No Sleep Til…
By the time we returned to Jake’s apartment Saturday evening, it was already 9 PM. With five hours between us and our intended destination, it was going to be a long night.
Under ideal conditions, we’d make it Jake’s childhood home around 2 AM. Time for two and a half hours of sleep before beginning the 40 minute trek to our Day 2 starting spot.
Not an easy feat well rested. It would be a struggle as neither of us had slept more than five consecutive hours since Tuesday. And while Jake believed he was up for it, exhaustion quickly caught up with him as well.
Already nodding off myself, I wasn’t surprised when Jake pulled into a rest area around 11 PM and suggested we take a power nap before proceeding. We had been on the move for 19 straight hours, and it was well warranted. Repeating the process twice more before 4 AM, we eventually elected to proceed directly to our Day 2 starting point.
Running on fumes as dawn approached, we paused for coffee and received an additional jolt of adrenaline as the Day 1 standings posted. Per the posting we stood in second place. Both of us exhausted, we failed to realize the score listed was 250 points lower than we had calculated ourselves.
Still, with a pair of 300 point targets remaining on the docket, we felt confident that a 1st Place finish was well within the realm of possibility.
After a day that found us primarily targeting game fish, we’d be starting Day 2 chasing a pair of rough fish. Valued at 300 points each in the tournament, Gar and Freshwater Drum would weigh heavily on the final outcome. Neither particularly common in upstate New York. We found ourselves beginning the day at a location neither of us had ever been before.
Basing the decision solely on a fifteen year old internet post, we arrived at the small spillway just after sunrise. If the internet were to be believed, there were freshwater drum here. And with any luck, we’d find one willing to take a fly.
Armed with streamers of various shapes and sizes, we proceeded to blind cast our way along the shore in hopes of quickly checking off our target. If all went well, we’d be on the road to a nearby gar spot before too long.
Hitting the Jackpot
Much to our surprise, it quickly became apparent that we had stumbled across a hidden gem. Though no drum were observed through the chop and foam, both gar and channel catfish were spotted breaching along the rocks that lined the spillway. Both high value species, their presence implied the opportunity to accrue a quick 800 points if all three fish could be landed.
Yet, when Jake’s rod bent a few minutes later, it was another game fish added to our board. Valued at 150 points, the smallmouth bass would be our 8th species and raise our total to 1520 points.
Only 6:00 AM, we still had 14 hours to add to our score.
Try, Try Again
During the 90 minutes that followed, the bite slowed significantly with only a few small largemouth brought to hand. Having snagged numerous flies, I was preparing to swap out my sinking line for a lighter floating option when Jake shouted. Standing on the opposite shore, I could see his 10 wt doubled over.
Gathering my gear and hurrying across the small bridge, I slid down the rock embankment just in time to see his line go slack. What he assumed to have been a large drum had gotten the better of his heavy rod. Overpowering his drag, the fish had worked its way downstream far enough to wrap around a submerged tree buffering a bridge pylon.
Disappointed, I prepared to return to my casting spot. However, two bait fishermen had already filled my position. And, to my astonishment, one was in the process of landing a large drum of his own.
Points on the Board
Taking this as a sign that I should pause and re-evaluate my approach, I asked Jake for the keys. Swapping my sinking line for a floating line, I returned to the water and tied on a small clouser.
Turning towards Jake, I realized he was crouched down in the rocks. A fish was pinned beneath his hands.
Assuming he was unhooking another bass, I casually asked what he had.
When he shouted “Gar,” I dropped my gear and hurried down the rock embankment.
The fish had taken a large deceiver, and remained hooked just long enough for Jake to pin it in the shallow waters between the rocks. Knowing we’d likely not have another chance, he managed to maintain his grip until I returned.
Perhaps long enough to upgrade our length bonus, neither of us considered this until the fish had been sent on its way. A 300 point addition on its own, we had tallied nine species and 1820 points.
One down. One to go.
Gar now checked off, we turned our attention to the fish that had originally led us to this site. Jake had presumably lost one drum already, and the bait fishermen had done their part to verify the species presence. Barely past 8 AM, time was on our side.
Returning to the base of the bridge, I began fan casting in search of our second 300 point fish. When I felt a distinct thump moments later and saw a high-backed, silver flash in the water, I knew I had succeeded. Shouting to Jake before I ever had a clear view of the fish, he was by my side as I pulled the small drum ashore.
Nowhere near the size of the fish Jake had lost, it counted as 300 points all the same. Just 8:30 AM, we now stood at 10 species and 2120 points.
Thirty minutes, and a few panfish later, we bid farewell to our new honey hole and headed for the car.
A game plan for Brown Trout and Common Carp already in place, we turned to google once more in an effort to track down the elusive Rainbow Trout.
Not widely stocked in upstate New York, our goal was to find a rainbow stream along our current route. Easier said than done, we were determined to avoid the hour-plus detour any familiar rainbow waters might require.
