All Good Things…
Day 1 of the tournament drawn to a close, Jake and I spent Saturday night scrambling to adjust. A number of common species (as well as the high value Tiger Muskie) had eluded us. And, we now found ourselves preparing to enter the final day of the tournament with only five species on the board. Worse still, we had blown up our plans in a last ditch effort to catch a Tiger. As a result, we now faced a five hour drive to our day 2 destination.
Alarms set for 3:15AM, we called it a night at 11:30PM and attempted to get what little sleep time allowed.
Not the Start We Were Hoping For
Running on fumes, we were in the car by 3:30AM with intentions of reaching our fist stop as the sun rose. A two-plus hour drive, this slight detour to a trio of small reservoirs would not only help us break up our long drive, but also offered the prospect of walleye, largemouth and a number of trout species.
Though the majority of these species could easily be attained at later stops, the detour had been part of our original Saturday evening plans. And, if things went well, we hoped it could help get us back on schedule.
Two hours (and countless bluegill) later that had proven not to be the case. Instead, fueled largely by cheap coffee, we found ourselves rushing once again with significant ground to make up.
The Fine Print
As Jake sped towards our next stop some three hours to the east, we once again revisited our plan. Pike, Crappie and Largemouth were the glaring warmwater omissions. Likewise, Rainbow and Brook Trout loomed large on our coldwater list. With a two-hour window before sunset slated for targeting Striper, we were looking at a seven hour window to check off five “must catch” species. Time fading, the prospect of targeting some of the “secondary” species (sucker, catfish, mirror carp) seemed unlikely.
Then, I noticed something on the tournament app that would change our plan of attack. Where prior documentation had clearly stated “Northern Pike,” the app read “Pike” with notation that both Northerns and Chain Pickerel would qualify.
While either species was feasible, northern pike have a limited distribution in Rhode Island and would require a significant detour. Pickerel, in contrast, were more prevalent in ponds and reservoirs nearer our other planned stops. Better still, a number of locations already earmarked for targeting largemouth and crappie held the prospect of pickerel as well.
With the judge’s reply confirming Chain Pickerel eligibility arriving as we crossed the Rhode Island state line, Jake rerouted us to a nearby state park with an eye towards checking off all three aforementioned warmwater species.
Back on Track
Squeezing into a crowded stretch of parking near the entrance to the park, we moved quickly to a cove Jake felt confident would hold crappie. And sure enough it did.
Before I could even place my first cast, Jake was calling for the camera. His woolly bugger had done its job, and he was unhooking our first crappie as I slid down the embankment.
Working our way along the wooded shoreline, we quickly realized the unseasonably warm weather was again playing to our detriment. With tourists, sunbathers and weekend anglers out in force, we found ourselves hard pressed to find snag-free access points. As we continued to put distance between ourselves and the parking area, however, crowds did begin to thin.
Finally distanced from the masses, Jake began to work a stretch of promising water as I bushwhacked my way towards a nearby dead fall. Emerging from the brush, I looked over to see Jake’s rod bending as he shouted “Pickerel.” Once again without so much as a single cast, I was rushing to Jake’s side. Camera at the ready.
No more than an hour since our arrival on Jake’s home waters, he had us back in the game. Now at seven species, we began to feel a renewed sense of confidence. With five and a half hours between us and Striper fishing, it was time to re-evaluate our options.
Time for detours
Though still lacking the ever elusive largemouth bass, our new found success had us feeling confident, and we agreed it was best to make a few short detours before moving on to cooler waters.
Detouring first to nearby lake that contained mirror carp, we were disappointed to find significant algae growth obscuring our view and rendering the site unfishable as far as carp were concerned.
Still the spillway below looked promising for largemouth, and, sure enough, Jake quickly hooked one among the lily pads. It simply wasn’t meant to be, however, as the fish tangled itself among the pads and was gone. And, although we spotted a few other small bass as we continued to work the spillway, only crappie and bluegill came to hand before we chose to move on.
One More on the Board
Continuing on to one last stop before transitioning to coldwater, we tried our hand in a small urban stream. While Jake noted that trout were supposedly stocked in these waters, our main targets were the largemouth, white catfish and suckers known to inhabit the stretch.
Sticking to woolly bugger while Jake tried his hand at indicator nymphing, we worked our way from run to run hoping to add to our tally.
When my rod went taught, and a silver-white flash emerged mid-current, I shouted “Catfish” assuming I had enticed one of the resident bullhead. To my surprise, my identification could not have been more off the mark as I slid a sizeable “stocker” rainbow to shore.
Looking a little worse for wear, it took a few minutes to revive the rainbow in the warm stream waters. Once we had, however, it was time to celebrate as our tally now stood at eight!
More importantly, we had removed the need for an additional stop from our remaining game plan. With the clock pushing 3pm, and a 45 minute drive to our next location, that was a huge win.
