Matt Dickerson: On trout and self-sacrifice

A little more than 28 years ago I arrived in Addison County, moved into a new home in Bristol, and began my job at Middlebury College. I was relatively newly wed and still adjusting to married life. I’d never held a full-time teaching position, and had never owned a home. Though both of my wife’s parents had been born in Vermont, I had never lived in the state. It was a time of transition and uncertainties.
Chief among my uncertainties and anxieties was whether or not the fishing was any good, and if so how long it would take me to find good trout water. I’d moved here from a region in New York with an abundant variety of opportunities not only for decent trout fishing, but for numerous other species as well. Within 20 minutes of my apartment in Ithaca five rivers had carved gorges though the nearby hills, and at least three of those had good year-round trout streams.
Four of the five also had spawning runs of big rainbow trout coming up from Cayuga Lake in the spring, and brown trout and landlocked salmon moving up in the fall. Cayuga Lake itself is over 400 feet deep and nearly 40 miles long, and provided even more fishing opportunities. I was nervous moving to Vermont, thinking about what I had left behind.
Not by coincidence, my new house in Vermont stood the equivalent of a few long casts from the New Haven River, which looked like a good trout stream to me. I didn’t know anything about it, however, and when my first couple visits to the river failed to stir up any fish, I grew more nervous. Even when I did begin to catch fish, they were only colorless stocked rainbows and browns uniformly ten or 11 inches long. I began to miss my old fishing grounds, and thought Vermont offered little other than a poor put-and-take fishery.
More than a quarter of a century later, I have dozens of favorite local fishing spots in several rivers and bodies of waters. I know several places to go where I have a good chance of landing a few browns and rainbows, including wild fish and fish over 15 inches.
I know of another several locations where I can stir up brook trout in small streams or mountain ponds, and of some places in which I have caught brookies, browns, and rainbows in three consecutive pools in 30 minutes of fishing. I also have spots I can go to catch landlocked salmon, and others where I can land pike and smallmouth bass. Although I don’t fish often for perch, they are around also. I could even track down some lesser-known fish like bowfin (though I’ve only done so once.)
And I’m still learning. Last week I was working on an article for a national fishing magazine, and I headed out fishing with local pike legend Brian Cadoret. We hopped our way downriver to several different locations, spending 30 to 50 minutes at each spot. Three of the four locations I was quite familiar with, but the fourth was new to me. (I knew the place existed, but had never fished there.) And it turned out that this new location was the only spot I landed a pike.
Still, I think back on those first few couple years in the area when I really struggled to find what I thought of as good fishing water. It was a lonely time, and I was thankful whenever a friend invited me fishing, or suggested a new spot to try. (I’m still thankful to friends like Brian willing to point out a new location to me, which is why I’m not mentioning that location in this article or in the national magazine story.)
Thus when I recently met somebody who had moved to Vermont from southwestern Colorado — a land I know from personal experience to be full of blue-ribbon trophy-trout water, and to which the Ithaca area paled in comparison — I could understand why he was nervous. He wondered, was there any good fishing to be found in Middlebury area? Was he giving up the possibility of ever catching a trophy trout again?
I took it as my duty to take him out fishing and try to reassure him that he hadn’t just moved to a desert. Like the duty of Bilbo Baggins to throw an Unexpected Party for a band of dwarves, it knew it could be a painful duty. It meant I had to spend three hours on a 78-degree September day under a canopy of azure skies, standing in a favorite local trout water, shadowed by the silhouette of a maple tree just starting to turn orange-red, while mayflies rose off the water all around me, casting dry flies and landing both brown and rainbow trout. And then to repeat the same hardship just a few days later. But if I didn’t make the sacrifice, who would?
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Although my guest didn’t manage to land any trophies that would make him forget about the rivers of Colorado, he did land his first few Vermont rainbow trout, as well as his first ever smallmouth bass and fallfish, and if nothing else got an impression of Otter Creek as a potential for big fish water. Equally importantly, the editor of the magazine article accepted my story on Otter Creek without trying to squeeze out of me the locations where I fished with Brian. 

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