Fly fishing fans warming up

ADDISON COUNTY — The traditional image of casting dry flies to trout rising out of a cold, idyllic freestone stream, popularized in films such as “A River Runs Through It,” is giving way in local fly fishing to new techniques and species that have a significant impact on the way guides run their businesses.
“On the local level, I would say I’ve seen at least a 20-50 percent increase annually in people booking warm-water trips,” says Jesse Haller, manager and head fishing guide at the Middlebury Mountaineer.
Haller refers to fly fishermen who target species like largemouth bass and Northern pike, fish that live in warm water, as opposed to cold-water species like trout and salmon. While trout are often found in faster-moving, colder water — local hot spots include sections of the Middlebury and New Haven rivers — bass and pike can be found in slow-moving or still water, like stretches of Otter Creek in and around Middlebury, or local lakes.
Fly fishermen have historically disdained fishing for warm-water species, referring to them as “trash fish” suitable only for worm fishermen.
But in recent years, more attention on the national level has been given to fly fishing for warm-water alternatives.
“One big indicator is that larger companies are creating equipment specifically for warm-water fly fishing,” Haller said. An examples he points to Sage, a major fly rod company, which has introduced rods specifically for bass and pike, and Orvis, a major fishing gear manufacturer based in Manchester, which is publishing a book about bass fishing tactics soon.
One reason for bass and pike fishing’s popularity is that they present an alternative to trout fishing during the hottest months of summer. Trout are unfishable for catch-and-release anglers once water temperatures hit 70 degrees, at which point dissolved oxygen in the water falls to such a low level that trout often die of exertion when hooked.
“At first we took clientele who wanted to fish for trout in the summer” on bass and pike trips, Haller said. “It kind of all started when we started doing it, when I came on six years ago.”
Now, Haller said, he has repeat clients and people who come to Vermont exclusively for the warm-water fishing.
“We did a trip here, a trip there, bridging people over from trout. Now, people will say, I’ve done trout, I want to fish Northern pike or bass.”
When the Middlebury Mountaineer first started running warm-water guided trips, it sold about five to 10 trips a year, Haller estimates. Now, that number is closer to 15-20 trips annually, out of 75 total fishing trips each summer.
Ross Crowne, a 15-year-old from Weybridge, has made a name for himself in the local fishing scene. A master still-water angler, Crowne this spring won the amateur division of the Otter Creek Classic fishing tournament.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Crowne then went on to catch a 39-and-a-half inch pike in the Green Mountain Pike Rodeo.
“In fly fishing, there’s always that new thing, that exciting thing. Everybody wants to jump on that bandwagon,” he said.
Crowne, who has been fishing for warm-water species on a fly rod since he was 5, believes that catching big bass and pike on large flies is “that thing” right now.
“Pike, bass, they’re extremely aggressive fish, they eat pretty much exclusively big streamers,” he said, referring to a type of lure.
Tom Rosenbauer, marketing director at Orvis and a major figure in bringing fly fishing to a wider audience, makes another good point about the popularity of warm-water fishing.
“There’s so much good fishing people have in their backyard,” Rosenbauer said, noting that it’s not always necessary to travel to a blue ribbon trout stream to find exciting fishing.
With all the interest in pike and bass, will traditional trout fishing go the way of the dodo?
Probably not, Rosenbauer said.
“You’re never going to pry trout fishing out of people’s minds,” he said.

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