We are directly in the path of Hurricane Isaias as I write this. 2-5" of rain is expected by tomorrow morning and we have had a nice steady soaking rain all day. This should be a good thing as long as we don't get any crazy flood similar to Hurricane Irene. Rivers have been low and Hot. We have done a bit of guiding but Covid continues to affect how much we are getting out with clients. I have been on vacation and have hit cold tail waters in Maine, NH and VT and spent some time casting from rocky points for stripers.
Stripers are definitely my nemesis on a fly rod, and though I have caught a few nice fish they are always a struggle for me. That didn't change last week. I could not get the big fish to eat, but they would follow my fly to the surface. I was fishing near massive schools of Pogy and think that I didn't bring flies big enough to match what the adult stripers were keyed into.
As I mentioned I have been fishing a variety of tailwaters, and its amazing how each one has a different personality. Some fish similar to free stone streams around here where nymphing is very often the most productive method, while others offer technical dry fly fishing. The two biggest fish pictured above were both caught prospecting with dry flies. That biggest brown may well be the biggest I've caught on a dry. It's amazing how slowly those two fish ate the fly and waiting for the fish to get the dry in its mouth is key when that happens. The largest fish pictured was under a tree tucked right against the bank with its nose basically on a nearly dry shelf with the tiniest trickle of water flowing over it, adjacent to a big riffle. I don't think many people would have even cast there. They key to getting this fish to eat the fly was to position myself so that I could get a natural drift without the fast riffle dragging my fly away. My first cast was not close enough the bank and resulted in nothing. I set the next cast about 3" off the shelf and 1' from the bank when the fish turned on the fly and missed it. I think I moved the fly about 6" down stream and suddenly he re appeared and slowly sipped the fly while swimming down river. When I set the hook I honestly thought it was a 12" fish until the big brown began pulling and making runs toward the opposite bank. After a pretty good battle I ended up down the river about 20 yards and only when I was about to net him did I realize just how big he was. Being on 6x tippet in shallow water I had a hard time getting him into the net because he was too big to lift his head out of the water, but on my second try he was safely in the net. Check out my instagram page @benwilcox_maplecountryanglers for the video of this and the other brown. In the video you can see how I only have the fish out of the water for maybe 5 seconds and then he is gone. A little trick I learned if you have a new high quality phone and you are by yourself, is to take video and then release the fish. You can then go back and take your favorite screen shots from the video and its much easier on the fish than using a self timer etc. I get the phone all set up while the fish rests in the net submerged under water and then lift it out quickly.
I can get you out on these rivers so shoot me a message if you'd like to give it a go, but please make sure you are following quarantine protocols.
Going forward I am hoping this hurricane brings a real shift in weather. I see the 10 day forecast is looking cooler and certainly this rain will help to boost river and lake levels as well as flush a lot of hot water out of the systems. Dry fly fishing with terrestrials will continue to be good and as we move into mid August Big White flies and Iso's will get going on the big rivers. If water temps are below 69 these hatches can be awesome fishing.
I hope everyone had a great 4th. We didn't do any guiding over the long weekend to spend time with our families, fishing conditions were poor anyways, otherwise I may have stuck around a day or two to get a few trips in. Thanks to all who contacted me about fishing over the holiday. I did shoot over from our camp to a tailwater with my wife for a day of fishing. It was really nice to get some time on the water with her without the kids and to see her catch fish on dry flies. Three kids 4 and under doesn't allow us to get out too much together anymore. While we were over there we shot a little bit of video of dry dropper fishing so check out the you tube link above to see some good footage of me picking apart a small piece of pocket water with a dry dropper on a Euro Rig.
I also had a chance to get up to Maine with the family camping a couple of weeks ago and was able to sneak away three mornings for 2.5 hours. I had a great time working some fairly heavily pressured wild fish that required perfect dead drifts. It was a nice challenge to adapt the the fish and fishermen. I found most success fishing a single nymph but caught fish on dries as well as double nymph rigs. Focusing on keeping the flies in a single current seam from below the fish was key. My success rate was much lower if I was positioned next to the fish. In all I was able to go 4/5 on trophy brook trout and caught around 75 trout and salmon in the three 2.5 hour sessions I got on the water. I wasn't able to get pics on most of the bigger fish but I believe I did catch one of my biggest ever, the second fish of the trip.
