Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Last Day Fly Fishing in New Hampshire

May 28, 2012

I must admit, I tiptoed around the camp at 4:50 AM this morning.  There were three anglers hoping to join me for smallmouth fishing.  If any of them woke up they’d of gone.  But I kind of wanted to go solo.  This was my last morning of smallmouth bass fishing on Lake Winnipesaukee for who knows how long. 

By 5 my first cast with the popper sailed up against the neighbors boat dock.  The last three days smallie fishing has been fair at best so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  To my delight a respectable 12 incher sipped the popper between pops and I landed him.

That smallie got my attention.  I proceeded out of Wolfeboro Bay and towards the open lake, the broads in my green canoe.  When I turned the corner to where I could see all the way to Rattlesnake Island I had to stop and take the view in.  It was spectacular.  There wasn’t a ripple across the lakes surface for as far as the eye could see.  I really have missed this place since I was a kid. 

I started fishing diligently.  I kid you not; the popper raised a smallmouth from every place they should be.  They were just waiting to ambush the popper from under docks, leaning white pines and against the rocks.  It was unreal.  And these fish were crazy.  Every one jumped several times and did their best to wrap me around rocks and logs.  The morning was spectacular.

I could have ventured on all day, but being it’s my last I wanted to spend some time with the family.  After a couple hours I headed back, of course with a few more casts along the way at all the spots where I missed a fish.  That’s when I nailed this hefty smallie.  This one will be my last smallie of New Hampshire for awhile, and a darn nice one to rest on.  By the way, I balanced my camera on the thwart of the canoe in order to get this self portrait.

After coffee with Mom and Dad, then a cigar with my cousins it was time to fish again.  Finally, Cousin Jon could join me.  Jon and I did everything together when we were kids.  We fished, swam, camped and the list goes on.  We never stopped.  But we haven’t fished together in perhaps 10 years.  And that was in Idaho on the Henrys Fork.  So as far as fishing together in Back Bay – it’s probably been more than 25 years!

We filled a cooler with beer and then I guided him all the way along Wolfeboro Bay to town.  Jon has his own fly rod, but I noticed it still had the plastic over the cork.  Not sure if he just bought it because I was coming or perhaps he got it with good intentions right after his visit to Idaho ten years ago.  Bottom line however, Jon doesn’t get out fly fishing much.  But, he did well.  His casts weren’t long.  His loops weren’t that tight.  But he only hooked himself in the back once.  I held the boat where it needed to be so he could put his popper in all the right spots.

It was midday.  It was hotter than all get out.  I haven’t done great at this time of day all week.  However we managed to scrape out a few fish.  On the way to Back Bay Jon lost a big smallie and landed a couple rock bass.  Once in Back Bay things were extremely slow.  So slow that we tied up the canoe and went to a dockside restaurant for beers and tacos.

After that I continued to paddle Jon along the entire perimeter of Back Bay.  We caught up on things and laughed about all the great old times we had in Back Bay and around Wolfeboro as kids.  And Jon caught this nice bluegill.  One of the few bluegill I’ve ever seen in Back Bay. 

It’s been a fantastic week.  Moms 70th was one we’ll all remember.  My surprise of showing up in New Hampshire without telling her will go down as one of the best.  Then to see all the family that I haven’t seen in forever was great too.  Tomorrow it’s the long flight back to Idaho.  I’ll get in late and Granny and I will prepare for the Bass on the Fly Tournament that takes place Wednesday on Ririe Reservoir.  Life never slows down!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Free Lifejacket

May 27, 2012

Once again I hoped to get down to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire’s Back Bay area fishing early this morning with one of my cousins, particularly my cousin Jon.  However, once again Jon and the rest all opted to sleep in.  So my brother-in-law Don and I set off in the green canoe promptly at 5 AM. 

Lake Winnipesaukee is a spectacular place at 5 AM.  This stunning lake is almost always placid at sunrise.  There are no other boats.  It’s truly like it must have been a hundred years ago.  Quite frankly, I’m brutally exhausted from the week.  The latest I’ve gotten up is 6 AM and the earliest I’ve made it to bed is 12:30 AM.  But I’m not missing fishing at this time of day.  No matter how tired I am.

I paddled Don strategically along the shoreline all the way to Back Bay so he could cast for smallmouth bass.  Don’s had some trouble keeping them buttoned on all week.  Sure enough he hooked and lost a decent one.  I was surprised he didn’t get more than one shot but the smallie fishing has slowed tremendously since my first couple of days here.

