I fished in the 2018 Fly Fishing Team USA Northeast Regional Tournament in PA this past weekend. The comp was a little different from most in that it was an all lake comp. We fished both Lake Perez and Canoe Creek Lake. Things went very well for our team taking silver and for me personally with a 3rd place.
I headed down to PA on Wednesday night Picking up teammate Jesse Haller down at Orvis. There were practice sessions on each lake on Thursday and we wanted to get on the water to gather intel prior to the comp. This proved to be essential for me for two reasons. One, I had not fished since October. I and gotten a new reel and spooled up some new lake lines over the winter and hadn't used them. As soon as I got on the water i found my reel was not right, it was set up for a right hand retrieve but I had spooled it with my left hand. I also discovered my gear in a complete mess and it was probably 45 minutes in the boat until I was ready to fish. Our goals were to one, find areas holding fish, two find what level they were feeding at and what line to use, and three what flies they were interested in. My plan was to have a go to line, and then a backup plan if that was not working. I did not want to spend time switching out lines during the comp. We got some good intel on where to start on Lake Perez. While we only caught a few fish each, we were able to locate several areas holding fish where I would start on the first comp day. In the afternoon we hit Canoe Creek Lake for practice. Thanks to a boat that was downright dangerous, heavy winds, and snow, we didn't really get much for intel and never caught a fish in practice. Unfortunately for Jesse he had Canoe Creek on day one so had a distinct dis-advantage of not having a whole lot of intel on where to fish or what to use on his first day. Thankfully, our teammate Roe-Bear came up from Virginia Thursday afternoon and spent much of friday scouting out the venues and talking to local anglers at each lake, which was a big help. Roe Bear ended up with a top 10 finish himself which was awesome. We were able to get a bunch of flies tied and get some river fishing on Spring Creek Friday before the comp, where we nymphed up a good number of wild browns, though had to work hard for them.
Session 1: Lake Perez West
I was paired up with Madoka Myers in session 1. She proved to be a great boat partner and awesome angler. We had last pick of boats, so got a small boat with a nice sized leak, but it rowed well and drifted nicely. In practice, we had not landed a fish on this end of the lake, however, we saw an angler catch a fish and some fish rising from a distance in one area as we rowed to the other end of the lake. This proved to be just enough info to put us in the right place. The best part was the other 6 competitors in our group went to another area so we had it to ourselves until the last 45 minutes. I began with an intermediate line to fish 1-6' below the surface. In practice I had luck with orange buggers so began there. On our first drift Madoka hit a fish with a small PT nymph. I threw one on but didn't get an eat on it. I realized my orange was not on the menu and abandoned that early. I went small and dark on my bugger and soon had two fish. Madoka happened to have the same fly in her box and she too began landing fish. We kept the same drift going near shore until things slowed. We then adjusted our drift a little further out and were back into the fish. I caught all but one fish on that bugger and one a chrominid, and all while stripping fairly erratically. No fish were coming on the hang so I stopped even bothering as it was taking too much time. I decided to double up on the hot fly but worried in the back of my mind that I could lose both of them to bottom or a fish, and I had only three total. Of course that happened with a minute left in the session when a fish ate super hard and immediately my flies were gone. A few competitors landed rainbows of 59 cm and 52 cm so I wonder if it was one of those. My heart rate rose through the roof knowing I would have the entire next session to fish with only one hot fly. When the session was over I had 8 fish landed for a 1st place and Madoka had 5 and got 2nd. I was pretty damn pumped as I had just won my first ever session in a comp. Here is one of Madokas nice fish.
Session 2: Lake Perez East
This was the easiest and most fun session of the weekend. We had the eastern half of Lake Perez in the afternoon and through random draw had a boat with Madoka again. We both hoped that the fish would be onto the same flies as the morning. We had each gotten into fish during this session on this end of the lake basically in the middle where it was fairly shallow. Thankfully it was the same program as the morning and we had things dialed in. Things started off well and I landed two fish right off the bat on a small black nymph. Soon I had a three or four fish lead on Madoka when all of the sudden she landed a double and then about 5 casts later another double! It was pretty awesome, but from that point on I was not able to get back ahead of her on fish. Every time I would land one she would as well. The fish were still on the same dark bugger and we were catching a lot. About halfway through the session I was pretty sure that we would take a 1 and a 2 as other boats seemed to not be catching nearly as fast as us. I think mostly they were not on the right flies. The fish were a little more nippy in the afternoon and you had to keep stripping if you didn't hook up with the fish the first time. Fish also began to take the fly on the hang occasionally. I had to make one adjustment and get rid of my top dropper fly because many times as I landed a fish it would wrap around my rod tip and I'd have to spend a minute getting that free before I could fish again. When you are catching only a few fish its not a big deal but the fish were coming pretty quick in this session. I bet that had I done it sooner I would have landed another 2 or 3 fish. When it was all over Madoka landed 19 and got 1st and I landed 16 and got 2nd. I was right near the top of the leader board after day one with Canoe Creek Lake up next. Intel from our teammates was that if fished tough so I was not quite sure what to expect on day two.
