I competed in the Fly Fishing Team USA Regional Comp over in Lake Placid, NY, a week and a half ago. To say fishing over there was difficult was an understatement. Despite the tough conditions I had a great time fishing with my Stackmend Teammates Jesse Haller and Matt Stedina and we managed a gold medal as a team. Matt took 2nd overall and I managed 6th while Jesse got 12th. We all caught the same amount of fish throughout the comp however. A staggering 3 fish each! The comp venues were the Ausable River, Lake Colby North and South, and a bank session on Whey Pond. Going into this comp ranked 4th in Fly Fishing Team USA standings, I was hoping to continue that momentum, luckily after two bad sessions to start the comp, I was able to stay focused salvage a good result by winning the last two sessions.
The Adirondacks had a terribly tough summer just as we did over here in Northern VT. I found our rivers fared much better than the famed Ausable did in NY. The reason being the rivers over here in VT have a mush larger population of wild fish that have adapted to survive in our tough climate. The Ausable River is mostly a stocked fishery and so few of those fish made it through the low hot water conditions in July and August. We all met up on thursday afternoon and fished the Ausable. Three of us managed a grand total of 5 fish for the day. The water was very high in practice, but we learned a few flies that the fish seemed to prefer so we had a place to start come comp time. On Friday, we rented a john boat and the three of us spent a nice cool but sunny day on Mirror lake in downtown lake placid. Fishing on the lake was not easy either and we managed 4 fish boated. Again however, we were able to get enough info to come up with a place to start when on the lakes during the comp.
Session 1: Whey Pond
My first session was a bank session of Whey Pond. I'd never fished a bank session before and learned some valuable things for the next time I fish one. The area of whey pond we fished was a sandy silty bottom where we could wade out about 25 yards into the water. There was a weed bed about 20 feet from where we could wade to and then a drop off. I started with a fast intermediate line so I could cover multiple depths, but also had a rod rigged up with a dry dropper on my 5 wt and a 200 grain depth charge line that is about 30' of type 5 line and the rest floats. Starting with the intermediate I immediately began having problems with my line sinking and tangling under water. I was unable to cast well because of it and tried coiling the line in my hand as I stripped but that made a mess. I then lost my flies to a fish or weed, I am not sure, but re rigged and then had the biggest mess of running line ever. I had to abandon this rod and wasted a lot of time. The moral of the story is I need a stripping basket, badly. This spot on the bank session I started with ended up catching the few fish that were caught in most of the session so it turns out I missed my opportunity right off the bat. The rest of the session I tried some different lines, and tactics but did not get anything to eat. I ended with 0 fish along with 3 others. Two anglers caught fish and both were from where I started. I can't say I would have caught a fish, but had I been better prepared with a basket I would have not have wasted so much time and been able to use the tactics I felt most confident in. Over all a good learning experience.
Session 2: Lake Colby North
In the afternoon we drove to Lake Colby for 2- 2 hour sessions. Meeting the previous group on the way there we saw a lot of down faces. The lake had fished very poorly and only a few fish were caught. Most people blanked one or both of the sessions. I knew I was in for a grind. I was in the boat with Ciprian Rafan from the Canadian National Team. We started in a place I had caught fish in Nationals a few years ago. I was on a type 3 and Ciprian was constantly changing lines. I decided since he was changing lines so much I'd just not waste time changing unless he got into a fish. If he got a fish I'd copy him. Neither of us touched anything for most of the session. Finally at the end of the session we drifted into closer to shore in a weedy bay. We debated moving out but I felt that at least we could fish some kind of structure instead of open water. I missed a trout on a small soft hackle PT nymph at the boat on the hang and had one other eat right at the end. Ciprian lost one after about 3 seconds but we saw it was a trout. At the end of the session neither of us caught a fish and the entire group blanked. No fish for anyone!.