When we slipped under the little bridge into Back Bay ten minutes before 6 I saw fishing was going to be even tougher.  There were already two bass boats working ahead of us.  On the plus side however, these bass dudes all throw the same baits.  I haven’t seen one other fly fisher this week other than myself and whoever is with me.  Therefore our flies are something these fish don’t see often.

Despite my positive look on things, fishing was slow.  We caught a couple of rock bass and a tiny chain pickerel.  As far as good action and a quality fish, it wasn’t happening.  But, the day was spectacular.  Back Bay was crisp and the fog was lifting from the surface ahead of Don.

After I maneuvered Don into all my hotspots with poor results, I took us into the middle of Back Bay.  The middle looks hopeless at a glance as far as popper fishing goes.  It appears like deep black water with nothing more than the occasional breaching microwave sized common snapping turtle.  But upon a closer look, down about 8 feet are the tops of some weeds.  This is where back in the day; I pulled out the larger pickerel and largemouth bass.  It was a long shot, but I told Don to keep casting.

Don's a quiet guy.  When it happened, the canoe rocked and all I heard was his feet move.  Then he grunted so I looked just in time to see a hefty largemouth get airborne.  He had a good one.  Like I’ve mentioned already, Don’s hooked a lot of good bass this week, but they just keep spitting the hook.  I held my breath as he battled.  Moments later his trophy was flopping at canoe side.

The bucket-mouth was tired and ready to be landed.  Don wasn’t sure how to get him in the boat.  He fumbled with lipping the bass then the grabbed for the tail.  Neither attempt worked so then he stared at the flopping bass.  “The lower lip Don!  Grab it like you mean it!” I shouted.  He did.  And in one meaningful sweep Don lipped and lifted his prize.  One fish can make a day!

For the afternoon fishing session, Becky and I went over to Alton, New Hampshire and met up with my good friend Dan Swift.  Dan’s a long time pal who lives in New Jersey.  As most of my friends, Dan worked for me in the fly shop in Jackson, Wyoming about 20 years ago.  He has a family and a busy job and we haven’t fished together in about four years. 

We fished a small gorgeous lake called Hills Pond.  The weedy lake is crawling with chain pickerel, largemouth bass, bluegill and likely other species as well.  Dan and his family are staying on the lake with their good friend Dave Davenport.  We only had two hours to fish but we took advantage of it.  Dave generously guided the three of us and we landed about a dozen pickerel (Dan caught most), two chunky bluegill, two largemouth and I caught a yellow perch on the popper.

Tonight we took the kids fishing in the boatyard and they had a ball.  Five year old Sierra caught one of the largest rock bass I’ve seen since my days in Wisconsin.  Then we all went for a night boat ride in my cousin Marks new boat.  Whenever something is new, you always take all the precautions.  We checked all Marks running lights and we counted lifejackets.  Of course, we did this a half mile from camp.  We had eleven of us on board and realized we were short one lifejacket.  That’s when Jon piped up, “It’s okay Mark.  That boat cushion passes as a floatation device.  We’re all set”.  We went for it.  What are the chances of being pulled over anyhow? 

It’s Murphy’s Law.  Two hours later near the end of our boat ride the blue lights were flashing and a police pulled us over.  Mark had his docking lights on and they were too bright for oncoming boats.  The marine officer was very cool and said he’d issue only a warning as long as we passed a full safety check.  Guess what - the seat cushion did not count as a lifejacket.

Jon walked to the bow with his head hung low.  Mark was bummed.  The good news however was the officer was still only going to issue a written warning.  Then he’d loan us a lifejacket and escort us home – just to cover his own butt.  After exactly eight minutes he came back to us.  His pen wasn’t working in order to give Mark the documented written warning.  So technically now there was no warning.  Even better, the officer found a lifejacket floating in the lake earlier in the day.  He gave it to Mark and said, “Here’s a present for your new boat”.  A free lifejacket, no warning and have nice night.  It’s a wonder he didn’t give us a six pack that he confiscated from teenagers earlier!

Another fantastic day in New Hampshire has passed.  Tomorrow is my last day.  The plan is to smallie fish early in the main lake with cousin Jon and then to Back Bay one last time.  I love that place.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fly Fishing for Panfish

May 26, 2012

I heard it all the time in the fly shop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Now I hear the statement frequently during the winter when speaking about fly fishing at shows, “There’s no fly fishing where I come from”.  Actually, unless you live on the moon, that declaration is the biggest bunch of bologna in fly fishing.  Even if you live in the heart of a city, a filthy sector of city for that matter, I guarantee you at least have some warmwater fly fishing near you.  It could be for carp, bass or some specie of panfish.  So what if they aren’t trout?  Personally, I treat all fish the same and I always find fly fishing no matter where I’m at on the planet.

All my cousins arrived at camp last night here in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  My cousins and I grew up together like brothers and sisters.  We did all the holidays together at the grandparents house and fished and played together all summer.  I haven’t seen any of them in years so as you might expect, last night was a late one catching up on the screen porch.  I did my best to throw some flies for smallmouth bass from the canoe around camp at 6 AM today but was unsuccessful. 

I planned on paddling to Back Bay with one of my cousins, but at 11 AM, still not one cuz was awake yet.  I may have stayed up late last night but I can’t sleep past about 7.  Therefore, before noon I grabbed my sister Becky and we took off for Back Bay in hopes for a good afternoon of fishing similar to what Greg and I experienced yesterday morning.

Let’s just say there are good fishing days and bad ones.  It’s true, sometimes the fish just aren’t biting.  Usually mid day under hot sun is slow, but you may remember Becky and I went to Back Bay on Wednesday at mid day and fishing was decent.  Today it simply wasn’t.  However, when fishing is bad you make the best of it.  I do what I can to catch a few fish, so today Becky and I targeted some panfish.  Panfish are always cooperative.

I instructed Becky to start tossing a Chernobyl ant around the weeds, under docks and even in open boat houses and twitch it.  A big bass or pickerel wouldn’t likely nail it but rock bass, perch and various sunfish will.  Sure enough the panfish fish came.

First Becky caught this yellow perch.  The beautifully striped fish was a welcome sight because Lake Winnipesaukee doesn’t have nearly the numbers of perch it did when I was growing up.  Then she caught numerous rock bass, one after another.  As she was reeling those neat looking red-eyes in, I noticed a constant commotion deep amongst the lily pads.  I asked Becky to land the Chernobyl as close as possible to the disturbance.  Two seconds later she was tangled up in the lily pads with this spectacular pumpkinseed sunfish.  I say spectacular because here in NH they rarely get much bigger than three inches.

Take advantage of your fly fishing opportunities.  If trout fishing is what you love best but it’s far away and you only go once a year, then you need to find a fish specie near home.  Whether it’s grass carp or sunfish, it’s essential to keep your casting, knot tying and over all fishy feelings and skills sharp.  And the only way to stay sharp is to go fishing.  If it makes you feel any better, I only have trout fishing where I come from, and that makes me crave many of the fantastic warmwater fish!

Tomorrow expect an early morning report from Back Bay - time in NH is running out.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fly Fishing for Pickerel

My younger brother Greg does not fish.  He dabbled with fishing when we were kids but he never developed the passion like Becky and I.  So when we were catching up over beers on the camp porch last night after midnight and he said he wanted to join me at 5 am today for an early paddle to go fishing at Wolfeboro, New Hampshire’s famous Back Bay, it took me by surprise. 

Sure enough, at 4:45 AM I was awoken to the sound of a vehicle starting.  Greg was going to town to get us some coffee. Despite the lack of proper sleep I jumped up and gathered my gear to the canoe.  About the time I was ready Greg pulled back in our rocky driveway with coffee in hand.  He then stated he was paddling and I was fishing.  All he wanted to do is enjoy the morning and get some pics.  What deal for me!

The early morning weather was cool and damp.  There were plenty of thick clouds and it was evident we might see some rain.  I had Greg ease me along Wolfeboro Bay shoreline so I could fish smallies all the way to Back Bay.

The weather stabilized since last night.  Sure enough, the smallmouth were back on the hunt.  I landed at least five good ones on our trip across to Back Bay casting my popper around people’s docks.  However, although the smallies were fantastic, the fish that struck me as the best fish was this slab of a sunfish.  There are many gorgeous species of sunfish and several are difficult to tell from one another.  The redbreast sunfish and the longear are two very tough ones to separate.  After carefully studying this picture, I’m going with redbreast on this guy.  If anyone can offer assurance or explain why this is a longear I’d very much appreciate the lesson!

