Opening day of the Vermont Trout Season is less than three weeks away but with it comes a lot of uncertainty. Many areas of the country are shut down thanks to COVID-19 including Vermont. My hope, along with everyone else, is that we can assume some normalcy by then and have the virus under control. Starting today the state is going under lockdown with all non essential businesses shut down for a couple of weeks. Residents are being ordered to stay home for non essential activities. Best case scenario is that the strict social distancing measures can stop community transmission during the next few weeks.
While many, including myself consider fly fishing absolutely essential, I doubt the Government does. Will that stop me from getting out as soon as I wrap up my maple sugaring season? (agriculture is an essential business, because people need to eat) No, but I'll probably be fishing alone. I don't really start booking trips until mid May and all of the trips booked are a go. We will see where we are at when we get into May. I certainly haven't had new inquiries about fishing for the past week or so. I will probably take some more protective measures when guiding in the short term like having clients aways driving in their own vehicles, keeping snacks and drinks in separate coolers, maintaining a safe distance between people and sanitizing cork grips of fly rods. The great thing about fly fishing and all other outdoor activity is that it is an activity that can still be done while containing the spread of this disease. I can't imagine how much harder it would be to quarantine in say, NYC. I'd go crazy. We as Vermonters should all feel lucky to live in a great state where the outdoors is simply out our back door.
All winter I had been prepping for the 2020 Fly Fishing National Championships in Basalt Colorado at the end of April, which has been postponed until the fall or next spring. This is a big tournament for myself as well as my teammate Matt Stedina, we are ranked 10th and 11th in the country going into the tournament. The top 15 point getters make Fly Fishing Team USA so a decent showing is important for us to make the team. I've tied lots of flies, done as much research on the water as possible, and evaluated all the gear I'll need and upgraded some things like reels, fly lines etc. I am really hoping the tournament happens in the fall. The end of April was a big stretch for me as I don't usually get the opportunity to fish prior to that, so I would be going into nationals without having really fished since October. The other competitors have been fishing all winter. I'm going to take the spring and really get some training in especially if COVID-19 hangs around and I don't do a lot of guiding. Last summer I worked a lot on dry dropper fishing, this summer I'll also focus on dry fly fishing, as well as nymph tactics in all types of water. I will focus a lot on clear, low streams, and flatter water and fish a lot of less desirable water that most people pass up. Im also playing around with different leader formulas and will continue to dial that in before nationals. My goal is to catch more fish on a dry fly than I ever have and I plan to bring two rods with me at all times (except early season) with one being a dedicated dry fly rod.
I anticipate early season trout fishing to be quite good. We've had an early spring so the snow has been slowly melting for the past month. Most mid sized and small rivers look great right now and have me itching to get out more than usual for this time of year. I anticipate the by the time trout season opens we will already have some bugs hatching or at least moving, and the water may be a little warmer than usual. This should make the fish a bit more active and willing to take a fly come opening day. I have seen fish rise on opening weekend on a few occasions but nymphing attractor patterns and larger bugs and slowly fishing small to mid sized streamers will be the best producers for sure.
Everyone stay healthy and we will be on the water before we know it.
September is a month I dream about all summer when its hot and humid and the trout are in survival mode, and this one has not disappointed. The fishing has been great the entire month. After the past 2 or 3 Septembers which have basically been a second August, I have been reminded why I liked this month so much in the first place. The weather has been perfect with highs in the 60's to low 70's and cool nights. We have had 2 frosts so far this season at my house. We are getting some much needed rain that will help the fishing even more. Rivers have been low and clear, but running at prime temps in the 50's to mid 60's. The big rivers have been great, and the mid sizes and small streams have been good but you must practice stealth.
It has been a pleasure to see lots and lots of wild trout in our rivers this fall. I've been all over our watersheds guiding and fishing and I have seen small wild rainbows in greater numbers than I can remember, just about everywhere I have gone. We've also seen good numbers of 12-14" fish and some nice 15" plus wild rainbows and browns. I have been amazed by the numbers of small wild fish every time I've been out considering how tough last summer was. Things certainly look good for the rest of fall and next season. There are also a decent number of stocked fish that have survived the summer which isn't a good thing, but shows that our trout were not too stressed this summer. There have been so many small wild fish that I think we could greatly reduce or end stocking in some rivers that currently get stocked.
The pattern for the entire month has been pretty similar, nymphs have produced best on sunny days, and then in the evening dry flies have been very good, though there have been some fish willing to eat dries all day everyday. On cloudy days we have done equally well or better on dries all day. The fish have been keying into specific bugs depending on the day, or have been willing to eat a wide variety the next. I've had days guiding where they wanted size 16 PT nymphs, and the next they've wanted size 20's. The same goes with dry flies. The Iso hatch has winded down and was very good this year. We were able to get quite a few fish on ISO dries and nymphs. Recently there have been great hatches of White Flies and good numbers of some sort of sulphur spinners around. The fish have been taking white bodied mayflies fairly well on most evenings. There seemed to be a lot of flying ant emergences in September and fish certainly were keying on them at times. As we get toward the end of september, BWO's will be more important and on cloudy rainy days will get a lot of fish rising on flats. BWO's really like rain to hatch. I remember floating with clients last year in October down a long flat. A small rain shower passed over and we looked back upriver where no fish had been rising and saw probably 8-10 fish eating on top. We slowly rowed back up and fooled a few on small BWO dries. I've been able to float only once after a rain event this fall, and I'm hoping we get more water to get some more floats in.
