One of my friends and a fly customer, Steve Sawczuk, from Plainville, Connecticut, invited me this past winter to join his group again at the Wantastiquet Trout Club near Weston, Vermont. We arrived on June 16th, and spent several days there. Fellow fly tier and friend, Roger Plourde, was there, – See my Silk Gut for Sale Post – that’s Roger, he still has some available. He is also from Plainville and was an invited guest as well. Last year Steve invited me, and I ended up taking Abigail, my Cocker Spaniel, along. We had great fishing to evening hatches of yellow drakes, and we hoped to hit that hatch again. We were a week later, but last year the weather was unseasonably warm early on. There were six of us in the group: Steve, Roger, Dick Heffernon, Bill Keister, Ray Riley, and myself. This year Abigail tagged along again, and Zeb, a Border Collie mixed-breed, owned by Ray, another Trout Club member, joined the group as well. He and Abigail got along great. Zeb rides in the boat. Abigail on the other hand, at eleven-and-a-half years of age, has never been in a boat in her life. That was, not until this past June 17th.
On Monday afternoon, I decided to try taking Abigail in the boat. At first she was hesitant, in fact, probably terrified is a better description, because I could not coax her to come to me in the boat. I actually had to get out of the boat and catch her, then physically carry her back to the dock and place her in the boat. Once we motored off, she pretty much settled down and was about as passive and uninterested as she possibly could be about the whole experience. We drifted and anchored and motored about, trying here and there, catching a decent number of trout, and yet Abigail seemed, well, bored, which she expressed by lying flat on her side. But she’s a very low-key dog anyway, unless there is some possibility of her snagging a morsel of food. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dog treat or people food, regardless, she wants it, twenty-four-seven. I feed her one cup of kibble per day and a few other treats, and that’s it. Whenever she’s in a group of people, no matter how many, if only one had some food, even a stranger, Abigail becomes their new best friend. She was a little overweight for a couple years when my mother-in-law was caring for her during a rather unsettled period of my life from 2008 to August of 2011, but once I got her back and got her food under control, she’s right where she’s supposed to be with her weight.
Arriving at camp there was an immediate problem, because Zeb is fed with an “open feeding” policy, and the very first thing Abigail did upon entering the cabin was to follow her nose, zero in on Zeb’s bowl and start eating his food. I wrote Ray in an e-mail beforehand indicating that she would do that. The poor little girl is now also about ninety-percent deaf. Fortunately even as a pup, I trained her not only with voice commands, but also simultaneously used hand-signals as well. That has proven to be fortuitous. When she was a younger dog, it was a good feeling to simply give her a mere hand signal and have her come, sit, stay, etc. Now, it helps a great deal, and could even save her life.
Anyway, with each occasion that Abigail got into the boat, she got more used to it, and I believe she grew to enjoy it more and more. The first two times when we docked up after fishing, she was afraid to make the three-inch jump from the seat of the boat to the dock. But the third and subsequent times, she left the boat without hesitation.
On that Monday afternoon I was with Dick in the boat, and the storm was well to the north at first, though we could hear the thunder far off. We were hopeful that it would pass without incident. After a little while, there seemed to be darkening clouds gathering more to our immediate west, and we thought about moving the boat closer to camp, just in case we had to bolt for the dock.
At about this point, I looked to the west, and there appeared to be a bank of fog moving in. But I knew it was no fog bank. It was rain; the kind of rain that is so heavy it can cut visibility to near-zero. Visibility was still good, however, and I estimated the rain was about two miles distant. Dick and I quickly agreed that we’d better haul our butts toward shore. Roger and Ray had passed us about five minutes earlier, calling the fishing over for a while, with the thunder approaching and getting louder. But right before we made the decision to get of the water, Dick got his fly line got tangled around the propeller on the trolling motor. I dropped the anchor to keep us from drifting down the lake, which would have carried us farther away from our dock and camp. When Dick raised the motor up, he could see that there was no hope of untangling his line from the prop, considering the wave action effecting the boat, plus the reality that Dick would have to be possessing the body of a professional gymnast or a contortionist circus performer to assume the necessary posture and balance to do the work at hand. And that he is not, nor am I. Option number two was to row, row, row the boat back. But there wasn’t going to be any singing of that traditional campfire round during this trip.