This summer is reminding me of two years ago, very hot and dry. We did just have a major storm roll through while I was writing this which knocked out power and downed trees. Here is Essex we got 1.5" of rain in about 20-30 minutes. That is definitely what we need but it would be much better if that came over the course of a day, for both the plants and my driveway. That flush of rain came at a good time since we have some major heat tomorrow and Friday and river levels will hopefully be up some and maybe not get as warm as they would have. If you are going to trout fish then its mainly a small stream game right now and after a rain event is the time to go. Those fish have been hiding out in some really bony conditions so a bump in water will get them moving around and feeding. We do have rain or storms in the forecast many days next week as we move into the two warmest weeks of the year on average. The more rain we get the better in my opinion. I am guessing most stocked fish have already died unless they happen to have found or been stocked near a cool water source or spring. Thankfully the wild fish are remarkably resilient and know where to go or how to survive the heat. After seeing the amount of fish survival after the summer of '18 I am not too worried. If we could just get Fish and Wildlife to protect them a little more with stricter bag limits or catch and release areas and close down some known thermal refuges to angling during the heat of the summer along with continuing to work on habitat improvement we would be in even better shape. In my opinion, catching fish that are stacked up at a cold water source for the whole summer just trying to survive is un ethical and should be avoided.
When water temps permit its a great time to start throwing some terrestrials, ants, beetles, hoppers, crickets, inch worms, all fall into the water and can convince a trout to rise to a dry fly. If there is an over hanging branch or grass then you may have a chance of catching fish there even if the water is not great looking, especially if there is shade on the water. I am going to tie some ant patterns this evening. I also start to throw some smaller nymphs and dries this time of year as many of the bigger hatches are over the fish will take a small fly more readily so have some size 18-20 in a variety of patterns ready to go and don't be afraid to use them. I haven't been on the lakes much because the trolling motor on my boat broke and my replacement has not arrived, so I don't have a ton to report there. Up north over the 4th the Hex hatch had already peaked due to the warm weather and surface water temps were hot. The thermocline was deep and pond fishing was not good at all. Be on the lookout for any cool weather and precipitation, otherwise get up early and hit a small stream. Please take a temp first. Also don't be afraid to take an overnight trip, we have a few small tailwaters in VT, and some great ones in NH, ME, MA, CT, and NY. If you want to get out give me a shout and I can find you some cool water to fish for trout or better yet we can fish bass and fall fish in the lower stretches of our big rivers. You are guaranteed to catch some fish on those trips.
Before I get into the fishing report, I wanted to take a moment to talk about trophy trout in Northern VT's rivers, and my concern with VT's "trophy" trout program. Here in Northern VT we are lucky to have wild populations of Brook, Brown, and Rainbow trout, with rainbows being most plentiful. I consider a trophy wild rainbow to be one over 15-16". There is a picture of one above. Very rarely in this area do they get over 20", with my personal best estimated to be 22-23", and I don't expect to catch one that size again. Browns tend to be far fewer in most rivers here, though make up for the majority of fish over 20". A brown over 24" is very rare but possible. Brook Trout are plentiful in the headwaters and decrease in numbers as we move down the watersheds but I catch wild brook trout mixed in with rainbows and browns here and there all the way into our big rivers, especially if the bigger river is near a small tributary, but not always. A trophy fish is one over 12-13". My guide Andy caught a brookie in a mid sized stream of about 16" last spring, and I caught one 3 pounds or so years ago. So why do I bring this up? Because I am concerned with what I am seeing on social media, and email etc., promoting stocked 2 year old rainbow and brown trout as Vermont Trophies, both by guides, recreational anglers, and VT Fish and Wildlife. I don't believe a fish raised in a hatchery, dumped in a river, and caught a few days later to be anything close to a trophy. I am worried that we, as fishermen, guides, and conservationists are accepting these fish to be trophies when they are anything but. If we accept that these planted hatchery fish are trophies are we going to fight to protect our true wild trophy trout and habitat? A hatchery trophy does not require great stream habitat, cool water, and spawning grounds. They can be dumped anywhere in the spring. If more fishermen's definition of trophy continues to fall in line with the VT Fish and Wildlife I fear the will to protect our wild trout will decline. I could go on and on about the archaic and awful regulations on our trout streams such as insane creel limits, lack of catch and release waters, lack of fly fishing only waters, lack of thermal refuge protection, stocking over wild fish, or lack of habitat improvements. But focusing on this one definition of a trophy I think is pretty important. As anglers, we need to make damn sure we recognize what is a trophy fish, what they need to survive, and try to influence VT fish and wildlife to shift focus more from stocking to conservation. Bottom line, a trout that barely has fins and was raised in a hatchery is NOT a trophy no matter how big it is.
