Monday, May 12, 2014

An Unusual Visitor

I got out in the canoe yesterday for the first time this season. It has been a very late spring and not much has been going on yet. With the gorgeous weather we have been having for a few days I thought that it was time to go have a look-see for some pike and bowfin and to take a friend out to enjoy the weather. As I was putting in the canoe it was hard to miss the numbers of dead alewives along the shore. Not only was it apparent visually but it also assaulted your sense of smell quite rapidly. These fish are a recent invasive in Lake Champlain and have been going through their yearly die offs ever since. 

We saw quite a few alewives in the process of dying too. They are very flashy and swimming in erratic patterns in the water. Definitely an attractant for predators and it seemed like all sorts of them were taking advantage of the situation. We were watching ospreys eating them and there were half eaten ones near where we put in that racoons had chowed down on. 

Fish were caught up in the feeding frenzy too, sometimes much to their dismay. There is the old saying- don't bite off more than you can chew... well it seems like fish moms haven't been telling their kids that too often. First I found a rather large perch that had quite a mouthful. It was dead on the bottom. It got a bit greedy and didn't make it. 

Shortly after this I noticed a group of decent sized fish spook from near a bush. At first I thought that they were largemouth but they seems a bit skinny and their tails were really forked. I didn't think about it much. Then we found another fish that was a victim of its own greed. We saw it from a distance and I again assumed it was a largemouth. As we got closer I realized what it was- a landlocked salmon. I wasn't too surprised. Lake Champlain has a great population of salmon and I figured it had washed in with the wind after dying in the lake. 

We kept paddling around. I finally saw one pike but it wasn't interested in eating. We saw a few more that again just weren't interested. The pike spawn was really late this year and these fish were still sulking with the post-spawn blues. The water temps in the lake are just getting to the sweet spot though. I think it will be a week or two before the pike bite really begins in earnest. There was one bowfin that we spotted and I got a fly in front of it and it readily ate it. Unfortunately it got off almost immediately and headed away fast. Still a lot of fun as bowfin always are!

But as we headed into where we found the pike and bowfin I noticed a pod of salmon. A pod of salmon in an area that is normally filled with bowfin and pike... really weird... but being a fly fisherman who adapts to the situation well I got down to business. I figured that they had to be chasing baitfish so I put on a smaller baitfish pattern and some 8 lb tippet and started casting my 9 weight into where the fish were cruising. I got one halfhearted follow and several fly changes didn't help. Then I watched the pod swim by... they were gulping down stuff like trout in a pond... they were eating bugs and the like. I scrounged around and found a #8 wooly bugger hidden in my bowfin box. 

It took a couple of casts and then I had a fish on. A nice fish too- that salmon had the 9wt doubled over. It took a while before it calmed down enough to get into the net. It was the first time that my friend used a net and I was really proud of the way that she got the fish. She also loves to eat foraged food so I asked her if she wanted the fish and rapidly said yes. Being that these salmon are almost all stocked fish I had no issues with taking one.

 The rest of the salmon seemed to have disappeared after that so we headed home. I saw a couple more salmon cruising the shoreline as we went but I wasn't fast enough getting a fly in front of them. Maybe tonight...  Oh yea... the salmon was delicious from all reports!

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