Matt Dickerson: Opening weekend on the water

By Monday afternoon, I was beginning to hear reports of flooding around Vermont. Heavy rain moving in on Sunday, combined with plenty of snow still melting on the higher elevations of the Green Mountains, had the rivers raging. The White River was over its banks on Route 107. Otter Creek rose a yard over its flood stage in Rutland. The Winooski had also crested official flood stage in Essex Junction.
Most of the worst flooding, however, was south of Addison County, and even there it didn’t reach its peak until the weekend had wound down. Thus opening weekend of trout season left most of the local rivers quite fishable (at least in comparison to what they can be on the second Saturday of April.) And that was good news for competitors in the 11th annual Otter Creek Classic: the fly-fishing catch-and-release tournament run each other by Green Mountain Adventures.
The competition was fierce. Jesse Hailer took first place in the Pro Division, claiming his third championship in just over a decade of tournament history. A professional fishing guide and tournament competitor, Jesse was the visionary founder of the tournament when he worked for Green Mountain Adventures in Middlebury, before moving south to take a job with Orvis. He landed seven fish totaling 87.25 inches in length (which is more trout than I usually catch in Vermont during the entire month of April.) Taylor Roth, though he competed in the Amateur Division, was only slightly behind the Pro winner, landing six fish totaling 79.00 inches to capture first place in that division.
Not having a full weekend to compete in the tournament, and not wanted to battle with the crowds of tournament anglers, I found myself leaving the county and state, and wandering across the Crown Point Bridge to do my opening weekend fishing on the New York side. I was hoping to get into a steelhead or two running up some Lake Champlain tributaries.
Radar told me rain was coming soon, but when I pulled into the angler access only a few sprinklers dappled my windshield. The river was definitely flowing high. In several places, it crested over the banks and tumbled over tree roots, rushing down normally dry overflow channels. Unlike my previous visit a few weeks earlier, however, I didn’t have to crawl over a sheet of ice to get into the water. Though I wouldn’t have wanted to have to cross the river, wading along the bank wasn’t difficult.
Visible was just about perfect, too — at least for steelhead fishing. The water had just enough tint, that with the cloudy skies and high flow the fish should not have been too spooky. Yet it was clear enough that a trout should have been able to spot my fly through three or four feet of water.
And so I presented some of those flies in hopes not just that they could be seen, but that they would be seen — nymphs, streamers, wooly buggers — working my way down a few hundred yards of shoreline and hitting a number of good-looking runs.
When the forecasted rain hit, the temperature plummeted, and a brisk wind kicked up, I paused long enough to warm my hands and drive a mile down river to a different spot. Then, ignoring the chill rain and my numb fingers, I fished on. Even if I wasn’t in Vermont, this was what opening weekend was about. The long winter wait was over. Cabin fever had been cured.

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