Four things to do in a winter without snow

So it’s winter, and you can’t get your fix of fishing. This is a problem for Vermont anglers every winter, but this year it’s particularly acute because all the outdoor things you do in the winter when you can’t fish require snow. And, as you may have noticed, there isn’t any. Not only is there no snow, but as I write this column it is 46 degrees outside and the long-range forecast offers no promise of significant snowfall in the next 10 days.
So with that in mind, I offer four recommended activities for you frustrated anglers: What to do in the winter when you can’t fish and there’s no snow.
Activity one: Learn about your great state of Vermont. I was listening to VPR one morning last week and heard that the Vermont House recently passed a statute recognizing brook trout as the official cold-water fish of Vermont, and walleyed pike as the state warm-water fish. The proposed statue will next be coming before the Vermont Senate.
Now this legislation confused me because brook trout have been listed as the official state cold-water fish since 1978. In fact, the Appalachian Trail cuts through (or along the border of) 13 states, and a remarkable eight of these 13 — Vermont as well as New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia — list brook trout as an official state fish. And deservedly so. Unlike invasive browns and rainbows, brookies are native to the entire Appalachian range, and are iconic, beloved, and beautiful.
But that doesn’t answer the question. If we already have brook trout listed, why the legislation? At least one representative from Addison County whom I contacted was as lost as I was for the purpose. So I called Rep. Robert Lewis of Derby, who sponsored the bill, and asked him.
He explained that in 1978, the state legislature did, in fact, vote brook trout and walleye as the official state cold- and warm-water fish. But in 1978 it was only a resolution, not a statute. Though it is still, in some way, just symbolic, “a statute is a much stronger than a resolution.” Hence his bill. I guess there is symbolism, and then there is Symbolism.
Activity two: Visit a favorite local fishing store. Or two. You don’t need to be looking for anything in particular to buy. (Though it is almost a guarantee you’ll find plenty on which to spend your Christmas money.) Just being surrounded by fishing stuff will give you plenty of ideas for the coming season. It will remind of you what you have, what you need, and what you love doing.
More important than the gear, though, are the people. The staff as well as the customers. I love the conversations that happen around fishing and hunting stores. (There are always some going on.) These stores are like the barbershops of a few decades ago. It’s especially nice to go to a fishing store where they know you by name, and you know them by name.
For me, that’s Vermont Field Sports and the Middlebury Mountaineer. But there are others — especially if hunting is more your thing than fishing. And if there isn’t a fishing store where you know each other by name, you especially need to partake of this activity. Repeatedly. Keep doing it until they do recognize you.
As for activity three, I preface my recommendation by noting that my youngest son used his Christmas money and his life savings to buy himself an iPod.
He then did me proud by downloading a fishing game app. You cast a lure by flicking the iPod. (He warned me not to let go of it.) When you see a fish strike on the screen, you reel a virtual reel by moving your finger around the screen in circles, being careful not to reel in too quickly (or you will break the line) or too slowly (else the fish will spit out the hook). It was pretty fun. I caught a virtual eight-pound rainbow on my fifth or sixth cast.
Inspired, I found several more free fishing games for my own mobile device. Some were really dumb. Others had great graphics but were impossible for me to figure out. Others looked pretty fun, but you had to pay money to get the features that made them good, and I am too much of a cheapskate to pay for apps. So I deleted them all. But that doesn’t stop me from making recommendation three: Get a fishing app for your iPad, iPod, or mobile device.
After you do this, I also highly recommend that you play the game once (and only once) and then quickly delete it, realizing that it offers none of what really draws you to fishing in the first place, not the least of which is actually being outside on the water.
Which brings me to my fourth and final recommendation for the angler looking for something to do in the middle of the winter when there isn’t any snow. Go fishing.
Although I’ve enjoyed winter fishing trips over to the Great Lakes tributaries in New York, you don’t need to leave the county for good winter fishing. I’ve spoken with several anglers lately who have said the trout fishing so far this year has been especially good in several local waters. There has been some great insect activity on some of the warmer days in January leading to equally active fish. And with so little snow on the ground, there is more accessible water than usual, and less impact of melt-off on warm days.
Over the past few years, Vermont Fish and Wildlife has opened up more rivers for winter catch-and-release fishing, including Otter Creek downstream of Center Falls in Rutland, and Lewis Creek below the falls at State Prison Hollow, as well as the lower portions of every tributary to Lake Champlain. I think this is a great start and I commend the state. I hope the trend continues. I’d like to see all the trout streams legally fishable year-round, but have them be catch-and-release until the traditional starting date of the open trout season in April. That will still protect fish from over-fishing, but give anglers an opportunity to get line in the water.
And if you head out for some winter fishing, and you manage to hook into a brook trout, remember that it might soon be the Vermont state fish, not just by resolution, but also by law. If you don’t manage to hook into anything, you could also try one of those fishing apps on your iPod.

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