McKinney Diaries III: A Season of Firsts

[Editor’s Note: Last summer, we introduced a series by Orvis’s Mike Mckinney, who has been learning to fly-fish after avoiding the sport for as long as an Orvis employee can, with a post called “Resistance is Futile.” Episode II described Mike’s first fish, and Episode III featured his first solo fish. We’ll continue to follow Mike’s successes (and failures) along the way to becoming a true fly fisherman.] Here’s his update on this season so far.

Mulberry Hatch?

Spring has brought a season of firsts. Being new to fly fishing, nearly everything I experience is a first. Jim LePage has been kind enough to take me fishing several times, and I’m sure he’s getting tired of hearing me say, “Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever. . . .” Of course, the phrase does not apply to snagging a tree or creating a gnarly knot in my leader from poor casting technique or missing a fish because I’m distracted by the scenery.

2012 Fly-fishing firsts: casting from a boat, from a canoe, in waders (I know, seems insignificant, but I had only wet-waded until now), catching a smallmouth bass, a rock bass, a brown trout, a rainbow trout, a carp, and a sunfish, being on the lake for a hatch, on the river for a hatch, casting to and catching rising fish, using the drag on my reel.

Fly fishing from a boat for smallmouth bass on Somerset Reservoir.

I like casting from a boat, since there are a lot fewer trees to snag. I do have a habit of catching my line on everything in the boat, including me. A gorgeous Vermont morning when we launch on Somerset Reservoir. Beautiful mountains, clear sky, and to my surprise, no recreational vehicles on the lake. Jim says the fish are very aggressive defending their beds, so we should have a good day. Jim put us on fish right away, catching one on the second cast. We were using a sinking fly. Jim probably caught a dozen or more smallies (plus a pickerel), and I was even able to catch a half dozen or more (plus a rock bass). Lunch on a small island was the perfect intermission. I had so much fun, I’ve started talking to Gina about getting a boat.

Fly Fishing from a boat for trout in a lake.
Fantastic night started with grilled duck and then catching a half dozen trout consisting of a couple of browns, but mostly rainbows, my first rainbow trout. My knack for creating challenges for my fishing partners resulted in a first for Jim, which I take great pride in since he’s been fishing forever. Somehow I managed to push the fly through the trout’s lip so that it was threaded. Jim’s only solution was to snip the fly off, retract the leader through the fish’s lip, then retie the fly. My first real experience fishing in the wind, and you could tell by the amount of time I spent untangling my leader. Only once did it require snips to fix. My best calculation is that I cost Jim at least an hour of fishing, attending to my messes. Watching the fish rise to a hatch, casting to the spot, and catching the fish was incredible, and a first. . . .

Mike Carp

Mike McKinney shows off his first carp on a fly, part of
a series of firsts for a beginning fly fisher.

photo by Jim Lepage

Fly Fishing the Battenkill (in waders), learning to be patient.
After a great meal of brats cooked by our host, we headed for the Battenkill in New York. I am now licensed to fish in three states, and none have been revoked yet. After a nice leisurely hike, we finally reach the river. As soon as enter the stream, I’m loaded and ready to cast. Jim says, “Whoa, buddy, slow down a minute; let’s take a look around.” (Another phrase that is often repeated by my fishing partners). I learned a new term: “prospecting,” which means casting in hopes of finding a fish, rather than casting to a fish. So we look at water, look for changes in depth, and watch for risers. Sure enough, fish start breaking the surface, and now we begin to cast to fish. Caught a dozen or more brook and brown trout between us. Jim finds a honey hole where the river takes a turn, catches several, then hands it over to me while he heads downstream. Nice guy. The night is made perfect when a deer crosses about 100 yards upstream, pauses to look around, and then meanders off.

Fly Fishing from a canoe for carp in the Hudson River.
Now this is where Jim really took a chance. He has seen me stumble my way through a stream and learns I have not been in a canoe very often. Jim makes sure to mention to me (more than once) that center of gravity is very important when sharing a canoe. I think I did OK, since we stayed dry the whole time, although I could not feel my legs for about two hours. Tim Daughton been catching these huge carp off an island in the Hudson. The carp are cruising for mulberries that have fallen into the water. The “flies” are round and purple, very pretty. Jim, of course, lets me fish first, which he’ll regret later. “Slow down Mike, let’s take a look first.”

We start to see huge carp foraging along the shore almost as though they are migrating up the island. I hooked five and lose them all when the line breaks. I lose the flies, and we only brought eight of them. We’re down to three, and Jim has not had a chance to fish yet. I have a bad habit of not locking the line with my finger when I’m fishing. Unbeknownst to Jim, I’m locking the line as hard as I can, and this is probably the main cause of the broken leaders. On the next fish, I don’t lock it in, letting the line drag, keeping the rod high, reeling when there is slack (another first), and after 20 minutes or so finally land the fish. Get some pictures.

Now it’s Jim turn. Fewer fish by now, but Jim’s skill does him well, and he hooks three or four good-size fish, but each one breaks off. We run out of time and fish, and Jim has to leave without having landed a carp. I guess he technically caught one when the fish was so close to the canoe that when he hooked it, the leader was already in the tip.

I hope Jim gets to go back before the “Mulberry” hatch is over.

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