I Just got back from a vacation in Wyoming and Idaho with my family. Things unfortunately continue to be hot and dry here really putting stress on the local trout in the North East, and even making the bass fishing a bit tough. I'm hoping we have a weather pattern change soon. This coming weeks looks warm but thankfully wet. Our river levels are LOW right now. I've got a trip tomorrow for bass and fall fish, but haven't been doing many trips lately because of the conditions.
Part of the reason we headed out on our trip to Jackson Hole, was to fish in the Team USA Regional Comp over in Idaho. which was the last three days of my vacation. It was also pretty warm out there with seemingly everywhere around the country seeing above average temps. Water temps were fishable in most places, though warmer than normal out there. I got a little fishing in with the family prior to the comp and the highlight was definitely a nice 17" brown from the green river with my three year old in the backpack. I didn't have my net so there was no pic but it was a good memory.
On to the comp. I made the 1:15 minute drive from Jackson Hole, WY over to Ashton, ID to meet my teammates and do a little practice fishing. We fished the lower fall river which was a wide and flat riffle and got a bunch of fish on dries and some on nymphs, though most were small. Soon the sun was extremely hot so we spent the rest of the day looking at the comp water and tying flies for the next day. That evening was the draw, and competitor meeting where I drew a terribly difficult group, and knew I'd really have my work cut out for me.
Session 1: Ashton Reservoir
My first session was on Ashton Reservoir, a small impoundment on the famous Henry's Fork of the Snake River. I was hoping I would not have the lake first since I had zero intel, but didn't get that lucky. Going in blind, we motored about a half mile down the river until we hit the lake area we would be fishing. There were fish rising here and there, and the water coming out of the henry's fork was pretty cool so I made a guess that the fish were not too deep. I was in a boat with Ryan Wilbur, a great dude from CA. Thanks Ryan for letting me use your floatant! I started with a fast intermediate, and he started with a slow intermediate line. Our first drift resulted in only some big chub looking fish so we moved to the other side of the lake where the other two boats were. Things were slow, ryan pulled a rainbow, his only fish of the session, and I had an eat at the boat. I saw other boats catch a few fish so I needed to change tactics. Fish were still rising so I went to a slow clear intermediate line to fish just under the surface and hooked a fish but lost it on my first cast. This reinforced that I had made the correct decision, how ever another 1/2 hour of fishing and I had no fish in the boat. Again it as time to change, and I knew this session was going to be bad for me but hoped I could salvage something. I went to a dry dropper with a big buoyant dry fly and a chrominid 4' down and a leech pattern 9-10' down. Right off the bat I had an eat and broke off the fish on the hook set. I was now getting pretty frustrated. I quickly re-rigged with the same program and before long my dropper twitched and I set into a rainbow. The next half hour I landed 6 fish and missed a couple more takes. All of the fish came on my bottom leech pattern and were very subtle takes. It just took me too long to figure out what the fish were doing, and more importantly, what level the most fish were feeding at. I was not deep enough and instead of moving down in depth in my search for fish I went up. That cost me too much time and I couldn't make up the distance on the better competitors in my group. I ended up with a 4 on the session and was pretty bummed as I was hoping for a 1 or 2 on the lake, knowing I had some really incredible anglers to compete with and the rest of the on the rivers.
Session 2: Upper Fall River
That afternoon was a 2 hour session on the Upper fall river. Mostly faster pocket water, it was right in my wheelhouse as far as rivers go, and I fished pretty well. The picture here is my beat, except for the bottom 1/3 of the pic. You'll see some large boulders mid stream and a lot of structure on the edges. Access was from the left side of the pic. As we walked across the bridge and had our first look at the water I was bummed to see that the entire left side of the river was brown and the river was high. There must have been a release of an irrigation channel or something just upstream because the right side of the river was clear. Unfortunately the water was too high to cross. I began on the bottom of my beat in the dirty water. I had on a heavy PT nymph with a caddis dropper that was mid weight. Immediately I landed a rainbow on the bank. I then climbed onto some large mid stream boulders and fished some slack water mid stream about 15 feet behind a boulder. I landed about 8 fish in that small and dirty slack water mostly white fish, and lost a few others. It was tough since the water was high and it was the end of my beat. Everytime I hooked a fish I had to slide down the rocks, and try to keep the fish from spilling over the fast water and out of my beat. A few big white fish made it down over the rapid and came off but most I was able to control to the net. I then began to work upstream picking apart all of the features. As you can see the left side of the pic has a lot of boulders. I picked up fish all along the edge and into the middle as far as I could wade, at most 1/3 of the way across. As time went on the water was clearing and dropping allowing me to work out a little farther and fish more water toward the middle of the river. The fish were really on the feed and it seemed they were everywhere, form the bank, to pockets, and mid stream riffles. I picked them up both on the dead drift and jigging my flies in the slack pockets behind boulders. I lost a lot of fish in the session unfortunately, a few doubles that I only landed one, and a fair amount of trout that got below me in the fast water. A lot of fish were turning down stream and smashing my nymphs as they swam rapidly down river, so when I set the hook, many times were already down below me in the fast water and some came off. It was a pretty intense session as I swam three times, tore a 3" hole in my waders and scored 33 fish. I probably caught another 20 that were too small to score. When it was over I tied Michael Bradely with 33 fish, but he got me on fish points, so I ended up with the 2 instead of the 1 for the session. I was happy with my performance but needed to have lost less fish to win. I also made a mistake in my last two minutes. I had just scored a 39 CM rainbow that took me down the river. Knowing I had only a couple minutes, I waded back into where I had already fished, and though I caught two more in the last two minutes they were both too small to score. I was hooking fish everywhere and had already caught probably 7 or 8 in that area. I should have run upstream and fished a new pocket with my last minute and I'm sure I would have been able to get another scoreable fish for the session win, I never made it to the top of my beat.
