Saturday, June 11, 2016

Think You Can Beat The Champ?

Think you can beat the champ? 2-Time DPC Champ, John Cooper is one fishy dude!
In 2014, John Cooper out-fished 115 anglers to take home the gold for 1st place individual. Not only that, his team, Imbassiles took 1st place team and John Also caught the Big Pickle, winning him a pile of cashola in addition to a slew of sweet prizes. Not only did John leave the awards in 2014 with more prizes than he could fit in his truck, but he was only just getting started.
In 2015, team Imbassiles returned in full, fishy force to claim more gold medals. Team Imbassiles beat out Matt Dickstein and Jay Modry of team Carpe Carpium by 11 points for the team gold and Cooper found himself, once again with the trophy in hand and a brandy new Jackson Kayak to paddle along a river of tears fallen from a field of over 130 anglers!
We were lucky enough to break John away from polishing his trophy just long enough to answer a few questions for us.

John's Big Pickle from the 2014 DPC (19.75" smallmouth)
Q. Where did you grow up?  

A. I grew up in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Q. When did you start fly fishing? 

A. My first memories of fly fishing were casting little panfish poppers with my dad's fiberglass five weight.  I was probably 10 years old.  I was mostly spin fishing until my teenage years, however and really got into fly fishing when I went to UVM in the late 80s.  I spent more than a few days on the Lamoille River back then, everywhere from Milton to Morrisville.

Q. Many of the fish you’ve caught during the DPC are on your own fly patterns. Where do you draw inspiration from in your tying? Who are your
role models in the world of fly tying and/or preferred tying styles?    
Jeff Faulkner (Team Imbassiles)

A.This is a great question.  My most consistent role model in the tying world is Jeff Faulkner.  His quality, consistency and creativity helped elevate me from a pretty poor tyer to the average/serviceable tyer that I am today :).  He is also able to take my ideas and give "commercial tyer" critique/advice to ensure they balance/swim/look better.  It really is a great skill.
Having said that, I'm pretty much in awe of what Pat Cohen can do with deer hair.  I had the pleasure of taking one of his classes this year and he really is a genius.  Others I get lots of inspiration from include Jim Bernstein and Peter Smith on the Maine tying scene, Rich Strolis and Mike Schmidt and Kelly Galloup for streamers.  I'm also a huge fan of the musky flies and draw a ton from Brad Bohen, Eli Berant and Vermont's own Ken Capsey for toothy patterns.  I've left out more than I've named.

Q.You seem to have a very laid back demeanor, yet you’ve beat out some of the finest anglers in the Northeast 2 years in a row. Are you a competitive
person by nature? Is the DPC your only taste of tournament fishing each year?
John's first win in 2014

A. I am a very competitive person to be sure and I have loved my taste of tournament fishing at the DPC.  It is the only tournament fishing that I've done and I feel very humbled to have won.  However, I know I'm not anything special just because I have won.  It is probably a function of the striper fishing we do in Maine and how well it transfers to the big lake as much as anything. I would like to try some other tournaments at some point, perhaps one of the musky events.

Q. Considering your success in the DPC over the last couple years, would you call yourself lucky or are you the type of guy that comes well prepared and ready to throw down?  

A. In 2014 I was EXTREMELY lucky.  Jeff Faulkner (my partner) had fished the tournament in 2013 and thought he had figured out a pattern toward the end of the tournament that might be really effective.  We rolled into Swanton and (no lie) bought a "Champlain Fishing Hotspots" map at the campground.  We headed out to the smallmouth spots and ran Jeff's pattern and it worked out great.  He and I essentially caught the same number of fish that year and my last fish happened to be exactly 18" or we would have tied.
Last year I was more prepared but the lake was cooler and fished a bit different.  I was really happy with how it unfolded, I didn't lose any fish and got some good bites even though overall conditions seemed a bit tougher.

Q. Describe your most memorable fishing experience.  

A. I took a trip to Grand Lake Stream about 15 years ago to fish for landlocked salmon.  While there, we were told there were a few migrating atlantics that had moved in through the St Croix River and into the stream.  I happened to hook into one about 30" long on my 5 weight with 5x tippet with a #16 caddis.  That fish could have broken off so easily had it not "behaved".  It jumped and ran, but never truly committed to heading downstream.  I finally managed to grab its tail and snap a couple of pictures.

