Sports Column: Fishing in Vermont: Always give a proper welcome

It was 25 years ago this summer that my wife and I moved to Bristol. In some ways, though I could claim no family roots in Vermont, and few prior connections of any kind to Addison County, the setting felt both familiar and comfortable from the start. I had lived most of my life in small rural New England towns. I started kindergarten in a Maine lumber-mill village of about 500 residents, and moved from there to a Massachusetts apple orchard town of only 800. My high school was a regional one shared by three towns. I went from there to college in western New Hampshire, almost on the Vermont border, in a town quite similar to Middlebury. My morning bike rides as a college student were usually on the Vermont side of the river. Both of my wife’s parents were born in Vermont. When we moved here, my wife had two grandmothers and one great-grandmother living barely over two hours away. We’d already spent many family holidays with them.
In one important way, however, I was very much a stranger: I didn’t know much about the local fishing. I was excited about it, certainly. It seemed that every Addison County road I drove down either crossed a cascading mountain stream, or hopped along a succession of promising ponds, lakes, and slowly meandering warm-water rivers. But which of those rivers actually held good populations of trout, and what were the best stretches to fish? Which ponds were bass ponds? Which held pike? I had no idea. I was very appreciative, therefore, when I got to know Randy Butler that first winter in town, because the following summer — less than a year after my arrival — he took me fishing on Bristol Pond.
We had a decent day on the water. I caught a few bass on a lightweight rod, along with a handful of pan fish. Enough to keep me busy, and ensure that every cast was a hopeful one. It was not until the end of the outing, however, that Randy showed me how it was really done, hooking and landing a seven-pound northern pike. It was a good display of fishing on his part. I was glad to see him catch it. Glad to know that I lived in a town where fish like that could be caught. And I was thankful to Randy both for the guidance on where to fish and the lesson on how to catch them.
But while I am sure he was well-intentioned in passing off to me of such a wealth of knowledge about his home water, I actually might have appreciated it even more if he had found a way to let me hook and land that big pike. That would really have made me feel welcome to the state of Vermont.
I should note, in defense of Randy, that a few weeks ago I took him fishing to one of my favorite Maine trout streams — a water that has been my home water for many years. In my own enthusiastic and generous effort to pass on to him as much of my fishing knowledge as possible, I also managed to catch a few more pounds of brook trout during the day than he did. And Randy pointed out to me that, as much as he appreciated all my sharing of secrets, what he really would have appreciated was my sharing of the fish.
And so, having both learned our lesson in true hospitality, at the end of last week Randy (with a little help from me) took our new friend Mitch out for a morning of pike fishing on Otter Creek. Mitch was new to the state, having just moved here at the end of the winter. He’d done some fishing before, freshwater as well as saltwater, but — like me, 25 years earlier — Vermont waters were new to him, as were pike and smallmouth bass.
We were in a drift boat. One person worked the oars while two fished. Randy and I took turns rowing with the other one casting. As noted above, however, we had learned our lesson in hospitality: we let Mitch fish the entire time. We also let him catch all the fish. All of them. He caught smallmouth bass. He caught fallfish. And he caught a pike. A pretty good-sized pike. The biggest fish he’d ever caught, he said.
Randy and I, being the hospitable folks we are, spent the entire four-hour drift catching a lot of nothing. No pike. No smallmouth bass. Not even any fallfish. To the casual observer watching from the bank, it might have looked like we were trying really hard to catch fish. It might even have appeared that I was frustrated by not catching anything. But we were just practicing hospitality.
I sure hope Mitch felt welcome. 

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