Back to the fishing report. We have had a good run since my last report and had a lot of clients out on the water with us.I think many locals who had been on the fence about hiring a guide in their own backyard decided this was the spring to do it. Things have been pretty exciting out there both in the form of good numbers of fish on most days, rising trout, and some encounters with some very large fish.
Our floating season came to an end last week. We obviously need rain badly. We are going into the heat of the summer (started today) with super low flows which is going to put thermal stress on the fish. With low flows river temps could be over 70 up pretty high in the watersheds. It goes without saying that you need a stream thermometer for ethical catch and release trout fishing. The small streams will be where its at for a little bit anyway. My favorite small stream tactic is to use a 10' 2 or 3 wt tight line rod and leader with a dry dropper set up. I adjust the weight of the nymph for water depth but usually a 2.0-2.3 mm tungsten bead or small brass bead nymph will drift just off the bottom. This set up allows me to cover two parts of the water column and get a nice drag free drift with the long mono leader. In tight cover I'll use a bow and arrow cast. I honestly don't have many situations where the 10' rod is an impediment as long as you have the bow and arrow cast down.
I mentioned that we had some encounters with very big fish, including myself losing possibly the biggest brown I've had on my line. I have made an effort to fish tough situations this season whether that be spooky trout streams on low clear water under bright sun, such as was the case on this day, or fishing flat water, or shallow undercut banks. Basically days that people would not fish or water types that people would not normally fish. I have paid the price catching fewer fish on most days because of it and gone home skunked on occasion. My goal is to become a better angler and make Fly Fishing Team USA, so going to perfect water and catching 30 rainbows isn't going to get me there. Anyway back to that giant fish, I chose a new stretch of a crystal clear stream hitting the water at about 9 AM under full sunshine. The water was low and spooky. I worked a small run kneeling down under some tree branches with my tight line rod and quickly caught 3-4 rainbows and a brookie before moving up to a big pool with a crescent shaped bed rock wall. Having never fished this stretch I approached the tailout of the pool extremely slowly on the left outer bank which was in the shade thanks to some overhanging branches. I couldn't see into the water at all thanks to the glare. I had a dry fly/ dry dropper rod tucked into my waders and chose the tight line rig because I was worried if I bombed floating line over the pool the fly line could spook some fish. I began casting upstream where the flow started to dissipate with 2 size 16 natural colored nymphs on 6x fluorocarbon tippet. On my 5th or 6th drift working the tailout I set and was into a large fish, it darted upstream before going absolutely nuts on the surface of the water alternating between a kind of tail walk and jump downstream. It then turned upstream ripping off line from my drag. This is where I got into trouble as my 5 wt was in my waders sticking up into the trees and I needed to quickly move up river with the fish, I was frantically trying to get the rod out of my waders with my left hand while the fish ripped drag off the reel in my right. Suddenly it turned left and the nymph just popped out. It was a bummer but on 6x I would have had a lot more to go through to get that fish in the net, I was very happy to have snuck so close and fooled the fish under the given conditions. That same day Andy had his streamer hook straightened by a big brown!
As we move forward I'll be looking for cool downs, cool nights and rain to drop river temps so that we can get back on some bigger streams. Golden stones have started hatching and I've seen decent numbers of shucks on the rocks. When river flows are up again a big stonefly is always a good bet, and a stimulator is a great dry fly for a dry dropper rig from now through fall.
I'll be In Maine camping with the family this weekend and spending more time out on the lakes bass fishing. The bass fishing has been good. I was on the lake last night and there were good numbers of large small mouth and pike in shallow water. I was with my three kids, so effectively fishing was tough but I got a few, and lost a very nice bass pulling clousers slowly, but more importantly the girls got some perch to bite and had a blast netting and reeling in the fish.
