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!!