New Haven River Anglers keep fishing for fun, 37 years later

BRISTOL — It began in 1981 as a group of avid anglers looking to share their love of the sport.
It’s evolved into a diverse collection of men, women and youths who not only share the common interest in fishing, but also in preserving one of the key natural resources in which they practice their sport.
It’s the New Haven River Anglers Association (NHRAA), which recently celebrated its 37th birthday.
And the members have a lot to celebrate, as they’ve done a great job pursuing their mission of improving the New Haven River as a fishery, educating the next generation of anglers and informing the public about water quality issues.
“I think the organization has been extremely effective,” said past NHRAA President Peter Diminico. “It has operated on a grassroots level … If you want to get things done, you have to stay ahead of the curve.”
And there are a lot of curves along the 58-mile stretch of the New Haven River, which starts in Lincoln, flows through Bristol and empties into Otter Creek in New Haven. The river has taken a lot of body blows during the past two decades, courtesy of man and Mother Nature. An increasing number of floods have torn away river banks; impurities in the form of trash and agricultural runoff have taken a toll on fish.
“That river has taken some huge hits,” Diminico said.
Members of the NHRAA have helped with riverbank restoration efforts through the years. And they’ve engaged in a lot of other river stewardship activities, including:
•  Monitoring acid rain and phosphorous levels since 1983.
•  Mending fences and helping with rip-rap projects. The group was also instrumental in building a universal fishing platform on the New Haven River at Eagle Park in Bristol. The platform is accessed by an ADA-compliant ramp that leads from the parking area. The platform is dedicated to the memory of Bristol’s Chuck Baser, “Fisherman, Environmentalist, Friend.”
•  Supporting the Addison County River Watch Collaborative, which monitors local rivers over the long term and encourages actions to improve water quality.
•  Establishing, in 1987, the state’s first “no-kill” section within a portion of the New Haven River as a way of boosting the numbers and size of trout. That no-kill section, near the New Haven/Bristol border, was phased out in 1991, according to Diminico.
•  Testifying before Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation hearings on water quality issues.
•  Coordinating annual cleanup activities, usually around Green Up Day and often in partnership with Scouting groups.
The organization is currently conducting stream survey for habitat and restoration projects within U.S. Forest Service and state of Vermont, with the goal of improving fish habitat and riparian buffer zones.
But it’s not all work and serious stuff for the anglers. Members meet the second Tuesday of each month at the Swift House Inn in Middlebury to plan activities, share fish stories and listen to speakers well-versed on the nuances of angling.
They conduct “youth nights” and fly tying classes and a successful “Women in Waders” program has attracted more women to the sport.
“We’re not a male-only club,” longtime NHRAA member Peter Burton stressed.
The NHRAA sponsors students in the Audubon and Green Mountain Conservation camps and offer scholarships to area high school graduates who will be pursuing environmental studies.
Indeed, NHRAA members realize the importance of bringing in a new generation of anglers with environmental ethos.
“All of the angling organizations are getting older,” Diminico lamented. He placed the average age of today’s avid Vermont angler and deer hunter at around 47. And he’s noticed that in general, Millennials aren’t joining the ranks of area sports/conservation organizations.
Diminico’s love for fishing began as a student at St. Michael’s College more than four decades ago. He wanted to join the school’s golf team. They told him he had to cut his hair. Diminico said “no” on principle. He came home that Easter, stuffed his golf clubs in the closet and decided to try his hand at fly fishing.
“I caught a nice mess of fish,” Diminico recalled.
St. Mike’s would eventually invite Diminico back onto the golf team in spite of his long locks. But he had caught fly fishing fever. Residing at the divide of the New Haven River and Lewis Creek Watershed, Diminico has had a prime view and access to great fishing.
“Water quality has always been a big thing for me,” he said.
Burton joined the NHRAA around three decades ago. He found out about the group and decided to attend a meeting.
He was hooked.
“It sounded fun to do some hands-on helping with the river,” Burton said.
Burton has strongly agreed with the emphasis the NHRAA has historically placed on “catch and release.”
“Fish are too valuable to be caught only once,” he said, echoing a popular quote among anglers.
It was in 1963 that Burton began fishing. Then a young lad, Burton learned a lot about fly fishing from his erstwhile employer, the late Arch Tilford of Middlebury
“Archie taught me all the different methods (of fishing and fly tying),” Burton recalled. “It stuck.”
Burton tries to fish wherever he goes. He spoke with the Independent by cell phone while traveling through Virginia. Naturally, he had his fishing rod and favorite fly lures with him.
Along with catch and release, Burton would like to see the state place more restrictions on the size number of fish anglers can take. Anglers can currently take as many as is 12 trout (brookies, brownies, rainbows) of any size, between the second Saturday in April and Oct. 31. He believes the state should limit the trout-take at six and mandate that anglers release any fish smaller than six inches.
“Vermont has got to think outside of the box,” said Burton, who has noticed the size and quality of Vermont’s trout go down during the past 30 years.
Burton is greatly enjoying his time with the NHRAA, which he notes is a great value for only $20 per year in dues.
“It’s a resource-oriented club to improve the quality of fisheries wherever we can,” Burton said. “It’s also about camaraderie.”
Longtime Bristol physician Dr. David Henderson (now retired) is a founder and past president of the NHRAA. He was extremely active with the organization until around 10 years ago, which coincides with the tragic burning of the Dog Team Tavern in New Haven. The Dog Team, bordered in back by the New Haven River, was the ideal meeting venue for association meetings.
“That was our house,” he said. “It was a really good time.”
Henderson grew up Maine fishing with a fly rod, at first using worms as bait. He became a more serious fly fisherman while living in North Dakota during the early 1970s. He grew to love cold water streams and mountains, which made the New Haven River one of his favorites.
Henderson said the NHRAA has rebounded nicely during the past few years after a period of low numbers and relative inactivity. He credited the Middlebury Mountaineer business, which offers guided fly fishing and related supplies, for raising new awareness about the NHRAA.
“Things are looking good with the current leadership,” Henderson said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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