Q. Tell us your favorite story about “The one that got away”  

A. I took my first trip to British Columbia last fall to fish for coho salmon, bull and cutthroat trout.  I walked to a sandbar on the opposite side of a big pool from our guide and my fishing partners and proceeded to hook a massive salmon.  After a long battle, I got it close to me only to realize it was a bright, wild Pacific king salmon (which shouldn't have been in the river at that time).  Being alone, I was forced to try to land it myself and proceeded to commit about a dozen comical sins, culminating in me holding the line in my hand as the fish made its last gasp and easily broke my tippet.  The beauty of it is that my buddies caught it on video...I looked impossibly stupid!

Q. The field of anglers fishing the Pickle is super diverse and many of the same guys return year after year. I know for a fact of several guys that really want to beat the champ. Who do you think has what it takes to win that trophy?  
Will Jay Modry (Carpe Carpium) sink the champ??

A. I'll be honest, Jay Modry scares me a lot.  In addition to being a super fishy guy, I'm just actually a bit scared of his intention.  He likes to joke about pulling the plug out of my boat, or other such mischief.  Do we really know what he is capable of?
In addition to Jay and Matt Dickstein, I don't need to look any farther than my own boat.  I've seen Jeff catch so many stripers when I can't get a bite.  He is such a good fisherman.  Then there are a ton of other tough fishermen like Jeff and James from Gyros and Perogies.  Finally...I have paranoia about new teams of ringers, or people who have been kind enough to fish for largemouth and pike in years past!

Q.Do you arrive at the Pickle each year with the same strategy and plan to fish a certain area, or is it a decision on the fly for you? 

A. It is less about a particular area, and more about a particular pattern.  I will say that we are keying on a certain depth range (though it changes a bit from year to year) and forage.  We've talked about mixing it up and targeting big largemouth, but I'd need to buy a bunch of Pat Cohen's divers to be ready to try that (it would take me a year to tie half a dozen decent ones for myself).

Q. Your teammate, Jeff Faulkner, is also no slouch with the fly rod and at the vise. How did team Imbassiles come together?  
Jeff Faulkner is no stranger to the podium

A. I more or less follow Jeff around on fishing adventures.  He was responsible for getting me into pike and musky fishing on the fly; he was the person who got me to switch to a spey rod for steelhead and he suggested we try the DPC.  I'm somewhat less picky than Jeff, so I know if he suggests and plans something, I'm likely to have a good time.  We also tie flies one night a week for most of the winter, often tying with Ken Capsey over facetime to ensure some rural vermont flavor.

Q. What’s your favorite DPC memory?  

A. The two most vivid memories were of a tank of a lost smallmouth in the 2014 event and then winning the team competition that same year.  I was struggling at the onset in 2014 and I think Jeff had boated about 4 fish before I caught anything.  I started to get a couple of fish by the afternoon, but was a bit worried about filling my card.  I finally hooked a stud of a fish but it came off after a few seconds.  I remember so vividly how despondent I felt, which is why fishing a tournament is so cool (and different from "just fishing").  I was relieved later, to learn that it didn't cost us the team win, which is what we covet the most.

Q. What is your favorite thing about the DPC?  

A. So many great things.  I love the friends I've made out there, I am just so psyched to fish on Lake Champlain each year and I feel so nostalgic getting back to Vermont.  You just can't go wrong at this event.  I really loved the barn for the awards last year too.

Q. What tip would you give to new anglers entering the DPC?  

A. Focus on smallmouth.  Largemouth are super fun, big and they live around pike and bowfin so they make for a great "fishing day", but if you want a legitimate chance to catch 7 good fish, you're probably better off with smallies.

Q. What’s your go-to setup? Topwater? Full sinking?, etc..  

A. For DPC, I'm equipped with 3 8-weights, one with a 250 grain shooting head (fast sinking), one with an intermediate, and one with a floater.  It is the 250 that sees most of the action, though.

Q. What type of vessel are you fishing from?  

A. I have a Lund Explorer with a 90hp Suzuki outboard.  It is a great boat for this type of event because it can put us on the main lake as long as the wind isn't too bad from the south.

Q. Do you incorporate electronics into your fly fishing outings?  

A. These last questions are revealing about our strategy!  Yes, we do incorporate a depth finder into our fishing along with a lake contour map.