Acknowledging that largemouth would have to be back-burnered for the time being, we were in the car and on to brook trout. With a well-populated, wild stream some 45 minutes away, we were hopeful that we could make quick work of this species and still have time for at least one more stop before heading for the coast. A navigational error later, and that plan was placed into doubt as we pulled into our parking spot just before 4:30PM.
Electing to fish my 7wt, already rigged with a small woolly bugger, it was my turn to hit the water first. Jake and friends had landed wild brookies from nearly every pool along this stretch, so I found myself starting immediately upstream of our parking spot as he rigged his 5wt.
Striking out in this first pool, I hesitated to move too far ahead without Jake. Instead, I allowed my woolly bugger to swing deep under the logjam at the rear of the pool. Not expecting much, I felt my bugger snag as it completed its ark and popped my rod tip once hoping it would pull free.
To my astonishment, the foam at the front of the jam exploded. A large trout now thrashing against the pull of my line. Screaming (not shouting) for Jake, I worked the fish away from the jam as he rushed over with the net.
The fish, a rainbow of 15″, was residing in a section of stream known for its 6-8″ wild brook trout, and took Jake completely by surprise. He and others had fished this stretch numerous times throughout the spring and none had caught a rainbow. Let alone a rainbow of this size. More surprising still, the fish had perfect fins suggesting this fish was in fact wild. Though “stockers” are released in less remote stretches of this watershed, this individual showed no signs of hatchery rearing. A three year old, by Jake’s estimate, this fish appeared to have never seen a hook.
On any other day this fish, like the smallmouth from the prior morning, would have made the trip. But we had brook trout on the mind and snapped only this quick photo before the fish was released.
Pressure again mounting after an unexpected, but worthwhile delay, I let Jake take the lead. Skipping the next few pools, we moved quickly to the pool he felt would offer the best odds of success.
Working his way to the head of the pool, Jake immediately missed an 8-9″ fish before noting a rising fish to the rear where I was positioned. Flipping my bugger in the direction of the rise, I hooked up immediately. Our species tally had suddenly climbed to nine!
Bass or Bust
The clock now registering 4:45PM, we found ourselves with time for one last shot at largemouth. Selecting a spot along the route to our desired striper location, we set aside one hour before moving one.
Positioned along a rock cut, we battled significant winds as we peppered the water with casts. Cycling through streamers as we went, we both watched numerous largemouth follow, then refuse, each of our offerings.
Eventually tying on a white Clouser’s Minnow, I landed our first fish. Sadly, it was another chain pickerel (a first for me!) and not the bass I was hoping for. A second pickerel followed shortly thereafter as did another for Jake.
When my alarm finally signaled the end of our session, we accepted the fact that largemouth bass simply don’t eat flies. At least not our flies.
A little under two hours remaining on the clock, and we now needed a Striper to reach double digits.
With roughly an hour til sunset, we arrived at the river mouth that would serve as our final stop. Expecting the tide to be low, but rising, we were surprised to find waist deep water as we set off. A review of the tide charts quickly identified the issue. We had flipped low and high when we first reviewed them this morning.
Wind and tide now flowed opposite directions making for less than ideal conditions. Still, Jake knew these waters, and we were both confident in his ability to find striper regardless of conditions.
Twenty minutes before sunset, he did just that as a small schoolie inhaled his offering.
Relieved to have hit double digits, we spent our last 20 minutes searching for a larger striper that never came. Finally, acknowledging our exhaustion, we called it a day. We had not eaten in about 14 hours, and were both ready for some pizza and a cold drink.
In the End
All good things must come to an end, and, with the setting sun over Rhode Island, this tournament had come to an end for us. We had traveled in excess of 600 miles, fished over a dozen bodies of water, and clocked more than 50 hours on (or enroute to) these waters over four days. Exhausted and accomplished we returned to New York the following morning.
We had tallied 10 eligible species during the tournament, and more on the days that preceded it. Still, we both wondered aloud if it would be enough to place. Moreover, we each expressed fear that our inability to land a largemouth would cost us. Top 10 surely was within our grasp, but what about Top 3.
When the final standings were announced that evening, that fear was spoken into reality. We had ranked 4th out of 45 teams. One spot out of the prizes. We had tied for 3rd in species, but lost on points. Our largemouth would have given us 3rd. A Tiger would have been enough for 2nd. Both…could have secured 1st.
Still, it is hard to lament a 4th place finish among 45 teams. We had reached double digit species, one of only five teams to do so, and had done so largely fishing waters that neither of us had touched in years.
Beyond this, we also wouldn’t be leaving empty handed. Though not among the Top 3, we were selected as the winners of the Simms #fishitwell Challenge. In recognition of taking the time to document our multi-state journey, we would each be receiving a Simms Flyweight Hybrid pack!
In the end though, the fishing is what matters. The competition was the most fun I’ve had fishing in a number of years. And I have to say, the format challenged us at every turn. We were constantly forced to adjust our game plan and had a great time doing so. Needless to say, we’re already planning next year’s strategy. After all, there’s left than 12 months to go!