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Matt Dickerson: Fishing back in home waters

It was the last day of April. At 11 a.m., the water temperature in the New Haven River was 49 degrees F. Still below the ideal metabolism all of Vermont’s trout species except lake trout, but I’ve caught trout in much colder water. More disturbing was how low and clear the river was. Looking at the exposed rocks, riffs and gravel bars I might have thought it was already mid June if the trees above me were not still scratching the sky with leafless sticks.
Still, after a few months with a lot of work-related travel — mostly to places not known for trout fishing — it was good to be back fishing in Vermont. Back on my home rivers. Because of that travel, it was my first time out fishing in the Green Mountain State since the start of the open trout season. One of the latest I have ever gone before wetting a line in Vermont.
At the shoreline I paused and scanned the air above the water. There wasn’t much insect activity near the surface. I saw one or two tiny midges buzzing just above the river, but nothing resembling a hatch. One larger black aquatic insect moved past me into the trees, but I didn’t get a close look at it. It might have been a stonefly, but I thought it was too late in the season for black stoneflies. They are more likely to crawl out of the river onto the snow in early March. But it was too early for mayflies that big. In any case, there was only one of them, which is not enough activity to impact what I would fish with.
I thought about going with a couple tiny nymphs and fishing the bottom. That was where sluggish trout were likely to be, not moving too far in that cold water for food. And in the clear shallow water and bright sunlight, they were even less likely to risk coming out from cover.
But we had out-of-town guests due at my house for lunch, and so I only had an hour or so to fish. I didn’t even bother walking into one of my favorite more remote stretches of river. I parked at a popular spot right next to the road. Less time walking, more time fishing. I wanted to cover a lot of water in that hour — more than I could cover drifting nymphs along the bottom. So I tied on a streamer instead: an imitation of a little rainbow trout I created. I was hoping to lure a big brown trout from behind a rock or from under a log, looking for a larger meal than a little insect. Or maybe a big brookie. Or even a big rainbow. My fly might have been a reasonable enough imitation of a rainbow to fool a brown trout, but to another rainbow trout maybe it looked like a brook trout or brown trout. Or even more likely, it looked just like a bunch of dyed deer hair tied to a metal hook.
In any case, I was probably too ambitious to hope any trout would move far enough and fast enough to catch a streamer fly zipping past in that cold clear water. Especially since the river had not yet been stocked, and I was therefore stalking wild trout, or at least winter holdovers. But I have caught some big trout early in the season on big flies. So it was worth a try.
And that’s all it was: a try. I covered a couple hundred yards of river. Hit several likely looking stretches of water including a couple famous deep holes, and some log jams. Didn’t even see a shadow move. I should have gone with a nymph, I thought. Hindsight.
The next morning it was raining hard. Too hard to want to go fishing. Too hard to want to sit in the woods and call turkeys. But I didn’t complain. We needed the rain. The river needed the rain. And we have a whole season ahead of us.

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