I hit a small to mid sized low gradient river that was running low and clear yesterday. Since fish have been looking up, I brought only a dry fly rod rigged with a 14' leader and single dry. Making long casts I was able to fool a nice wild brown trout in flat, deep water. The eat was probably my favorite eat I've had this entire season.
Now is a good time throw streamers as we get into fall. I have a client and friend that recently caught some good trout with an olive streamer while fishing on his own.
We are going to be entering a transition time for the trout in October once the water cools more. When temps get down closer to 50 look for fish more concentrated in deeper slower water. Currently they are spread anywhere throughout the river so fish everything, even skinny fast riffles. The salmon have been moving into the rivers but I have not been after them. Ill get to do a little scouting this weekend and I'm confident I'll find some.
I fished the first annual MadDog 2 Fly Tournament to benefit the VT Trout Unlimited Trout Camp. It was 2 person teams and you had to choose a single dry and single nymph to fish dry dropper all day. The biggest 6 fish won the tournament. John Synott and his partner took 1st, with 106 points, Matt Stedina and I took 2nd, with 103 points, and Jesse Haller and Ben Metcalf took 3 with 87 points. I got a little confused on the bonus point rules and only recorded 89 points at check in but it didn't matter either way with the standings. Tactically, Matt and I had the right flies but we didn't spend a lot of time fishing for the large stocked fish that made it through the summer. Perhaps we should have but I'm proud of the fact that we only scored 1 stocked fish and the rest were wild. The event had a lot of really good anglers and my teammates Jesse Haller and Matt Stedina from the Fly Fishing Team USA events all were able to finish on the podium. It was a good event and I'm looking forward to it next year.
The Dog Days of summer are upon us here in the Northeast. Our freestone streams here in VT are low, spooky and in all but the upper reaches above 70 most days at least by the afternoon. Thankfully our nights are getting longer and average temps are going to be dropping from here on out. There is cold water with willing trout to be found right now. My client caught the gorgeous brown pictured above last weekend in some very small water. In these conditions stealth and presentation are key. I've been spending a lot of time fishing dry dropper both here and on a recent trip to Maine and NH with guide Andy and have not only been very successful, but have continued to learn some valuable tips so I thought I'd share some tips on dry dropper fishing with a tight line or Euro rig.
The tight line rig fished with a dry and dropper has many advantages over a traditional weight forward line and tapered leader set up when fish may be looking up. In most water types where you can wade to within 40' of a fish; basically in close and mid range situations, a tight line rod will present the fly more naturally than a traditional leader. Trout rising on spooky flats and rivers where the water depth prevents wading close enough are two obvious exceptions.
I'm going to use three scenario's I've encountered in the past week where the dry dropper proved to be a very productive method.
Low Gradient, Streams with Woody Debris and Logs for Cover
In my opinion these are the hardest rivers to fish, which is why Ive spent most of my own fishing time in VT on these types of streams lately. They are especially tough when the water is low and clear and fish are not rising. In these situations the fish are hiding under logs and undercut banks. The first two pics in the gallery are great examples of where I have caught fish recently on a dry dropper rig. Nymph rigs are largely ineffective because getting a drift in between logs and not hanging up is difficult. The dry dropper with a small nymph about 15-24" below the dry will suspend the nymph between and along logs while the long leader and long nymph rod can easily control the drift and placement of the fly while keeping the line off of the water or protruding sticks. The trout are much more likely to come out from under a log and grab the nymph in the spooky conditions and the dry will not spook trout like an indicator might, and obviously may get eaten as well.
Riffles and Mild Pocket Water
Last week in Maine, Guide Andy and I fished a pretty large river loaded with big brookies and salmon. The lower section was wide maybe 50-75 yards that was all riffle with some pockets mixed in. The depth was mostly 1-4'. The third pic is some of the more pockety water areas of the riffle section of river. Knowing the wild brook trout and salmon would be looking at dries and wanting to get some dry fly practice in I hit the river with a traditional 5 wt and a 13' tapered leader as well as a 10'6" 3 wt tight line nymphing rod. Beginning with a traditional dry fly rod and leader, I thought the lower gradient riffles would work well with this rig. A few small fish and many refusals later I had to concede that the slight conflicting currents were only allowing for short drifts before leader or fly line influenced the dry enough to tip off the fish. The key word here is refusals, because many anglers may have blamed themselves for missing so many fish on the dry fly when the fish actually were not putting the fly in thier mouth. At this point grabbing the tight line rod and fishing a size 12-16 caddis dry about 20" above a nymph proved to be absolutely deadly. While my nymph, a 16-18 with a 2.3-3.0 mm tungsten bead picked up a few fish what it also did was anchor my dry fly in an individual current seam and allow me to fish the dry at distances up to 40' both up, up and across, and downstream. Using the light long leader and long rod allowed me to hold fly line off of the water and keep the dry drifting naturally for much greater distances than I had earlier. The result was probably 60+ fish in an afternoon with brookies up to 17-18" and many fewer refusals/ missed fish on the dry. You can also manipulate the dry in pockets to look like an egg laying caddis etc.
