Matt Dickerson: On film, fanatics and freezing fish; opening day!

I have a confession. I will make it in print (though out of shame I hope nobody actually reads my column this week): Now that I am older, every once in a while a thought crosses my mind that perhaps I won’t go fishing on opening day of trout season.
Such a heretical idea never would have crossed my mind as a teenager growing up in Massachusetts. Opening day, and all the routine around it, was a near holy tradition. The same held for my four years spent in college in New Hampshire, and the next four spent in graduate school in fine trout country around the Finger Lakes region of New York state. It held even for my first 15 years of living in Vermont.
For the past few years, though, as my age approached — and then passed — the half-century mark, the possibility of staying home and warm on the second Saturday morning of April occasionally creeps into my thoughts. I quickly dismiss the idea, of course. Opening day is opening day, after all.
Still, there are a few reasons, in my advancing age, that I entertain the thought. First, unlike my years of fishing in New York and Massachusetts when opening day was nearly always successful despite the earlier date of April 1, in Vermont I never catch anything on opening day. Never. I no longer even expect to catch anything.
Second — and this may help explain the first — opening day in Vermont is usually really cold. The water is running high, and barely above freezing as it carries all the melting snow and ice out of the Green Mountains and down to Lake Champlain. The air can be just as cold or colder. So I am not only not catching fish; I am not catching fish while not being warm. That’s one too many “nots” for me.
The third reason is that opening day itself is actually less important now than it used to be. In the past, winter meant more than five months of closed rivers and no fishing. Five months without being able to cast a line. And so by the start of trout season, I was desperate enough to get out fishing that I would have been willing to cut a hole in the ice and go wading in it.
Now, however, opportunities for winter angling are increasing. Vermont has opened several rivers for year-round catch-and-release trout fishing including sections of nearby Lewis Creek and Otter Creek. There are more opportunities just across the lake in New York’s Champlain tributaries. And for those willing to drive a few hours — as many local anglers are — great steelhead fishing can be found on the eastern tributaries of Lake Ontario. In addition to all that, this year, I was able to spend three days trout fishing in March in 65-degree weather in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico. The third day it hit 70. I was fishing in a T-shirt, shorts and sandals in late March.
Now I greatly appreciate all these opportunities for winter fishing. Especially the one involving 70-degree air. But they did detract somewhat from the thrill of the traditional opening day. Fortunately my friend Jesse Haller, Middlebury Mountaineer’s fishing guru, and the retiring president of the New Haven River Anglers Association (NHRAA), has rejuvenated opening day and solved this problem by creating a weekend of festivities well worth circling on the calendar months ahead of time.
Opening day of 2014 will be the sixth consecutive year for the annual Otter Creek Classic Fly Fishing catch-and-release tournament (benefitting the NHRAA). Unlike the previous five years, this year the competition will be a weekend-long event, running Saturday from sunrise to 2 p.m., and Sunday from sunrise until noon, giving anglers the opportunity to catch twice as many fish as in the past. (Let’s see. For me that would be, how many?) Nearly 70 anglers have signed up already. There are categories for professionals, amateurs and youth, and also afternoon social gatherings and raffle prizes for participants. (For more information, see: http://mmvt.com/content/6th-annual-otter-creek-classic-opening-day-fly-f….)
Also, as in the past, the weekend will kick off on Friday evening (April 11) at 7:30 p.m. with a fourth annual showing of the highly acclaimed “Fly Fishing Film Tour” at the Town Hall Theater. Each year, this well-produced film features new locations, new fish, and new cinematography guaranteed to give an adrenaline rush to anybody who likes to cast a fly — and, in fact, even to folks who don’t. Information and tickets are available at the Middlebury Mountaineer.
So between the Otter Creek Classic and the Fly Fishing Film Tour, Jesse has very successfully eliminated the third of my three reasons why I am tempted to skip opening day. Now if only he could handle the first and the second. 

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