Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Running Down the Rise

Abol Falls
Mt. Katahdin
Maine, Native Brook Trout, Ponds, Hex Hatch. To a devout fanatic of the most beautiful fish in existence (Strong words, I know, but seriously - nothing compares in my eyes.) this list of things, when tied together, gives me the shakes. My dad and I set out on a journey that would include all of these things.

Brook Trout
Future Trophy
My Uncle, Barry Burgason, has lived in Maine since before I was born. Yet, I have only traveled to see him once in my entire life. I was 4, and I was in his wedding. Meaning, I have not been to see him or his family, since my cousins were born. What a jerk, I know! The only time our families get together is once a year, when they have to do all the traveling. So it's safe to say, a trip north was long overdue. It was great to see my Aunt Caroline, and my cousins Emma and Johanna.

Maine Fishing
Uncle Barry, In his Element
Being a resident of Maine for quite some time, and being very well respected in the forestry industry, my uncle has some great connections. So, when it was mentioned we might be able to stay in his friend's camp on the banks of the West Branch of the Penobscot River in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin, who hesitates at that? So off we went.

"Hey what's that our your window?" "Oh, that's just Mt. Katahdin."
Bacon Double Cheeseburger for Trout
The first night of our quest to catch big brook trout rising to Hex's (Hex's or Hexagenia Limbata are mayflies that are almost 2" long. Typically, mayflies that trout eat are generally 1/4" to 1/2" long. To find native brook trout eating bugs this big is pretty rare!), we drove some pretty sketchy dirt roads though the North Maine Woods and paddled out on an absolutely gorgeous lake. We began casting sinking lines attached to Hex nymphs and small attractor leech and streamer patterns... nothing. Then, like a shot in the arm, Hex's started hatching - dotting the glassy surface of the lake. It wasn't to be our night, however, and the only thing eating the nearly 2" long bugs were seagulls. Total Bummer. We loaded up our boats amidst the clouds of starving mosquitos in the dark (Seriously - Clouds! I will never complain about mosquitos in PA again!).

It's commonly said by fly fishers that, "It's not about the fish." This is something that people who are catching fish say. When you are getting skunked, it's all about the fish! Think about it: You drive twelve hours to go on a fishing trip, and the only thing that's missing are the fish! The first night was pretty hard to swallow.

The view did not suck.
The second night, we had gotten a tip about a small lake we should try. So off we went with high hopes. We found huge spotted sedges (#10's) hatching and trout sporadically rising to eat them. A great start! As the sun started retreating behind the mountains and trees, once again, we welcomed the appearance of the Hexagenias. Trout rose, but still only here and there. My uncle got into a few, including what I consider an absolute trophy brook trout. My dad and I missed a few rises and I hooked and fought the second largest brookie of my life (only second to the trout from the Hungry Trout Twin Ponds Preserve - see previous post) to the canoe where he released himself a few inches out of hands reach. I vow to never leave my net in the truck again!

Brook Trout
Those fins though!
We were getting closer, but we still weren't content with how we'd done. I quizzed my Uncle Barry on what he was doing to connect with so many more trout than us? Having fished these ponds before, and it being our first time targeting rising trout in stillwater, he enlightened me on how to specifically target the rising fish. We were basically paddling into general areas where we saw rises and waiting for the trout to come closer to us as they cruised (how naive and foolish).  What we needed to do, he instructed, was get within reach of each rise and put the fly into the ring left by the breaching brookies. Essentially, "Running Down the Rise."

Night three, our new tactic in mind (and a net!), we went back to the same pond as the night before. We met blustery winds and pretty good sized waves for such a small body of water. The anchor we had been using, made of a few feet of rope and a tied up rock we found on the shore, just couldn't hold us. Extremely frustrated, we beached the canoe and I trekked back up the quarter mile swampy, mosquito-laden trail through the woods and got a mushroom anchor out of the truck and brought it back. It wasn't looking good.

Maine Ponds
Perseverance! (and a net!)

Finally, I dredged up a pretty nice brookie in about 10' of water using the tactics I had learned at the stillwater clinic. A fly called the mini humungous, steadily twitched just over the weedy bottom did the trick. (Honestly, had I not gained so much confidence in this technique at the flatwater clinic, I wouldn't have stuck with it. It totally paid off.) It was just about dusk and we'd only seen a few bugs and only a handful of rises all evening. With our heads hanging low, we paddled back toward the takeout.

As a last resort, we decided to check out a shady shoreline we hadn't visited yet. At this point, why not? This decision was like trading a friend's '85 Mutt Cutts sheep dog van, for a moped - we TOTALLY redeemed ourselves. There were Hex's everywhere! There were so many rises, it was like this side of the lake was boiling! We'd spot a rise, shout "There's one! ten o'clock!", I'd paddle over and my dad would lay down a cast. Nearly every cast drew a rise (whether we hooked the fish or not was another story). It was so action packed, my dad would have a fish on and I would be casting to a different riser! Make fun of me all you want, I was visibly shaking at this point. Was it the fishing or sitting in a canoe for several hours? Probably both - It didn't matter. (I'm kind of shaking reliving it - or is that the coffee?)

This probably only lasted twenty minutes, maybe half an hour. I don't know. We boated more fish than we could photograph, and with the lack of light only a few of the pictures turned out anyway. I have no idea what numbers we caught versus how many we missed - it was that good. Funny how a few fish can totally change your attitude. I think I could have carried all the boats up the trail by myself that night.

Carrying out the boats with headlamps and reflective tape to guide us.

The next morning we decided to try our luck in the river. After all, it was the first time it had been fishable all week due to high water. We got into some very spunky Landlocked Salmon. These little fish were a lot of fun. Multiple jumps, tailwalking, flipping and flopping in and out of the boat the whole time they were hooked. Icing on the cake in my eyes.

This would be our last night on the ponds and we decided to hike back in to a more remote pond - 1.6 miles almost all uphill from the trailhead. My uncle had scouted this pond a few weeks beforehand and found a few beat up canoes that weren't chained down that we could use. So, instead of carrying boats in, we fortunately only had to carry paddles in. This was by far the prettiest pond we found. My uncle, yet again, got into some pretty nice fish and my dad and I found a bunch of fish eating Hex's, but tonight, they were a bit smaller. Oh well, it was still a blast. We made the 1.6 mile hike back out, this time in complete darkness. Fortunately it was mostly downhill and the trail out was blazed with reflective tape on the trees. It made it pretty doable.

Mosquitoes Suck
We fished a section of the river the next morning that was new to all of us. Mostly just to pass time before we had to pack up camp and begin trudging south. There's nothing more bittersweet than the end of a fishing trip. All the hours of planning (that in most cases goes out the window when you actually arrive), all the packing, all the flies tied specifically for this trip - now to be stowed away with the hope you can make the same trip over again. That's not possible though. As the old saying goes, "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he's not the same man."

So, my education in stillwater fishing continues and my love for this new style of fishing grows. It can be maddening at times, but it's a new challenge and every time I'm on the water I learn a lot more about it.

Other Photos

Tan man

Hex! It's what's for dinner!
A Maine staple I'm told

Out Takes

All tuckered out from the hike in.
Trophy Chub

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Flat Water Clinic

Fly Shop
Early Morning at the Hungry Trout Fly Shop
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to take part in the Flat Water Clinic put together by the folks at the Hungry Trout Fly Shop.  The class was held in the Adirondacks and was instructed by Loren Williams. Loren learned Loch style fly fishing techniques that are common in England, Ireland, and Scotland, from competing in competitions held all over the world. The guys who are into competitive fly fishing break everything down into simplest form and attack water methodically and thoroughly. It was mind-blowing to hear Loren explain the different techniques for floating, intermediate, and sinking lines and the techniques they can be used for. I was repeatedly asking myself, "That makes so much sense! Why didn't I think of that?!"

Can't argue success - Loren admired a handsome slab of brookie.
As for the location of the clinic, Twin Ponds (a 2,000 acre preserve, with a perfectly managed population of naturally reproducing brook trout) is simply breath-taking. The natural beauty is like nothing I've ever experienced. Here in Pennsylvania, we are blessed with an over abundance of creeks and rivers perfect for wading and floating. The Adirondacks is equally blessed with seemingly innumerable lakes surrounded by forested mountains.

Home Sweet Home
Oh, if that wasn't enough, our group combined to catch dozens of aggressive, wild brook trout. I still cant get the reddish-orange, auburn underwater flashes, the thrashing headshakes, and the perfect red and blue speckling of these fish out of my mind. The pictures really just don't do these fish justice; you have to see them in person to really appreciate the coloring. I saw fish caught anywhere from the 6" to 20" size range and the day after we left, an angler caught a fish I'm being told could be the new state record brook trout. Absolutely stunning. My previous best brook trout was probably in the 10"-11" range. I don't think I caught one that small all weekend.

I REALLY enjoyed fishing from a Watermaster.
Brook Trout

After a trip that was 72 hours long, 1,060 miles driven, I returned home completely exhausted. A return trip is already in the works. I think they are also planning a fall Flat Water Clinic that I would absolutely recommend to anyone interested in fly fishing stillwaters or catching trophy brook trout. It totally changed the way I will be attacking lakes from now on. Can't wait to get back out on the Flat Water. In two weeks i'll be heading to Maine to put these new techniques to the test! Stay tuned.

The Flat Water Crew


Sorry Evan, had to add this.

As we crossed the main pond and pulled up to the portage in the canoe, we were preparing the float tubes for the adjacent pond when the canoe tried to take itself back to the lean-to! If not for Evan's quick thinking, it would have been a lot of rowing back across the main pond in the float tubes! He used the ol' "streamer to the gunnel" method to wrangle the boat and pull it in. Haha.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Next Frontier

Fly fishing is a sport (lifestyle, hobby, addiction... whatever you want to call it) that is full of endless opportunities and possibilities. The world of fly fishing has been GREATLY expanding over the past few years. Trout and salmon have been the primary target for fly anglers for centuries. A few decades ago, saltwater fly fishing was the new thing. More advanced gear with enough power to handle the bigger fish became available and more affordable. Bass have been an interest for quite some time, but the last few years, carp and musky have been the new obsessions. People in the east generally learn to fly fish by targeting trout, but in search of something new, they try these other species to keep things fresh. As long as it involves catching fish on a fly, I'm pretty much in. However, I'm as big of a "trout-weenie," as some people refer to it, as anyone. If I'm invited to fish for these other species, I definitely won't say "no," but if it's my choice, trout are what I'm after. Can you blame me?

Catching these...

On these...
Like anyone else, I'm always up for learning new methods and techniques, again, to keep things fresh. My dad and I have been making annual trips to the Smokies to get some early season dry fly fishing in before things heat up here in Pennsylvania. I really love chasing the spunky wild trout of East Tennessee, but this year we decided to skip that trip and we will be going to Maine instead, in search of big native brook trout and landlocked salmon. We'll be aiming to hit the Hex hatches on the Northwoods lakes. That's right - flyfishing lakes and ponds for trout.

I've spent plenty of time looking for bass and sunfish in lakes, but I've only really targeted trout in streams. (Except for occasionally casting a hopper on ponds around here that contain trout but that doesn't really count.) So, with our big annual trip being to fish stillwaters, I've naturally jumped on other flat water opportunities that have come up. Later this month, I'll be venturing to the Adirondacks for a 2-day clinic on flyfishing stillwaters for wild brook trout. Also, in the end of July, my dad and I will be checking out Rocky Mountain National Park for a few days. Hmm, so I'm going from never having done something, to making three trips all over the country to try it. Haha, ok?

My buddy Josh is a member of team Freestone, a competitive fly fishing team, and he has a competition coming up that involves a section of stillwater fishing. Having the opportunity to talk to other competition guys, Josh has a lot more knowledge on flyfishing stillwaters than I do. So, we decided to check out a local state park with a lake containing stocked trout. He got to tune-up his lake skills, and I was able to test out intermediate and full sinking lines and learn the methods to get flies in front of these fish.

I make the worst faces in fish pictures.

It was a good test run for a few of these techniques that are pretty new to me. We caught a few trout early, but as the day wore on, they pretty much shut off. So, we allowed ourselves to be a little less annoyed with the schools of bluegill and actually started targeting them.

One of Josh's 3 bluegill doubles.
Learning to fish stillwaters has been like learning to fly fish all over again. I'm really looking forward to the stillwater fishing I'll be doing this summer. If nothing else, I will learn a new way to target trout in lakes for when rivers are not floatable or too warm. Heck with those other species!