Focusing in on a small stream along our route, we found ourselves parking behind a rural post office an hour later. Generally such a stream would be devoid of fish six-plus weeks after spring stocking, but this stretch had been designated catch and release. While no guarantee, we assumed our odds better here than at any of the surrounding put-and-take fisheries.
Again swinging woolly buggers, Jake’s cold water prowess shown through as he hooked not one, but three, rainbows in short order. A seemingly unnecessary redundancy, a technical error left the first release undocumented while the second made a quick exit at the lip of the net.
The third time thankfully proving the charm, we again added to our score, and now found ourselves at 11 species and 2170 points.
That Afternoon Grind
Noon quickly approaching, we found ourselves with two primary targets left: Brown Trout and Common Carp. Eight hours to go, we made our way back towards Syracuse and found ourselves frequenting the haunts Jake had grown up fishing.
Assuming brown trout to be the easier of the two, we made our way to a small park. Though a few rises were observed, we failed to draw a strike as we worked our way down stream.
When a voice on the trail above caught my attention, I was surprised to see Jake’s mother and brothers standing behind me. Out for a walk, they had bumped into us by pure luck. Pausing to say hello and briefly catch up, we learned that they had spotted a number of carp earlier in their walk.
The spot not far from where we stood, Jake and I said our goodbyes and swapped flies as we headed in the direction they had indicated. We’d see his mother again that evening, and he’d have time to visit with his brothers the following day. In the meantime, we had fish to catch.
While it didn’t take long to locate the carp in question, they proved a difficult task. And after roughly an hour, one snagged fish and one popped tippet were all we had to show for our troubles.
When a cold rain blew through a few minutes later, I proposed we take a short break. Jake, thinking clearer than I, had other plans.
Pointing to the now muddied stream as we returned to the car, he recommended we hurry to our next brown trout site. Too long of a delay, and the storm might render the stream unfishable.
Arriving a few minutes later, we began to work from pool to pool. The water already off color, we swung larger woolly buggers hoping for a strike. When my hook finally held after multiple misses, we were both elated. A quick video posted, we hurried back to the car and did our best to dry out.
With four and a half hours remaining, our count stood at 12 species and 2220 points. Though both totals were enough to win the 2021 tournament, two more gar and another drum had been entered since this morning. Competition mounting, we felt we’d still needed that carp to guarantee victory.
Last Ditch Effort
The rain now past, we made our way back to the feeding carp. Now 5 PM, less than five hours of fishing remained.
The water muddier than before, strikes proved near impossible to detect.
Concentrating on fish flush to the shoreline, we’d gently lower our fly in their path and wait. Unable to see our fly, we remained reliant on movement. Even the slightest twitch of tippet and we would set the hook. The result after forty minutes…a handful of missed hook sets and another popped tippet.
Luck was on our side, however, and when my line finally did go tight, I quickly horsed the small carp to shore. The hook popping free in the process, I was down the bank and on the fish before it could return to the water.
Jake, hurrying with the net, helped secured the fish as I prepared the camera.
Filmed and released, our two day total now stood at 2420 points and 13 species.
Two and half hours of daylight still remained, but our intended targets had all been accounted for. Stopping one last spot in search of walleye, we quickly called it a day and headed home.
Nothing left to do, but wait
Sunset approaching and fishing behind us, we headed home for cold beer and hot pizza. Thoroughly exhausted, we tallied our score and weighed our chances of victory.
Trusting the Day 1 totals reported, we tallied 2170 total points. Confident this placed us in the Top 3, we were unsure if we had done enough for first. At least one other team had landed both a gar and drum, and at least two reported 30+” fish for the bonus. Depending on the other species each had landed, it was within reason that one could outpace our score.
As with 2021, however, we’d have to wait and see. Final results would not be announced until 6:30 PM the following evening. And, by then, I’d be back home in Louisiana.
And the Winner is…
As bad luck would have it, I had yet to make it home by the time 6:30 PM rolled around the following evening. Flight delays and missed connections wreaking havoc on my day, I found myself nine hours into a 12 hour “layover” at BWI.
Retiring to an empty gate somewhere in the depths of Terminal C, I plugged in my head phones and tuned into the live feed.
5th Place: Team Fishin’ Impossible – 1910 pts
4th Place: The Fishician Scientists – 1950 pts
3rd Place: Fly Hard with a Vengeance – 2000 pts
2nd Place: Tight Lines & Fish Stories – 2050 pts
1st Place: Team Knot Failure – 2420 pts!!!!!
Stunned not by the victory as much as the margin, I texted Jake in celebration. We had won by 370 points. The margin more than doubled the difference between 2nd and 5th place.
The lack of sleep, miles on the road and countless hours on the water had paid off this time around. We had successfully built on the plan developed in 2021 and lucked out exploring new locations. Better still, there was clear room for improvement heading into 2023.
Needless to say, I slept well when my red eye finally departed. With new Orvis Waders, a Helios 3 fly rod and Bajio Sunglasses on the way, I had a lot of new toys to look forward to.
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