Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pre-ice steelhead

With ice on Chamlain quickly approaching, it was about time I started to unpack all of my ice fishing gear.  Some fly anglers take a break from fishing during the Winter and tie flies, but I take to the ice when the rivers are locked up.

I had just told my buddy Jerry about the two explosive weekends I'd had fishing for salmon, and he wanted in.  I only had one day to fish that weekend, so we hit the spot early.  We were greeted with 30-40 mph winds, and muddy water.  The water was blown out from rain, and even I could barely throw a line in the wind.  I was bummed, but we had other options.  Jerry wanted to catch a salmon on a fly, and I had just the spot.  While it's a popular spot that gets heavy fishing pressure, I knew Jerry would have a shot if we had the spot to ourselves.  We got there to find a few anglers wading in the water - usually where the salmon are holding.  We were bummed, but didn't have many other options because of a time restriction.  I geared him up and we walked down to the water.  I showed him the basics of where the salmon hold, which direction, etc.  He stood and practiced casting while I waded out deep in the water and threw some long casts with a streamer on, not expecting much since there was another guy 30 yards from me doing the same.  Surprisingly, my line stopped dead and I set the hook...a fish?  Head shakes confirmed!  A beat-up old male that deserved an underwater release, he'd been through enough.  After that fish, the other anglers that were there packed up and left.  I got out of the water and had Jerry do the same for a little while.  I knew the fish would go back to their original holding spots once the water was left undisturbed.  After 10 minutes, I lead Jerry to the edge of the water and pointed out which seam to fish.  It took a few casts, but he got the flies where they needed to be.  We were both surprised when the 4th or 5th cast had a salmon on the end of his line!  I was standing there and watching him cast - the fish grabbed the fly almost immediately after it hit the water!  Not a big salmon, but fun on a flyrod for a beginner!

After this fish, our time limit was up....and that weekends fishing had come to a close.  It wasn't the action or destination we expected, but he avoided the skunk!

With cold weather in the forecast, I put my time in on the Winooski the weekend after for steelhead after the salmon fishing had dwindled.  Rarely have I seen much of a Winter steelhead crowd on the Winooski, which makes picking and choosing spots a breeze.  This year was no exception.

Needless to say, I had the whole area to myself on the first morning.  It was already cold, and snow was on the ground.  The rivers edges were already lined with ice and it wasn't even December yet! As I walked up to my usual run, there was some slower, shallower water I usually overlook.  I figured since I had most of the day, why not take my time?

It was an easy high-stick and my hunch paid off immediately.  I'd hooked up on the second drift into chrome!
Second and third drift after that luck

Fourth drift, whammo!

Fifth, sixth, seventh...nada

Eight drift, whammo! Followed by tail dancing before throwing the hook...damn!

Talk about hot action!  I fished for the rest of the afternoon before hooking into and landing the final fish of the day.

This fish had been through a lot already
I walked back to my place with a smile on my face, that's for sure!

The following day, after checking flows on other tribs, I chose to make the drive to a smaller, less-known steelhead river.  It was that day that was full of frustration. The water was fairly cloudy, but not too bad to go home.  The water level however, was perfect!  I knew a few holding spots in this river and focused on them.  I don't know how, but for the 6 or so hours I fished the river, I'd managed to hook into 6 steelhead and lose every single one of them.  It got to the point where I was checking my hook points before every drift!  What sucks even more is that at least 2 of the 6 were well above 22"  I never did run into another angler though, which was pretty relaxing in itself.

The next weekend it was back to my home water.  The ice was getting worse, and the slack water was freezing already.  I had the same game plan as before - but this time the water was a bit higher.  I started off plucking out 2 steelies right off.  Great start!

A tagged fish that I forgot to write down.

The hot-headed fly was a huge producer for me

After a few hours, it was time to switch it up.  I walked around to the other side of the river and began fishing a huge whirlpool-like pool.  Drifts were tough, and streamers were even tougher.  All of the conflicting currents made it difficult to tell exactly where my flies were.  I ended up finding a, "sweet spot" by drifting with an indicator in 7-9 FOW.  If I kept enough line off the water, the drift was endlessly circling the big pool.  I remember thinking to myself, "this is friggin cool!" before watching my indicator go under.  I set the hook, lost about 20 yards of line from a hot fish and then slack - it was off.

Good news though!  It meant that there were indeed fish in this big pool.  I continued to fish the same way, almost zoning out while doing the, "endless drift".  It took about 15 minutes before another take, this time the fish wasn't as lucky. 
A great way to end the day!  The next day I was back at it, this time hopping from spot to spot which eventually paid off!

Bank fishing with jeans on in December for steel!

The following week was frigid, and the smaller Champlain tribs were just getting over being blown out.  I drove to another trib the following weekend to find very difficult conditions.  The water was stained, a little high, and the loose ice chunks made it nearly impossible to drift anywhere.  Still, I'd made the drive and I figured why not give it a shot?  I started with the well-known spots first without even a bump.  It wasn't until I moved downstream to a "rock" I like to fish that I finally hooked up!  It took me by surprise, and it was actually very tight to the bank when the fish hit.  It was one of those, "might as well try here" kind of drifts.

Good way to test a new reel!
The next day I decided to make a last trip for salmon of the year, and somehow found a salmon that was still aggressive!

That turned out to be the last productive trip of 2014 for me!  I'm already itching to get back on the rivers soon!  Looks like the hard water fishing will hold me over until then though. 

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