Let the Games Begin!
When our alarms sounded at 4 AM Saturday morning, neither Jake nor I considered pausing to enjoy our coffee as we had the morning before. The tournament (a nationwide event) began at sunrise for each of the 45 teams. And for us, that meant we would be on the water by 4:00AM.
Coffee and found in hand, we were in the car by 4:30AM and unloading kayaks shortly after 5. This location held the prospect of eight eligible species. At least five of which we felt we needed to win.
Though backup plans existed for the majority, a repeat of the prior morning would greatly improve our odds.
Off to a Fast Start
As my phone’s alarm signaled the start of our tournament day, Jake and I took a moment to assess the shoreline before launching our kayaks. The water was calm, and we had the lake largely to ourselves at this hour.
Walking the shoreline, Jake quickly spotted the same small brown as the prior morning, while I worked the shoreline for smallmouth with a small Clouser’s Minnow. Though the trout spooked, and no bass were found, we were on the board by 5:50 AM as a small bluegill inhaled my fly.
Working our way onto a rock jetty that transected the lake, we quickly spotted something busting alewives where the water flowed around the rocky point. As I trailed behind, Jake shouted Muskie, and I rushed to join. Firing a 1/0 chartreuse over white Deceiver in the direction my line immediately went taught.
Though momentarily convinced I had hooked a Tiger with my first 7wt cast of the day, it quickly became apparent that was not the case as a sizeable smallmouth emerged from the deep. A trophy worthy of a photo shoot on any other day, we quickly recorded the release to the tournament app and resumed casting.
My hope of a muskie renewed on the following cast as a large wake formed behind my streamer. However, it disappeared as my fly approached shore. And before I could cast again, a parade of boats began passing through the cut at the end of the jetty.
Water now disturbed, the bite died, and we made our way to the kayaks. Though we now had two species on the board by 6:00AM, I couldn’t help but lament the lost opportunity at that musky.
Battling for Position
I’m honest not sure how we had not foreseen the complication that followed? The weather was simply too nice, and we shouldn’t have been surprised when the bass boats began to stack up along the shoreline. New York in spring is hit or miss, and there was no way the weekend warriors would stay at home on a sunny, 80F Saturday morning.
The fish that had been largely ours the day before were now facing the pressure of a dozen-plus anglers, and we were no longer free to simply drift from dead fall to dead fall undisturbed. Still conditions were largely the same as the day prior, so we maintained hope that the fish would be there.
And they were. Or rather the smallmouth bass were. As we paddled and cast for the next four hours, that is all that came to hand. One after another with only a single strike from a non-committal largemouth that I failed to hook.
For Jake it was much the same with the exception of a tragic miss. Throwing a larger white synthetic fiber minnow on his 10wt, Jake watched as a Tiger (in the 28-30″ range per his recollection) erupted on his fly only to miss the hook and disappear once more into the deep.
By 10:00AM, we had grown tired of the ever increasing boat traffic and made our way back to shore. At this point, the goal was to stick to the plan. And that meant, wrapping up in central NY by early evening with the intent of working our way east towards Rhode Island where we planned to fish the following day.
Still, the thought of blowing up the plan had already crept into my head, and I told Jake as much on the drive.
A Change of Scenery
Having gone two for five at our first location, we were eager to make up time. Trout on our mind, we headed for Jake’s home stream once again. Our backup perch spot lay along the way, however, so we agreed to a brief detour.
Instead, we moved on 45 minutes later dumbfounded as the location that had produced multiple perch the day prior now held only bluegill, rock bass and smallmouth. The latter of which Jake had considered a rarity for that location.
Arriving at the pool where Jake had previously landed three browns and a fallfish on near successive casts, we found the fish largely absent. Hurrying up stream, we made note of the time (now nearing 12:00PM) and began proceeding with added urgency. Pressure building, Jake’s woolly bugger finally held and we found ourselves at three species as we reached the half way point of day one.
Continuing upstream, we spooked a number of fish before Jake finally hooked into a small brook trout. The hook gave though, and we lost what would be our only brookie of the morning.