It wasn’t even 6 AM and Greg and I were slipping under the low little bridge that separates Wolfeboro Bay from Back Bay.  There were no other boats and the town and lake were quiet, something they won’t be by Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.  Back Bay was my favorite place to fish when I was a kid.  It was an incredibly peaceful place.  My main targeted species here were chain pickerel.  There were so many of the mini-versions of pike back then that you couldn’t go more than a few casts without a hook up. For a kid it was paradise. Sadly, over the years the shoreline of Back Bay has been developed and the pickerel habitat which consists of shallow areas of lily pads and sunken logs disappeared – thus so have the numbers of pickerel. Nonetheless, I came to NH with high hopes of scraping out one good pickerel from Back Bay this week. 

I fly fish for pickerel with a 6-weight and a floating line.  The Scientific Anglers bass taper is an excellent line choice because helps turn over a big bushy fly - favorites of pickerel.  Most any fly patterns will work.  You can toss some bright streamers or a cool frog pattern.  I like the same hard body popper I use for the smallmouth.  And although pickerel are in the pike family and have a mouthful of teeth, pickerel are much smaller and you don’t need wire tippet.  I take a tapered 9ft 0X leader and cut about three feet of the tippet off. 

I never expected to catch a pickerel right near the little bridge.  Bait fishers fish this area all day and boats whip by splashing big wakes up on the bank.  If I was to catch nice pickerel this week I expected him to come far back in the bay in one of the few lily areas left.  That’s why when I cast to the edge of the town park where one weed stuck out above the surface I wasn’t expecting anything.  But after I made one pop with my popper a push of water charged from the edge of the grassy bank and I hooked up with a sizeable pickerel. 

I forgot how hard these feisty fish fight and within a matter of seconds Greg was chasing my line through heaps of weeds with the canoe.  This scrapper had my 6-weight completely doubled over.  Finally I got him untangled and tired out and landed this perfect specimen of a chain pickerel

Greg paddled me through Back Bay for about three hours.  We hit every nook and cranny and absolutely demolished fish.  In addition to our already great day of smallies and the hearty chain pickerel, I picked up another seven smaller pickerel, a few nice sunfish (mix of species) a dozen or so rock bass and three quality largemouth including this dandy.  All caught with the popper on my 6-weightRoss RX.

I was stoked to spend a quiet morning with Greg.  Greg lives in Massachusetts, a heck of a long way from Idaho.  He has a family and we rarely get to see each other let alone do something fun together.  So the time we spent this morning was exceptional.  By the time we paddled back to camp it was around 10 AM.  We were absolutely exhausted as Greg’s two daughters, Sammy and Montana excitedly met us at the dock.  In the hands of these cute little nieces of mine were their pink kids Ross Fly Fishing Outfits that Granny and I got them for Christmas.  No rest for Uncle Jeff, it was time to teach the girls how to fly fish.

Sammy and Montana have reeled in a lot of my trout over the years when out visiting Granny and I in Idaho.  These girls love fishing with me.  Now Sammy is ten and Montana is seven.  I took up fly fishing at seven so its time they did too.  After I taught them both how to completely set up their rods without tying on a fly, I gave them the full on fly casting demonstration.  Then one at a time I had them cast without a fly.  They did surprisingly well.  Then I gave them each a barbless mini popper, something a small sunfish could fit in his mouth and helped them tie it on. 

Next to our camp is the Goodhue and Hawkins Boatyard.  As kids, whenever we needed a quick fishing fix, we fished around the boatyard docks.  There’s always fish there.  Sure enough, the second Sammy’s fly hit the water a small army of rock bass came out for a look.  Then it was time for the next step, how to hook a fish.  And after a few misses, Sammy landed her first fish on fly.

It was a little harder to get young Montana to set the hook.  But she certainly understood the game.  Although she wasn’t really casting, she was very strategically dapping her surface popper in a way that drew strikes from the fish.  Montana too landed a nice rock bass.

Today was a heck of a day.  Greg and I had an absolute treat of a time in Back Bay this morning.  And Sammy and Montana have fallen in love with tormenting the sunfish and rock bass of the boatyard with their pink rods.  I am delighted that the girls fished most of the day and in fact caught and released a heap of fish entirely on their own.

Life is good here in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The popper fishing for smallmouth bass was so outstanding yesterday that I had to get on it again today as early as possible. That meant crack of dawn, which here on Lake Winnipesaukee is 5 AM. Joining me was my brother-in-law Don. Don is a doc here in New Hampshire (he got his first carp on fly back in August) that after seeing the pictures from Becky’s and my fishing yesterday he declared it was his turn to get out.