Session 3: Canoe Creek Lake West
This was my worst session and the one that cost me winning 1st place overall. Canoe Creek Lake is a big lake is deeper than Perez. Thankfully it fished better than the previous day. I had Team USA member Michael Bradley with me and we had last pick of boats again. We were stuck with a 10' boat that was super tippy and rowed terrible. The oars were way too long and we knew that we were not going to go far from the boat launch. I had heard from a teammate that a competitor had landed a few fish near shore fairly close to the boat launch so thats where we started as did one other boat. I started with three different flies and landed a couple fish early on two different flies. Soon Michael landed two as well when we drifted very near shore. My previous fish had come out a little deeper, but we saw a fish rise very close to shore and decided to work that area as neither us nor the other boat had fished that close to the bank in a small bay. It was probably more than 1/2 way through the session and we each had only two fish. I had lost 1 or 2 and missed some good eats somehow. All of the sudden Michael went on a run and landed three more fish. I changed my flies fairly regularly throughout the day as there was no consistency to what they were eating. Finally with about a 1/2 hour left I got things going and landed one and a cast or two later had a double on but only landed one of the two. Soon I landed another and tied up Michael. I then took a cast right to shore on the point of the bay. Stripping really fast I got a fish on but somehow he came off about halfway to the boat. That would have put me in the lead and I was pissed. I missed another soft take on my last cast of the session and ended with 5. I really should have put about 9 in the boat that session so I was a little bummed. I figured i would be getting a 3rd or 4th but ended up tying Michael and Przemek Kaminski for first but lost on fish points to Micheal and got 2nd. Had I taken the 1 here I would have won 1st in the comp.
Session 4: Canoe Creek Lake East
With my worst session hopefully behind me and a chance at the podium very real I knew it was time to remain focused for three more hours. The entire weekend had felt as though every time my flies were in the water it was inevitable that they would be eaten, and I felt that even more so going into the last session. Thankfully I turned out my best performance here. Everyone had the same intel on the last session as to where the fish were. A small shallow bay had produced a lot of fish for the competitors who fished it in the morning and everyone went straight there. I knew it would come down to a few fish and who could select the right flies, line, and retrieve to win it. I was with Przemek in the boat and he was having a great performance himself and was near the top going into the last session. I fished the same intermediate line and same three buggers I ended with in the morning. The second cast of the session I netted a fish and was feeling confident. We both picked away at fish as did others around me. I had about 4 fish half way through plus a foul hooked rainbow that did not count. I knew It was not going to be enough to win, so I thought we should leave the bay and head about 150 yards away to a point I had seen some bank anglers catch a fish or two during the morning and where my teammate had landed a fish the prior day. This proved to be the right move. I tied on a small damsel fly nymph and on my first cast at the point landed a fish on that fly. I then had a double but landed only one of the two. I think I ended up with 4 there before things slowed. No one had joined us so we went back to the group of boats with the intention of heading back to the point right at the end and hopefully get one or two more. We each got a fish in the group of boats before we bolted again. The other boats had assumed we didn't catch anything on the point so again didn't follow us. We got a fish or two right at the end so our plan had worked. I ended up with 10 fish for 1st and my boat partner got 7 for 3rd. That was enough to get me on the podium with a bronze medal, and helped Team Stackmend to a Silver medal which I was super pumped about.
The only downer was we had to stay for awards, which normally would have been great, but I had to be home by 6:30 AM the next day because I had to watch my the two girls. I ended making it home at 5:20 AM so it was a loooong monday but well worth it! I also realized I need a new boat net as my rubber bag had too much water resistance when trying to net a fish with one hand. I had a few troubles, thankfully it didn't cost me this comp though it definitely could in the future.
Thanks a lot to my teammates Jesse Haller, Roe Bear, and Tyler Cornett and congratulations on our silver medal. There is now way I'd have been able to do as well I did without their help and friendship. I really owe a lot to Jesse as he has helped me in every way from day one and included me on his teams from the beginning. Also thanks to Ken Crane and Pat Weiss for organizing and Madoka, Michael, and Przemek for being great boat partners and finishing 7th, 4th, and 5th respectively. Congratulations to Roe Bear on his top 10 finish as well. Lastly congrats to Pat Weiss on the win and Devin Olsen with the silver. It was an honor to finish along side two of the best in the world.
Good to be back with everyone! Its been a long, long, winter. We are a week and a half into the trout season and, honestly, I have not been out in VT yet because of my maple sugaring season still wrapping up, though I did just return from a fly fishing competition in PA. I'll have a post up about the results in a day or two. The truth is, I haven't missed a whole lot. Right now the combination of rain and snowmelt have even the smallest tributaries blown out and dirty.
For the next day or so, you'll be better off fishing still water trout and bass ponds, but I'd recommend hitting ponds anytime this spring. The trout fishing on lakes and ponds this time of year can be very good. Fish are going to be found near the surface and in shallow where the water warms more quickly. Stripping small buggers and nymphs from just under the surface to about 6' down will draw strikes. Vary your retrieve and change flies often until you dial in what the fish want. I strip three flies until I figure out what they are on. You can also use a dry dropper rig or Indicator rig with a nymph, chrominid, or worm suspending below. Scan the surface of the water for any insects, birds fly low (eating bugs) and for rises. If you see any of these signs that will be where you want to fish. Most of the bugs hatching this early will be midges of varying sizes, so a chrominid is a good choice for fly.
Once the rivers come down the fishing should begin to pick up. As always this time of year it is generally a quality over quantity game and some of the biggest fish in the rivers are caught. I know some friends have gotten into some beautiful browns and rainbows. We have 70's forecast next week so the water will begin to warm, causing insects and fish to be more active. Keep in mind that there is still an insane amount of snow in the mountains so on hot sunny days rivers may run off color in the PM from snowmelt.
Your best bet on flies will be larger attractor nymphs like stoneflies, buggers, worms, bigger pheasant tails and the like, but fish your nymphs in tandem with a small natural nymph like a green caddis larvae or hares ear. I remember fishing early season on a mid sized trib and took a 16" brown on a dead drifted white bugger and then two casts later an 18" brown on my green caddis larvae dropper. Make sure you get your flies down to the bottom by using heavy tungsten beads or adding split shot. Streamers are a good option as well this time of year. I use a 6 wt rod with Orvis Bank Shot line, which is a sink tip line to get the streamer down quickly. I'll report back as conditions improve and bugs start hatching soon.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers