Matt Dickerson: Opening day of trout season featured some success stories

As is so often the case in Vermont’s early April, the weather and water conditions leading up to opening day of trout fishing were fickle. When the week began, rivers were running unseasonably low and clear thanks in large part to a lack of snow. Very fishable water levels and visibility, combined with a series of warm sunny days during the first half of the week, seemed to promise a delightful — and perhaps even successful — opening day.
Then on Thursday the cold rain moved in. Two days of it. By Friday afternoon the New Haven River was looking rather unpromising: high and roily and far from clear. In a 36-hour period, my prospects for catching a fish had become grim.
But Saturday was opening day. And opening day is a tradition among trout anglers — a ritual even. Besides I had already paid to compete in the Otter Creek Classic opening day fly fishing tournament. And I spent Friday night at the Fly Fishing Film Tour getting inspired by some beautiful fly fishing footage. So I was committed to getting up Saturday morning well before the crack of dawn and hitting the local rivers with my fly rod at the very first hint of light.
Which really mean that a little after sunrise I had made it out of bed as far as my kitchen to start the coffee. And an hour or so later I was at my favorite spot on the river. To my surprise, the New Haven had come down considerably from the previous afternoon. It was relatively clear, and certainly wade-able. I walked along the road a few hundred yards to avoid another angler already in the water — one who apparently took the whole “crack of dawn” thing more seriously — and found my way to an unoccupied stretch of water.
I knew the water was cold. Two hours into the morning I would measure the water temperature at just over 36 degrees. That’s too chilly even for a cold-water species like trout to be especially active. Still, seeing the water level back down, my hopes were high. The evening before I had made a personal commitment to fish that morning with only flies I had tied myself. Catching fish (and winning the tournament) would be that much sweeter. At the end of my tippet was one of my white and red wooly buggers: a large fly that can be drifted along the bottom of the river like a leech, or pulled upstream through the current like a small bait fish. It had “big fish” written all over it.
And sure enough, on just my third cast drifting the fly across some riffles and down into a deep bend beneath a fallen tree, I saw my line stop and felt a subtle little tug of resistance. I lifted the rod and set the hook. And less than I minute later I had reeled in…
…my empty line. My white and red wooly bugger was securely lodged on the log too deep below the surface for any hope of retrieval. Three casts and one fly gone already. At that pace, I was going to have to tie a lot of flies.
Fortunately, the air was so damp and frigid that my fingers weren’t working. And anyway, in the dim morning light my 50-year-old eyes have a hard time seeing to thread on a new fly. So it took a good 20 minutes before I was able to start fishing again and losing more flies.
Four hours later, when I gave up and went home without any trout to my name, I was absent seven flies. I submitted my empty scorecard to the tournament directors at Middlebury Mountaineer and headed over to the college to watch a baseball game. Not until the end-of-the-tournament barbeque and award ceremony that evening would I discover how much more successful some other anglers had been.
The largest trout of the day was caught by Wes Butler of New Haven (who has worked as a guide and entered the tournament in the pro division). It measured 23.5 inches, just barely beating out the 23-inch trout caught by Tyler Brown. But the grand prize goes not to the single largest fish, but to the greatest total length of trout caught. Jesse Haller, the multi-year reigning champion of the pro division, was finally dethroned. His 68 total inches of trout was good for second place behind an amazing 94 inches of trout landed by guide Patrick Joyce.
The amateur division was taken by Kevin Ecclesine with 33 inches of fish — which is considerably more than the total length of the seven flies I lost. Devin Wendell was only an inch behind for second place, with 17-year-old Ross Crown claiming third with 25 total inches of landed, photographed and released trout.
Part of the success of the tournament comes from the generous support of primary sponsors Middlebury Mountaineer, Sage Fly Rods and Simms Fishing Products but it also benefited from support of Fishpond, Julbo Eyewear, Mountain Khakis, Temple Fork Outfitters, Montana Fly Company, Fisknat, Buff, Cliff Outdoors, Darn Tough Socks, Rio Products, Pale Morning Media, Umpqua, Rock River Rods, Finn Utility, Otter Creek Brewing, Escape Studios and Jackson Kayaks (did you get all those?). The two champions each walked away with new Sage fly rods with custom “Otter Creek Classic” insignias. In fact, there was more than $7,500 of gear given away as prizes to winners and in a raffle to participants. Almost everybody walked away with some prize.
It’s just that some of us also walked away with few photos of trout on our cameras … and fewer flies in our fly boxes. 

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