After long winter, anglers return to county’s streams

MIDDLEBURY — For Jesse Haller, it’s that time of year again. When the mountains of snow outside of the Middlebury Mountaineer outdoor gear shop start to shrink, dedicated anglers begin to re-emerge and show up at the Park Street shop for leaders, tippet and lures with names like Geezus Lizard, Sneaky Pete and Sleazeburger.
For them, springtime means only one thing: Opening day of the fishing season is just around the corner.
“Vermont is a place where the winters are long so when fishing season comes around, people come in just because it’s been too long,” Haller said. “At times it can be like a coffee shop with people coming in just to hang out for two hours.”
Some anglers have already been out on the waterways in Addison County, dodging ice floes and frigid spray. Some waters are open for fishing year-round, but fishermen and -women must release the brown, brook and rainbow trout native to the area upon catching them.
More waters open this Saturday, April 11, the beginning of the trout and salmon season — when anglers can keep what they catch — as well as the beginning of the bass catch-and-release season (regular bass season in Vermont starts June 13).
In addition to pulling on their waders, fishermen can look forward to the return of another spring tradition. The Otter Creek Classic fishing competition returns for a seventh year with a weekend full of activities. This year opening day in this part of Vermont also features two other draws for fisherman: the Fly Fishing Film Tour and the Iron Fly tying event.
Haller, who manages the Middlebury Mountaineer, started the Classic seven years ago through the New Haven River Anglers Association. Participation has steadily grown from 12 that first year to the 76 people signed up this year. Haller estimates that as many as 90 may show up to receive their participant packets in the Middlebury Mountaineer on Friday.
The yearly event, he said, continues to draw people from central Vermont and beyond.
“People really come out of the woodwork,” he said. “I will see people in Middlebury who never come into the shop and never talk fishing, but on opening day, they’ll be out on the water.”
The weekend starts on Friday, April 10, at the Town Hall Theater with screenings from the Fly Fishing Film Tour, a selection of short fly fishing documentaries made in locations including Montana, Alaska, Iceland, Cuba, Mongolia and more.
“It’s got crazy characters, wild places, touching stories and great cinematography,” Haller said. Referring to the famous maker of extreme downhill skiing films, he added, “This is like the Warren Miller of fly fishing.”
VERMONT RIVERS MAY not be fully stocked this Saturday, but larger stocked fish left over last year are likely to be in the river, as shown in this catch by Jesse Haller in last year’s Otter Creek Classic. Photo by Matt Kiedaisch
It will still be dark at 5 a.m. on April 11, but Haller says some anglers will be getting an early start. Many are already scouting their favorite spots. On the official start of the season, people may cast on Otter Creek from Center Rutland Falls to Lake Champlain, the entire New Haven River and all its tributaries, the Middlebury River and its tributaries, the Neshobe River and Furnace Brook in Pittsford. All fishing must be done using flies, and boats are not permitted. State fishing licenses are also required.
Vermont’s mountains feature high streams that are home to brook, brown and rainbow trout. Many of these tributaries flow into Otter Creek, the longest river in the state. The Otter, with headwaters in Peru and a mouth into Lake Champlain at Fort Cassin Point in Ferrisburgh, sports a variety of fish throughout the year. The trout are in evidence in the spring and fall, but warmer water species like northern pike, smallmouth bass and carp can be found here in the summer.
Since opening day takes place before the Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks Vermont rivers, the fish anglers’ catch this weekend will be wild or holdovers from those stocked in past years. While the number of fish early in the spring may not be great, Haller said they are likely to be larger.
Spring’s rising stream levels and fluctuating temperatures are also likely to affect the results. In 2012, when high temperatures caused all the snow to melt and the streams were running clear, over 70 fish were caught in the Otter Creek Classic. In some years competitors are less successful. Last year, a field of more than 70 anglers caught just eight fish.
“A lot of people got skunked,” Haller said.
Fish will be judged by length and documented with photographs. Since judges can’t be on all sections of the creeks and rivers, anglers will be expected to police themselves.
Honesty, Haller said, has been and always will be the best policy.
“This community is a tight-knit group,” he said. “We’re all friends and this is a fun event done to raise funds for conservation.
“If you were caught cheating you would be blackballed off the river forever.”
Some fishers will go the full 12 hours casting and hoping to pull in winning trophies; others will cast a line for the morning and then retire to the barbecue.
Either way, the evening will hold another treat. The Marquis Theater in Middlebury will host a new event titled “Iron Fly,” which will feature an evening of fly-tying competitions. Participants will be tying flies with a box of mystery items, teaching someone else to finish a fly and tying flies with blindfolds on.
Open tying will take place at the Main Street theater from 7-9 p.m.; then the Iron Fly competitions start at 9 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
The next morning, fishermen in the Classic may take to the water again at 5 a.m. and will fish until noon.
Where Haller grew up fishing in Colorado, fly fishermen recognized and greeted each other while pumping gas at the start of the day. Middlebury is only driving distance away from the Catskills region of New York, the birthplace of American fly-fishing, and Haller said the springtime Classic is gradually putting Vermont’s fly-fishing on the map.
“This is an opportunity for people to integrate,” he said. “Every year, you’ll see new people fishing together who would have never met if it weren’t for an event like this.”
Proceeds from the event will benefit the New Haven River Anglers Association, a local watershed conservation group in Addison County. In seven years the competition has raised over $12,500 for youth and women’s programs, conservation efforts and scholarships for graduating high school seniors.
“It’s a rite of spring for fishermen in our area,” Haller said. “There are a lot of fishing traditions in the state. This is like our generation’s tradition and I’m humbled by the support it’s received.”

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