Don doesn’t get to fish as much as he’d like so I took the pleasure of paddling him along. I’ve caught my share of smallies in my life so to watch someone like Don catch a few is just as fun as if it were me. In two hours Don had four respectable smallmouth devour his popper only to lose each one. First off, I fish barbless for everything and smallmouth jump like mad. Often times the way they twist and shake in mid air sends the popper right back in your face. That happened at least once. Next, Don’s not used to fish that pull so hard right after they eat his fly and he either held the line too tight or let it too loose. Bottom line is Don lost all four smallies.

What looked to be another hot sunny day rapidly turned into a cool windy one after breakfast. These sudden changes in weather frequently turn off the smallie fishing and this is exactly what happened. Becky and I went out for several hours this afternoon and we couldn’t entice a look at our poppers in any of the places that were so good yesterday. We even dredged for yellow perch with sinking lines and Clousers but we couldn’t find a perch either.

By evening Lake Winnipesaukee was covered in whitecaps. Conditions would have been nearly impossible to fish from the canoe. Instead Becky, Don and I opted to do some wade fishing on a small sheltered pond about a half hour drive away. I love a small lily covered pond at sunset and this one fit the bill. Interestingly, this is a pond that in all my life I’d never wet a line at. Man, did I miss out all those years! Don, Becky and I managed to catch some small pickerel and largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish as well as a handful of very nice black crappie.

My brother rolled into the camp with his family tonight and first thing tomorrow he and I will fish sunrise in Back Bay again. The weather calls for cool temps and overcast skies which could be ideal for an old favorite of mine, the chain pickerel.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Where it all Began

I slipped across country yesterday and find myself in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. I’ll be here through Memorial Day weekend. I haven’t mentioned this excursion because my mom reads my blog and this trip is a surprise visit for her 70th birthday. Its out of the bag now however, she was really excited and this will be a fun week with not just her, but also many more members of my family. Naturally, on top of all the catching up with everyone, I’ll also be dunking some flies.

Wolfeboro, NH is located on Lake Winnipesaukee, New England’s largest lake. My great grand parents purchased a camp here in the 1920’s and nearly 100 years later it’s still in the family. I spent a good portion of my childhood summers at the camp fishing with my grandfather, dad, uncles, brother and sister and my cousins. Fishing was in fact most of what we did those wonderful summers. We had superb smallmouth bass fishing, pumpkinseed sunfish, chain pickerel, yellow perch and the list of species goes on, right off the end of our dock. I couldn’t help but grow up loving fishing.

Now my grand parents and uncles are gone. My dad isn’t able to fish much anymore and my cousins and brother are too busy with their families and jobs. My sister and her husband fish, but they’re busy too. I’m the only one that continues to fish nonstop. My goal this week will be to perhaps get my family out fishing a little bit with me.

Today time was limited. First thing in order was to walk right in my parent’s house and shock them. Even though its moms birthday surprise, my dad didn’t know I was coming either. After some good visiting I got my NH fishing license and went over to the camp and met up with my sister, Becky, for some fishing. The same old green canoe I grew up paddling was lying in the woods. The old Old Town appeared in rough condition, covered with leaves and moss but only because it sadly doesn’t get used anymore. We dropped it in the water and in a matter of minutes I was back in time.

The first move in order was to paddle to some of my old smallmouth spots and try a custom popper made by one of my CA buddies, Ben Byng. I didn’t really have any idea what to expect. Few fisheries are “the way it used to be” so my expectations were low. Our cottage is next to Goodhue and Hawkins Boatyard and just past it is my first good spot – 30 years ago anyhow. The big lake was calm and the temp was a muggy 80°s. I steered Becky around and watched her chuck her popper. She’s a heck of a fly fisher in her own but even so, watching her popper made me pull out mine. I made a few pokes and quickly hooked up to what I thought was a 10” smallmouth. Surprise – it was a rock bass. The first fish of the trip was a specie that did not exist in Lake Winnipesaukee when I grew up here!

Becky and I caught several rock bass. Then I gurgled my popper up against a boat dock and like a trout sucking down a stonefly, a respectable smallmouth took my popper. A moment later I lipped the gorgeous fish and Becky shot this nice pic.

We intended on fishing a short distance from the camp and for just a couple hours. However, to my delight the fishing was far better than I expected. Becky and I ended up paddling several miles and fished about six hours. We landed over a dozen smallies from 10” to 16”, six or so rock bass and a largemouth, all of which ate the poppers.