Just then a fantastic, jagged, sprawling, and very bright jolt of lightning streaked across the sky over the mountain to the north. The ends of its long, scraggly fingers dipped below the horizon, perhaps a strike somewhere. I quickly pulled the anchor, mounted the oars, and started rowing. We had to travel about a quarter of a mile. When we were about 100 yards from the dock, the wind increased exponentially in velocity, seeming to blow about thirty or more miles per hour. It came up very fast, and despite my best exertion of rowing strength and efforts of guidance with the oars, we missed the mark and the boat settled against the shore, fortunately though, only about thirty feet from end of the dock. By now it was starting to rain, luckily for us not pouring, but the wind was blowing like it was during the storm scene from the movie The Wizard of Oz. Except in our situation there was no funnel cloud, no musical sound track, and the Wicked Witch of the West was not flying across the sky on her broom threatening to cart me and Abigail off to her lair. In retrospect that would have been a perfect and entertaining time for me to do my best falsetto imitation of the Wicked Witch: “I’ll get you yet, my pretty, and your little dog, too! Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, h-a-a-a-a-a!”
Dick and I managed to reach the dock, chain the boat, and get out of Dodge. It had started raining, though not real heavy yet, which was a good thing because we had to walk about fifty yards to our camp. Just as we reached the safety of the cabin, the wind and rain arrived with a vengeance. Indeed, in less than one minute the rain was so heavy we could not see across the lake, and in fact, we could barely see the dock fifty feet away. The cabin porch faces directly to the west, and the wind drove that rain right through the screens onto the porch and everything on it. Fortunately a half-hour later the storm had passed and the lake was again calm. We watched as a few trout started rising, but we made a trip to the grocery at Londonderry, and after returning, we hung around camp, enjoying camaraderie, libations, and cigars while waiting for dinner. I also set up my fly tying stuff and hoped to tie a few more extended-body Yellow Drakes, since most of the guys took trout on them Sunday evening, despite that fact there was not really a big hatch of them. What I actually ended up doing that afternoon was repair several flies that I had given Steve and Roger. Steve had one of my Yellow Drakes from the year before, that the hackle came partially unwound – see this post from Fish in A Barrel Pond Blog: http://fishinabarrelpond.com/2012/06/25/trout-candy-eye-candy/ So I repaired it for him, a simple matter of attaching a new hackle feather.
I’ve never had one of my extended body drake patterns fall apart in any way, but Roger had one where the thread ribbing over the extended abdomen came off. I basically made a new abdomen, cut off the old one, and attached the new one in its place. Ken was watching me do this work, and the guys were all getting a big kick out of it and commenting on “Don’s Fly Repair.” At one point Ken made the remark, “Would you like to purchase a Service Agreement with that fly for an additional five dollars? Guaranteed repairs for the life of the fly.” By the time I completed the repairs, it was time for me to clear the table for dinner. I had made lasagna ahead of time on Sunday morning before my departure, chilled but not baked it, and also created a tossed salad, and a fresh-made pecan pie (I made it myself) that was still warm when we served it right after dinner. If you checked the post above, you’ll note from Quill Gordon’s photos that the weather was nice enough in 2012 for me to have my tying stuff permanently set up on the cabin porch. That was the year we were sipping the “Weapons Grade Head Cement Thinner, aka Moonshine. 😉 It was too cold this year. We had a few night time temps in the upper forties and low fifties.
Ken and I motored about, here and there…picking up an occasional trout.
Zeb is very interested in what goes on in the boat. He sees trout rise and practically goes on point if they surface close to the boat. He knows the sound and the reason of a reel drag, and has learned to associate that sound with a hooked fish. He still gets excited even if one of the anglers in his boat merely strips off more line to make a longer cast. He loves being in the boat so much that he’ll just go sit on the dock and wait, hoping to go fishing.
