Trout and Camping in the Time of COVID
In a normal year, I’m what I would call a shy extrovert. I thrive on social gatherings, but my “battery” quickly runs out and I often need to spend a day or two recharging alone. This year, I — like many of us — have been forced to learn how to be alone for days if not weeks on end.
Always the eternal optimist, I decided this year would be the year I take up a new hobby in earnest, learn how to adventure alone, and be content in my own company.
Things started off great all things considered. Since couch surfing was no longer an option, I built a bed in my Ford Escape and decked it out with a Roamer™ and Tango™. At the same time, I also purchased my first fly rod — a small stream 3 wt. from a small company in Pennsylvania. I was determined to catch my first fish on the fly, specifically my first Brook Trout. Fast forward a month or so and (or don’t ... COVID time is irrelevant) I’ve landed my first Brookie with the help of Randy from the Swift River Ghillie and my first Striped Bass.
From that moment I was hooked. Fishing has become all I ever think about, all I can talk about.
When our CEO announced that our GOFAR program was still on despite the unique challenges to our business and industry, I thought, “since I can’t go far why not stay close?”
I had heard of the “trophy stretch” of the Connecticut River almost daily since the beginning of the fishing season. This stretch of river between the Third Connecticut Lake and Lake Francis was famed for holding Brown, Rainbow, and Brook Trout as well as a fall Landlocked Salmon run. After researching the area I decided it was where I would spend my second GOFAR, and my first fishing-focused and solo adventure.
Being the year of social distancing, it felt appropriate that this would be the year I embarked on my first solo adventure.
I’ve spent most of my life traveling with family and friends, so the thought of spending a week in the woods with just myself was a little daunting. To top it all off, I came down with a severe case of Vertigo in July that I am still dealing with as I write this.
As it turns out, fly fishing is the perfect activity for a solo adventure. Nobody wants competition on the river, and in my case — I did not want to be worried about hooking my partner with my sometimes errant backcasts. And always a people pleaser, I knew I would have spent the entire trip making sure my travel companion was enjoying themselves. Instead, traveling alone afforded me the freedom to plan my own days, enjoy my successes or reflect on my failures, and spend the evenings the way I wanted.
I spend my days at NEMO in a customer-facing role where I dedicate myself to providing the best experience for our customers. This means I am communicating nonstop without much time to slow down and enjoy the silence. By embarking on a solo adventure, I was giving myself time to reflect and rest after what — and I’m sure you would agree — has been one of the most stressful years of our lives.
Instead of feeling lonely, evenings were spent relaxing at my campsite with some focused preparation for the next day's pursuit. I would think fondly of the fish I caught, and try to glean a lesson or two from the ones that got away. Every evening I went to bed excited for what the next day would bring, which I’m afraid to say had started to become a rare feeling this year.
My days followed a very simple routine.
I’d wake up early and start the coffee, then slam down a quick breakfast of turkey bacon and yogurt. Then I’d throw my waders on, pour the coffee into the thermos, and hit the river. I’d fish all day, stopping only for a quick lunch, and only give up when the light was too low for me to see my fly at dusk. Evenings were spent eating a quick dinner next to my fly box, rigging nymph droppers for the next day. Traveling solo, I was able to get away with such a spartan camp routine and that allowed me to really devote my time to fishing.
Since I had never fished this area before, I knew my best chance of success was to hire a guide. I would be spending 5 days on the river, so it made perfect sense to hire the guide for the first full day. Mickey Cunlife, the owner and operator of Fishing with Mickey worked with me and I could not have had a better experience. He taught me some new techniques, which patterns were hot, and where I could fish. I learned so much from that day-long session that I truly believe that I became a far better fisherman than I was when I started in the morning.
A bigger stream offered more space to expand my cast, and more water currents to understand.
At some point during that first day, I heard Mickey mention the “Grand Slam” which involved catching each of the four species that call this river home. While I arrived with no expectations or goals, catching a grand slam quickly captured my ambitions. Having only caught palm-sized Brook Trout before this trip, the idea of catching three new species excited me like nothing had all year.
