Sports column by Matt Dickerson: Trout season is heating up
I started my drive toward Otter Creek two hours before sunset. My waders and fly-rod were in the back of the car along with a couple tins of new flies freshly tied over the winter and still undamaged by rocks, branches, or the mouths of fish.
On the drive over I passed several cars parked in pull-offs by River Road near popular fishing spots on the New Haven River. Even some of the less-frequented spots where I often like to fish held anglers standing out in the water casting. At least a dozen anglers were spread out over just a couple miles of river. And I knew what that meant: word was out that the New Haven River had recently been stocked. I would later verify on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website that the state had released 2,000 hatchery-raised brown trout and 1,500 rainbows into the river. A fair number of them would have sore lips by the end of the night.
Arriving at Otter Creek, I was glad to see the parking lot empty. Downstream of Rutland, it had not yet been stocked. I parked the car, pulled on my waders and boots, tied on a fly, and was already wading out into the water when Wes Butler arrived to join me.
The air above the creek was thick with insects. Swarms of caddis flies fluttered upriver, dipping from time to time to skitter along the surface of the water and lay eggs. Large brown stoneflies could also be seen hovering over the river. It was a delightful meal for birds and fish alike. Cedar waxwings were circling out from their bankside and power line perches to gobble up the abundant food.
Despite the visible insect activity, however, neither Wes nor I saw any telltale rings in the water to mark where trout had risen for their share of the smorgasbord. Maybe they would start feeding a little later, we told each other hopefully. Fishing has been pretty hot for local anglers the past couple weeks — in more ways than one! As evidenced by the scene on Otter Creek that evening, aquatic insect life has kicked into high gear, and with it so has the trout fishing. Reports from several fishing friends over the past couple weeks have been outstanding. After an April that was both drier than usual and a couple degrees cooler than average, May seemed to blast into the year like a breeze coming across tarmac. It felt more like mid June or even July than early May. And it was just as dry. And as air temperatures soared, so did water temperatures. And river levels fell quickly.
The river was warm enough, in fact, that Wes had already transitioned to wet wading: fishing without waders. “Checked the water temp recently?” I asked him. “Yesterday,” he answered. “Mid sixties.” I cringed. That is already at the upper range of preferred water temps for brown trout. Very warm for early May, I thought. It boded well for the evening, but not for the rest of the summer.
The water was also much clearer and lower than I expected. Otter Creek, being the largest of the local rivers and one that drains lots of flood plain, is also the last to subside after spring runoff. But there was no sign of that now. In fact, later in the evening with some patience and considerable care I was able to wade all the way across Otter Creek to reach a likely looking stretch of water — and then to release one of my flies from beneath a rock. Wading Otter Creek is something I often can’t do until July.
Since there were signs of rising fish, I tied on two imitation nymphs to fish below the surface, drifted as close to the bottom as I could: one large heavy stonefly imitation, and another smaller fly that might resemble a mayfly rising from the bottom. I would rotate back to these flies several times through the evening. And neither would get a strike. But two casts after switching to a little imitation rainbow trout I created got a hard hit. Then another. And then a third, all over the course of four minutes.
And that would be the story for the evening, for both Wes and me. We fished for two and a half hours, right past sunset to dusk when the first bat was out and it was too dark to see our flies on the surface. Both of us had some tugs on our own variations of young rainbow trout. Neither of us managed to set a hook. For a brief period there were three trout rising in a difficult-to-reach stretch of river that was too deep to wade and with a shoreline making a traditional fly cast impossible. Wes managed to land a caddis imitation on top of them with a couple beautiful roll casts, but they ignored his fly.
Back at the car we discussed other memorable fish we have caught, or lost, why the fish might not have been rising that evening, and — most importantly — when we would next meet and go fishing.
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