Heavy Pocket Water
Earlier on in the same day Andy and I fished the upper portion of the river that was a mix of heavy pocket water and whitewater. The 5th pic in the gallery is a from that first section of river and was actually some of the mildest water in the area. Beginning in some softer pockets in the middle of some white water I began with the dry fly rod and quickly caught 5 trout at the tail out of a large pocket. The problems began when I tried to present the dry at and distance greater than about 15' due to the shorter rod and heavy line, I was unable to get a natural drift anywhere at even a moderate distance. Thanks to the extreme varying currents anytime the leader or fly line touched the water my drift was over making my 5 wt which is capable of casting nearly all of the way across the river useless, unless my fly was within 15' of my position. Picking up the tight line rig I was able to nymph up fish at distances of up to 40'. I did not fish in this area with the dry dropper as I was nymphing up fish pretty easily, but feel like I missed and opportunity to catch more fish who were keying on the surface at greater distances I could not cast the traditional line. Knowing that some fish were only looking up I probably could have caught more fish in the morning if I would have fished the dry dropper. A better solution for this stretch of river would have been two tight line nymph rods, one for dry dropper and one for nymphing the deeper pockets and heavy deeper seams.
Leader Set Up
When I am using one tight line rod my go to leader about 21' beginning with 15 lb maxima, down to 12 lb amnesia yellow, down to .13 bi color sighter, to my tippet ring. With this leader I can fish at distance, present small flies, fish dry dropper, and float the sighter, however when fishing a bushy dry and a small nymph with maybe a 2.0 mm bead then casting distance can suffer.
For a pure dry dropper leader I've created a 21' leader with 20lbs maxima butt section, and then replacing the bi color sighter material to .11 diameter white sighter material to my tippet ring. This leader turns over the small flies better and if I wanted to fish a dry off the tippet ring and have a nymph deep the white sighter near the dry will not spook fish like a florescent sighter may. I'm still playing around with this leader so there could be a few tweaks down the road but that pretty much goes for everything in fly fishing.
A 3 wt tight line rod will do well at least 10' long. Its pretty amazing sometimes that with a quality responsive rod you will feel a fish take the nymph and not even see the dry fly move if its tied off of a tag.
Hopefully this encourages you all to get out and play around dry dropper on a tight line rig a bit more and you're able to put more fish in the net.
We've had some pretty good fishing during the last two weeks of June. Water temps have held in the fishable range on most rivers, however the big rivers have gone over 70 a few times. The lakes are heating up with surface temps jumping from mid 60's two weekends ago on Lake Champlain during the Ditch Pickle Classic to mid 70's last weekend.
Unfortunately we have a bit of a heat wave on the way for the fourth of July week which will put all of the big rivers and many mid sized streams out of play as far as trout fishing goes. You may find some mid sized streams to be under 70 early in the mornings especially on clear nights where we get a lot of radiational cooling. We also have a lot of ground water flowing and fairly high flows thanks to all the rain we have had this spring so that extra water will be helping to cool the rivers as well. This time of year rain is almost always a good thing for our trout so I am hoping that the wetter than average year continues. Higher flows during the summer means lower water temps, more food, more available habitat, and more cover from predators.
We've been having good luck fishing dry droppers on the rivers. On smaller streams I've been fishing with a tight line rig with a dry fly on the tag and a small to medium sized mayfly or caddis nymph about 20" below. In this scenario its important to be stealthy and fish upstream because you cannot cast much over 30', equally important is changing the weight of your nymph depending on water depth. In skinnier water a 2.0-2.3 mm bead will keep you fly near the bottom but not hanging up constantly, in deeper water a 2.8-3.0 mm bead will get down but not sink your dry fly. In deeper pools I've been fishing the dry dropper first and then clipping off the dry and adding a second nymph to get to the bottom part of the pool. This allows you to first target any fish suspended in the pool and then target the fish nearer the bottom. In a pool recently I used this tactic to first catch a suspended rainbow in the middle of the pool and then four browns nearer the bottom with the double nymph rig. On larger streams a typical weight forward 5 wt line and rod with a nymph suspended between 2-5' below the dry will work. When fishing on my own i'll use two nymphs under the dry but its prone to tangles if you are not used to casting this rig. Generally I'll cast 45-60 degrees up stream and then drift the flies past my position and extend the drift as long as possible by shaking line out of the rod tip and then swinging the flies before stripping the flies back into me.
As I mentioned before I fished in the Ditch Pickle Classic two weekend ago. Unfortunately, our 4 year run of top three finishes came to and end and we ended up with 5th place out of about 60 teams. Fishing was tough this year for bass, and we decided to focus all of our time on smallmouth. Scores overall were lower than normal as most teams struggled. The theme for us was small and medium sized bass and Pike everywhere. Generally its exciting to hook big pike but in a bass tournament catching more pike than bass gets to be a bummer. Plenty of times we thought we may have a big bass on only for it to be a pike. We caught so many that we were eventually able to tell if we had a bass or pike on by the way it fought before we ever saw it. We hit all of our traditional big smallmouth spots where we have hooked 18+" fish in the past but didn't find any over 17". I can only assume that the cold water temps and late spring had pushed back spawning and altered where the big bass and also the pike were hanging out. I can only assume that we should have spent more time fishing deeper water in the 15' range. We did get some nice top water eats early in the morning. I've found that smallmouth will come into shallow bays very early to feed and you can catch nice bass in 2-5' of water with poppers. I look for swirls in the bays and if you see some be sure to target them. The one swirl I saw this year resulted in 2 bass in 2 casts on the popper. Most of our bass came on small streamers with intermediate line in 5-8 feet. It was a constant grind this year and we never got into any good windows when the fish were really on the hunt as normally happens. It was just one maybe two fish and lots of casting in between fish. My partner Mike did catch the biggest northern of the tournament and won a nice fully loaded fly box from Vermont Fly Guys which was a nice reward for all the grinding. We are already looking forward to next year and know what we want to work on. Hopefully we get the time to pre fish next year to find out where the big bass are before the tournament.