Session 3: Warm River
The warm river had put up some incredible numbers the previous day, so I was expecting to catch around 30 fish in my three hour session. The warm was a very clear and cold spring creek that ran through a canyon. The water was full of rapids, woody debris and logs, and most places in my beat were fairly deep. Some of my intel form teammates was that the fish were feeding in areas where the sun hit the water. Unfortunately, there was no sun that morning in the canyon. I began in the bottom of my beat, but knew there was a decent pool at the top that had been pretty good the day before. My plan was to quickly fish up to the pool, and then head back down and fish my beat a little more thoroughly and end again at the pool. The bottom of the run was a deep swift run with some boulders, logs and a few edges that were a little shallower and slower, where I expected to hit fish, on the opposite bank. I soon found that the fish seemed to really be off. I only missed a single fish on the first 2/3 of my beat. I then caught a short fish and then scored a brook trout on the near bank in what I would call B or C water. I only had one fish and it was about 40 minutes in. I was surprised I was not catching more, but I knew it was the temperature of the water and was not too nervous. I was hoping the other beats were fishing the same. I assumed that once things warmed a little and bugs started popping, trout would respond. I got up to the top pool, which turned out to be more of a fast deep run into a flat tailout and then into a shallow flat and down into another deeper slower bank on the far side of the river. I landed a few fish out of the pool but still not as many as I hoped. I then moved up and got decent brookie in some shallow water near some logs above the pool. I then moved back down and got into some more browns and rainbows in the pool and then the deeper bank below the pool. I had around 8 fish and decided to go back down the the bottom of the beat. I began working the beat a little more thoroughly and picked up fish here and there along the edges and in slower water behind logs and under logs. it was very challenging since the fish were not actively in feeding lies and I had to get the fly deep and very near structure. I lost a LOT of flies this session. Soon I was back up to the top of my beat and was picking up fish here and there in the pool, mostly in the deep tailout where the current was not so strong and my flies were able to get down at their level. Finally I decided to put my heavy nymph on the tag and my smaller nymph on the point to get the smaller bug down to the fish since they clearly did not want to move much for the flies. I picked up some more fish this way including some white fish, right up until the session was over. I ended up with 18 fish scored and probably another 6 or 8 that were too small. I ended up with a 3 on this session, which I was ok with all things and incredible anglers considered. I felt I fished my beat well and couldn't have really gotten many more fish given the conditions. I lost maybe one fish and missed only one or two so I didn't leave many fish on the table.
Session 4: Lower Fall River
The lower fall river I knew would be a little difficult. One because it was the last session of the comp, so the fish had been worked pretty hard. I knew that I wouldn't win the session because the beat above me had a deep hole that held a lot of fish and won every session. This was my worst session overall and I made a few big mistakes. The river was a flat and wide riffle with few features. I had a couple rocks at the bottom of my beat and one near the top. It was a long beat and impossible to cover everything in 2 hours, especially since fish could be everywhere. I started with a dry and two droppers to cover a lot of water. I quickly abandoned this as I was getting no interest. I grabbed my nymph stick, my new Orvis H3 10.5' 3 WT. I had some mid thigh deep water near the bottom that I worked pretty thoroughly. I may have spent too much time here as I fished it from both sides and spent a lot of time here. I did get one fish on the swing and 2 more dead drifted but it was slow. I also had two fish break my 7x on the hook set. My fault for setting too hard with small tippet I think that most other competitors had fished this hard. I should have taken this into account. I then moved to the far bank which had a tiny bit of shade. The water was shallower than it looked. only about 6-8" deep but the river bottom was dark and it was out of the sun. There were a couple of boulders as well. I fished a single fly on 7x and began getting into fish. A few short fish later, I landed a one big enough and made the 100 yard run across the river. It was time consuming and tiring going across and back. I learned a few lessons here. One, I need a very accurate way to measure my fish quickly because I ended up running 3 fish all the way back that were about 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch too short. This cost me a lot of time and energy. I also learned that when you have to run far with a fish I need to unhook the fish first. I didn't do this and once got the line wrapped around my foot so bad I couldn't keep walking and had to try to get my foot freed in the fast water, I also broke off flies twice while running with the hook in the fish or the net, so that cost me more time to re rig after measuring the fish. The proper way to do it is to cast my flies down stream and let them hang in the current below me while I run the fish over. I did this on my last trip across and actually caught another fish but it was too small. Overall I think I scored three fish from the shallow shady water and ran three more back. Had I not wasted this time I would have been able to get more fish scored. With only a few minutes left, I had worked over all the shady areas and went over to the rock at the top of my beat. On my first cast I landed a whitefish and by the time it was scored the session was over. I only scored 8 fish for the session and ended with a 4 losing the 3 by two fish. I should have done better had I managed my time more efficiently and fished it better. I really should have spent more time at that upper rock. The beat above me had that deep hole I mentioned earlier. All of the fish caught there were released not too far from the rock at the top of my beat. I bet that a lot of fish filtered down to that rock and I could have pulled many more whitefish here, but I only had time for the 1 cast.
In the end I ended up with a mediocre 12th place. While I fished fairly well and caught 65 fish for the comp, which was the 6th most of anyone in the comp, it was not enough to keep up with Michael Bradley and Jack Arnot in my group, who took 1st and 3rd respectively. I feel like I easily left 2 placing points on the table which would have brought me up to 8th place. I did learn some important lessons and am excited for the next comp. After 2 comps I am ranked 4th in the overall team USA standings, but there are a lot more to go and some great anglers who have only fished one or no comps yet. Congrats to the winners and thanks to all that organized the event as well as my teammates.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers