Friday, June 8, 2012

A kick in the peaches turned unicorn hunt

Flashback:  The last time I fished with Rich Strolis, from Catching Shadows, he flew out to central Ohio so we could spend a day chasing browns and then head up to ‘the Alley’ and see about some steelhead.  We had virtually no rain so the brown fishing was nominal at best but we consoled ourselves with thoughts of raging chrome.  The next day we headed north and were greeted with Mother Nature’s fury; in addition to the extremely low and clear water she decided it was a good time to unleash 60mph gusting wind.  It was so windy that mid-drift our indicator and nymph rig would be blown upstream, then completely out of the water and wave behind us like a flag.  We decided it might be prudent to leave when trees started being blown over and were falling around us in the river.  Despite the conditions Rich did in fact land a bright hen before our hasty retreat back to the car.  We laughed it off as an anomaly and figured our next venture had to be better…right…

Present Day:  While Rich was here on his last trip we started to kick around the idea of me heading out to meet up with him and chase some stripers around on the Cape.  I have not been on the Cape before so it would be a totally new experience for me…starting from the ground up with flies and tactics.  At the beginning of the year we took a look at moon phases and forecasted tide charts, and settled on last weekend for me to head out.  We chose that time as we would be close to a full moon, the tides were right, and the beginning of June is about as consistently good weather as you can hope for up there.  Once the date was locked in I started to pick his brains for what flies I should be tying.  Over the next few months the anticipation for the trip grew with each sand eel and silverside that I spun up.

Finally the day came and last Saturday I boarded a plane in the evening headed to Hartford, where Rich picked me up and we headed straight to the Cape.  We pulled in to his family cottage outside Chatham and, after a few beers and stories, crashed out about 3a.  We woke mid-morning to a fairly stiff breeze but surely it would die down, right

We jumped in the car and headed over to a local diner for breakfast and then the store  for the food to keep us going over the next few days.  Even though outgoing tide was still a bit off we headed over to the flat we intended to fish so we could relax and rig up.  As we arrived it was as sunny as it would be all day but we were greeted with a steady NE 20 knot wind and the forecast that it would get worse.  Not great news but we were there so we rigged up slowly and then started a leisurely stroll with the outgoing water. 

The farther we got out on the flat the more the wind picked up another 5+ knots and it was evident we may have a problem on our hands; four foot rollers outside the bar and whitecaps on the flat.  A few hours out we were on the outside bar and with a double haul our line would go about ten feet forward and 70 feet to the right. Brutal conditions and no way to get out of it.  While out there we did not see any clouds of sand eels, baitfish, working birds, or worst of all any stripers.  We were all about the old college try but this was not happening no matter how bad we wanted it; miserable and crushed we started back at the low and made the slow trek back in across the flats.  On the way in Rich and I made plenty of jokes to try and keep the mood light, but neither of us was happy with how this was going.  Back at the truck we took a look at the forecast and it was bad…35-40 knot wind the next few days and rain.  Mother Nature straight up Chuck Norris’d us right in the peaches. 

We retired back towards town and did a little sightseeing along the way.

The Chatham Lighthouse was pretty neat.  It is right across the street from the above beach.  That area used to be a great striper area from what I hear, but now it is absolutely full of seals.

Once back in town we hit the Chatham Squire for some local fare and much needed beverages.  After a few phone calls to local people Rich knows the decision was made to cut our losses and go to plan B…head back inland and do a little unicorn hunting.

It was a pretty neat place made all the better by the live Irish fiddle band playing just off screen to the left the whole time that we were there.  Good food and cocktails after a long day.

After a brief stop at Rich’s house to collect some trout gear we headed over to the Farmington River to see if a little meat would entice the anomaly to come out and play.  It was an overcast and rainy day so there was worry about getting there a little later than normal.  The river had good flow and great clarity compared to what I normally fish in the Midwest so I was sure we would be able to get in to some fish.  Right off the bat Rich got in to a nice fish at the base of the first riffle we hit, where it dropped in to a long pool.  I also got on the board early and enjoyed a good bend in the rod.

As we were working a section midday I spotted where I was certain there was a fish waiting.  It was a fairly quick run and chute, but had a nice soft inside edge with a big bush hanging out over the water a few feet.  I knew it would not be an easy cast to get the fly tight to the cover and keep it there but told Rich that was the spot.  Sure enough, first cast in nice and tight and the water swirled as a solid fish came out and exploded on the Conrad variation I was fishing. 

Once I got him to hand, and a few high fives later, we took a look at the gorgeous wild Farmy brown in the net.  Dark spots, big fins, wily and muscled….just an awesome sight.

Here is a little closer view.  Dig the big blue 'wild' spot behind the eye. 

After a sammich break we got back to it and got in to a few more fish before calling it and heading back for an awesome steak dinner.  We hit it hard all day and managed to fool fish on streamers the size of which they don’t likely see very often on that river. 

Tuesday morning we got up bright and early and got back out on the unicorn trail.  We decided to hit a different area that likely had a less dense fish population but holds some monsters.  As we pulled in to the first stop I took a look at the river and it was an ideal sweeping bend with a nice deep chute  and plenty of ambush lanes…this was going to be fun!  Rich and I made our way along the ‘trail’ and fished the stretch hard.  Lots of water that looked fishy and did not yield anything until we got to one area with a big pool.  Rich was talking to me about the spot and offered me to get out in a prime casting location but I went ahead and moved down a bit for a longer presentation.  I was literally midway on my first cast when I heard over my shoulder “holy crap..HOLYCRAPDUDE!!!!”.  I turned to see Rich’s rod held high over head, absolutely doubled over and throbbing with vicious head shakes; his first cast there and he was in to a serious fish.  I reeled in as quickly as I could and got over to him as he made a scoop and got most of a man-sized brown in his net.  I think I was shaking as much as he was as we looked down at the captured unicorn…the thing was all head and thick!  I pulled out the tape and put it at a solid 26”, which is his largest to date on the Hog Snare Streamer.  After a few shots and careful revival of this magnificent fish we sat there for a few minutes with shit eating grins on our faces; seeing that fish made me completely forget about the aborted trip to the Cape. 

Here is a little different view of the fish.  We fished the river hard for a few more hours but did not bring another fish to hand.  We called it a day and started making our way back to the truck in advance of a front we could see coming over the mountain, and almost got there before the rain started again…almost.

On the way back we were discussing plans for the remaining morning and I asked about doing some nymphing.  I know that Czech/Polish/French/Euro/Comp nymphing is something that Rich is well versed in, and since that is the weakest part of my trout fishing I was hoping to pick up some tips and practice on the Farmington.  That final morning we rolled over to the Farmington and rigged up a few long 3WTs with Camou leaders and sighters, picked an appropriate anchor and dropper flies for the water we were targeting, and got to work.  I am a visual learner so, as good as George Daniel’s book Dynamic Nymphing is, I had trouble fully processing a few things until I saw them in action.  Watching Rich work a few seams and riffles really cemented some of the technique in my head. 

I felt like a fish out of water trying to lead but not pull the flies, tuck cast, hair trigger set…it really took a lot of concentration and since I am not used to that rod position my shoulder got tired pretty quick.  I did get a passable version of it down over the course of the morning and it yielded a few more fish for the trip.  That style of nymphing is deadly when you are on your game so I intend to give it far more attention and practice in the coming months so I can have it as a reliable part of my trout arsenal going forward.  Looks like I will be in touch with Kevin Compton at Performance Flies to pick up some Camou leaders, sighters, split rings, tungsten beads, Dohiku hooks, and a few buggy dubbing blends!

Back to the Strolis household we went after the morning of nymphing feeling pretty good about how things turned out despite the complete change of plans.  I still have a couple boxes of flies ready to go for stripers, and they don’t do bad, so the return plan is already churning in my head.  I got all packed up and Rich dropped me off at the airport about dinner time.  After one last hurdle where I had to explain to the TSA agent, citing to them their own rule book, that my Van Staals are in fact NOT wire strippers and my Regal travel vise was designed specifically to be airplane legal, I got through security.  One final Guiness, or three, on the ground and then I boarded the plane headed back to the Midwest. 

In talking about it Rich and I have decided that our next trip should be big since ‘third time’s a charm’, so it has to go great and exactly as planned…right…?

-mike schmidt

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