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Matt Dickerson: Chasing the trout chasers

I had been on the river for less than an hour when I heard the distinctive “loot galoot” of a bittern. The sound brought back memories from 45 years earlier, and childhood fishing trips to northern Maine with my father pursuing wild brook trout. But this trip was in Vermont. And I was not pursuing trout. I was chasing after pike. Or, rather, hoping pike would do some chasing.
I was on the river with local pike legend Brian “Lug” Cadoret. It was the first time I’d gone fishing with somebody who had a fly rod named after him: the “Lug” Pro made by Rock River Rods out of Waitsfield. To make the experience complete, Brian had brought an extra “Lug” with him so that I could cast one, too. It was not a little 5-wt trout rod like I might have used on the New Haven River, but a heavy-duty 8-wt made for pike, overloaded with 10-wt sinking tip line and steel leader to stand up to the long rows of teeth that weaponize a pike’s head.
Pike are ferocious, aggressive predators, and they look like it. They will stalk and ambush their prey. They will follow a fly or lure for 40 feet through the water while the angler watches with anticipation. Or they might simply explode out of the shadows of some log and slam their unsuspecting prey (or, hopefully, lure) with the force and impact more akin to that of an osprey than a mere fish. A 14-inch trout that might have excited me on another fishing trip would be just one big mouthful for a pike. In fact, I was fishing with a fly of a size and color that might imitate one of the rainbow trout recently stocked in our local rivers — stocked as much to the satisfaction of the pike population as the population of local anglers. And Brian was using some flies that were even bigger. Flies nearly as big as one of the trout I might have caught on one of those fishing trips with my dad. Flies with names like “Perch Rotax,” “Pink/White Pig Whistle” and “The Sub Bug.”
We were fishing Otter Creek, a river Brian had written a book chapter about in the volume “50 Best Places: Fly-Fishing in Vermont.” Brian was in his Jackson “Big Rig” fishing kayak, and I was trailing along behind in my 20-year-old, 17-foot Old  Town Canoe. For Brian, the day was another warm-up — a preseason match — in preparation for the third annual Green Mountain Pike Rodeo set to begin the next day.
   LOCAL PIKE LEGEND Brian “Lug” Cadoret casts for pike in his Jackson “Big Rig” fishing kayak on the Otter Creek on Tuesday. Photo by Matthew Dickerson
The Pike Rodeo (http://mmvt.com/fishing/green-mountain-pike-rodeo) is a unique catch-and-release pike-only fly-fishing tournament run by the Middlebury Mountaineer (stop at the shop for more information). Unlike other tournaments, such as the local Otter Creek Classic in which all anglers compete together on a single day or single weekend, the Pike Rodeo runs nearly a full month — May 18 to June 15. Participants may pick any 24-hour period during that month to pursue pike as long and hard as they want, any place in the state of Vermont where it is legal to do so.
And, as it turned out, the trip did not prove to be a particularly good warm-up. We worked several hundred yards of river, casting to steep riverbanks, submerged logs, and the mouths of sloughs where the creek overflows into local farm fields. I saw only one pike, and never got a follow. Brian saw four or five and had three leisurely follows, but no strikes. The creek was still on the cool side, below the ideal metabolism for a pike. Not warmed up enough for a warm-up. Even the air temperature was only 40 degrees when we started. Although Brian had managed to land a nice pike in that same stretch of water just a few days earlier, the fish were still sluggish.
I had to be content with the enjoyment of a thermos of coffee, a beautiful morning of paddling in a local river, and the delightful memories brought on by the sound of a bittern.
“Well, there is some good news,” Brian said, as we were loading our watercraft back onto our cars at the end of the morning. “At least it wasn’t part of my 24 hours.”
   THE FLIES LUG Cadoret was using to entice pike early this week were big and bright, but the cold water in Otter Creek left the fish sluggish. Photo by Matthew Dickerson

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