One other fun thing happened today also. I will toot my horn on this. When I was a kid I was one of the best at catching turtles, frogs and snakes. Becky and I snuck into one of my old largemouth haunts today and saw few turtles on logs. Becky is a lot younger and I bragged to her about my skills in the old days. Then I coached her on one. She messed it up and I gave her a hard time. Naturally when we saw the next turtle she put me on the spot. I nailed the cute little painted turtle. Of course after the pictures we let the colorful little fella right back where I caught him.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fin Chasers Carp Classic VIII

May 16-19, 2012

The Fin Chasers Carp Classic, a tournament designed to raise money for a fishing guide in need, kicked off Friday at Blackfoot Reservoir in Idaho.  This fun event is a fly fishing only carp tournament consisting of three angler teams.  For me, its more than a tournament, it’s the first real fishing get together with many great friends.  Though the actual tournament doesn’t start until Friday, I went up on Wednesday afternoon and met up with one of my teammates, Ben Smith.

Blackfoot Reservoir is in the boonies of Idaho about fifteen miles shy of Soda Springs.  Although once known as a famous rainbow trout fishery, the large beautiful reservoir is rapidly becoming recognized as one of the finest carp fly fishing venues in the west.  The place is literally full of mammoth size mirror carp. 

Wednesday – May 16, 2012

Ben and I met up mid afternoon at Pebble Beach Boat Ramp.  This is where everyone gathers and camps for the tourney.  We were the first two there and quickly set up our camp chairs overlooking the lake and swilled a couple beers.  Ben worked for me in the fly shop and has become an excellent guide.  He now has a wife and family and its rare anymore that we have time to fish together.  Luckily this carp tourney has become a tradition and this will be our third year of meeting on Wednesday before the tourney. 

There were a zillion midges flying around.  The carp had to be eating.  So after catching up over the beers we wadered up and set up our carp rigs.  I use a 6-weight for Blackfoot carp and rigged my new Ross 6-weight RX with their F1 reel.  I always carp fish with a floating line and attached a 9ft 1X leader.  Although I prefer sight casting to carp, it was overcast and windy and nearly impossible to see in the water.  I tied on a brown woolly bugger, a very reliable fly for carp about anywhere when you’re expecting mostly blind fishing.

A great way to find mirror carp when you can’t see in the water is to spot them free jumping.  New to carp anglers get excited when they see the burly fish jumping and think they are feeding on top.  Unfortunately this jumping is usually spawning behavior and a dry fly will not catch them.  Nonetheless, when you see jumping carp at least you know they are there.

Despite all the leaping carp around us, two hours into our fishing we hadn’t a bite.  The slower the fishing the more I walk and I wandered into a protected bay I’d never fished before.  There were some especially big carp jumping around and they got me excited.  I switched to a straggly brown Clouser Minnow and landed it right where a big carp jumped.  I let the reliable fly sink and then on my first strip I hooked up. 

This was a heck of a carp to start the season.  Unexpectedly this carp leapt like a salmon before he took off.  The jump was impressive and I saw right away I had about an 18lb fish.  There were rocks and weeds all over this small bay so rather than let him get me into my backing I raced out deep in my waders.  When he started to slow I cranked my drag a couple notches and was able to turn him.  A few more runs and five minutes later I beached a nearly scale-less hefty mirror.

When we got back to camp, our cars, chairs and anything we left outside was completely covered in midges.  I’ve seen some incredible midge hatches but this one may have topped all.  The worst of the hatch was all over my sleeping bag and pillow in the Explorer because I cracked the windows before we left.  Its good thing midges are soft! 

Ben and I grilled up some mouth-watering chicken breasts.  We followed that with corn on the cob and a few beers.  The sunset was unreal and as temps dropped we stayed warm by the fire.  About a dozen other friends rolled in throughout the evening and it turned in to the party I was hoping for. 

Thursday – May 17, 2012

Thursday was practice day.  Ben and I got an early start and spent the morning putting around in his boat.  We checked out some unfamiliar spots as we’re always trying to find places better then the ones we know.  We had sun so we were able to spot and cast to some fish cruising from shore.  It was a lot of fun but either the carp weren’t eating or our carp skills need some work.  Ben hooked one fish but lost him on a big run.