For those of you who may not know, the Brook Trout is a highly targeted freshwater species. Not a true trout biologically, but a salmonid, they thrive in cold, quick flowing streams. In my opinion, they are some of the most beautiful fish out there, and I was stoked when I hooked into my first “chunker” of a Brookie early in that first morning with Mickey by my side.
It was a cold 29 degrees when we turned off the highway onto an unmarked pull-off. As we made our way down to the river we could see the light breaking through the trees illuminating the steam rising up from the river.
The hole we were fishing was particularly deep with just enough tree cover to make casting a little technical. Mickey gave me some pointers on my roll cast and rigged me up a nymph setup with a Jimmy Legs Stonefly and an egg dropper.
I spent a few minutes casting upstream and watching my strike indicator wiggle in the current. After a few casts, the indicator vanished and I set the hook into the largest fish of the trip. The fish immediately ran with the current, but it was a good set so it stayed on.
Having previously only caught smaller fish, balancing patience with the delicate force needed to land a strong trout like this was a totally new and exciting experience. I would give a little line, then pull more in. After what felt like minutes but I’m sure was probably seconds, we had the fish close to the bank and in a net. Mickey and I admired the colors of this pre-spawn Brook Trout and even observed some scars where a predator had tried to make a meal of it.
After a few quick pictures we slowly released it back into the water and watched it glide away.
With Mickey’s patient and knowledgeable instruction and a quick trip to the local fly shop, I was routinely breaking personal records on Brook Trout and landed my first Rainbow and Salmon early in the trip.
The only fish that evaded me was the Brown Trout. Three full days went by without seeing a Brown and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t become a little obsessed. Unfortunately, my last full day was my least successful day, I landed two fish in the morning which I had ID’d as Rainbow Trout, and struggled all afternoon. I managed to pull in a small Salmon and beautiful fall Brookie, but I missed the Brown again.
I felt utterly defeated and was a little deflated about leaving this trip without getting my fourth species. On my walk back to my tent I sent a photo of my first fish of the day to a friend, who promptly replied “What a beautiful Brown!”
I literally stopped in my tracks. Did I misidentify this fish? A quick Instagram poll confirmed what I had missed.
I had landed a Brown hours earlier in the morning! Realizing that on my last full day I had accomplished a Grand Slam brought me so much joy I couldn’t help but smile the whole walk back to my tent in the dark.
On my last morning, I packed up early and hit the river with zero expectations. I had caught more fish in one week than I have in my whole life and I couldn’t have been more pleased. I managed to land a beautiful Rainbow my last morning before packing it in and heading home.
Fly fishing has taught me so much about myself this year, and I cannot wait for spring to find its way back to New England.
All in all, I’d say my first solo adventure was a resounding success, and I’d encourage you all to try it for yourself. There’s no better time than the present. If you’re feeling stuck or nervous about your first trip here are a few pointers to help alleviate some stress and get you out there.
Start small. Not every trip has to be a huge expedition. Go to your local park or campground, then slowly work your way into bigger trips.
Go with a guide. If you are going somewhere totally new or plan on participating in a new activity it might be a good idea to hire a guide. Those individuals who dedicate themselves to educating people about their passions can really turn a good trip into an exceptional one.
- Overpack. One overlooked benefit of solo travel is that you can bring more stuff! Pack ALL the luxuries and really make your experience as comfortable as possible.
Speaking of overpacking, I took full advantage of an empty car on this trip. My sleep system consisted of our new First Lite collaboration tent the Tracker™ 2P, a Roamer™ Long Wide, and a Sonic™ 0°.
The Tracker™ felt appropriate for a fishing trip, and the increased rainfly coverage kept me nice and toasty on those sub-freezing nights. For cooking, I went all out with a Camp Chef Everest stove and brought along my Aeropress for coffee.
My most successful flies of the trip were the Egg dropper, Copper John, Elk Hair Caddis, and San Jaun Worm in varying sizes. I will never have a box without one of each in it from now on.
The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it. Travis Gagliano manages NEMO's wholesale accounts and loves to spend his days hiking and fishing New Hampshire's small streams.