Ken, aka Quill Gordon, wrote a post on his blog and made a few remarks about our visit and my time with him in the boat. To check that out follow this link:
The Caddis Emerger Ken refers to in his writing is my Floating Caddis Emerger, or more appropriately, my older pattern called the Hatching Caddis Adult, which is also another surface caddis emerger pattern.
On Tuesday afternoon, I was with Steve in the boat. We trolled a bit and drifted here and there. He was fishing various nymphs and drys with a George Mauer Sweetwater bamboo rod, a seven-foot, nine-inch seven weight. I used my sink-tip and was casting a Wooly Bugger. I managed to draw only two strikes, and Steve had done nothing. I said, “I’m thinking of putting on my Floating Caddis Emerger, I can’t do any worse with that than I am with this Bugger.” Next thing I know, in barely three minutes, Steve has a fish on. I asked, “What did you get him on?”
“You’re not gonna believe this, but I got him on your emerger pattern,” He replied.
“No s***!” I exclaimed. I hadn’t even noticed that he changed flies. Steve soon got another trout. By then I changed to a floating line and also put on a Floating Caddis Emerger, a tan-bodied pattern. Steve caught another trout. And another. And another. Meanwhile I could not buy a strike with my fly. I inspected his, and it was one of some that he had tied during the winter, with a darker ginger-brown body than what I had. What we both found interesting too, was that if no trout took the fly after the cast was made, rather than pick up and cast again, Steve worked the fly in slowly with a hand-twist retrieve. It would remain on the surface, or just under the film, so he’d either see a surface take or a swirl and feel the strike. And as my luck would have it I had left a container of those flies at home on my tying table. By the time he tallied seven trout on that fly in less than an hour, Ray and Steve trolled by. “Are you guys getting anything?” Roger queried.
“Steve is kicking my ass with my pattern,” I answered laughingly. Steve chuckled with obvious satisfaction.
“What’s that?” Roger inquired.
“My Floating Caddis Emerger,” I said. “The tally for our boat is: Steve – seven, me ZIP!”
A little while later, Steve offered for me to try casting his Mauer bamboo rod. He had mentioned that earlier, since indicating in an e-mail that he’d he recently bought that rod, I replied that I had known George Mauer for a few years before he passed away. The wind had died down and the lake was flat. I can’t say what the trout thought this fly was, because there were no caddis about, other than an occasional stray. Yet as we drifted about fifty yards from shore near a small cove, the first trout that rose within casting distance, fortunately for me, rose twice, just as I was making a cast. I was also standing up, which helped me adjust quickly. I was able to immediately alter my distance and targeting, and sighting the two rises in succession I determined the fish was moving from right to left. Trout in lakes and ponds seldom remain stationary as they do in flowing water. They cruise for food and it’s always a crap-shoot when you try to target a rising trout in a lake because he’s got a three-hundred sixty degree radius for possible movement and change of direction after the rise. I led the second rise by about four feet, hoping he was moving in that direction, and as luck would have it, he must have seen it hit the water. The trout came right up, slowly, we could both see the fish. He tipped up and without hesitation, kept coming and gently sucked in the fly. “Fish on!”
I offered Steve his rod back, but he was relaxing in his chair, smoking a cigar and said, “No, you go ahead.”
“Thanks! I’ll take you up on that.” I replied. We drifted a while, I cast here and there, enjoying the feel of the rod, and occasionally Steve turned the prop on the trolling motor a bit to keep the boat positioned just off shore. The next trout I took I did so while I was fishing blind, in other words, casting without seeing any rises. The water was flat calm and suddenly as I watched my fly, I saw something white off to the right, it was moving, then I realized it was the belly of a trout. Then I saw the shape of the fish. He was closing the distance to the fly, rising up, and just like the first trout, never stopped until he reached the fly and confidently gulped it in. Fish on again! It was a very good feeling that we had success with my pattern during rather adverse conditions. Or at least the conditions did not seem so adverse, it was a nice, calm afternoon, it’s just that the trout were not on the feed. Steve and I tallied nine trout that afternoon, to the other guy’s couple, or maybe three per boat. When we got back to camp, I made myself a spicy Bloody Mary and set about tying a batch of ginger-colored #16 Floating Caddis Emergers.