Our weather started to deteriorate by afternoon.  We decided to get the boat off the lake and hop in my car and do some carping from shore.  We tried several of our spots and at one I nailed this 8lber on a chironomid.  I caught this guy blind slowly moving the fly below a dry fly because once again our light vanished and the wind was huge.  We ended the day where I got my nice fish last night but tonight we couldn’t buy one there if we wanted. 

This is our third year competing in the carp tourney.  One thing for certain is that the weather usually sucks.  That’s actually how our team got the name, “Could be Worse” (we always tell ourselves it could be worse when we are fishing in the snow or rain shivering away).  And by the time our teammate, Trey Scharp, rolled into camp at 10 PM it was about 40º, windy and starting to rain. 

Friday – May 18, 2012

Friday morning the weather improved but there were some fierce clouds headed our way.  We had quite a crew now and we sat around very early drinking coffee.  At 7 we walked over to the pancake breakfast put on by Gary and Leslie Green of Star, Idaho.  These friends generously donate their time and prepare contestants the delicious all you can eat meal for only $5. This year we had around 20 three person teams and almost everyone buys the breakfast.  It’s a ton of work for the Greens but it generates good money and they donate all of it towards the fundraising for the tourney.

After breakfast Trey, Ben and I paid the $150 entree fee (all goes toward the guide in need) and I registered our team.  Then after a short spiel from the coordinators we were on our way.  We opted to go directly to where I nailed the big fish on Wednesday night.  

This is a two day tournament.  Each angler of each team is allowed to register only one fish at the end of each day.  For instance if Ben catches one carp, technically he’s set for the day because he’s only allowed one anyway.  If he catches five more, he can choose his biggest but he can’t give his others to me or Trey.  We must catch our own.  These carp don’t come easy so whenever all three on a team register a fish for the day, you can guarantee that team is doing well.  Do it both days of this two day contest and your team has a good chance of winning.

When we got to the spot we felt urgency to nail a quick fish.  When the weather turns on Blackfoot Reservoir the carp fishing always stinks.  Today’s weather was turning fast.  The clouds were over us, the wind was strong from the north and a few chunks of sleet fell from the sky.  And it was obvious the carp were responding to the change in weather.  For here we were in a place where I and Ben saw hundreds of leaping carp Wednesday night and now there wasn’t a one to be seen.  We were in trouble.

In trouble says only half of it.  We were in trouble as far as catching and registering even one measly carp for the day.  We were also in for a long cold day.  I was underdressed and the temps went from 50º to about 40º in a hurry.  That does not include the wind chill.  After two hours in spot number one neither of us hooked a carp nor even saw a single one jump.  Worst of all, the three of us were freezing!

Next we went to one of our old reliable spots.  If there’s any place on Blackfoot that can produce a carp in terrible conditions this is it.  We spent five hours here and nothing. 

Nothing describes our day more perfectly than – today sucked.  And out of all teams, only six carp were registered.  Day one was brutal and we could only hope tomorrow would bring better weather and hungrier carp.  But we did have a feast around the campfire!

Saturday – May 19, 2012

The weather changed.  I awoke to the sound of midge eating seagulls instead of white-capped waves crashing the beach at camp.  It was calm, sunny and hardly a cloud in the horizon.  The final day of carping was looking good.

It’s cool how competing teams come together when tournament fishing is tough.  Suddenly everyone simply wants to hear of fish being caught.  If a team starts catching fish then you know it can be done.  There were a lot of heads hung low last night.  Information was shared throughout camp and today friend Scott Smith invited us to a place where he’d seen a lot of carp yesterday even in the horrible conditions.

Scott is another of many of my friends who worked for me in the fly shop and went on to be a top fishing guide.  Teamed up with Scott were Boots Allen (the Boots with the book coming out that I illustrated recently) and long time friend and yet another former employee, Andy Asadorian.  These guys were one of the few teams that caught a fish yesterday.  Therefore Ben, Trey and I were all about taking up their generous offer to join them. 

After the pancake breakfast we filed into two trucks and the six of us headed to the honey hole Scott found yesterday.  It was a long drive but two seconds after getting there it was obviously worth it.  There were jumping carp everywhere.

Trey, Scott and I headed left down a sagebrush covered high bank and Ben, Boots and Andy headed right.  The fact that our teams mixed up was more a matter of who was ready first.  And it really didn’t make any difference.  Despite competing we were all here to have a great fishing day together.  Our coolers were packed with our remaining beer and food because our dream was to all catch a fish before lunch then have one last feast before weigh in.

