During the fall of 2013 The Uncommon Angler crew gathered in New Hampshire for the first of many trips to come. Although the numbers of fish caught were few, all had a good time. The outcome was another trip planned for the spring of 2014. After a brutally cold and snowy winter in the Northeast, I was eager to begin chasing fish once again, especially with good friends.
Early spring angling was more difficult than the previous season due to the seemingly never-ending winter. Pond fishing was exceptional once air temperatures began to rise above 50 degrees. River fishing was not an option until about the last two weeks of May due to continual runoff. This was a difficult circumstance for me because I enjoy fishing rivers and streams more than any other type of water. Although still waters and spring hatches are enjoyable, I love finding a particularly fine stretch of riffles or a nice deep pool to cast into. Trout, bass, pike, and salmon are some of the species I like to pursue most in rivers. Having knowledge of each species and the types of water that each inhabits is essential to consistently finding fish throughout the year. Spring is the prime time to find any species in every body of water. This was the goal for the spring ’14 Uncommon Angler trip, set for the last week of May.
Austin Green, chief of The Uncommon Angler, and myself had been in contact with Mike Terrien of Burlington, Vermont for some time before the trip, and decided to invite him to join us. Having only met Mike once before in person, not on the water, but rather at a Phish show, I was eager to cast a fly with the guy. Mike was making the trek from Vermont to New Hampshire the evening of the 23rd, while Austin was driving north from Maryland. The plan was to convene in N.H. at my house and fish the morning of the 24th. On my drive to work I received a call from Austin notifying me of a car accident he was involved in. A vehicle had side-swiped him on the highway while driving through Pennsylvania. The news was at first an end to the trip before it began, but luckily the damage to Austin’s truck was minor. Without a passenger side view mirror and a lengthy scrape alongside the car, Austin continued on his route north.
It was around 11:00 p.m. when Mike pulled up the dirt driveway in front of my house. He transported his fishing gear inside and shortly after began tying a large pike fly. I instantly knew he was a serious angler and an exceptional fly tyer. Our plan was to whip up a few flies as we waited for Austin to arrive, and then get some rest so we could fish early the following morning. We could not have been more wrong about this plan. When Austin finally arrived at 1:00 a.m. we began drinking Fiddlehead Brewing Company’s Second Fiddle, an extremely hoppy double IPA which comes in at 8.2% ABV. Before we knew it, we were all tying flies and discussing the days of fishing to come. As the common phrase goes, “time flies when you’re having fun”, this was indeed what happened, but instead could be more properly labeled in our case, “time flies when you’re tying flies”.
When it was finally time to set our alarms for the morning we noticed we would be getting an hour and fifteen minutes of sleep. This realization was the first step towards an all-nighter, the second was more beer, more tying, and a late night breakfast. When the clock hit 3:30 a.m. we loaded the car and set off. Driving through an early morning fog was a feeling that I missed very much after the long winter. There is an eerie, almost mystical sense associated with driving through a dense fog that I cannot fully explain, but really enjoy.
After parking the car at our first fishing destination we rigged up our rods and walked to the river prepared to catch some trout. We began fishing expecting one of us to hook up within the first few minutes. After an hour and a half of ruthless sleep deprived casting we determined that it just wasn’t happening and decided to move on to another location. After arriving at our second spot Mike instantly hooked into a decent sized smallmouth. A few moments later Austin hooked and landed another bass. The morning was fishless for me, but I knew the week ahead would surely bring something good to my hand. At this point we were losing steam from no sleep and decided to head back to my house and relax. Of course we skipped out on rest and went right back to tying flies. The skewed sleep patterns of an angler are certainly hard to explain to a normal human being, a.k.a a non-angler.
After a hearty meal we actually went to bed at a reasonable hour (before 1:00 a.m.) so we could wake up and fish the entire day. The following morning went similar to the previous except a trout was actually landed by Mike. It was a gorgeous football of a brown, which was estimated at 6 lbs and 20 inches. After Mike’s hookup the crew was stoked for what the rest of the day would bring. Although it was an excellent day of fishing with friends, missed fish and empty beer cans were all that came of it for me. Satisfied with his fish, Mike decided to hit the road and head home to Vermont after our day on the water, while Austin and myself planned our next days approach to pike fishing.
The next day brought intervals of rain, not too heavy that it would put the fish down, but rather energize them. After casting for a short period of time Austin hooked into a good fish. I positioned myself below him in order to net the fish from the water, but quickly noticed something bizarre about it’s appearance. After several quick runs I got a glimpse of the fish, which was not a trout to my eyes. Despite having no wire tippet on, Austin managed to land a decent sized pike, which measured around 32”. It was a great start to the day and was the first pike Austin had ever latched into.
As Austin and I were about to head to another location I decided to take another few casts into the swift current. Moments later my line was tight and being ripped off the reel at lightening speed. “Fish”, I yelled to Austin who was upstream at the time. He quickly came to me with the net ready. The fish was staying down deep giving some serious head shakes. I claimed a brown trout was on the other end, but after the pike hook up earlier I knew that anything could happen. Seconds later a massive brown was thrashing on the surface. After a few more runs the fish lost steam and was swaddled in the net. A high five was issued after gazing at the brown that we estimated to be ten pounds and 25 inches. The fish slammed a new variation of an old classic I have been working on lately, a grey ghost tied with laser dub, craft fur, lateral scale, and blue frost fox tail. It was the first fish I had taken on the streamer, more appropriately, the first fish to annihilate the fly. It is a wonderful feeling to hook and land a fish on a new pattern, that was to be honest, a total experiment.
