Matt Dickerson: Fly fishing in Vermont scratches different itches
It was Friday morning, and we’d just loaded our fishing gear into the car, but neither of us had a preference for any particular stretch of river. As I sat behind the steering wheel in my driveway trying to decide which way to go, I suggested pike fishing in Otter Creek, probably from my canoe.
But my close friend Dave O’Hara, who sat in the passenger’s seat, nixed the idea. Dave was visiting from eastern South Dakota, where there are plenty of opportunities for pike, as well as walleye and perch, but no mountain trout streams within several hundred miles. He was in Vermont for only a couple weeks auditing a class on ocean and coastal law at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, and what he was really longing to do was stand in a cold mountain stream and cast flies for brook trout. He didn’t even particularly need to catch one; he simply wanted to be in a stream where brook trout lived, ate and bred. He had a very particular itch that pike fishing would not scratch.
I didn’t argue with him. Though I might have, if we’d had the conversation on Monday evening instead of Friday morning. That was when I logged onto Facebook and saw the photo of Brian “Lug” Cadoret holding a 40.75-inch pike he’d caught in Otter Creek in downtown Middlebury, casting flies from his Jackson “Big Rig” fishing kayak. The fish was a monster, with the sort of gut that would make a beer league softball player jealous; the type of fish that makes me afraid to go swimming in lakes. (“Pike have 700 teeth,” Brian noted, doing nothing to dispel that fear.)
And as big as that fish was, it wasn’t the only one Brian caught this month, or even the largest. It was the third of three pike over 40 inches he’d netted in the past week, along with a 47-inch musky. He hooked it on a fly named after him: the “Lug Slayer,” tied by Kevin Ramirez. His largest pike of the week — and the largest of his life, so far — was a 45.5-inch behemoth caught on a “Tally Wacker” fly tied by Ken Capsey. Rounding out the trio was a pike of a mere 40.5 inches, also caught from his kayak on Otter Creek, this one on a pink and white “Mini Maelstrom” tied by Vermont Fly Guys.
Of course there was no reason to second guess my decision to go trout fishing with Dave, even if we did only hook two fish, both under 12 inches. For one thing, as already noted, Dave had a particular itch. He’d grown up in the brook trout laden Catskills of eastern New York, and then spent a decade living in Vermont. It was 25 years ago that he and I became friends, largely through fishing together in the rivers flowing westward out of the Green Mountains. Our friendship has resulted in three published books together, the most recent of which grew directly out of time spent together on trout streams: “Downstream: Reflections on Brook Trout, Fly Fishing, and the Waters of Appalachia.”
Dave’s graduate schooling and career as a philosophy professor eventually led him away from Vermont to New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and then to Sioux Falls in eastern South Dakota, where he has been for the last decade. Although the farmland and flat prairie west of his new home boasts some of the best pheasant hunting in the country, the river from which his city gets its name has been described by the locals as “too muddy to drink and too wet to plow.” So I can understand Dave’s itch. If I’d been living there for 10 years, I’d be hankering to fish a little Vermont trout stream also.
A second reason not to second-guess our decision is that our chances of catching even one fish within striking distance of the size of Brian’s was, generously speaking, slim. Cadoret’s fishing credential are impressive. One might say he wrote the book on fly-fishing for pike in Otter Creek. Literally. Well, not quite a book, but the chapter on Otter Creek in the volume “Fifty Best Places: Fly Fishing the Northeast.” I have known him since he served for six years as president of the New Haven River Anglers Association. I was impressed when he won the first annual Otter Creek Classic fly-fishing tournament. And a couple years later, when the tournament grew and split between a professional and an amateur division, we won the professional division.
Now Brian is co-owner of the fly-fishing guide service Stream and Brook Fly Fishing (streamandbrook.com) that employs a dozen guides around the state.
“Most of our clients want to chase trout,” he told me, “but more and more we are getting folks into bass and pike.”
Looking at his photos, I can see why. He is also on the pro team for Rock River Rods in Waitsfield. Though he normally chases pike with an 8-wt. Rock River model that bears his name — the “Lug Pro” model he helped develop — all four of his big fish this past week were caught testing a new 10-wt. rod not yet on the market. “It’s tough work trying out new rods but someone has to do it!” he says with a grin.
On a more serious note, he does point out that fly fishing for monster pike and muskies is not quite the relaxing activity as standing in a mountain trout stream casting dry flies for trout. It scratches a different itch.
“You’re using flies the size of small trout (7 inches to 13 inches long) with a 9-inch steel leader tied onto 60-pound test.”
This means that just casting these flies is almost like going to the gym and weight lifting. There is also an added level of intensity and adrenaline sight-fishing for critters that big. “The pike are hunting down your fly, and even small pike crush big flies. It’s a very visual way of fishing. You see most of the pike (before they strike). Sometimes they will follow your fly 20 feet before eating it or turning back and disappearing into the depths of the Otter Creek.”
Not a bad option, if you ask me. Even a fish half the weight of the ones Brian was catching can be quite a thrill. But, as noted, it’s a different sort of itch. For a friend homesick for the mountain streams of Vermont, casting for brookies was the order of the day.
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