I had never tried any sort of fishing competition before this past Saturday. Yeah, in high school, my friends and I would count how many trout we caught each season and how many bass we caught and who had the biggest fish, but it was just about bragging rights.
In the Otter Creek Classic, held on Vermont's opening day of trout season, you can win serious prizes. There were two $800 fly rods given away - one each to the winners of the pro and amateur divisions. There were about 85 participants and the organizer claimed they had $7500 in prizes for the top anglers plus raffle prizes.
I had talked my son into giving it a try and the event took up most of our weekend. Regretfully, some bad timing and bad weather ended up potentially making a big difference in how our day went.
On Friday, I worked from a coffee shop close to home, and while I was working, I had my snow tires changed over to my summer tires. It was snowing when I dropped the car off and the owner of the garage told me that two other people had cancelled due to the snow. I told him where I had to drive later in the day and he told me that he could wait to change my tires if necessary. But, it's nearly mid-April, so I had him change the tires as scheduled. He's a small business owner and I didn't want to cut his revenue for the day any more. This would turn out to be a factor in the fishing tournament.
At 2:30, I quit work for the day and picked my son up at his job. We needed to be at a pre-tournament meeting in Middlebury at 5:00. Middlebury is about 40 miles from where we live, but the shortest route goes over two mountain passes on roads that don't see a huge volume of traffic and don't get a lot of love from the snow plows and cinder trucks. It snowed most of the way to Middlebury and the roads were slick. I was kind of laughing to myself, thinking about the potential irony of sliding into a ditch with my snow tires in the back seat, rather than on my wheels. But, we made it in plenty of time. I bought a few last minute supplies (thanks to the Middlebury Mountaineer for sponsoring the event and providing a nice discount to participants who needed those last minute supplies) and we grabbed some dinner before the evening's main attraction: The Fly Fishing Movie.
Essentially, it was two hours of fishing porn, watching people catch all sorts of big fish in exotic and not-so-exotic locations. The last segment of the film was shot on the Upper West Branch of the Delaware River, which is where my son and I were fishing when I caught this fish last year:
When the film ended, a quick look at the weather conditions on my phone concerned me quite a bit. It was 31F and raining where I lived, and the two mountain passes were likely seeing snow. It had been windy earlier in the day, and I was hoping the wind might have dried off the roads a bit. We started home, but the road up the first pass wasn't dry. And before we'd done even 1/3 of the climbing, the road was icy. My son and I both agreed that continuing was not a good option. I had been thinking for a while about alternate routes home. There were none that were completely flat. I could head south and go over a pass that was likely to be well maintained. That route would be almost 75 miles rather than the 40 miles of the more direct route. Or, we could go north and pick up the interstate for most of the way home. That route was over 100 miles, but seemed like the safest option. We chose safety over distance and opted for the 100 mile route. We did make it home, but not until after 1:00 a.m. and the last 20 miles had still been a bit hairy on the road. At one point, a state trooper passed us and then suddenly stopped in the left lane with his lights on. A pickup truck had slid off the road and was facing the direction of travel.
So, we got to sleep about 1:30 a.m. The official start time for the fishing tournament was 5:00 a.m., but I had no plans to fish that early. I had hoped to be on the water by 8:00, but I changed my mind and decided to get up at 8:00 instead. We didn't get out of the house the next morning until almost 10:00 and we weren't fishing before 11:00. We had the choice of fishing in five different rivers - Otter Creek, the Middlebury River, the New Haven River, the Neshobe River and Sucker Creek. I had decided early on not to fish the Middlebury. Despite having the best potential for a really big fish, the Otter "Creek" is a fairly big river, the water was high and off-color, and I was afraid that wading could be dangerous. The Neshobe was somewhat out of the way, although one of the biggest fish of the day did come from that river. I don't even know where Sucker Creek is. That left the Middlebury, which I'd never fished, but was the easiest to get to, and the New Haven, which I've fished but don't know really well.
When we stepped into the Middlebury River at our first stop of the day, the water temperature was 35F. We fished for a bit over an hour in some beautiful pocket water, but caught nothing. At one point, I thought I had a bite and I may have even hooked a fish briefly, or it might have simply been a submerged stick. Given the limited amount of insect activity at this time of year, I kept our fly selections simple all day. I don't think that we had the wrong flies on, but the Middlebury yielded no fish.
Next we headed to the New Haven. Most of our pre-planned locations already had one or more cars parked nearby. We finally found a place on our list of locations that had only one other car and that fisherman was downstream and we wanted to go upstream. This was another gorgeous stretch of pocket water. Two hours of fishing every imaginable holding spot yielded nothing. I know the fish were there, but I certainly couldn't get their attention.
We were running out of time (scorecards were due by 4:00 p.m.), so we tried one more spot quickly - some deep, slow moving water where we tried some streamers for a while. Nothing.
When we got to the store to turn in our scorecards, we found that with zero fish, we still had a median score. Well over half of the fishermen caught nothing at all.
In the amateur division, the winner caught two fish. Only two amateurs caught more than one fish. In the pro division, the winner caught six fish (all out of the Middlebury River and most of them while we were still sleeping), second place was four fish (a local guide who also runs the tournament), and a third fisherman had three fish. A guide who I fished with last fall, and who fishes the Otter Creek all winter long, caught nothing.
We won some socks and hats and a fly box out of the raffle. Next year, I either need to catch some fish to win a good prize, or just be luckier in the raffle. It was a raffle where everyone got something, but I was picked almost last.
The fact that I just typed "next year" must mean I'm planning to do it again. All in all, it was a fun day, even if the fish weren't cooperating. And, the fishing season is just getting started. It's supposed to be pretty warm this week and I'm already thinking about where to fish next weekend.