Session 3: Lake Colby South
The third session is where things turned around for me. I knew I needed to stay focused and that one single fish would likely give me a 1 or 2 in the session. This comp was organized a bit differently due to logistics so I had three sessions in one day, and lake Colby back to back with a 15 minute break in-between. Everyone in the group got back to shore after the beat down we took on the North side of the Lake. We all compared tactics that didn't work. No one had tried dry dropper. I had never fished this section of lake before but chose to drift along the shoreline using a dry dropper for the first half of the session. If I had no fish to show for it I'd change tactics. We were suspended in fairly deep water and I had two flies below my dry fly about 4' and 9' deep. I had one good take after about 20 minutes and while I was completely focused and ready to set the hook, there was nothing home. I had another small twitch later on and set again to nothing. After the hour was up we needed to move and I needed to change tactics. We went to the far end of the lake and drifted along a point. I set up my fast intermediate line knowing it was getting dark and thinking maybe the fish would be near the surface. Soon I had a quick bump but nothing was home on the strip set. I kept fishing the flies and the fish took again after about 8 strips. I came tight to in and began roping him in. At one point he swam toward me and I feared he was gone but I was able to keep the 33 cm rainbow on the line and get it into the net. That fish was all it took to win the session. Glade also caught one but I had him beat on fish points. The fish took a small brown bugger like fly I had invented that previous night that Matt named the Finless Brown.
Session 4: Ausable River
I had the last session in the afternoon on the Ausable River. I was excited for the opportunity to fish a difficult river, and ended up putting up a good performance. The previous day had put up very low numbers between 0 and 3 fish in each beat. My beat had taken 3 fish in the first session, 1 in the second and 0 that morning in the third session. Only three fish were caught in all 6 beats in the morning session. I watched the competitor fishing my beat in the morning and he fished it well but came up empty handed. My teammate had caught one fish and won his session in the morning. He gave me an awesome pump up speech that went something like "dude I don't know how the F**k you are going to catch a fish in the last session. I had about a 60% chance of blanking in the morning, you have like a 99% chance of blanking the last session". We laughed and I said I'm going to start by catching one fish and after I get one I'll go back and get another that's how. All of the beats were long, nearly 300 yards, and had good pocket water throughout. I began on the bottom of my beat which was shallow pocket water. I threw a dry fly in these pockets to start the session hoping to get one of the few small brookies in the river to eat a dry but came up with nothing. I then grabbed my H3 3 wt and began nymphing up the beat. I fished 6x and natural flies. I picked everything apart on the river. Knowing I'd only need one or two fish to win the session I wanted to get every possible fish that would eat a fly so I didn't just hit the best water first incase I spooked a fish I didn't see. I knew I'd only get one chance at the few fish anyway so whether I got a fish early or late it did not matter. I tried to fish far away from myself and upstream. I changed flies based on depth of the river and but only fished a few patterns. About an hour in on a flat glide about 3-4' deep I hooked the first brown. It was straight upstream of me and pretty far away. I roped it in, measured it and headed back to get another. I continued to work up stream fishing everything very meticulously. Roughly an hour later I hooked my second and last brown of the session in a similar flat glide of about 3'deep. The fish was upstream and at about a 45 degree angle to my right. Both takes were very subtle. I Knew that that fish would probably win me the session and I was right. In the end only one other fish was caught in the remaining 5 beats. I think the key to my success on the river was focus. It would have been easy to get down on the previous results, the poor fishing, the cold wet weather or just lose that laser focus after all the fish less casts, but I felt like it was an opportunity knowing that if I fished well I should be able to win the session and have a respectable overall finish.
In the end, the team achieved our goal and won the gold medal. While I had hoped for a top 3 individual finish, the 6th place was enough to keep me ranked 4th overall in the team USA standings. It was a fun event and I felt like the teamwork between Jesse, Matt and I was key to our team medal. Congrats to the winners, and thanks again to Ken, Leonard, Richard for all the organization and volunteers that made the event possible.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers