Thursday, October 31, 2013

Last Day of Trout Season in Vermont

I wish I could get out fishing today to celebrate the last day of the season.  Regretfully, I'm swamped at work and the weather is a bit iffy anyway.

My last few fishing days this year were either cold or wet or both, and I only got one fish in total my last three days out.  But, with my new fancy rod and reel this season, I easily had my most successful fly fishing season I've ever had in Vermont.  My first couple days out were very cold and didn't produce anything.  On the first of May, I finally caught my first fish on the season - a very nice brown trout from perhaps the single most popular fishing spot on the New Haven River near Middlebury, Vermont.

A week or two later, the New Haven was stocked, and my son had a memorable evening fishing for the non-native fish.  I think I caught 13 fish that night, mostly stocked, and my son caught 7 more.  After that day, we only caught a few more stocked fish all season.

Shortly after that day, water levels started to rise as we got lots of rain for weeks.  Some of the bigger rivers remained tough to fish for weeks.  At one of my favorite spots on the White, I took a spill while wading alone, which was somewhat scary.  But, I also managed to catch a couple trout and my only smallmouth bass of the season that day:

From there, the fishing started to improve just about everywhere.  I had a productive Sunday evening on the upper part of the main branch of the White River.  I had an OK day way downstream the day before.  My son, who has only been fly fishing for a few years, started to do better.

When I lived in CA, I fished dry flies a lot.  I've seen someone estimate on the web that fly fishermen from the Rockies and west spend 50% of their time with dry flies, 40% with nymphs and 10% with streamers.  Here in VT, I probably do 70% with nymphs, 10% with dry flies, and 20% with streamers.  Regretfully, for the less experienced fisherman, fishing with nymphs is the most difficult of the three.  The strikes from the fish are often subtle and easily missed completely.  Or, they might be detectable, but the fisherman reacts too late to hook the fish.  My son is getting better, but there is still a huge experience gap between him and me.  Even I would say that it's only been the past few years that I have considered myself a decent nymph fisherman.  And that's from someone with over 30 years of fly fishing history.

I had some days through July and August where I didn't catch any fish, but there weren't many.  It seemed like the fishing just got better and better as the season progressed.  By the time my son and I got to a week of vacation in September, fishing was as good as it had been all season.

On the first fishing day of our vacation, we hit some weird weather.  Intermittent clouds led to intermittent insect hatches, which led to fishing that would be good one minute and terrible the next.  Fishing was tough that day, although I did manage a few fish, including one on a dry fly.  I think I only caught 3 or 4 fish on dries in VT this year, so that last one was a treat.

The next day, we fished the same river a few miles downstream.  It was a sunny day and fishing was generally slow, but I did manage to catch my "fish of the year" that day - a wild rainbow about 20" in length (I use the size of my net to get a quick size estimate before releasing the fish as quickly as possible.)

The next day, we fished Otter Creek and the Middlebury Rivers.  It was my son's day to shine as he picked up a few browns on the Otter and lost a few more.  I managed one brown on the Otter and later caught my first ever rainbow on the Middlebury - an amazing subtle strike on a tiny nymph that I managed to detect.

The next day, we got skunked on the Upper Lamoille River.  Those kinds of days happen.  But, the following day made up for that, when I had an amazing day on the Black River.  I was into rainbows upstream and later, browns downstream.  Regretfully, for my son, this was a day that really highlighted the difference in our experience levels.  I was following him downstream, giving him first access to every spot.  At one point, he walked past a spot that looked somewhat promising, opting for a bigger hole downstream.  I hooked 4 fish in fewer than 10 minutes in the spot he skipped.  Later, I walked in right behind him in two different spots and caught a fish on my first cast in a spot he'd just abandoned.  But, he managed some fish as well, and we'd had a good week.  We tried to get out the next day, but it didn't work out.  Here is a photo of my son landing one of his fish for the week.

A few days later in PA, I caught four wild browns in a stream I'd fished as a teenager.  A few days later, we were back in Vermont, and I asked my son if he wanted to sneak out on a Thursday evening for some fishing.  He declined, and later regretted that.  I had one fish after another hitting nymphs really hard.  I caught my second biggest fish of the season (18"), and had three other nice fish snap me off.

The following weekend, I got out with a friend from my gym while my son worked.  He is a very talented and experienced fly fishermen, and perhaps I shouldn't have shown him one of my favorite "secret" spots.  I got skunked that day, but he picked up two very nice rainbows.  One was very similar to the 20" fish I'd caught in that same spot a few weeks earlier - lots of bright red colors.  That fish was close to 18".  The second fish was much like the photo above - much more silvery in color, and about 16" in length.  It was a tough day for me, as we were fishing in a raw, cold rain, and going fish-less in conditions like that wasn't a lot of fun.  We also lost some fishing time that day when I accidentally locked my keys in my car, necessitating a rescue by my wife.

A few days later, I got out midweek for an hour or so.  I went back to where I caught the fish shown above, and it was as if the lights had been turned out.  The blue winged olives were gone.  The isonychia were gone.  The caddis flies were gone.  And the fish weren't very interested.  I did manage one rainbow - what would turn out to be my last fish of the season.  It was caught within 20 yards of where I caught my last fish of the previous season.

My son and I got out one more time - late in the day and we only had an hour to fish.  He hooked two fish and landed one.  I missed one strike.  That was on October 16th.  And then, I had two really busy weekends.  I went to a college football game with friends.  I traveled out of state on Sunday.  I spent two days prepping for ski season.  And suddenly, it's over.

I'm still in search of my first ever truly big brown trout in Vermont.  I caught a brown about 19" in 1997, while visiting on vacation (we lived in Alaska at the time).  My biggest browns ever have been caught in CA and PA.  I caught a brown of 16" this year in VT.  But, a brown of greater than 20" or maybe even greater than 24" is still one of my primary motivations for getting out there.  I know guys who get to fish more than I do (some of them are guides) and they catch multiple fish like that every single year.

This year was an interesting contrast to last season.  I caught at least 80% rainbows this year after catching at least 80% browns last year.  I didn't catch a single brook trout this season - Vermont's state fish.  Part of that has to do with the best quality river that is closest to my house.  The White is primarily a rainbow river.  The New Haven and Otter and Dog hold more browns, and I fish them all, but less frequently than I fish the White.

But I caught more and bigger trout in Vermont this season than I've ever done before.  I really enjoyed the new high end rod and reel I bought before the season.  And, while I'm looking forward to ski season right now, I'm already thinking ahead to trout fishing next spring.  Between now and then, I hope to spend a number of winter evenings tying flies and dreaming of big brown trout.

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