I am looking forward to the hex hatch starting on some of our local ponds and lakes. I'll be up north for about 5 days and hopefully I can get a few evenings of good hatches.
Its been an awfully nice stretch of weather lately, and the fishing has been very good as a result. We still have had relatively cool weather and river temps even on the big rivers have been holding in the upper 50's to mid 60's which is where our local trout tend to be the most active. We have not had to worry about water temps topping 70 yet but that will come on the big rivers so please make sure you are taking temps every time you fish. The past couple of days have been a bit warmer than I prefer, but we have a strong cold front on the way and it will cool right back down.
The trout have been spread everywhere throughout the rivers from pools to shallow fast riffles. The fishing has actually been pretty easy due to the fact that fish have almost preferred moving and swung flies lately meaning that art of getting a dead drift is not as important nor has getting your fly to the bottom. In fact on a recent float we fished a dry dropper with the nymph suspended about 3' below and were catching fish on the dry and nymph, but when we got the nymph on or near the bottom we would not get any eats. This tells me that the fish are looking up to feed and I have found that in pools they have been suspended rather than on the bottom. On smaller streams with brown trout I've seen them on the bank, in the shade, near structure in skinny water. Some evenings have provided good dry fly fishing on both mayflies and caddis, and we have even caught fish on big foam stoneflies.
The flows have finally come down to perfect levels on the big rivers, while smaller streams are clear and require a bit of stealth. All have been fishing well however. I stopped for a few minutes on a small stream and fish a caddis dry with a #18 lightly weighted nymph dropped 20" off the back and caught lots of fish on both the dry and nymph. The dry dropper shined in the small skinny water, thanks to the lightly weighted nymph it did not hang up even in very shallow water and gave the fish a choice of dryfly or nymph. I'd say 60-70% ate the nymph.
I finally got the boat out in preparation for the Ditch Pickle Classic bass fly fishing tournament next weekend. I've only spent about an hour bass fishing but we were able to get three nice smallmouth in the net. The lake is high and the bass we found were near shore and in groups. Lets hope for good weather and calm winds, and not boat troubles for the tournament. I'll post a lake champlain bass report after the tournament wraps up.
Have fun out there and take advantage of the great early summer weather.
Sorry for the lack of reports this month. I'd say that May was probably the busiest month of my life and getting a couple of hours to upload pics and write up a report was just not able to get done.
I'll recap the month leading into what we are seeing right now out there and what to expect for the next week or so. The good news is that the next week or two should be lights out fishing for most all species of fish. As usual I'll be focusing on the trout front mainly since that what 99% of guided trips are for and what 90% of my personal time is spent on.
The month of May was quite cold and wet. In fact, the average day that Burlington hits 80 is May 10 and the latest ever was June 12. We have not hit 80 as of today and may even break that record. Thanks to the cool weather, river temps have been in the upper 40's to mid 50's for most of the month and as of June 4 were still in that range. Generally, we are in 60's at this point if not higher over 70 and staying off of the big rivers. Overall the fishing was slow up until Mid May and then has been slowly ramping up since then culminating with this week being pretty darn good. Even though the rivers temps have been cool and steady the hatches have begun in full and the trout are responding. We've been catching fish in riffles when the temps are 50 degrees or less and been getting a lot of fish to chase flies swung through fast current. It seemed though that since the fishes metabolism has been lower because of the water, that not a lot of fish had been feeding at a time and they were only moving to the riffles to feed for short periods. I also had a lot of days guiding that were better in the morning even though not much was hatching, and by the afternoon when bugs were coming off in good numbers, the fishing was slow. I guided a float trip last weekend and we caught 16 rainbows in the first half hour and things progressively slowed throughout the whole day until it was downright slow by the last hour, when the most bugs were hatching. I can only guess that the fish were feeding on nymphs all morning and were becoming full by afternoon and since their metabolism was slower because of the river temps, they were not feeding much by the time the bugs were actually hatching. I would love to hear some of your thoughts on this as well.
We have spent very little time on the big rivers since they have been too high to wade most of the time, and have done a few floats when possible. Generally we are mostly on the big rivers at this time of year taking advantage of the tighter window we have to get on them before they get above 70 degrees and then moving to the mid and small sized rivers. It has been the other way around this year. We've definitely had to adapt, and some days finding good water had been tough. I've guided on rivers I've never brought clients to before just to find good river flows, but those trips have all turned out pretty well thankfully!
As for hatches there is a lot going on. It seems that some of the earlier hatching mayflies have been pushed back later. I still saw Hendrickson spinners a few evenings ago. Overall I think the hatches have been stronger than any other year I remember. I saw by far the densest March Brown hatch on a mid sized trib last week, though trout did not feed on dries. There have been a lot of Yellow and Lime Sallies, a few golden stones, and if you take a look at the picture above a few giant stoneflies, known out west as the salmon fly. I can only wish we had them in the numbers of some western streams. If you've never been in a salmon fly hatch it is quite an experience. Big trout eating the largest foam dry fly you have ever cast and 2-3" bugs crawling all over you. Its cool to see a few around here. Caddis have been present everyday, most dense in the mornings, both small and dark (Grannoms) and bigger size 14-16 tan. I've been having very good luck with a size 12 green caddis larvae both swung and dead drifted. On the mayfly front there are tons. Quill Gordons and Hendrickson's are done or soon to be. March browns size 12 or maybe 10 haven been out in force, size 16 Pale evening duns have been very prevalent, Blue Quills and BWO's among possibly others I have not identified.
Along with hatches being late, some spawning seems to be as well. I saw a ton of suckers spawning a couple of weeks ago on a mid sized trib. Usually they are a month earlier. The trout had taken notice too and once we put an egg pattern on we got into trout consistently. I'd guess the rainbows have spawned later as well. We haven't gotten a lot of big rainbows yet this year, though Andy had a client lose a big one last week. We've also caught some brookies in places we dont usually see them which is great. Andy landed one about 16", a trophy for around here, and it was with a bunch of stocked bows.
We have a lot of rain forecast tonight, and then a stretch of beautiful weather with temps in the 70's and not a lot of precip. River temps should be good as should river flows, there is still so much ground water even if we don't get a ton of rain. I anticipate the fishing to be excellent well into June, which is such a relief after last seasons warm weather starting in May. I'd definitely take cool wet weather over warm hot weather.
As for tactics you'll need to be prepared for everything. I've not seen a lot of fish rising yet, but have seen some, and have caught some on dries. I'd have a dry dropper rod along with a euro rig with me to cover the surface as well as subsurface. Fish have been eating a lot on the swing and I like to swing a dry dropper more than a nymph and indicator rig. The swung dry fly looks much more natural that a big bright indicator bouncing across the current but many times last week that didn't bother the fish. Fish will be found most anywhere from shallow riffles and heavy pocket water to runs, glides and pools. A few days ago most of the fish we caught were in smooth glides with 3+' of depth. Anywhere that we found this type of water we consistently and easily caught fish on the dead drift and swing, while pools and riffles produced few if any. That is just one particular day and everyday is different. Unless you are really proficient with a euro rig a big flat glide can be a challenge. A dry dropper or indicator will fish that type of water more effectively, while the euro rig will blow the indicator rig away in pocket water or fast riffles.
That should about cover it on the trout front. Now is the time to get out there and take advantage of the cool spring wether we have had. I can almost guarantee you'll have a good day on the river. I am hoping to get on a pond trout fishing soon and will get my boat out this weekend and do some bass fishing. The reports I have heard is that the small mouth have been on fire. I'll know soon.
I headed down to Central Pennsylvania at the end of April to fish the Team USA regional. I was super excited because I had not touched a fly rod since last October, and Central PA is becoming one of my favorite places to fish. Obviously, I was feeling a bit rusty and knowing most other competitors fish year round, I headed down with Stackmend teammate and fellow Vermonter Matt Stedina very early three days ahead of the comp the get some practice in. The Comp was slated to be on Big Fishing Creek, Spring Creek, KIshaloquoas Creek (probably not spelled correctly) and Little Pine Lake. We had only fished Spring Creek so we wanted to learn these other rivers as well.
Arriving we found the rivers to be fairly high with about 6-18" of visibility. Apparently fishing had been as good as it gets the previous weeks due to some warm weather, but things had cooled and levels had come up and fishing was a challenge. We managed to fish all of the rivers and get into fish on each one. Here is a terrible pic of a nice brown I caught in about 6" of water right on the bank on the inside bend on Big Fishing Creek. We also had a practice day on the lake. We easily got into the stocked rainbows and were able to make a game plan for all of the venues. The night before the event Kish Creek was dropped due to high flows, and a second session on the lake was added.
I drew Little Pine Lake to start the comp. Weather forecast was calling for 40 MPH winds. Due to the forecast I changed my leader set up on my lake rod so instead of running a longer thinner leader off my fly line and fishing three flies I used a tapered fluorocarbon leader to a tippet ring and fished only two flies. In practice fish were cruising and eating just under the surface. I began with a midge tip line with is basically a floating line with a 7' intermediate tip to sink just below the surface This way I would be able to turn over the flies easier in the wind and have fewer tangles. I was pumped to be in the boat with World Team Angler Pat Weiss and we both agreed on where to start. First cast I landed a rainbow and was off to a good start. The wind started kicking up and our drogue was not working properly meaning we were drifting too fast and had to spend a lot of time rowing and adjusting the drogue. I landed 3 more fish in the next hour all within our first few casts. Pat had caught one to two less than me at this point. We struggled with the wind and drogue through the middle of the session and got off the fish. I think I lost one that ran directly at me and jumped three times. I could not strip fast enough to keep tension on the fish, I also got broke off by a fish on the take and thats about it. I was having trouble managing my leader when we moved because the wind was blowing so hard and when I would start the drift often had to fix tangles. This definitely cost me a few fish. 2/3 of the way through the three hour session we decided to move down the lake where we had seen another boat catch a few fish. Finally we got into more fish. I managed four more and Pat and I ended up with 8 fish each. I ended up with a disappointing 3rd place in the session, while Pat in the opposite group got a 2 with his 8 fish. The winner in my group got 9 and I lost a tie breaker with another angler who also caught 8. I was certainly hoping for better to start the comp.
