Otter Creek Classic returns

Cold, high water. Slow fishing. That’s my prediction for the opening day of the 2011 trout fishing season.
OK, I admit it. It’s my prediction every year for opening day. I’m not going out on a limb. Still, the last couple years may have left anglers somewhat spoiled. On opening day of 2010, there was much less runoff from snow melt than is typical for early April, and thus much better opening day conditions than usual.
That will not be the case this year. Near record-setting winter snowfall in Vermont has left a sizeable snowpack to melt itself off over the next several weeks. Compounding the issue, as I write this column there is a hard rain pounding down outside my window soaking the ground and raising river levels even further. To call the New Haven River “swollen” right now would be an understatement. And with temperatures expected in the mid to upper 40s in the later half of the week, and in the 50s with more rain on Saturday, the snow is going to continue to melt. Local rivers will be running high, wild and cold. And trout, by contrast, will be staying low and quiet.
Still, none of that will deter most of the anglers participating this year in the 3rd Annual Otter Creek Classic Opening Day Fishing Tournament scheduled for this Saturday, April 9. The event has quickly become a local favorite and much-anticipated event. Indeed, the reputation and allure of this first-of-a-kind event — a “paper tournament” in which anglers record their own catches on paper and get photographic evidence only, so that the fish can be immediately released alive and healthy — is already attracting participants from several hours away.
The contest is the brainchild of Jesse Hailer and the Middlebury Mountaineer, which sponsors and runs the event, with all proceeds to benefit the New Haven River Anglers Association (NHRAA) and their conservation efforts. (The 2011 event funds will be focused on restoration projects on the Muddy Branch of the New Haven River.) Jesse is excited about this year’s event, which as of Tuesday had already drawn enough advance registration to eclipse last year’s numbers. He is expecting about 50 participants when all is said and done.
This year sees two changes to the now annual event. First, the mandatory pre-tournament meeting will be held on Friday night preceding the event, at 6:30 p.m. at the Middlebury Mountaineer on across from Canon Park. This will allow participants to be on the river first thing on Saturday morning. Following the Friday meeting, at 7:30 p.m., the tournament is hosting a showing of the Fly Fishing Film Tour at the Marquis Theater. (Tickets are available at the Mountaineer for $10.) Jesse describes the films as “funny, adventurous and inspirational.”
The other big change was motivated by the fact that each of the first two years the event was won by a professional guide. Jesse notes that “this event is way more about getting all anglers together on opening day rather then winning. It’s much more a celebration of another trout season, spring, and the NHRAA.” Nonetheless, it made sense to create two separate brackets, one for guides and other fly-fishing professionals, and one for amateurs. Each category will have its own winner, and to keep it fair anyone who has guided professionally in the past three years will be prohibited from competing in the amateur bracket. For more information on the event and how to register (including the fee), see the OCC page at the Middlebury Mountaineer website www.mmvt.com/node/243.
As for my predictions of bloated streams and few fish, Jesse didn’t openly disagree, but he was a bit more hopeful.
“Not many fish are caught on Opening Day on the fly,” he admits. “But a few always get pulled in. I think that we will definitely see some fish and probably a few big ones too. The last two years (of the tournament) have had several fish over 16 inches and a few over 20. You never know what is going to happen when you’re the first person of the season to throw your line into a pool.”

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