Monday, June 29, 2015

Catching dinner

I got a text from my friend Drew about targeting walleye in the Winooski River, which along with a few other Champlain tributaries, gets a spring run of spawning walleye.  He was interested in getting a Master Class walleye (25" or better).  We picked a section of the Winooski that I knew were holding fish, and went after work one day and launched his canoe from the bank.  The water was high and a little stained, but easily fishable. 

I had a great feeling!  After catching up and exchanging fishing stories from the days prior (he had landed a giant of his own around the same time as my steelhead)  We started upriver from where we launched and quickly found out the current was a bit too fast for us, even dragging an anchor.  We moved downstream where the river widened and the current slowed.  We targeted some deeper runs that I've caught fish in before.  The setup was simple, and I showed him the technique used for jigging walleye with minnows.  Before long, he had a fish on!  He pulled it up close enough to the canoe so we could see what it was, and sure enough it was a walleye!

I netted the fish and he eagerly took it out and measured it.....BINGO!  26"!  This was his Master Class walleye!

I was glad he was able to get his walleye out of the way, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I hooked up into one myself.  The current made for tough fishing, and being in a canoe with high water and strong current is difficult to stay in the area you want.  We spent most of the time on the water paddling upstream, or positioning the canoe to where we wanted.  I got my turn at a fish a little while after, but it didn't stay on long.  I hooked up shortly after though, into a nice 28" slabber!  It was getting dark out and we had a ways to paddle back, so we gave it about 15 more minutes before heading in.  We didn't have long to begin with, and being in a canoe without a motor made things difficult, but I think we did well considering. 

28" of marble eye!
Targeting walleye is something I'll be getting more into once my boat is ready to roll.  I've had luck catching them from the bank, but I know that a boat with a motor makes it 100 times easier, and that night only proved it!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hendrickson buffet

Finally, the rain stopped and the sun came out during the work week.  I watched the LC trib levels closely.  It was the beginning of the end of the steelhead run for Champlain.  The smallies would soon enter the rivers, and the steelies would drop back into the Lake.

I had some free time after work to check the water clarity for the weekend, so I packed up the RAV and took off after work.  It was crowded at the usual spots, which I expected.  The water level and clarity was picture-perfect.  I knew fish would not be in the usual spots, so I began walking.  I ended up on a section of river that gets mostly ignored due to shallow and swift water.  I saw a few Hendricksons on the river when I pulled in to park,  but they had tapered off by the time I was geared up and trekking into the woods.  I started off throwing eggs through the swift pools without even a bump. I switched over and swung some big streamers in hopes of an aggressive take.  I had this aching feeling that I was drifting and swinging by fish, so I decided to go with a nondescript Hendrickson nymph.   High-sticking to a swing is the way to go during the Hendrickson hatch, which is what my plan was.

Before I could even start the slow swing, my line went tight.  No, not bottom....unless the bottom was moving?

What happened next was pure mayhem.  After tying on a Hendrickson, I had 3 fish in my net in 3 drifts.  What?!

Well, that was a pleasant surprise!  I decided to book it downstream to a few more runs before it got dark out.  I went as far down as I could without running out of light before getting back to the car.  I couldn't believe what had unfolded...I landed 6 steelies and hooked into 11.  I had a few steelies actually chasing my flies in shallow water during the swing.  I was loving it!!!

I was catching fish in water that people wouldn't even considering fishing, it was just amazing.  If only I had more time!

After landing and fumbling the 6th fish back into the water, it was pretty dark out.  I was still still on the other side of the river, and needed to cross.  I made my way up to some safer looking water.  I happened to look just upstream of me and saw a nice little pocket in front of a big boulder.  I tossed above it and drifted through it.  On the swing out of the water, I could see a big shape follow and swipe at it as I pulled it out of the water.  He ran himself into a foot of water, and I could hear his tail trashing in the shallows, "tsh tsh tsh tsh" as he swam back into his pool.  It was a hog!  I collected myself and waited a few minutes.  I knew he had to cool down before I could try to trick him again.  I threw in the same spot, expecting him to smash the nymph. After a dozen drifts, I was left scratching my head.  I didn't have time or even the daylight to switch flies, so it was back to the car I went. 

I don't think I've ever had such hot steelhead action in such a short time-frame.  Thank you, Mr. Hendrickson. 

Wouldn't it be funny?

The rain was swelling up LC tribs, so I had big browns on my mind.  I knew where at least 2 were hanging on account of hooking into them opening day. I asked Chris if he wanted to tag along, and he was reluctant.  He hadn't done well yet on this particular river.  I assured him the big browns would be out and about with the high flows.  With not many other options in terms of trout, we hit the river early.  The clarity and flow was perfect, I was all giggly when pulling into the first spot.

Chris brought his spin gear with lures and we covered water quickly.  One of the bigger pools that I've never done well in was on fire .  I'd had 2 short grabs and Chris landed a beautiful 16" brown and had another grab right after releasing it.  While fishing upriver, we came across one of the pools that I'd had a big boy break me off.  As we stood there looking into the water, I grinned and said, "Wouldn't it be funny if we caught the fish that broke me off and it had my fly in it's mouth?" I started swinging big streamers at the top of the pool, and Chris worked the the lower section.  I just happened to look over and watch as he had a big brown grab his Rapala less than 5' from his feet.  It started to flail around and do gator rolls in the shallow water.  He was dumbfounded and didn't even know what to say.  I ran over and scooped him up before he got his bearings in the deeper water.  We were ecstatic!  I was unhooking the Rapala from its lip when I saw some rabbit strip in the net.  I grabbed it and tried pulling it out, thinking it was a fly that fell off my foam patch into the net (which happens often) but when I pulled, the fish moved with it.  I flipped the fish over and my eyes went wide.  My slumpbuster was in this fishes mouth!!  This was THE brown that broke me off a few weeks prior!

The 23" Master Class brown that broke me off on opening day.
After he released the fish, I felt a little better knowing it wouldn't have a big streamer stuck in its face.  We soon took off to head back because Chris had some errands to run.  Watching a friend get into and land big fish is just as satisfying as doing it myself, so I was very happy without even landing a fish myself!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Spring steelhead

After playing tug'o'war with a couple of big browns on opening day, Chris and I made plans for some early steelhead the next weekend.  The water was about average for the time of the year - high and stained.  Still, we showed up before sunrise and fished in almost complete darkness to start off the day.  We ran big and bright egg patterns to help counter the poor water clarity, which paid off quickly.  High sticking the seam paid off, and I was hooked up in no time.

Fighting a fish with minimal light is an awesome experience.  When fighting a fish in the daylight, an angler has many things he can rely on visually.  Where the fish is running to, where his line and leader are, and what kind of obstacles are in and above the water.  The only thing I could go on was the faint silhouette of my fly rod and the direction of the pull. Come to find out, it was just a big white sucker!

A 25" Master Class white sucker. 
While it wasn't what we were targeting, I was still happy to catch a nice sized fish.  In the high, swollen water, it was quite the fight!  We both hooked into a few hot fish that didn't stay on long enough for us to gauge the size, but they definitely felt like steel.  We switched flies and presentations before I finally landed a small steelie just as it was getting light out.

We knew we were in the right spot at the right time, and it was only a matter of fooling one of the big boys into eating.  Finally, a drag screamer was on the end of my line.  Besides the fact that it flew out of the water, I could tell it was a bigger fish than the first.  It did what I was hoping it wouldn't - ran downstream. I remember hearing the ticking sound of my nail knot connecting my fly line to backing zip through my guides before I decided I'd chase it down.  It hugged the opposide side of the river, and I made the decision to wade towards it while Chris would be my net guy.  It ran from pool to pool...upstream....downstream...I was getting antsy, but this is exactly the kind of excitement we were there for!

Chris scooped the fish up, we high fived and then headed to the bank.  It wasn't the huge 10 pounder that I was hoping for, but a 24" buck had me smiling from ear to ear.

Notice the gil plate - it is a birth defect.  Something I've seen quite a few times. 

I took a few to soak in the good morning of fishing I was having while Chris did his best to hookup, but no dice.  Once the sun was out, the cars and anglers started to pile on the river.  It was crowded before 10 AM, and we decided to head to a river with less pressure.

We got there and was pleasantly surprised to see only one angler - an old timer fishing worms under a bobber.  We chatted, and he'd told us there was not much going on all morning.  We figured we'd give it a try anyway.  Boy, are we glad we did!  We both hooked up in a short time, but couldn't stay connected.  Shortly after, I reeled in a beautiful chromer!

Chris broke off a slab of a steelie later on that left us holding our heads in shame.  Broke 3X fluoro like it was a strand of hair....NOT a happy fish!

We took our time and explored a bunch of water above a waterfall that the fish MAY be able to pass, but we struck out after walking almost a mile of river.  No signs at all, which was surprising to me considering how high the water was just a week prior.

I got a few nice fish to the net while Chris was the long distance C&R type.  Overall a great start to Spring steelie fishing!