The afternoon session was on Big Fishing Creek. I had a decent practice on this river catching fish in slow flats and heavy pockets, so was confident heading into the session, but fishing had still been slow considering the overall fish numbers. Big Fishing Creek in this stretch was about 30-50' wide with tree lined banks hanging over the river and heavy pocket water separated by bouldery flats. The beats were long, maybe 400 yards. This was much longer than I could cover in a 2 hour session so I walked my beat and made a game plan. The bottom of my beat began at the tailout of a long flat where it then dumped into another riffle in the beat below me. There were a few features here at the tailout but just above was the flattest slowest part of the beat. There were no fish rising that I could see but the wind was also still gusting about 40 MPH up the river. The middle of the beat was still fairly flat but had more boulders, logs and holding water that got better as you moved up until coming to a beautiful pool, though it was moving fast on the surface, before heading into some heavy pocket water. I decided with 2 hours I would skip the bottom 50 yards of my beat and start on the flat where the current was slightly faster and there were more features. I worked my way in with a double nymph set up on my tight line rig, though I knew I would have to make some adjustments in my presentation because of the insane wind. I also rigged up a dry dropper rod. About 15 minutes into the session I cast up stream toward a nice deeper hole on the bank with some mountain laurel hanging over the water. A few feet after my flies attained depth I set into a fish. It immediately took off ripping drag and testing my 6x tippet. Using side pressure and keeping the fish above me I landed a fat 42 CM wild brown pictured below in fairly quick order. You can see the opposite bank in the pic with the mountain laurel over the stream where the brown was hooked as well as the off colored water. I was pretty happy to get that big fish on the board because in the case of a tie, you'll probably win it and possibly get enough fish points to finish above another angler who caught less but smaller fish. The big brown came on a hares ear variant with a cdc soft hackle that had worked for me in practice and would pay off during the rest of the session. Slowly moving up the flat there was a nice depression with a log on one side of it. I fished it pretty hard from below and didn't touch a fish before positioning myself next to it to get a different angle on the drift. I rolled my point fly along the gravel bottom and when the fly got next to me I began slowly jigging it up and down in the slow river flow. A fish ate about 6' below me as I jigged the fly. As soon as the fish ate I immediately got downstream of the fish in a hurry and knew I had another pretty good fish on the line. I worked hard to keep that fish out of the log on the bank and got another good brown in the net, 38 CM. Continuing up river I hit some really good water with nothing to show for it and no eats. I cycled through flies but kept coming back to my fly from practice. I had no idea how other competitors were doing but was worried my 2 fish were not enough half way through the session. Finally I got another smaller brown out of a fairly shallow riffle/ pocket area maybe 1:15 minutes into the session. I got to the nice pool mentioned above and was shocked I couldn't pull a fish. The entire time I was dealing with difficult drifts and maybe one out of 3 was ineffective because of the wind, but the last hour I really began to struggle with the crazy winds. In fact, my teammate had a near death experience when a 3' pine he was standing under broke and fell directly where he was standing. He literally had to dive out of the way to save his life. Thankfully he was aware of his surroundings. Meanwhile I was trying to keep my rod low to the water and fish a very heavy anchor nymph but honestly it was tough. I tried my dry dropper rig but the wind was blowing the dry right off the water, when it actually hit the water! At this point I moved into the heavy pocket water stretch with 30 minutes left. Knowing the water I caught my fish in was much slower I contemplated heading to the bottom of my beat, but as I walked upstream a fish ate my fly as it dragged behind me. This has also happened in practice in heavy pocket water so I made sure to drag my flies around as I moved and it worked. I got below the fish and just as I was reaching to net it it came off. I was pissed and threw my net in the water like Andre Aggasi. This was enough to make me stay where I was and I threw on a soft hackle and began swinging my flies through the pockets hoping to pick another fish up, but also it was near impossible to get a good drift with the wind in this section of the river anyway. The session came to a close and I landed three fish off four bites. Practice had paid off for me in the tough conditions and and I was happy to find I ended up with second in the session. I just wonder if I could have gotten another fish or two had I gone down to the bottom of my beat instead of staying in the pocket water. I controlled another competitor on this beat right after and they managed a single fish in their session, again in the slower water so probably I should have headed back down. After day 1 I sat in 8th place and knew if I had a good day I could finish very well.
Session 3 was on Upper Spring Creek. It had fished decent the day before and better than during our practice session. I was controlling first and the fishing was slow for most anglers. I was fishing beat 6 which I had controlled Pat Weiss on two years prior, so was familiar with the water though I'd never fished it and the water was so much higher I barely recognized it. My beat had managed 6 fish 45 minutes before. The beat was short and a mix of pockets and riffles with a deeper pool and run at the bottom which was 3-5' deep. The beat was separated by a massive log jam and above that was flat water. I had brought a second rod for dry dropper or dry flies incase any fish were rising on the flat. Starting at the very bottom of the beat I cast far upstream into the run and floated my sighter on the water as my flies sank to the bottom. Shortly my sighter darted upstream and I set the hook. Things felt strange like there was a fish but it was stuck on the bottom, soon it came to the surface and jumped a few times. The first jump looked like the fly was in its mouth but the second it was clearly now fowl hooked. I had trouble netting the fish which was a theme on this session, and it got below me and sideways in the current and broke off my flies. I re rigged the same way and began fishing upstream. in the same manner. Soon I had three fish scored, and I had moved into middle of the pool. I was rolling my flies right along the bottom and I could feel the fish just pick up the fly off the bottom. The takes were really subtle but I was able to detect and feel them, which is what I love about my tight line rod. I caught 5 fish out of the bottom 20 yards of the beat and was off to a good start. I began working the pockets and riffles and picked up fish here and there. I managed to catch one fish I had missed by coming back to it 5 minutes later and fishing a different angle, this time I hooked it almost at my feet. I then had some nice tiny pockets on the banks that were maybe 6-8" deep, 10-14" long, and had a stick or two to hide a trout. I began just pitching my flies into the tiny pockets like a bass fisherman fishing largemouth in the weeds. This was productive and I'd drop that fly in the water and could watch the trout come from under the stick they were under and eat the fly immediately. I landed 2 this way and lost one, including scoring my largest fish of the session. I tried this elsewhere on the beat but there were not any areas that had the exact features on the bank that the trout preferred. I was having a good time fishing this way and was sure the previous angler had not put a fly in front of those bank fish. I kept working up through the beat and soon had 11 fish scored and one that was a millimeter too short. Most of the fish in the upper part of the beat came from 2' of water or less and were pretty close to me. I was fishing well and had only missed one and lost one fish, though for some reason I continued to have quite the adventure netting the fish. It seemed like everyone I caught I had trouble netting but it all worked out. I got to the log jam with maybe 15 minutes left and got into the flat water. I was looking for rises but didn't see any. The water clarity was poor and I could not tell how deep the water was on the flat. I contemplated using my dry dropper fly rod but I had no idea how deep I needed be with the dropper because of the poor clarity and the fish had been sitting on the bottom all morning. Contemplating what to do, and remembering when I controlled Pat two years earlier he had gone back down to the beginning instead of fishing the flat, I decided to make my way back down and fish back through with different flies where I started and landed 5 fish. I got there with maybe 10 minutes left and didn't touch another fish. I don't think this was the right decision in the end and probably could have put a few in the net on the flat with the dry dropper. Overall I was happy and I ended up with second in the session, and I barely beat the guy on beat 6 which won 3 out of 4 sessions.
Heading into the last session I knew If I won it I would be near the podium. It was on Little Pine Lake again and the morning session had beat up on the fish pretty good. Everyone knew where to fish and what to throw at this point so it would come down to who fishes and adjusts best. I was not going to be happy without a win here. The strong wind out of the north the day before had clearly blew the food to the south end of the lake, because thats where everyone caught fish in the morning. There was a metal tube about 2' in diameter that stretched across the entire lake. The fish were near the tube where the food must have collected. We rowed down to the south end of the lake a long way from the boat launch and got into position. With about a minute before the session started I had my flies out my rod tip and dangling in the air. I reached back to adjust the drogue and I must have dropped my rod hand because as I was looking backwards suddenly a fish bit my fly and then fell off. I figured we were definitely in the right spot. This is where things went sideways, very badly and very fast. On my third cast, my spool fell of my reel and sank to the bottom of the lake. I had to pull off all the fly line and nearly all of my backing to get it up off the bottom and back in the boat. Looking at the giant mess of backing in the boat I was worried it would take forever to get it sorted out and untangled. I worked through the huge mess slowly and finally was almost to my fly line when my boat partner, who was in charge of the score sheets and trays all weekend says,"dude I just realized I forgot the score sheets in my truck." With no way to measure or score a fish, we were forced to row upwind all the way back to the other end of the lake. I was watching my session and comp go down in flames, and none of it had to do with fishing poorly. I began to get sour and think about all the time and money I spent only for it to be worthless. In all I lost the first 45 min of my session. Putting the negative thoughts aside and also not showing I was real upset because I know my boat partner felt bad, I just had to do what I could and see if I could salvage some kind of result. I was fishing a floating line and kept adjusting my flies and set up. My boat partner was fishing dry dropper. He landed the first fish and I had a bump while pulling flies. Soon I had a fish eat on the hang and quickly netted him. It was pretty wild, but he had eaten two of my flies. I did another drift pulling flies and my boat partner kept missing fish on the dry dropper. I switched over to dry dropper for one drift but didn't touch a fish and switched back to pulling flies but lengthened my leader and distance between flies. I soon was into fish about every other drift and had 4 fish, and lost one near the net. I was pretty pissed to lose the fish because I rarely lose a fish on the lake and I can't even think of a time in competition I have lost a fish right near the boat. During this time, I noticed My boat partner seemed to be getting more eats on the dry dropper but was missing most of them, lost a few and had landed maybe two fish. I thought about switching over but could not tell if it was the way the fish were eating or something he was doing wrong. Since I was putting more fish in the net I decided to keep pulling flies even though I had less eats. My fifth fish was the big ugly palomino pictured above. I had seen the fish circling my flies on the previous drift, and got him to eat maybe 10 minutes later in the same spot. It was the first palomino Ive caught. Things slowed down and I noticed another boat catch a few fish toward the west side of the lake so we moved over there with maybe 10 minutes left. It paid off and both myself and boat partner caught a fish near the end of the session. I ended with 6 fish for 4th in the session. I was really disappointed with my result and the time I lost but was happy with the fact that I was able to beat a few people and almost pass more. The winner had 10 fish followed by 8's and a 7. Of course people commented that the first hour was when they caught the most fish. I know I could have won that session or at least managed better than a 4. Overall it was a pretty bad way to end the comp, knowing I could have done better through no fault of my own. I learned I need to keep track of the score sheets and trays even if I'm not the one who is responsible for them.
