I made plans to get to my favorite spot just before midnight on Saturday.   After talking to a family friend, and long time Salmon Hole fisherman, Walt, he surprised me by telling me he'd also be down there around Midnight as well.

After a quick phone call to my girlfriends father, a long-time angler and walleye pro who's been going through shoulder injury issues, he said he'd be willing to go as well.

My plan was to walleye fish with bait and lures until a little after sunrise, and then switch to flies for salmon and steelhead.  The water levels were above average, but very fishable.

Midnight came quick, and after the quick 2 minute walk down to the Hole, I was surprised to see the old timer Walt was already there.  Unfortunately, the water was just high enough so that he couldn't get to the, "hot spot" so I opted to sit and chat with him and fish the spot he setup in while I waited for Randy.  45 minutes and no bites later, Randy showed up and we climbed over a downed tree and a rock to reach where we wanted to fish.  Walt didn't feel safe enough climbing over in the middle of the night, and I don't blame him.  We parted ways and headed off into walleye town.

Randy and I began drifting crawlers, and 20 minutes in I had a fish on the end of my line.  Fighting a fish in the middle of the dark was pretty fun, especially having no idea what it was until I got it close enough to shine our headlamps on it.  To our surprise, it was a huge white sucker, a solid 5 lb fish.  I was blown away for the next hour.  We both were catching massive white suckers, all over 5 lbs.

Around 1:30 A.M, two headlamps made their way down to the water and just sat for a few minutes, lights gleaming at us.  We knew where they wanted to be, and apparently it made no difference that Randy and I were already there.  They climbed over the rocks, strolled on up to us and dropped their gear and setup to fish right in between us.  My mind was blown!  Not even a, "Hi, do you mind if we fish here?".  They just strolled on over without saying a single word and just started fishing within arms reach of us, casting their lines over ours.  In the back of my mind, I really wanted to ask how the drive was from Pulaski, but I kept my cool.  I could tell Randy was thinking the same, but we didn't let these knuckleheads ruin our night.  An hour went by before either one of the two guys said anything, which was "fish on!!!!!!!!!!!!!".  Randy and I, not lacking fishing etiquette, reeled our lines in and got out of the way.  As he cursed out the white sucker he just released, Randy and I couldn't help but to chuckle.   The mood finally lightened up after the two guys got a small walleye, confirming that there were still in fact walleye in the area.  We all got our hopes up, and for good reason.  Around 3 A.M. I hooked up and finally felt a different kind of fight besides a sucker.  Luckily, Randy was ready with the net and slid it under a nice 25" male walleye.  Success!  Gotta love it when a plan comes together!

We were fired up, and ready to drop the hammer on a few more fish.  It was extremely difficult to fish around the two guys that nudged their way in, as we were all trying to fish the same section of water.  After a few more big suckers, Randy was headed home around 4 A.M.  I stayed, hoping to get at least one more fish before the sun came up.  As it started to get light out, I was hit with heavy eyes and a headache. Maybe from the headlamps being on all night, who knows. 

I had landed my fish, so I strolled up to the apartment and knocked to have Katlyn let me through the side door.  Her eyes opened wide when I flashed the 6 lb walleye in front of her with a smile.

I put the fish on ice, showered and got into bed.  6 hours later, Katlyn was off to run errands and I was gearing up again to go back down for steelhead and salmon.  I grabbed my gear and headed down.  To my surprise there was only one person where I was headed.  It happened to be a coworker who had been there for a few hours.  He informed me that when he got there, there were 4 people fishing in the spot when he got there, and they had something like 9 walleye and one big steelhead!  I wanted to kick myself for leaving during sunrise.  It must be the fish turned on right after I left.  Either way, it was good news!  There were plenty of fish left, and steelhead were in for sure.

I did my usual streamer setup first, with about 10' of 7 ips poly-leader and 3' of fluoro.  I was getting deep enough, and changed flies a dozen times, but no love.  There were suckers rolling all over the shallow side of the river, so I switched rigs and nymphed the shallower water, about 70' out.  I was hoping there were steelhead hanging out with the suckers, gobbling up their spawn. It didn't take long before I hooked up.  Unfortunately, it was just a big redhorse.  Not what I wanted, but I'll take it!  Redhorse are especially hard to get to eat since they're bottom feeders, and are not quick as trout or salmon for the take.  Things just have to be that much better when nymphing.  It was good news to me, it meant I was in the right depth and zone.  A few hours later and a few more redhorse, I was sunburned and exhausted!  I headed home to relax before heading out yet again before it got dark.  My co-worker, Hakija, didn't manage to get much either, so he headed as well.

