Matt Dickerson: Angler getting into hot water

It was the last day of May, but it felt more like the last day of June. On my way home a little after 5 p.m. the air temperature was still over 80 degrees F. And that was one of the cooler days of the past week. An hour or so later, when I got onto the Middlebury River with my waders and fly rod, the water temperature was in the upper 60s according to my stream thermometer. Given how warm and dry it had been, it wasn’t surprising to find the river was also running low, again more like late June or even July conditions.

On such a warm late spring evening, I expected some decent insect activity on the surface. And with a good hatch on, I also expected some decent activity from the trout in the river.

Turns out I was wrong on my first expectations. But partly correct on my second. 

One reason to expect some good trout fishing at this time of year is that the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has stocked about 600,000 trout in state lakes and streams including Lake Champlain.  (For information, see http://tinyurl.com/jr7jzoh.) 

The waters of Addison County have received a decent share of those fish. Baldwin Creek, one of the smaller fishable waters to be stocked, received an implant of 300 brook trout. Lewis Creek got a more generous donation of 1,000 brook trout, plus 1,000 browns.

A little further south, the New Haven River got the most generous stocking. Though the upper portion (above the falls and confluence of the Baldwin Creek) received only 800 brookies, somewhat fewer than neighboring Lewis Creek, the lower river was stocked with 1,500 rainbow trout and a whopping 2,200 browns. Some of the holes on the New Haven have so many stocked fish now, as I have noted in the past, that it seems like when you walk up to the shore to go fishing, they swim over to you waiting to be fed. 

Otter Creek received 500 rainbow trout and 750 brown trout, which should make the pike population very happy; also a few anglers, like me, who enjoy casting below the falls in Middlebury from time to time. The lower Middlebury River, where I was fishing on the last day of May, received a mere 400 browns, plus 750 rainbow trout, which was 50 percent more than planned, in addition to the 1,000 brookies stocked in the upper river.

And it’s not just the rivers that get stocked. In addition to about 300,000 various trout and salmon that get planted in Lake Champlain, Lake Dunmore received about 950 lake trout and 900 rainbow trout. Those who like to hike to their fishing will be happy to know that Silver Lake was stocked with 500 brook trout (about half of what was planned) and 750 rainbow trout (50 percent more than planned). Goshen Dam, in addition to getting 1,350 standard-size, year-old brook trout, also was the beneficiary of the “trophy” stocking program, receiving 450 two-year-old brook trout, which average nearly three inches longer in size than the yearlings.

But don’t expect to find those big brook trout anywhere near the surface of Goshen Dam any more. Or the littler ones near the surface of Silver Lake. Not with the warm temperatures we’ve been having.  Trout are a cold-water fish. Their gills can’t get the oxygen they need when the water gets too warm. For brook trout (which are actually char, and not trout) “too warm” begins around 65 degrees F. They can’t survive in water much warmer than that. Other trout (browns and rainbows) can tolerate slightly warmer water, but they will begin to experience stress when water temps get into the 70s.

Which brings me to my final point for the week. Given current conditions, this is a summer I expect our local rivers to be particularly warm and Vermont trout to be under some temperature stress. With the Middlebury River having already reached the upper 60s in May, I’m nervous about what it will be like in July. If you are going to the river to catch a couple stocked trout to bring home in a creel for supper, don’t worry about it. Catch your two fish, then quit fishing and head home.

Otherwise, get a stream thermometer and bring it along with you. Check the water temperature when you arrive. If it is above 70 degrees F, it is too warm for any catch-and-release fishing. Any trout you hook and play in water that warm will be under great stress and likely will die even if you handle it gently and try to release it. Better to take the day off.

On this evening, I learned that the hard way. One of the fish I hooked was a small brook trout. I don’t see many brookies in the lower river, and I wasn’t expecting it. But it went after my fly. It was barely hooked, I landed it almost instantly, it flipped off my hook without any help, and I had it back in the water in two or three seconds. But it didn’t look good. My heart was heavy that the fish might not make it. Upper 60s is borderline warm for other trout, but definitely too warm for this relative of the arctic char.

So enjoy the fishing this June. Late May and June are usually the best months of the year for trout in Vermont. Vermont even has a free fishing day on June 11 for those of you who don’t want to buy a license. If you like stocked fish, take advantage of some of the 600,000 salmonids in our lakes and streams. But get that stream thermometer at your favorite local sporting goods store and make good use of it. 

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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