94 Degrees here today in Northern VT, breaking the record for the warmest day ever recorded in May. Not the records I want to be setting! It's pretty wild that my last report includes a picture of my drift boat covered in 2" of snow. I will be laying off of the trout until the back half of the weekend when we have highs forecast in the upper 50's. I can guarantee that the big rivers are topping 70 degrees this week and possibly some smaller sized streams as well. You will want to have your stream thermometer with you and please, if you are catch and release fishing, move to cooler water if you temp 69 or higher. We got about a week of very good trout fishing and I expect it to be great after the weather cools back down.
I have also included a link to a new quick you tube video that I created about Euro Nymphing tight to structure. I decided to make this little video after having a productive morning catching rainbows, but noticing that most all of them were tucked directly under or behind rocks instead of more traditional lies in the slower steady current downstream of boulders. Check it out for some more detailed tips and to see some footage of hooking fish in the soft water tight to mid stream boulders.
As you can see from the pictures above, clients and myself have caught a large variety of fish recently with a ton of different methods. Trout have been taking dries, nymphs, small streamers and soft hackles. Let the fish decide what they want to eat and go with it, but keep in mind it can change rapidly. Many times nymphing will be the best bet but this is not always the case and if you are not prepared to adapt you may find your self having a frustrating day. I had a beautiful evening on the big water swinging soft hackles in a wide riffle. Fish were chasing caddis and I was seeing them jump into the air for both the real thing and my green soft hackles swung just under the surface. If I am going to be fishing with only one rod, Ill usually opt for a euro nymphing rod with a 10 or 15 pound leader that I can nymph, dry dropper, swing wet flies and streamers and even throw a dry, but if I am headed down to the river for the evening hatch, then a 4 wt with floating line is what I have been opting for. Most times out I am bringing both with me however.
Our early hatches are over and we have been seeing March Browns, Sulphurs, Cahills, Yellow sallies, and lots of caddis both tan and dark, Its changing fast out there so be prepared for everything really.
On the Bass and Pike front things have been good. Fish are in shallow bays related to structure, but you can find fish everywhere right now. I've spotted some bass on beds. The best part is that quality bass have been eating top water flies pretty readily. There is not much more fun than that to me. It will be interesting what the record breaking heat wave will do to the bite and spawning stages of the bass. Water temps obviously rose rapidly the last few days. I'll be back on the boat soon to find out.
The Governor just gave the green light to outdoor recreation businesses to re open so that's certainly good news. We've had snow the past three days here in Northern VT and while spring has been on hold most of the past month, things will be improving beginning tomorrow. So too will the fishing and I think by the weekend or at least next week, things should be fishing well.
We have been out quite a bit since last report and actually there is quite a bit of new info to cover. Generally the fishing has been slow with water temps in the 40's. I have yet to personally take a river temp over 46. There have been a few flurries of activity here and there thanks to hendricksons coming off. Guide Andy got into a lot of wild rainbows that had moved into a riffle for about an hour last week and reported seeing lots of fish rise. Once the hatch waned it slowed back down to almost nothing. The same was true for Guide Evan who caught his personal best brown trout a week and a half ago as well as a few other decent browns, but when he moved to a different stream it was dead. Such has been the case for a few weeks. If you happen to be on the river during or just prior to a hatch usually midday to early afternoon, then you've lucked out. The three of us got out on the drift boat and scouted a new stretch of water last week on a cold windy raw day. The only fish landed was the beauty pictured above, though we lost one other nice fish and had 3-4 more bites, all on streamers. We all agreed we need to float this stretch again when the fishing becomes more consistent to see what we really have on that particular piece of water before we bring clients there. On that afternoon we saw some Hendricksons hatch and a few BWO's but not in numbers enough to get the fish to eat nymphs.
During non hatch times small streamers have out produced nymphs on a pretty consistent basis. Some days streamers have produced all the action and nymphs have been totally ignored. I've been fishing streamers both on a tight line set up tied on jig hooks and with a conventional sink tip line. If I had to choose I'd pick the conventional line set up to fish streamers because you can cast so much farther and cover more water, but the tight line rig gives you more versatility if you want to nymph as well. Most fish have been in slower water and back eddies, but have been willing to chase a streamer. I've only caught one fish on a dead drifted streamer and that was out of a back eddy this evening. We have noticed that when the water has been stained, we have moved some fish from relatively shallow featureless river areas that you would not typically even bother to fish. We found about 3-4 fish on a sandy slow moving flat one afternoon about 2-3 deep. This is a good lesson to cover all the water not just prime areas, especially when the water is high or stained.
