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Matt Dickerson: August angling in Middlebury Gorge

It was the middle of the afternoon on a hot August day. Hot August days are not known for good fishing in Vermont, especially for trout. And mid-afternoon might be the worst possible time to fish on a hot summer day. But I hadn’t been fishing in weeks. A major house project combined with a new position at work had sucked up nearly every minute of free time throughout the month of July. My rods had been sitting idle in my office collecting dust and cobweb. I needed to fish. Even if I didn’t catch anything, I needed to fish.
It was then I heard the Middlebury Gorge calling my name. Sometimes a river calls in a voice so subtle I would barely hear it if my ears were not so finely attuned to any and all opportunities (real or imagined) to go fishing. But this call was so loud and clear, anybody could have heard it. “Come cool your feet in my water. Come stand beneath the shade of my trees, far down below the rim of the gorge, down where the air is cool even on a hot summer day, and water is cooler still. Come fishing, Matthew. Eager hungry trout are waiting for you.”
Though I was a bit skeptical about that final claim, the first two parts of the offer had sounded pretty good. “OK,” I answered, in a voice almost as loud as the river’s. “I’m coming. Just be patient.”
My wife gave me a funny look. Apparently she had not heard the voice of the river. Only my reply.
“Sorry,” I told her. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
My reply did not reassure her. But I had no time to explain. The river was calling my name. I put on my swimsuit and sandals, grabbed my 5-weight rod and a few boxes of flies, hopped in the car, and drove the few miles down to my favorite pull-off. Half an hour later I was standing in the shade of a deep portion of the gorge with the cool tumbling water of the Middlebury River rushing over my feet and calves.
I had already tied on a black wooly bugger when I saw a small yellow stonefly coming off the water. I briefly considered switching to a dry fly — a Yellow Sally or some other imitation of the stonefly. But that was the only stonefly I would see that day, so I stuck with the nymphs. On my third or fourth cast, I saw the shadow of a fish flash my fly. It missed the hook, but it was a promising start.
Over the next hour and a half, I worked my way downstream fishing wooly buggers and imitation rainbow trout streamers, stripping them up against the current like small fish. I had two or three strikes, but managed to land only one brook trout. It was a bright, wild fish, not a hatchery brood. One of Vermont’s native fish, that still ranges the smaller and more mountainous streams of the state where the water is the coldest and cleanest. Always a joy to catch. Especially on a hot summer day fishing with all flies I had tied myself.
When the sky started to darken with the threat of incoming thunderstorms, I turned around. I was at one of those tough stretches of the gorge where, to continue, I was going to have to either swim or do some serious climbing. I wasn’t in the mood for a swim. And it was not a place to get caught in a thunderstorm. So it was back upstream toward my car.
Working upriver, I switched from streamers to nymphs that I could drift back toward me. Remembering the stonefly I’d seen earlier, I tied on one of my own double-beaded yellow stonefly nymphs, and added a pheasant tail nymph below that. On the way down, I’d concentrated on long stretches of rips and wider pools where I had room to strip in a streamer. On the way up, fishing with a heavy nymph, I could work pocket water, dropping the nymph into little eddies and swirls behind rocks.
One of them produced a fat rainbow trout, about twice the length of my earlier brookie and maybe three times the weight. Putting a good bend on my rod, the fish shot out into the swift current past my feet and made it two pools down before I could turn it. We fought for a little while, two pools apart, and then reached a compromise: we met in the middle where I was able to pull it into my hands.
A short time later, I was climbing back out of the gorge and heading back to my car. The thunderstorm never had hit, but it was time to be heading home. It was not by any means the fastest day of fishing I’ve had in Vermont. But for a hot day in August, the gorge had done pretty well at fulfilling its promises.

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