After telling Katlyn about how many walleye my coworker saw some people catch, she wanted to go herself!

We headed down around 5 P.M., but couldn't get where I wanted to fish, 3 people were already occupying it.  We waited our turn since they didn't seem like they were staying long.  Sure enough, an hour later they took off.  We hopped out to the spot and began fishing.  I showed Katlyn where to cast, and when to reel up to avoid getting snagged.  She got the hang of it quick, and had a few hits that she missed.  Things were looking promising since suckers usually always get hooked when they bite.  I had a feeling they were walleye hitting her crawler.  The way I set the rig up, when hooked, the octopus hooks I use are almost always in the lip instead of the throat of the fish.  This avoids line breaks from teeth, but is a bit tricky when setting the hook after a bite.

Finally, I got a hit.  I paused and counted to 3 before setting the hook.  I knew right away it was a walleye.  Katlyn went to grab the net, and that's when we realized we had forgotten it at the apartment.....ugh!  Luckily someone in a kayak was closeby and saw me fighting the fish.  He came over to where we were and insisted he netted my fish.  I politely asked if I could do it myself, that way if it came off it was nobodys fault but my own.  He almost felt insulted, stating he'd netted plenty of fish, "man".  After barely fitting the walleye in his little trout net, I was happy as could be, another 25" male walleye!  I was all smiles, and so was Katlyn.  She was eager to get her own now.  We continued to fish and less than 20 minutes later I hooked up into another walleye of the same size.  This time, I opted to grab the fish without a net.  I brought it into calmer water and slid my finger until its gil plate and lifted it out of the water.  We were both hooting and celebrating, it was another male, this time 24.5".  That meant I was at my limit for walleye, so I stopped fishing and let Katlyn continue, hoping she'd get one of her own.

A few suckers and an hour later, she was fighting something she knew was "big".  I was giddy, because I could tell it was a walleye.  Her eyes grew big when she could see what it was.  She did an awesome job and lured the fish into calmer water so I could reach it and grab it.  Right as I grabbed it and pulled it out of the water, the hook popped out - wow she was lucky!!

She was ecstatic!  It was like someone had cloned all of these fish, because hers was yet another 25" male.  Must be all the big hens had already spawned and started to drop back into the Lake.

Shortly after, it started getting dark, and we called it a night.  I was exhausted!

The tally for a days fishing was 4 walleye, all males, 3 25" and 1 24.5".  For not being a walleye angler whatsoever, it was a great day to say the least. 
Walleye bites....delicious!

Why not?

Since I take up residence less than 100 yards from the Salmon Hole now, it was a real pain having to wait until it opened on June 1st to fish it, especially since I knew just how many big fish were lurking in the water.

On a side note, I did do my part to keep the waters protected during the closed season.  Although there are signs everywhere letting people know the waters are closed to fishing from March 16th to June 1st, people intentionally ignore it and still fish the water.  Since it's a quick walk to overlook the Hole, I often walked down just to look at the water, and the plethora of fishing rolling and porpoising.  Mostly suckers, but the occasional sturgeon.  The first time I went down for a visit, there were 2 poachers fishing on the opposite side of the river, and even had a fire blazing.  A quick call to the Warden and 20 minutes later I watched as he went down and caught the two poachers.  Justice served. Surprisingly, almost half the time I went down there, people were fishing!  I ended up having to call the Warden 4 times, and let a group of kids know the waters were closed(they seemed genuinely surprised to know the water was closed).  It's amazing how ignorant people can be though.

Not many people are aware, but the water directly above the falls above the Hole actually have quite a wide variety of species that live in the short section of water above the Hydro One dam and below the next dam a few miles upriver.  Including the most common species - fallfish, there are pike, suckers, smallmouth bass, trout, salmon(stocked smolts turned parr that are dropping back into the Lake from the Huntington River, these fish are uncommon, but should NOT be targeted on purpose) and even carp!

