by Peter Nardini
No matter how much you prepare or when you go to sleep, the 5 a.m. alarm always comes too early. After packing in food, equipment, and downing at least 4 mugs of coffee each, my friend Greg and I made the drive up to Swanton, Vermont. The night before was spent pouring over topographic maps, fly fishing magazines, and basically anything short of voodoo that could possibly give us an edge catching fish in the Ditch Pickle tournament. We finally arrived weary-eyed at 8:30 a.m. At check-in we talked Cape Cod striper fishing with some great guys in front of us, Jay Modry and Matt Dickstein of “Carpe Carpium”, who ended up placing second in the tournament (looking back, we probably should have asked them where to fish). We met up with Chris and Mike from Green Mountain Troutfitters at the sign-in table, grabbed our “Pickle Stick” for measuring the fish, admired our Tunaskin Ditch Pickle Classic shirts for a quick moment, and hit the water.
We began our Saturday at the Missiquoi section. We had carp following us under our boat which seemed like a good omen for the day, however the catching was another story. After about an hour on that spot we moved down to Ransom Bay. We caught a half dozen smallmouth bass there and, after not being able to land one particularly “pickle” worthy specimen, we putted around in search of weeds and structure for largemouth bass.
|Pete with a monster smallmouth bass|
Greg landed a nice 14 inch largemouth at the next spot but we forgot to take the “grip and grin” picture to accompany the picture against the “pickle stick” ruler (it is a photo release tournament). I tied on a black popper that Pete Kutzer recommended when I was roaming around the fly section at the Orvis Manchester store a few days prior. If it put him on fish at the Pickle, then it would put us on some as well. The poppers saved the tournament for us, Greg caught two on the “Kutzer Special” that got us on the official tournament board, our one goal of not getting skunked was accomplished. Both fish took the circuitous route to land, however. The first fish flopped out of the boat but as my friend jumped around in a fury I went through my recent memory and remembered that we hadn’t pulled the fly yet. I grabbed the rod and, feeling the tug, landed it a second time. Truly a team effort. The second fish almost cost me my new 5 weight Recon. I dropped the rod as I went to net the fish for Greg and, without my knowing, my fly got caught in a tree. The boat went in one direction and my rod the other, only taking notice when I heard it flexing. We were faced with the ultimate anglers’ dilemma: fish or fly rod. As soon as we landed the bass Greg threw the boat forward and I reached into the bush and freed my fly. Soon after, we returned to the launch glad we had points on the board after a very interesting first day.
Afterwards we headed towards the Missiquoi section. We had no luck and my bubblegum clouser that had done me so well earlier was returned to the depths by another bigger northern pike. We fished our way in to the boat launch until our loops were collapsing and our arms couldn’t take another cast. The post-tournament BBQ was just what we needed after fishing in the rain. We were well taken care of with the ladies from Green Mountain Troutfitters helping with the sides and Brian Price and Greg Brown manning the grill. We traded stories from the tournament with Tyler from Orvis and I happened to meet up with fellow Endicott grad (go Gulls) and fly guy in the line, The Fly Pack owner Cory Merrill. At the awards ceremony we learned that there was a Ditch Pickle first with a repeat winner- team "Imbassiles" bagged the title for first place team (Jeff Faulkner and John Cooper) AND angler (John Cooper). After a few Museum giveaways and some very nice words from Chris Lynch we begrudgingly packed up the fly rods and headed back to Manchester.
We came, we fished, we didn’t get shut out, and we met some great people. The weekend on Champlain was filled with fishing situations that you just can't make up, which is part of the attraction, and we already can't wait for the 2016 Ditch Pickle Classic. Thanks again to Chris Lynch and Mike from Green Mountain Troutfitters for having us, we were so honored to be included as a sponsor at this year’s Ditch Pickle Classic and will continue to be a supporter in the future.