As many of you know I am laid up this summer after undergoing foot and ankle reconstruction after years of injuries from playing high level soccer.
So, for the moment I have a bit of time to do some writing for the site. I have been slacking, but enjoy doing re caps of fly fishing tournaments as there are always lessons I learn that are more easily stored in my memory banks if I can write them down. They also provide a lot of insights for the casual reader when it comes to how I go about catching fish in a river or lake that I am not familiar with.
The Nine Mile Mini Comp was held back in mid June down in NY, about a 4.5 hour drive for me. I got up early Saturday morning and arrived at the river to meet my teammates Sean Crocker and Ken Krane along with a couple of other friends for a fun little practice session. These mini comps are not real serious and its a good time just getting out fishing and learning from one another.
We got into a lot of fish, even after a run or pool had been fished by two or three people you could still come up behind them and at least catch one or two. I even got to break out the dry fly rod and fished a shallow sandy flat to rising trout with a long leader and tiny dries. There were a few points that I took from practice that helped me be successful.
My first beat in the morning session of the comp was a challenging one to fish. I fished it second and it had just put up 17 fish. The bottom was a series of tight s turns with giant logs and debris spanning the entire small stream at each sharp bend. There was also lots of overhanging branches to make hook setting and casting more difficult. I began at the bottom with a heavy attractor nymph. Not being able to really "cast" I mostly pitched the jig fly into triangles and holes between logs. I call this pitching and catching. I landed 6 browns and lost or missed probably 5 or 6 more. It was really challenging to get them hooked as many of the fish missed were a result of a trees overhanging my rod and not allowing a proper hook set or angle on the hook set. One or two more fell of trying to pull the fish over logs etc. I was not too upset about these lost fish as there wasn't a lot I could do given the immense obstacles. After the s turns there was a deeper, wider pool with a giant dead tree spanning the entire width right at the sweet spot where the current dissipated. Above and adjacent to the main channel dumping into the pool there was a big back eddy formed by two separate huge log jams. I switched to a more natural nymph and caught a trout in the tailout. I then worked a heavier nymph in the deeper rear end of the pool and caught another brown. Switching sides of the river I began to crawl up and under the horizontal tree hanging about 3' over the pool. I made some casts and was surprised not to catch a fish. I swung my fly and felt a fish nibble at it. I moved up to the back eddy and caught one or two fish, one being pretty good sized and then I crawled back under the tree. Remembering the nibble on the swing, I switched to a heavy soft hackle nymph and swung it low through the pool and picked up another fish. I spent a fair amount more time changing flies, as I knew there were more fish to be had in this pool but eventually moved on. Heading up from the pool was flatter shallow water the bent slowly to the left. There was a parade of recreational fishermen who kept walking down and fishing up the long bend to a bridge. I was working up behind another guy who had to have been the 4th person I'd seen work this area. I picked up a handful of small and medium sized browns on nymphs and dry dropper. I had somewhere around 13 to 15 fish at this point and knew I needed a lot more to be competitive. Once I had left the s turns there seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to what the fish would eat. I just kept running through flies to get individual fish to eat and it seemed like such a grind. I remember saying to my controller John Tucci how there is no pattern what so ever here. I'd try three different things, put on a 4th and catch a fish first drift and then move up and not get another fish on the fly. I was fishing everything from size 12 to 20 in all colors, profiles, etc. I was running out of time with only maybe 40 minutes to go in the session. I had reached the recreational angler above me who was working a pool below a bridge which had fish rising in it. I ran up to road and jumped above the bridge and the angler, with hopes I'd get to fish that pool after he left. Above the bridge was a short piece of pocket water before the beat ended. Just above the bridge there was a very steep gradient drop with a softer seam on the far bank and a deep fast run entering the bridge that slowed as it made its was underneath. The bridge was only about 5' tall at the most. I began with a single size 16 walts worm and began really getting into fish. Browns and a few stocked brook trout were lined up on the softer pocket and under the fast water heading into the bridge. A few came off as I tried to bring them up the fast shallow rocky current under the bridge. Once I caught quite a few there I began fishing under the bridge from my knees. This proved a challenge as I had to keep the tip of my fly rod only a foot or so above the water so that I had enough room to hook set, then bring the rod up stream without hitting the underside of the bridge, crawl out and bring the fish up the fast current where I could net it. Of course the big fish were sitting under the bridge. I probably caught 4 or so this way and lost a few others. One broke me off when it ran down stream and all I cold do was hold my rod at one angle under the bridge. It was a pretty big one and the only fish I have broken off on the Diamondback 2 wt rod with 7x. I ran a handful of flies through this area until things slowed. There was about 15-20 minutes left and began fishing the pocket water. I had about 22-24 fish at this point and picked up some right off in the pocket water but also lost a few more and missed one or two. I had tied some of my flies on a newer hook and had begun noticing that they weren't holding the fish as well as my regular hook. I was losing more than I should and began searching for patterns that were working on the older hook. I subsequently kept testing these newer hooks and can definitely say that they do not hold fish like the fulling mill regular jig hook I normally use. I ended up getting to the top of my beat with 27 fish. I ran back down and caught one more under the bridge before time was up. Unfortunately, the recreational angler never left and I didn't get a chance to fish the nice pool below the bridge. I ended up with a 3 in the session with someone getting 33 and 34 fish. My 28 was decent but I lost at least 10 fish that session which would have won it for me. Some were due to the beats inherent difficulties and some were surely due to the hooks. I knew I had my work out out for me in the last session.
The picture above is the upper 1/2 of my beat in session 2.
Session 2 for me was the last session of the day. My beat had landed 13-19 fish in each of the first three sessions. By no means big numbers for this river, and no one had placed well on it. That said I knew there were fish there, and I believe I fished it quite well. The bottom of the beat looked similar to this picture, flat and shallow with a bit of a riffle forming at the tail end of an island. The right side of the island had a short piece of pocket water and the left side and hardly any flow at all. Just above the island is where the above picture was taken and there were some over hanging branches that held some fish for me. The rock retaining wall stretched the entire length of my beat. I brought 3 rods to this session as I knew there were some fish rising on the flats. There was a small fish rising at the bottom of the beat in quite shallow water and I decided to try to catch him with the dry before moving up. I knew from the day before the fish might be eating small midge emergers. The clouds began to roll in and the sky was getting dark. I had trouble seeing the tiny fly. I saw the fish rise, and thought my fly was up stream of the fish but decided to set anyway and sure enough he had eaten it. Unfortunately he came off shortly after the hook set. I think there was way too much delay from when he ate it to when I decided I'd set the hook to see if he was there. I cast the dry up the shallow flat a few more minutes before switching to my dry dropper rod on which I had a caddis dry and small light weight nymph so as not to hang up in the shallow water. I immediately had a fish eat the dry and caught it. I then made a cast to the far bank and missed a fish on the nymph. There was a small stick hanging into the water from the bank and I drifted my dry right off the edge of it and got a decent brown to eat the nymph in the shallow flat. I began moving from the flat to the riffle with the dry dropper and missed a fish on the dry and then one on the nymph, before catching another on the nymph in the riffle. I picked up my nymph rod and got one or two more by running through a few different nymphs. I then grabbed my dry dropper rod and put a size 18 walts worm again with a 2.8 mm bead and fished rapidly up through the pocket water. I was having success on the dry below so I decided I would fish up through with the dry dropper to the top of the beat and then come back and nymph the pocket water thoroughly at the end of the session. I was confident I could pick up another 10 or so fish in the riffle and pocket water at the end of the session. I think I had 5-6 fish by the time I reached the top of the island. I began to focus on some over hanging vegetation against the rock wall that is pictured above and pulled 3 nice sized browns out of the bushes with the dry dropper and missed another on the dry. It was half way through the session and it began to downpour. I was cold and shivering with no rain jacket and I was coming down so hard it was difficult to see. Soaked head to toe, I moved onto the flat with the dry dropper rod and was able to pick up fish here and there on the dry and nymph during the downpour. Some fish were on the rock wall and some were mid river, all of it was shallow. When I reached the top of the beat there were three rocks creating some shallow pockets and created a little more depth than the shallow flat. Unfortunately, there was a small stream dumping pure chocolate milk into the river about 50 yards up from the top. For a little while the right side of the beat which had the best water was colored, but soon the entire river turned to chocolate milk. See the first picture.
I switched to a black tag nymph size 16 with a cdc soft hackle. I wanted something the fish could pick up on in the dirty water. I worked the top three rocks really hard catching and also losing a handful of fish each on my nymph rod. The fish continued to eat in the dirty water though it was harder. I found 3 fish under a low hanging tree branch in very shallow pockets that I really only fished because it seemed the water was slightly clearer over on that side of the river. I was surprised, as I'm not sure I'd have taken more than a cast or two there in normal conditions.
At this point there was about 20 minutes left and the river was high and chocolate. I dry dropper fished back down the flat and caught another brown much to my surprise. I then caught another under the bushes above the island, again a surprise, but I couldn't get my flies deep under the bushes as the river had come up and was now in the leaves and branches. I then went backdown below the island and nymphed one from edge of the riffle. The pocket water was too high so I streamer fished the riffle for the last 4 minutes and didn't get anymore. In the end I landed 17 fish, with tough conditions for the entire second half of the session, but again I lost 6-7 all on the newer hooks I had used. I think myself and one other angler caught fish after the water was colored up. I ended up taking a 2 in the session, Mike Komara got 19 and finished just above me on the podium in 2 place. Ashley Wilmot took 1st and we were all quite happy for her as she was soon to leave for the women's world fly fishing championship. That was hopefully a great confidence booster as the field for the tournament was stacked top to bottom with great anglers. Hopefully she will perform well in Norway!