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Sports column: A promising ending to the trout season

I stepped through the brush down from the bank into the stream. Though it had been a favorite spot many years earlier, I had not fished this particular stretch of water in a couple years. The long deep pool that used to swirl past boulders was gone, slowly filled in, or shifted by the annual spring scouring. Or perhaps wiped out in a single big flood. But I eyed a decent-looking new run 20 yards upstream of where I stood. I paused a moment, taking in the changes to the stream’s course while I blew on my hands to warm them. Then I waded up the streambed and took a cast.
BOOM! On my first presentation into the first run, a behemoth of the deep rose out of its lair and slammed the hook. Fish on.
Well. OK. Behemoth is an exaggeration. So is “BOOM.” If I hadn’t seen the fish, I might not have even known it had taken the hook. It was a small mountain brook trout, about six inches long and not heavy enough to put a bend in my rod. But it was dark and brightly spotted, and beautiful in its delicate perfection. A painter with a full palette of colors could not have made it any more beautiful. And it was what I had come up into the mountains for.
Late fall is usually a time I delight in chasing big fish in larger waters. Lunker brown trout are spawning; the usually elusive and cautious fish are on the move and aggressive. Otter Creek, Middlebury River and New Haven River can all yield trophies in the fall. Landlocked salmon, also fall spawners, are also on the move out of the big lakes into rivers and streams. Even rainbows, which spawn in the spring, seem brighter and more aggressive in the fall, and they have put on their summer weight. Late the previous week I had spent a morning chasing these bigger fish in a larger stretch of river further down the mountain.
But when 90 minutes opened up on my schedule late on a Tuesday afternoon, I had a hankering to get up into the mountains and chase some small, wild, brightly colored brook trout — Vermont’s native and archetypal cold water species. With less than a week left in the trout season, and rain in the forecast, I knew it might be my last day to try.
And when, in that first hole, I spotted two more small brook trout, and then landed a fat, 10-inch stunningly painted female, I was glad for the choice I had made of how to spend one of my last days of the 2015 season.
Although the fishing slowed down over the next hour or so as I made my way upriver, the beauty of the scene did not relent. The transition from foliage season to stick season was well on its way, and there were more leaves on river bottom in the eddies than there were in the trees. But a few tenacious leaves still clung to branches and painted the skyline in hues only slightly more faded than the sides of the brookies. The sky itself was cloudless and blue. The air was crisp enough almost to want gloves and a knit hat. There wasn’t much I could ask for.
Except maybe a big fresh beaver dam.
Which, it turns out, is exactly what I stumbled onto at the very end of the stretch I planned to fish, in a place I have fished for more than a quarter of a century without ever having seen a beaver dam. And this was a perfect beaver dam. New enough not to have been silted over, and at least five feet deep in the channel — the type of beaver dam that New England brook trout anglers dream about and spend long summer days searching for.
I managed to catch two more trout at the outlet of the dam before I had to turn and start bushwhacking my way back to the car to make it home for an evening meeting. The total weight of all the brook trout I caught was probably less than the weight of a single large brown trout I might have landed four miles down that same river. But the afternoon couldn’t have been any better.

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