Scott was right; there were a bunch of carp here.  And shortly into our walk the three of us were stationed on a high bank sight casting to passing mirrors.  Just because we saw carp does not mean we spanked them – they were brutally tough.  Carp after carp passed and paid little attention to our offerings.  Then finally, Scott hooked up and landed this gorgeous 10lber on some funky streamer. 

Things got better.  If you can imagine having a shot at a carp every couple minutes we had it.  It was unreal.  Gradually our carping skills kicked in and Trey caught two back to back.  Then Scotty got another.  It was time for me to get my act together.  I put on a green caddis pupa.  What made me choose this fly was that lake trout experience from last week down at Boulder Lake.  Why not try one?  Fish after fish, I kept dropping the nymph in front of them.  Then finally I got a reaction.  Then I too landed back to back 8 pounders.

Just when you think you have the carp dialed, you find out you don’t.  It happened to Trey when he nailed two in a row on a brown nymph.  Scott thought he had “the fly” based on his good fishing yesterday.  But the inconsistency of carp in Blackfoot in spring is frustrating.  Now my hot caddis pupa couldn’t get anything.  We were back to not getting even a look.  That’s when I suggested some beer and lunch.

We hiked back to where we parked and I lit the grill.  We loaded it with all the remaining food which consisted of more chicken breasts, dogs and brats.  We even had some more corn on the cob.  It was hot and sunny and we grabbed beers and settled in our camp chairs.  Life was “as good as it gets”!

Everyone had a fish for the day except for Ben.  Funny how carping works.  Benny landed more carp than anyone last year but now he was stuck with the jinx.  At the end of our feast he took for the water where Scott, Trey and I landed six this morning. 

Shortly after, the rest of us headed to see how Ben was doing.  Conditions had changed.  It was windy and the edges of Blackfoot were mudding up from the waves slapping the soft mud banks.  In search of Ben we walked to a new spot that was less affected and saw carp immediately.  At this time I had on some chartreuse wiggly bonefish looking fly.  I’ve done well with similar flies before.  There was a sneaky carp nearly buried in weeds below me.  He looked impossible because of all the snags around him. I stared for a minute then said screw it.  I launched my luckiest cast of the trip and my fly landed in front of him.  The carp tilted as he saw my fly sink to bottom.  Then he lunged and picked it up.  That’s all she wrote.  I set and crossed that baby’s eyes and a few minutes later I upped my prior carp of 8lbs to 11lbs.  Things were looking good.

After that I headed off to find Ben.  Just before I got to him I heard him yell some ****!  He’d been fighting a big one for awhile and then got broke off.  Rightfully so Ben was ticked off.  I said some words of encouragement and gave him his space.  He had fish around him and I was sure he’d nail one.

I found yet another spot that was crawling with fish.  They were hard as heck to see because it was in an unprotected wind-howling spot.  I couldn’t really see the carp themselves, but rather the mud they create while feeding.  There were muds everywhere.  I dropped my slick chartreuse fly in the muds several times then hooked up and landed another 10lber.  For the next hour, the last hour before weigh in, I had the carp fly fishing you dream about.  I got several more nice fish.  The only thing I missed was a big fish.  And to win this derby you need at least a fish over 25lbs.

We rapped it up at 4 PM.  Weigh in was at 5 and we had to load up and drive a half hour.  Ben never got his fish.  And none of Trey’s or my fish were big enough to compete with leading teams.  Our score was in the middle of the pack at tenth place.  However, although it’s cool to win these deals, it’s no World Championships of Fly Fishing.  Not one of us was disappointed.  We came to the Fin Chasers Classic to raise money for a fishing family that needs it and have a great time.  We did that.  In fact we crushed it. 

This year’s tournament raised nearly $5000, a new record.  And for “Could Be Worse”, this was a fabulous camping trip with many friends.  Almost everyone left camp Saturday night, but not all.  I opted to stay and hang with a few friends I didn’t see enough during the tournament.  It was a great night around the fire and I ended up doing something I never did before.  I drew a big mirror carp on the side of Brooks Montgomery’s white van with a sharpie.  It came out sweet!  I’ll try to get that photo up soon.  It’s not in my hands at the moment.

I’ll be fishing lots these days.  The days of winter where I work all the time are behind for awhile.  I certainly have stuff to catch up on but as long as fishing is good I’m fishing a lot.  Stay tuned to the blog.  I have a surprise ahead!