In the end I ended up with a solid 7th place, and won my group. I improved my overall points from 54 to 59 so it was worth while and should keep me near the top 5 in the overall national rankings. Had I not had the poor fortune on the lake I think I could have been around 5-3rd place but I'll never know. Once again I learned some things, had a great time, and became a better angler and competitor. Thanks to my teammates, Roe Bear, Michael Yelton, and Matt Stedina for the good times and help, the organizers of the event, especially Ben Trew, and the rest of the competitors. Congrats to Pat Weiss, Ben Trew, and Ken Crane on their medals.
Finally I was able to get out in VT and thankfully hook some nice fish! Andy has been out much more than I and has been getting into fish fairly regularly since opening day. A new baby boy, a Fly fishing comp in Pennsylvania, a now finished balcony off the front of my house, and wrapping up my sugaring season has kept me off the water until yesterday, albeit I was out for a very short time.
I stopped at the lower end of a midsize tributary during yesterdays rain with the intention of fishing a riffle and pool that I found seems to always hold nice fish early season. I had about a half hour to fish. Knowing the water temps were still cold, but not having time to take a temp, I fished nymphs right off the bat with a big attractor fly on point and a #16 hares ear variation on the tag. Stopping above the pool and fishing a nice pocket in a fast riffle I hooked and lost a fish on my very first cast. I ended up catching one wild rainbow a few casts later and then moved to the next pocket and was surprised to land a 7" Wild Brook Trout and losing one more just after the hook set. Now in a few minutes on my first day out I was 2/3 of the way to getting the VT trifecta! Knowing I usually get more browns in this area than anything, I was pretty sure I'd be able to get one. I moved down to the pool below and was surprised I didn't touch a fish here. I'm sure there were fish but I was not getting down deep enough with a relatively short tippet, pushy flows and no time to adjust. I then moved back up to the first pocket I fished and lost a 12-14" brown. This pocket was a little tough to land fish in with very fast currents on one side and a small log on the other. I found it hard to keep the fish out of the log and out of the fast water from the position I was in directly below the pocket. It was now time to leave and I had landed 2 and lost 3 fish all in these two pockets. I was determined to get a brown in the net so I headed to the pool above the riffle. I was rewarded with a nice 15" brown from deep in the pool and I had my trifecta in 30 minutes!
So the real question is, what did I learn? The biggest thing was that the fish had moved out of their wintering lies into the more food rich riffles and were feeding readily. That's a good sign and both as an indicator that bugs are on the move and getting ready to hatch, and river temps have risen enough for a trout to hold in faster water thanks to a higher metabolic rate. Both of these clues indicate the fishing should be heating up out there. Now, it is still early May and we have some cold nights ahead so your best bet is to fish midday, but you should be covering all the water. I caught or hooked most of the fish on the bigger nymph but the brook trout ate the size 16, so don't get caught up in throwing just the junk flies and larger patterns. Andy was out two days ago and got into some small wild fish in very clear water conditions. He said he also saw multiple large trophy fish move out of their wintering holes and into the riffles, backing up my observations from yesterday.
Keep an eye out for bugs out there. Soon, if not already in some places, we will have a lot of bugs out and fish eating them both below and on the surface. Its not too soon to be thinking dry flies and both myself and clients have caught fish on dries earlier than this. That said, fishing subsurface will definitely put more fish in the net.
River flows are perfect on the smaller sized streams, still a bit pushy on the mid sized streams, and a bit high on our big rivers. Everything is fishable though, and the big rivers are ready for float trips. I'll have some more info soon, as I get more time on more streams in the next week.
Happy New Year. I am happy to have turned the page on 2018 and am looking forward to 2019. Glad to finally get a minute to sit down and get some computer work done. This year has been super crazy with 2 kids and another on the way as well as some challenging times with moving, selling a house, renovating a new one and running two businesses. Things have finally settled now and I am looking forward to another great guiding season starting around the end of April or beginning of May, as soon as my maple sugaring season wraps up.
I try to throw a lot into my reports that can make you a better fisherman or woman beyond just the basics of fishing has been good or bad and they are eating ______ bugs. Hopefully I'll have enough time to get you all plenty of insight into tactics and situations I encounter on the river. Part of the reason I re cap my tournament events is so you can get an insight into how I am thinking and how I figured out a specific scenario in a comp that may help you if encounter a similar situation on the water. If there is anything else you'd like me to cover or have any questions feel free to reach out. I don't usually get too much into my thoughts on gear, or specific fly patterns or fly tying so if you all want more of that let me know as well.
I'm looking forward to the opening of trout season. Last year I spent a lot of time on new water or new stretches of small and mid sized tributaries and found some great places that hold large early season wild rainbows and browns. I am also looking forward to getting back on the drift boat with you all soon. Lets hope 2019 isn't so hot and dry and we have good flows and water temps most of the season. I am starting the get the itch to get out and fish but we have a long ways to go. If any of you are looking to get out, the southern part of the state or western Mass have some good winter fishing options, if I happen to get a chance Ill head down that way soon.
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