A few weeks before the Salmon Hole opened, I decided to go explore the water above the Dam.  Easily accessible, it was a short walk to fishy looking water.  It didn't take long before this huge fallfish slammed an olive crystal bugger, which made for a great fight.

After losing one of similar size, I moved spots without much to show for it.  The trees made it difficult to reach where I wanted, and roll/switch casts just couldn't cut it.

Having always eyed the fast, ladder-type water above the dam, I decided it was time to finally fish it.  I sat and figured out a plan of attack to get where I wanted to without endangering myself, and took off on foot and maneuvered around the rocks and through the water until I was where I wanted to be.

While the view was spectacular, the fishing - not so much.  I did manage to land half a dozen smallies, but they were 12-15".  Not any big slobs like I was hoping for, but they may have all been upriver spawning still, which is why these little guys were so willing.  The deep run in the bottom picture looked most promising, but all my fish came from the shallows on the far right.  Since I ended up standing in deep water.

What I wouldn't give to see salmon making their way up this water back in the old days.  I still wonder how things would be if it weren't for all these impassable barriers that mankind has placed on our rivers. 

After a few hours, I worked my way back.  I didn't want people thinking I was just another crazy guy out in the middle of the river. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Good times!

My girlfriend and I usually go camping later in the Spring, but we couldn't get a site reserved where we wanted to go, so I threw out that we could go to the Northeast Kingdom to fish and I was surprised when she obliged.

In the days prior to last weekend, the weather was looking pretty crappy.  Heavy rain at times...even thunderstorms!  We opted not to reserve a hotel room in case the rain was just too heavy and the rivers got blown.

The night before, we decided rain or shine, we were going!  We called a few potential Hotels only to find out they were full.  Then I remembered where Chris and I stayed last Fall for salmon fishing...so I called and we struck gold!  They had ONE room left with a King sized bed, sweet!  It was only about 20 minutes away from where we'd end up fishing last, so it worked out great.

I threw all my necessities together Friday night, 3 rods, 4 reels and 6 fly boxes later...I was covered for any situation.  We were on the road by 5 A.M., making the almost 2-hour drive to the honey hole that very few people know of.  The Spring spawn was over, and the rainbows were all dropping back into the main river (or so I was hoping)  It rained off and on on our way there, and I had my fingers crossed the relatively small river was not too dirty to fish.  Lucky for us, it was unaffected by the rain prior to us arriving!  As we got there, the sun was actually starting to come out and the call for rain diminished swiftly.

We loaded up with gear, and hiked through the woods to the first good hole.  We struck gold, and found willing fish all over.  We snuck up on a pool with quite a few bows putting feedbags on.  Katlyn sat on the bank and watched.  After landing the first fish of the day almost right away, I think she has a better idea of why I love to fly fish so much.

It took a few more takes and missed hooksets to hook up again, but this guy went airborne and the size 16 pt popped out.

In the next few hours, and moving spots...I ended up with 6 or 7 fish on, while managing to land 5.  Nothing huge, but nothing small either!

While fighting one of these fish, a truly massive rainbow came out from some deep water and started to chase the one I had on!  A fish that was honestly well over 6 lbs was coming 10 feet from me, chasing a fish half his size.  After landing the one I had on, I tied on a big tungsten olive muddy buddy.  Hard to throw with an 8' 4 wt, but I got it out there. The first few retrieves had follows, but no hits.  After the 5th or 6th retrieve, the big guy finally came out to give it a whack.  After following it onto some shallow gravel and whacking the fly, I set the hook, and POP.  A bad knot lead to a lost potential monster rainbow....UGH!!!

Before noon, we decided to take a lunch break and made our way back to the car.  As we got to the car, it started to sprinkle.  I wanted Katlyn to feel the tug of a feisty wild rainbow, so I dug the spinning rod out of the trunk.  This river was not an easy one to fly fish.  Overhanging trees and very tough currents made for very difficult drifts.  I wasn't going to burden her with trying to get one on a fly, so we took her a spinning rod. 

We headed to the first pool where there were still feeding fish.  I set up a tiny barbless hook and some weight with a crawler and gave it to her.  It took a long time, but a fish finally decided he'd give in.  She set the hook like a pro after the grab, and the fight was on!!

After quite a long fight, I netted this beauty.  This guy was skinny, but surprisingly long.  I'd guess 23-24".  Beautiful colors as well!

Definitely her biggest rainbow to date, so awesome!!  She did a great job steering this guy away from the rapids downstream from us. 

 After this guy, the few other fish sharing the same pool were definitely spooked, so we headed upstream.  That's when things got tricky.  The woods in this stream are so thick we couldn't just freely move from pool to pool, it had to be done along the bank of the river, sometimes having to go knee-deep to travel upstream.  Having no waders or adequit boots, Katlyn was having a tough time.  I felt bet and didn't want her to take a spill, so after just a few 100 yards, I decided it was best to turn back and call it a day on this river.  I knew there were plenty more fish upstream holding in pools, but having her fall just wouldn't be worth it.

It was, however, good timing.  As we started to leave the woods and get back to the main road it started to rain, HARD!  Luckily we had rain gear on, but we still got a good soaking!  We both had an awesome time though, and were even giggling in the rain. It was definitely one of my favorite fishing days to date.

After we got back to the car and dried out, we still had plenty of time to scope out some other rivers.  I drove us back toward the Hotel and had a spot in mind that was a quick fish where I'd landed some beautiful bows and even a laker last year.

The rain finally settled as we got the spot.  I was hoping the Lake that fed this small river was calm and clear to see if there were any cruising trout along the shoreline.  Just my luck though, it was so windy that there were whitecaps!  We started to fish the big deep plunge pool below the Lake.  The water wasn't crystal clear as usual - instead it had a little tint to it which wasn't bad at all.  I threw streamers and drifted bugs for a little while before noticing something moving near bottom.  Something HUGE!  I drifted everything I had by and near it, but it showed no interest. 

It made its rounds half a dozen times around the pool before disappearing into the deepest part.  After a while, I had to call it quits and admit defeat.  We headed out to the Hotel to unpack, relax and eat!

We woke up late, around 6.  Took us a while to get going, but we were packed and out of the room by 7 to eat breakfast.  After a quick breakfast, we decided to go take a peek at the Barton and Willoughby.  The barton was surprisingly low and clear.  I could see no signs of fish, and it seemed like the Spring run was pretty much over.  Upon leaving, I noticed some fish laying on bottom, side-by-side.  I knew right away they were white suckers.  Typical behavior from them.  I had a nymph rig already setup and dredged bottom in front of them before hooking up into a small one.  For some reason, I saw no big ones in the area, just smaller 15-16" ones.  Must be the big ones spawned and left.  I caught a couple of them and we headed out to the Willoughby to see if the mass of suckers were still in the lower section.  I wanted Katlyn to see just how thick they were in there in the Spring.  Must be we were just a tad too late!  The river was empty, and the suckers were gone.

On to the next one!  Our last stop was the Clyde, which after talking to my buddy Kenny who fishes it regularly had told me about how he had an awesome few days with the Spring salmon run that were feeding heavily on the Hendrickson hatch mid-day.

The river was high, but clarity wasn't too bad.  Def higher flow than I'd like to fish, but I found some good holding water.  I noticed right away they must have just stocked it with smolts, because they were everywhere.

Kenny recommended a white streamer with a hares ear dropper, so that's what I started with.  Dead-drift to swing is my usual atlantic tactic to start with.  5 minutes into fishing, I started to swung the white bugger and hares ear I had on when my indicator stopped dead in it's tracks.  I set the hook and felt a tug - wow fish on already?  I was pleasantly surprised, but it was short-lived!  After about 5 seconds, the salmon surfaces, shook and popped off.  Def a big fish!  I was stunned...I was hoping that would set the tone for the day!

I fished for another hour before deciding it was lunch time.  Katlyn and I hit a local Subway for an hour and returned to the river.  We trekked upstream, trying to find some decent water that was fishable during the high water.  It was hot and humid, and I wasn't feeling it.  We headed back down to the first pool that I'd lost a fish earlier.

I went downstream about 10 yards and watched a little smolt rising right next to a deep bank.  After about 10 seconds, a bigger salmon, 3-4 lbs pushed him out of the way and made his way upriver.  I was hoping I didn't spook him but it was too late, he'd saw me and took off.  I fished the run hard, and even witnessed the life cycle of the Hendricksons during it, but couldn't get another hit.  We decided it was time to head home and relax.  I was O.K. with not landing a fish after such a great day prior.  I had my shot at a nice salmon, but couldn't seal the deal.

Overall, the trip was a huge success, and I'll never forget it.  I had a great time, and hope we can make it a yearly trip!

Out of the ordinary

Having had a day off in the middle of the week a few weeks back, I took advantage of it and hit my home water, the Winooski.  It was still running high, but it finally went from full blown chocolate milk to off-color.  I wanted to run into some steel before they left, but the water was too high to wade out to get to the good water.  I was forced to fish some slow, deep water.  There were steelhead smolts rising everywhere, which was fun to watch.

I decided to check out some water I usually don't fish, so I took off and finally ended up at a spot with a little bit of room for a backcast.  The sun came out every 20 or so minutes, which allowed me to see some dark shapes in about 5 feet of water right above a run.  I was hoping for steelhead, or even salmon.

I threw on a tandem nymph rig with a weighted black stone and a hares ear dropper and was surprised to hook up so quick into one of the dark spots.  I knew right away it was not a salmonid by the way it fought directly after the hookset.  I had a hunch what it was and it was confirmed when I got it near surface.

A big redhorse!

A fat 28" redhorse, I was happy!

Although not as fat, almost as long...27"

I was definitely not bummed by catching these big guys.  They make for a great fight on a fly rod, and are actually hard to get to take a fly.  Honestly, I'm not sure how I managed to get these two guys, but all the other fish in the area wouldn't even sniff my flies.  Maybe I spooked them, or maybe they just shut down. 

As for my salmon and steel quest - I was lucky enough to watch a massive salmon porpoise way out in the middle of the river a few times.  One of those, "hey man, why can't you get a fly out 150'?" kinda fish...

Poking around

With such high water this Spring, I've had a hard time finding fishable water, thus having to, "poke" around more. 

A few weekends ago, I was pleased to hear that my girlfriend wanted to get out on some water with me, even if she didn't fish much.  It had rained overnight, and bumped most of the rivers up even more. The first stream was high and dirty.  I tried throwing every bug I had, but I think the fish were hunkered down closer to bottom.  Still having spin gear, I set a rod up for my girlfriend to drift a crawler.  Within 5 minutes, this brookie was  jumping all over the place - on the end of her line!

A few other fish showed interest, but refused to stay on the line.  We left that stream and headed for something a little bigger.  We arrived to find out that the river was blown, and full-on chocolate milk mode...bummer....I knew there wouldn't be anything else worth checking out after seeing this one so bad.  We headed home, happy with at least one fish.

The following weekend was looking better, so we headed back out.  This time, I managed a little colorful brown on the small stream.  After that, we headed to some bigger water.  The water was still off-color and high.   There wasn't much I could do with flies.  I tried big streamers low and slow, then nymphs.  The conflicting currents made things difficult.  Katlyn had no problem though, and started out by landing this beautiful rainbow!
Alright, not the best picture...but we had a little fumble and we couldn't get a grip'n'grin of her and her fish.

A little while after, she hooked up again, and this time there was no mistaking the fish was big.  It took a hard, long run and then popped off.  We were both bummed!

Of course, it happened yet again probably 20 minutes later, this time a fish just as big as the first.  Getting ready to net it and it turned and waved goodbye.  A simple roll and the size 14 barbless hook popped...argh!

I was outfished but was really happy she landed such a great fish!

Slow start

A week after I put away the ice fishing gear, it was trout season!  Unfortunately, things were still frigid....couple that with high water, it was real tough finding fish for alot of people.  I tried searching out smaller tribs and streams without any luck - even they were blown and dirty.

I tipped my hat to Mother Nature and was humbled.

I had hopes of fishing a well-known steelhead trib in April, but it seemed like it was permanently dirty and above average flow, which made finding fish harder.  I'd heard of quite a few nice fishing being caught in the usual spots, but having to share one hole with 4 other anglers isn't really my cup of tea, so I opted to try elsewhere for the most part.  One of the few times I fished for steelhead, I had hookups but none landed.  One trib was full of spawning suckers, which was pretty fun to get to take flies.

Since last years opener was so great, my friend Chris and I had plans to head over for the opener, but after looking at snowpack levels and the weather forecasts, we decided to give it a few weeks.

Eager to see what was going on in the area, another friend, Mike and I headed over to check things out.  We were disappointed to find that fish weren't in their usual Spring spots, and the water was still icy and flows were still high.  Don't know until you try, right?  

The following weekend, the snowpack was gone and the water levels didn't look terrible.  Chris and I headed back over with plans to have sore arms by the end of the day.  Turns out, the fish and rivers had other plans.  Surprisingly, most of the bigger water we wanted to fish was still just too high and dirty.  It had rained the night before we headed out and turned some of the smaller rivers into mud as well, so fishable water was very limited.  One of my favorite spots, a spillway of a small Lake was looking fine.  We both fished for about 30 minutes before Chris switched to a spinning rod and hooked up right away into a fat, dark maroon rainbow...sweet looking fish! We ended up on a secret little Connecticuit river trib out in the middle of nowhere, which always produced BIG wild fish in the Spring.  We were in luck, the water was average flows and clarity was great.

I started things off with a bang and had an 18" bow in the net right off.  A feisty guy though, he made it back into the water before Chris could snap a pic.  Chris kept things going by landing his own rainbow of the same size.  He was happy with the memory, so no pictures were taken.

We worked out way up the river and found some super aggressive fish willing to chase down almost anything drifted or stripped near them.  The obstructions on the river made it really difficult to set the hook on fish without getting tangled in trees.  I had probably 6 strikes, 3 hookups and none landed! Chris had better luck with his spinning setup, and landed a few more chunky 18" bows.  We decided to head out of the woods before dark to avoid getting lost. 

I'll admit, I was pretty bummed.  I was prepared for a double-digit fish day but ended up with one landed out of the potential 8~ fish that wanted to tango.  That's why they call it fishing, right?

We did, however...find a nice little pod of suckers in a remote lake that were more than willing to take a few san juans!  I was happy I got to break out my 3 wt and my old clicker reel.  Boy did it purr....

Hard to tell by the picture, but this fish was actually bright orange.  I've never seen such a vibrantly colored sucker before.  It also lacked the usual well-pronounced dark lateral line that you see on white suckers.

Chris was lucky enough to have some great friends in the area that let us crash at their place for the night, so we could get back out there in the A.M.  They even cooked us an awesome dinner!

Great view as we woke up in the morning (late start)

We started late and decided to try the Willoughby river for steel.  It was muddy the day before, but the flow dropped quite a bit overnight, so we had high hopes.  We'd heard that the fish started running just a week before we got there, so we were eager to get on the water!  After getting there, the usual spot (waterfall) was pretty full.  We didn't really have any interest in fishing it anyway, it's always a crapfest with all the guys and their flyrods and reels with mono line instead of regular fly line and leader (can somebody tell me the purpose of this?  I cannot see an actual reason to use that setup other than to LOOK like you're fly fishing when you're in-fact not.)

We headed upriver, to open water that's produced for us before.  The clarity wasn't too bad, and flow was great.  If only there had been fish......We spent hours fishing and hiking next to the water in search of fish.  I really don't think we even walked by a fish.  Certain holes I trampled through to see if any fish took off, but I couldn't spot a single fish.  My guess is they'd already moved into headwaters to spawn....seems like we missed our chance.

Having regretted not fishing the hot river the day before(Why didn't we go where we knew there was fish?! Is what I was thinking.  Chris brought up a good point though, we probably would have wished we tried the Willoughby if we didn't go...), we packed up and headed out late-afternoon to get home before 4.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ending the ice season with a bang!

While not as sought after as yellow perch or panfish, the white perch for me has been the funnest thing to target through the ice, simply due to the huge size of these fish, and tendency to travel in huge schools.  Not to mention they fight harder than yellows of the same size.  Since they're devastating other native fish species populations, it's good to know every fish that is taken out of the lake helps, even if only a little. 

Last weekend I took my girlfriend out on the ice, and conditions weren't ideal.   3-5 inches of water on the ice mostly everywhere.  We joined up with a few of my friends and got into fish right away.  Every time the jig would drop and sit for more than a second, it was fish on.  I only had brought 2 buckets, which were full in a few hours. It got to the point where I couldn't even put my line in the water because Katlyn was catching so many fish so quickly.  We had our fill of fish, and didn't want to fill my sled up and have to carry everything through the water, so we called it and headed home.  The next day was a day of RR...plus I didn't want to rush out back on the ice and deal with the lake on top of it.

This weekend was going to be my last weekend out on the ice, simply because the ice was getting weak, and the shores were starting to flood with water.  Looking at the forecast only confirmed that the ice would not be good much longer.  High 50's almost all week with sun and rain...not too good for the ice.

After talking to a few people about the ice conditions, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the water had evaporated (or soaked into the now hone-comb like ice) and the ice was dry mostly.  So Saturday, my good friend Chris picked me up around 9 and we were on the ice by 10.  There were plenty of people already in the hot spot, including my friend Mike.  A few of Erics friends were out there as well, and they'd been there since early morning.  Their sled was almost already full of fish!

We setup and immediately started catching fish.  The action was steady for a few hours, and we were filling up our buckets and coolers quickly.  Chris and his friends decided to go check out a spot where people may have been catching panfish.  A good change in pace over the whites we were getting (they seemed to be much smaller than usual)  I stayed, watching my fishfinder fill up with hundreds of fish from bottom to right under the ice...I was loving it. 

A few hours later, my buddy Mike was passing by me to head back to his car.  He was done for the day - he'd filled up his limit of fish which was 4 buckets!  He also had a cool "hood ornament" which was a 4 lb salmon he'd jigged up through the ice over in the shallows next to Eric and his friends!

 He began to tell me how they weren't catching panfish, but huge white perch over in that area, which was only 8 feet deep.  I packed up and headed over just as Chris' friends were leaving.  They had their sled packed full along with a cooler and two buckets full! 

Turns out, the fish weighed over 340 lbs, wow!  Chris and I continued fishing and started to catch some HOGS!  I had a few that took me a few minutes just to get to the hole because they were so big.  Running 3 and 4 lb test with light action rods is a blast.  We caught probably dozens of Master Class white perch that day, but this one in particular was fatter than others.

Pig of the day on Saturday, a 14" football.
We were off the ice by 6 and I estimate that I had caught about 150-180 lbs of fish!

Saturdays haul between Chris and I at the end of the day
 While we had no plans to get back out there on Sunday, we just couldn't resist.  Chris has ski plans that got canceled, and I needed one more fish filled day before calling it quits on the ice.  We headed out later in the morning, and unloaded mostly all of our catch from the day before at the bait shop before heading back out.  I've caught so many fish this year, I've been giving as much of it away as I can.  Needless to say, people had their fill of fish already, so I was forced to sell mine.  The price was miniscule compared to how many fish we sold, only because the number of white perch being caught lately are astounding. Supply and demand! No bother though, I'm in it for the sport, not the money!

We were setup on the ice around noon, and got into them pretty quickly.  A few others were in our hot spot from the day before, so we had to make due with what ice we could fish.  As they started to leave, we worked our way back into our usual spot.  We got into fish, but they weren't as steady as Saturday.  Later in the afternoon, we took off in opposite directions hoping to find another big school without any success.  We ended up right back where we started and good thing, because the fish came to us.  We once again started picking up big fish in good numbers, RIGHT below the ice.  We were simply dropping our jigs down about 2-3 feet below the ice and we could watch the fish come up and strike it.  We could also move our jigs out of the way of the smaller ones until a big one came and took it.  It was amazing to be able to do this!  After about 5 hours on the ice, we had to pack up to be able to sell our overflow of fish.  We caught our last fish, tipped our hats to the fish gods and packed the car to go unload our days catch.  I kept one full bucket of the biggest ones of the day to give to a family friend, which he loved.  It felt good to be able to give an old timer more fish than he's seen in many years!
My haul on Sunday, not bad for about 5 hours of fishing.

The shoreline while we were leaving Sunday. Notice the open water further out.

Now I get to clean all my gear, pack it away....and start sorting through my river gear for some great Spring fishing in the rivers!  I have some new rods, reels, gear, and flies I'm going to love testing out this year.  Ice fishing couldn't have been better for me this year, and I feel so lucky to be able to have such good fishing all the way up until ONE week from the opening day of trout season.  While many rivers will be blown out, I'll still be having fun on the smaller streams that may be just the right height.