Sports column by Matt Dickerson: Fishing and fall foliage

I have often thought — and said aloud — that a bad autumn for Vermont foliage is better than a great autumn anywhere else. Which is another way of saying that there is no such thing as bad foliage here. Even on those Octobers when we spoiled Vermonters complain that “the colors are dull this year,” our wooded hillsides are still quite beautiful.
The same might be said about fishing. Some say “a bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work.” I say simply that there is no such thing as a bad day of fishing.
Those conversations, however, have nothing to do with this fall. I am not usually one for superlatives. But this has to be the most beautiful and bright, the most clear, crisp and colorful, and simply the most stunning Vermont autumn in at least a quarter of a century. Everywhere I drive, bike, walk, canoe or simply pause to look, I find myself speechless with wonder. I thought I had seen the best fall foliage our bright hillsides could offer. This year it is has been even better.
Fishing has been pretty good, also. For the past month and a half, the warm dry weather has our big county river running unusually low and, by Otter Creek standards, fishable. Insect activity on the water has been fantastic, and the trout have been feeding aggressively throughout these warm autumn days we have been enjoying.
I recently spent an afternoon on the Otter Creek a couple miles downriver of Middlebury. For an hour and a half I worked the water with small nymphs below the surface. When my eyes weren’t glued to the trees on the hillside above the river, I managed to hook a couple browns. Two different species of mayflies were dropping onto the water sporadically, and when I saw a fish chase one at the surface I considered switching to dry flies. But then I hooked and landed my first rainbow trout of the day. It was a small one, about the right size to tempt a big brown trout. And that got me thinking. So I switched instead to a fly imitating a little rainbow trout and spent my last half hour swinging streamers for big fish. I had four hard swirls after my big fly, but no hookups. Still, it was a beautiful day all around.
What we haven’t had much of, however, is rain. And thus while the larger Otter Creek has been fishing very well, some of the smaller area rivers have been too low and clear to get the big spawning brown trout moving and feeding, or to entice landlocked salmon to come up out of the lakes on their fall runs. And so, oddly, the last couple weeks I have found myself wishing for a good steady rain that would get the water up, and off-color enough that the big fish would start moving and become a bit less spooky.
So when I saw the forecast for rain on Monday, I threw my fishing gear in the car, left work a little earlier than usual at the end of the day, and hit one of my favorite smaller streams. When I say “I threw my fishing gear in the car,” what I should have said was “all of my fishing gear except my wading shoes.” Not wanted to waste the day by not fishing, I ended up casting from the riverbank in my sneakers. The riverbank being somewhat slick from the light rain, I had to keep my eyes on my feet while walking. And I’m happy to say that, by doing so, I avoided slipping and falling into the river. Although having my eyes on my shoes rather than on my rod tip, I did manage to catch it between two branches and break it, which put an end to my fishing.
And here’s the thing: even that didn’t turn the beautiful afternoon into a bad day. (I do buy fly rods that have unconditional lifetime warrantees, so it will get replaced for free.) I simply brought my broken rod back to the car, and took a nice walk along the river. Turns out the rain was not enough to bring the water level up significantly, and I saw no fish. But the trees above the river were beautiful. (I think if I saw a huge trout, and had only a broken rod in the car, I might have called it a bad day, but it would been a bad day of not fishing rather than a bad day of fishing.)
The next afternoon my wife Deborah kidnapped me from work for some canoeing on Lake Dunmore. The skies were mostly cloudy but there was no rain. If the light rain of the day before had washed out any color, it was difficult to tell. The trees were aflame with color. I took a lot of pictures of the shoreline and the ridgeline above the lake. We had a delightful two-hour-long paddle.
I did bring a spinning rod and trolled a Rapala around behind me. I caught only one tiny perch, so small I wasn’t sure I had one on. To say it was a good day would be an understatement.

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