Still we continued on for a short while longer chalking up additional browns and the occasional fallfish along the way. In the end though, we both acknowledged the clock was ticking and agreed to save brook trout for day two in Rhode Island.
Back to the Canal
The clock reading 12:30PM, we found ourselves falling further behind our desired pace by the hour. We approached the tournament believing 15 species would be required to win, but were now on pace for 12 at best. The remaining two trout saved for locations further to the east, we redirected our attention towards the carp-filled waterway we had scouted the day prior.
Cloud cover increasing and the winds shifting, visibility was limited near our start point. Moving with a fair bit of urgency, we paused only occasionally to try our hand at the occasional largemouth stalking the shoreline. Like their predecessors at prior stops, however, each refused us in turn. And, as we approached the shallow flat, we only had a single green sunfish (hybrid?) to show for our efforts.
Feeding carp remained scattered across the flat, though, and we once again felt renewed hope that our plan was sound. Beginning once again with a swimming nymph, I received no interest and quickly began cycling through flies. Likewise, Jake received a similar string of refusals as he delicately presented a variety of patterns to the cruising and feeding fish.
Eventually, I began to key in on a single small carp feeding near the edge. It had refused my swimming nymph, a Hybrid, and even a San Juan worm I dropped in desperation. It had not spooked though, and I decided this might be as good of time as any to try my hand at drag and drop.
Tying on a heavily weighted Primordial Carp Stew in black, I gently lowered the fly into the water ahead of my target and dragged the fly into the carp’s path. Though it paused, it refused my offering and turned away from the shoreline.
Flipping the fly once more into the carp’s path, I paused as it once again resumed feeding. Twitching it once to adjust the fly’s position, I was shocked as the fish turned and its rubbery mouth flared.
Setting the hook hard, the water exploded, and the fish took off across the flat. Shouting for Jake, I was unaware that he had just experienced a similar take some 30 feet ahead. And though his hook didn’t hold, mine did.
Sliding down the steep embankment, Jake was able to net the modest carp. And we were once again on the board.
Pausing only briefly to once again be refused by the resident largemouth, we hurried to the car with a decision to make. Stick to the plan? Or double back for the fish we missed?
Best Laid Plans
The plan had been simple enough. Check off muskie, both bass and other assorted warmwater by noon. Two trout after that. Then carp by late afternoon. Finally off to Rhode Island with a few brief stops before sunset. A good night’s sleep at Jake’s place, and we’d be on to striper, pike, and rainbow when the sun rose. Easy enough…
Sadly, we all know how best laid plans often go. And day one of the tournament was no exception. With only four species to our name, we blew up the plan and returned to where we had started.
It was 3:30PM, and we had exactly 5 hours until sunset. Armed once again with heavy rods and large streamers, we were intent on adding a tiger to our score card.
Three hours in, however, we had scoured the shoreline, been blown off the lake in a thunderstorm, and had only a continuation of the morning’s smallmouth bite to show for our efforts. When a single muskie finally swiped my Deceiver it provided a momentary burst of adrenaline. But only momentary. The hook didn’t catch and the fish was gone as quickly as it had appeared.
Bordering on dejected, we kept casting. Though admittedly, neither of us were casting at the pace we had to start the morning.
Knowing when you’re beat
Though I had one additional close encounter with a muskie that evening (a young tiger attacking bluegill that trailed my fly), it was a yellow perch served as our consolation prize for the evening.
Dangling my 1/0 Deceiver off the bow of my kayak, I was surprised to see a small perch. Doubtful the small fish would strike such a large offering, I was a bit shocked when it opened wide and inhaled the fly.
Setting the hook, I shouted with a little more enthusiasm than would normall be warranted for such a fish.
Though it wasn’t much, the small fish brought our total to five on the day. A far cry from our intended goal of eight to ten, we had some work ahead of us on day 2.
Exhausted, we called it an evening as my alarm signaled sunset. With a five-hour drive to Rhode Island now delayed until morning, our day would start even earlier tomorrow.