The next day we decided to take the beginning of the day off and actually get some rest. As morning turned to afternoon we decided to go after some pike at a location that I had never fished before. We loaded the canoe with our gear and set off. Casting to the banks repetitively is the name of the game when pike fishing in early spring or fall. Our 8 and 10 wt. rods were tossing large (6-12 in.) flies without issue. I was utilizing my Sage Flight rod, which has been my go to river rod for several years now, while Austin chucked flies with a 10 weight Orvis Access and 3-TAND T-90 reel. The fishing was relatively slow until Austin latched into a smaller pike, but it spit the hook seconds later. We decided to switch banks as we paddled back up river. Within minutes I hooked and landed a small pike. Though it was no trophy I still got quite a rush as the fish hammered my fly. The fish inhaled the fly deep into the back of its mouth, so we decided to keep the pike for a feast. Both Austin and I had never dined on pike and figured it would be a good time to try.
When we arrived home we cleaned the pike and cooked it simply with bacon, salt, and pepper with a side of fiddleheads. It was a local feast with great flavor. Paired with the meal was Lawson’s Finest Liquids Peril Imperial India Pale Ale, a limited release beer brewed for the Lawson’s 6th anniversary bottle sale. I had been holding onto the brew for a few weeks to share with Austin, which we decided was to be drank only after catching a pike. Since we had both caught Pike it was our time to indulge. Peril comes in at 11.0% ABV with serious grapefruit and hop flavor and aroma. This is apparently accomplished utilizing a triple dry-hopping process, which Sean Lawson can only lay down with such perfection. We were also lucky enough to indulge in a bottle of Lawson’s Double Sunshine. Other beers cracked throughout the week included the renowned Heady Topper (DIPA) from the Alchemist, Focal Banger (IPA), Beelzebub (Imp. stout), and Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout (Barrel aged Imp. stout). We had consumed a beer selection that was undeniably “world class.”
The next several days did not include much fishing, but instead moving. It was the end of the month and I was set to move out from the house my girlfriend and I had been living in for the past three years. It was one of those moves where you stop and ask yourself “how the hell did I accumulate so much shit?” Although a U-Haul would have been suitable we instead loaded my Subaru countless times until the house was empty. Definitely not an enjoyable experience, but it had to be done in order to chase fish the following days. After one morning of moving Austin and I decided to hit a favorite remote brook trout pond to catch the evening hatch. After hiking to the pond we loaded one of the canoes that awaited us and set out. A handful of trout were rising, but not enough to target with a dry fly. We started out stripping bright colored buggers just below the surface and received non-stop action. After landing several fish each we decided to switch to dries due to an increase of hatching insects. The next few hours were filled with brilliant takes on the surface and many hookups with fish in the 5”-15” range. It was the highlight of the week for both of us. There are few things in life that equal a good hatch on a remote pond where it is just you, the fly, and the fish.
The next morning we awoke to sunny skies and warm weather. This was a welcome change from five straight days of rain. I quickly determined that it was the perfect day to chase smallmouth bass. I called a close friend of mine, John Panakio (Captain John if you will), who has a humble camp on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. We loaded up my car and drove down to the lake ready for some bass fishing. We packed the boat and cruised out to my favorite smallmouth location on the lake. Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire, at 72 square miles there are a lot of places to fish. After reaching our first bank we began casting to cruising fish in the shallows. I hooked into a nice bass within minutes, and Austin continued to do the same shortly after. The remainder of the day was one fish after another. Although trout are hands down my preferred species to catch, I cannot turn down a shot at smallies. In the end it was a good day of beers, fish, and friends.
The next mission was a float on a new stretch of river where we planned on targeting pike with a shot at some smallmouth as well. After cars were parked in proper locations we began the float that ended up being a skunky one. No hookups, no takes, no fish seen. After the float we portaged the canoe up a rather long trail and headed home. The following day we decided to take another attempt at some pike and bass.
While driving up to the pond we planned to fish we stopped at a good old-fashioned convenience store for some beers and food. We grabbed a few canned pale ales and a bag of maple bacon potato chips and continued on our way. For a final time we loaded the boat and set out for the day. Although everything seemed like a routine at this point what would come later in the day was far from standard. After a short while of fishing I was into a decent largemouth bass that slammed my fly inches from the shore. After many more casts we decided that the fish had turned off. Although the water temperatures were still cool (50s) the air temperature was reaching into the upper 70s.
It seemed like a good time to work some big flies down deep with a heavy sinking line. As we paddled the boat back toward the shore I suddenly heard a panicked shout come from Austin who was in the rear of the canoe. Startled, I glanced behind me to see what had happened. What I saw will never escape my mind. Austin was diving off the boat into the frigid waters below. As he hit the water I noticed the tip of his Orvis access 10 wt. slowly fade into the depths of the pond. After a moment Austin emerged from the water, out of breath and out of a rod, reel, and line. I stared back at him in disbelief. At this point I comprehended what had happened and could not believe the reality. As the wind was moving the canoe along, Austin had set his rod down in the stern of the canoe to correct the direction of the boat and his large 3/0 hook must have snagged a submerged log and was ripped into the water.
As I paddled my soggy friend back to the shore we were both in shock. An Orvis Access rod, 3-TAND T-90 reel, and Rio line were resting on the murky bottom of the pond. The depth was 25’, but without a wetsuit, goggles, a light, and flippers the rod was inaccessible. After contacting several scuba services Austin decided that the price to pay for hiring a diver outweighed the value of the rod. It was a difficult decision, but in the end, shit happens. That night, a heavy session of whisky and bluegrass ensued, helping numb the pain of such a loss and put a cap on our week of countless species.
Text By Jon Zukowski, Photos By Austin Green.