Matt Dickerson: Early trout and pike

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m sitting in a dining room of the Swift House watching Kevin Ramirez tie pike flies while he and Brian Cadoret talk about strategies for fishing those flies. The flies are huge. They are both longer and more colorful than many of the trout that were stocked in local rivers early this month.
Speaking of trout, the 2017 trout season is a month underway. There have already been some fantastic days of fishing. The warm weather at the end of April — when the temperatures topped 80 degrees through much of Vermont — brought a flurry of activity in the rivers. Area anglers had unusual success for that early in the season. Insect hatches and rising trout metabolism made for hungry fish. And since most of the rivers are not stocked until May, those hungry fish were fat and hearty winter holdovers.
I usually think of prime conditions for trout fishing in Vermont as arriving in mid-May and continuing into early June. This year I was wrong. Or, rather, I was temporarily wrong. Rain and cooler weather (and in the mountains some snow) have since slowed things down again (and kept me off the river last week). However, the start of May also ushered in the transition in state stocking efforts from lakes to rivers. By the start of last week, the Middlebury River had already had two stockings, bringing in rainbow, brown and brook trout in both the lower and upper rivers. New Haven River stocking is also well underway. So for those who just want to catch lots of fish, the stocking is certainly making up for cooler, damper weather. Now is a great time to hit the water.
Don’t know how to fish? If you are a woman interested in learning to “hit the water” with a fly rod — or, rather, how to gently land a fly on or under the water in such a way as to attract a hungry fish — there is just such an opportunity arising. The New Haven River Anglers Association is running their annual “Women in Waders” program on this Friday and Saturday, May 19-20. The program begins Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. at Lincoln Peak Vineyard on River Road in New Haven with fly casting instructions, and primers on fly tying, fly selection and knots. On Saturday it gets more exciting as NHRAA members act as guides for the interested learners, taking them out on the river for some fishing. Snacks, lunch and all equipment are provided, and the event is free. However, participation is limited to the first 12 women to register by calling 453-7237.
And speaking of the NHRAA, it was at their monthly meeting that I was watching local pike expert, professional fishing guide, and former NHRAA President Cadoret, along with Ramirez, a special guest visiting from Burlington. After the business meeting when the group talked about education efforts like “Women in Waders” and a trout-in-the-classroom program, as well as the group’s conservation efforts, Cadoret and Ramirez took the spotlight. They shared all of their best secrets and strategies for how to catch big pike and muskies.
Well, not quite all of their secrets. When it came to their favorite locations, they remained secretive except for the occasional vague hint or accidental slip. Still, Vermont is fortunate to have an abundance of quality pike fishing, much of it right on Otter Creek from Rutland all the way down to Lake Champlain. What surprised me, though, was how good it can be early in the year. I think of pike fishing as running a month behind trout — more of a summer adventure than a spring one. But that’s probably because I only turn to pike when the trout fishing slows down.
While it’s true that pike metabolism (like trout metabolism) is slower earlier in the year, Cadoret has success chasing them from March right through December, and Ramirez pointed out that he catches them through the ice. The main difference in strategy is that early in the season (like now when water temperatures in Otter Creek are still in the 40s) Cadoret uses smaller flies and retrieves them more slowly. Many of his favorite early-season patterns are in sizes and colors to imitate perch, a favorite pike food. Without giving away too much, he also said that the first impassable barrier upstream of Lake Champlain on most tributaries are good early season locations to catch many of the big fish that live in the lake.
Both Cadoret and Ramirez are passionate about pike and musky. And why not? These fish are monstrous predators often running three to four feet long. They will really put a charge in a rod. Ramirez’s only warning was how tiring it is to cast heavy flies all day. He shared that he broke one of his heavy fly rods casting for pike. I asked if he broke it on a pike. He answered that he literally broke it casting; his heavy fly flew forward into his rod with such force that it broke the rod. Casting something like that all day is not for the faint of heart. Though my bigger fear is not having my rod break, but hit myself in the head. I’ll probably stick with trout flies for a while.

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