On Tuesday evening Ken offered to take me in the boat. Abigail and I graciously agreed. The photo above is of Ken landing one of the fish he took. I took two fish on my Floating Caddis Emerger, since we really were not seeing Yellow Drakes in numbers to say there was an actual hatch. And this was after Steve had done so well with it earlier in the day. But alas, I lost my last Floating Caddis Emerger in a fish, doing something that I know from experience I should not have done. Life is like that. On occasion we do the wrong thing even when we know better. I grabbed the 5x tippet and held on to it, trying to remove the fly from the jaw of a fourteen-inch brown, and when he made a sudden lunge, I hung on, and he broke the tippet knot and took the fly. I could have replaced it with one of two well-worn Floating Caddis Emergers, but I have retired both of them from service, except that I ask them to pose for an occasional photo to demonstrate their effectiveness. The photo posted there, of one of them, in late December of 2012, and again below, was one I took thirty-four trout with. The foam overback is all chewed and tattered, but otherwise the fly is intact. I ended up using an older pattern, another original fly I created in 1996 that was actually the predecessor to my Floating Caddis Emerger, mentioned above, it’s called the Hatching Caddis Adult. There’s a whole ‘nother collection of fish stories about that pattern as well. I’ll add that pattern and recipe and fish stories here sometime next week.
As I fished the Hatching Caddis Adult, a dry fly pattern similar in a number of ways to the Floating Caddis Emerger, I demonstrated to Ken how, if during a retrieve or pull of the line, that fly, due to its components and design, when treated with floatant, submerges, but then when you stop, it resurfaces. The pattern literally breaks through the surface film. So does the Floating Caddis Emerger. I had demonstrated that about three times, even saying, “Watch this!”
Ken said, “That’s pretty cool,” and just then, SWOOSH! A nice trout struck the fly. But he missed, there was no connection when I raised the rod tip. But the point was made with additional emphasis from the fish. Nice!
I recently created a revised version of the Floating Caddis Emerger pattern that I have been selling. Bastian’s Floating Caddis-Mayfly Emerger with a ginger body, as I’m calling the revised pattern is available to order from me. I made a couple alterations to change the fly so it would not compete with the contract I have with Bastian’s Floating Caddis Emerger with the Orvis Company.
Other than myself, the first anglers to test the new Hi-vis version of my Floating Caddis Emerger were Tom Ukena and his wife Sue, of Northborough, Massachusetts. They were on the Missouri River the first week of June, guiding with Tim Linehan, the Orvis 2013 Guide of the Year, and they really did extremely well with that pattern, taking as Tom wrote in an e-mail, “a good number of great fish, 18″ to 21”. I’ll be making a separate post about that fly before too long.
On Quill Gordon’s Stubbornly Waiting for Drakes post, there is a photo of both loons and their freshly-hatched chicks on the water. And a bunch of yellow drakes too. Check it out!
Sunday June 16th on my way to camp, I stopped at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in nearby Manchester on a prearranged visit. Deputy Curator Yoshi Akiyama had the remaining seven plates of the original Orvis flies that were published in Mary Orvis Marbury’s book Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, gathered together for me to photograph. They were not there in June in 2012 when I made the initial series of photos for my upcoming book, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892. On my way back to Pennsylvania on Thursday June 20th, I stopped again at the museum and photographed another dozen or so flies from the 1893 Orvis Fly Display that I had not previously included. I’ll be adding these pattens to my book, increasing the number of additional fly patterns to about two-hundred twenty-five, beyond the two-hundred ninety-one from Marbury’s book. By the way, the new display, The Wonders of Fly Fishing, is now open at the Museum.
And so concludes another visit to Wantastiquet Lake. We all had a great time!
I just threw some seasoned chicken thighs on the grill, turned the heat down low, and I’ll leave them slow cook for at least an hour. In the meantime, I’m going to go make myself a spicy Bloody Mary.