I'll be toting my dry fly/ dry dropper rod around from now on since there will be dry fly opportunities here and there from here on out. I also have a few dry fly patterns I want to test thoroughly this spring which I am hoping will find a permanent spot in the box. As the water warms up into the 50's expect to find fish feeding more regularly throughout the day and the fishing to become much more consistent. I expect nymphs to become the primary producer of fish due to the increased number of bugs available for the fish to eat. You'll need to be ready with just about everything in the next few weeks. Here in VT we don't have many very heavy hatches, but we do have a huge variety of bug species so it can be a little tricky figuring out what the fish want to eat sometimes in the spring. I will generally start with a caddis and a mayfly pattern and keep switching bugs until I get things dialed in or run out of time! Remember to swing your flies at the end of the drift. I actually saw two fish follow my swung nymphs to the surface last week only to turn off at the surface. They will be committing soon!
Stocking appears to be about half done so many of our local rivers have a bunch of new inferior trout competing with our wild ones. Within the next couple of weeks that should be complete. I don't have anything against some stocking, but I do believe that some rivers get too many stocked fish or shouldn't be stocked all together due to healthy numbers of wild fish. I wouldn't be surprised to see some hold over stocked trout either.
As you all can imagine, guiding will be slow to no existent for much of the spring. Because of this I have decided to start filming some fishing sessions and put together some YouTube videos that will offer some pretty good tips for you all out on the water. I uploaded the first video yesterday, where myself and guide Andy fish a pond for the first time and get into a lot of brook trout. There is some good footage of trout taking the fly and lot of info that will help you if you decide to hit some still water, which right now is the way to go if you want to consistently catch trout. Bear with me on the editing as I'm doing this all with an iPhone 11 and tripod and am still figuring out the editing process and capabilities among other things. For instance, I didn't know the text would cover my face the entire opening monologue, i just thought it was going to appear and go away after a few seconds. Either way I guarantee you will learn something from this video if you haven't spent a lot of time fishing still water for trout, and if you have there is hopefully enough fish catching footage to keep you entertained and we show you out most productive flies at the end.
As you will see in the video the still water trout fishing has been good. I've been out on two ponds, neither of which I had ever fished before and gotten into good numbers of stocked rainbows and brookies both times. While also getting pickerel, suckers, and perch to the net. The big challenge has been finding the fish and both times out on these new ponds it took an hour or so until we found the fish and got things dialed in. I'll leave the rest of the still water info out of this report as you can just watch the video to learn all you'll need.
On the river front things have been slow which is normal for this time of year especially considering how cold it's been. I've been just a few times and have managed to land wild rainbows and brook trout. I actually caught my first ever fish on opening day of VT trout season. Usually I am still busy with maple sugaring, but since we finished early I was able to find a bit of time to fish and ended up with a single wild brook trout that ate a micro streamer. Since then all of the river fish I have caught have been on 12 to 16 attractor nymphs with mostly floro orange tag or collars. Now that things look to warm up I will be spending a bit more time on the rivers. I have seen midges, early dark stoneflies, very small baetis, and a couple bigger flies from a distance that I could not identify. We will soon see our first larger mayflies and caddis flies popping and you should be prepared with more natural nymphs to imitate bwo's, blue quills, quill gordons, hendricksons, grannom caddis, as well as maybe a few dry flies or emergers. I actually saw a fish rise on opening day, and have seen fish rising on the ponds, so it pays to be prepared. Your best bet will be to fish in the warmest part of the day on the warmest days if you have the flexibility. If not get out there and don't be discouraged if you get skunked, you may well catch the biggest fish of the year. I'll get another report in as things start to heat up.
The US Fly Fishing National Championship was supposed to start today in Basalt, CO, obviously that didn't happen. Quite a bummer as I have a lot into this tournament and going in ranked 10th in the US was hoping for a good finish to make Fly Fishing Team USA. Hopefully it can be rescheduled sometime this year, I guess on the bright side I will have more time to train.
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.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers