I am extremely proud to announce that I am now a member of Fly Fishing Team USA for the next two years. Equally exciting is that my friend and fellow
Vermonter and guide Matt Stedina earned a spot as well. This was a goal I set when I began competing and just got the call from the team captain last week after earning enough points to make the team. It will be a true honor to represent the United States in competition.
I am happy to turn the page on the 2020 fishing season and am looking forward to 2021, as is the rest of the world. I would classify the 2020 season as difficult. We started with cold weather and snow in early May resulting in slow fishing, and then it turned hot. I feel we only had about 3 weeks of prime fishing conditions all spring. Thankfully the bulk of my guided trips were during that time frame because my clients were locals only and we could play the conditions. As we all know the summer was just terribly hot and fishing was tough unless you were on a cold tailwater. Even lakes fished tough for bass at times. Some of the highlights were some nice fish on dry flies and stalking trout in technical conditions. Fall finally rolled in a produced decent to poor fishing. The water temps for much of the fall were cool, but it was so low that fish were just burying their heads under rocks all day long. I certainly caught fewer fish on average for most of the season even though the fish were there. It really made you up your game and the result will be that a lot of anglers will hopefully have improved their game, I know I did even though it felt at times I was doing the wrong thing.
I am optimistic about the 2021 season but as always we play the cards that mother nature deals us. Let's all hope for a cool and wet summer. I do know that there were good numbers of fish that survived last summer and plenty will be waiting for us come spring. I will be producing more youtube videos this year with some friends and guides so keep a lookout for those. Also feel free to chime in on what you would like to see. I am also hoping to get back to competing should COVID allow. And as always, I am excited to get out with new and return clients. See you all soon!
The foliage is at peak and the colors are far better than average, however the trout fishing has been as difficult as I have seen for this time of year with fish going long stretches of the day not willing to eat a fly. Thankfully being on the water this time of year offers more than just beautiful trout. The water is historically low and the trout have been hunkered down hiding under rocks leaving an angler wondering if the river has any fish in it. Not to say trout aren't being caught, but we have found ourselves on the river at times where no matter what we do the fish will have none of it. We have gotten into trout on a variety of rivers both large and small with nymphing being most productive, but there have been fish willing to eat a dry fly. Up stream Euro Nymphing has been the best tactic for me. Fish have been in pools and pocket water, but I think deep pools have been the most productive. I have been sneaking to the tailout of the pool and kneeling or sitting down casting as far up into the pool as possible and watching my sighter for the slightest tightening. This has worked to coax a few fish out of deeper water. I've explored some new waters both here and down south and have continued to find some pockets of stocked fish that survived the summer, in addition to some wild trout.
We are forecast to get some significant rain this week, but one rain event will really not help our river levels or bring up the water table much, we need a wet period with frequent rain to really help. If we do get a bump in water levels then the fish will likely feed and let their guard down.
I'd like to congratulate Guide Andy Masenas on taking second place at the Otter Creek Classic last weekend. Andy and I had a tough day Saturday but Andy put himself into third place on after day one. We fished some new water and got some wild and stocked browns and rainbows in the morning, then we chased ghosts on new water that was so low I don't think a trout was within a mile of us, and finally returned and got a few more where we started the day. Andy was able to fish well enough Sunday to jump into second place by technically nymphing a small spooky wild trout stream and then catching fish on dry flies out of a large pool to end his Sunday on a high note. He deserved a good result especially after having me slow him down Saturday. I had been looking forward to this tournament all summer, usually it is opening weekend of trout season and I cannot get there to fish. I ended up getting quite Ill on Friday night from a nasty cold the kids brought home earlier in the week, I almost bailed on Saturday and probably should have but ended up having one of the most miserable days on the water I have ever had. I decided midway through the day I'd not be fishing Sunday because I was functioning at such a low level and my wife was sick taking care of sick kids. I didn't submit my scores and DQ'd myself, turns out I would have had enough to be in 4th place but I had no desire to be out on the water, which is crazy because tournament fishing is one of my favorite things. I'm pretty bummed how it turned out but don't regret not fishing Sunday. Andy's great result really made my miserable weekend better. He is one of the best fishermen I know, and having competed against some of the best in the world, he is among some the best out there.
There is an awful lot to talk about in todays report. If I had a chance I would have made 2-3 more since my last. My apologies for the delay.
On the Guiding front we have gone from famine to feast in the matter of a few weeks. The summer was terribly slow, and suddenly i'm not able to get everyone out. Please bear with me if you want to get out in the next few weeks. I am trying to work through figuring out how to get three kids to and from 5 different school/ daycares throughout the week thanks to COVID, and Andy is now available only on weekends. I have had a lot of people looking to float. Thats not an option due to continued low water. We will be booking wade trips only. Thank you all for the support. I have heard from a lot of repeat clients in the past month.
As you all can tell we have entered a fall weather pattern which is so damn welcomed. This summer was really wearing on me. It was just so hot, humid, and sunny every day. I couldn't stand the sun anymore, and everyday just hoped it would be cloudy. The weather has been great the past few weeks aside from some nasty wind here and there, especially during the Ditch Pickle Classic which I'll get to later. Im back on the trout wagon after spending about three weeks thinking of only bass fishing which has been pretty good with a lot of fish eating top water flies in shallow water.
Now for our bread and butter, and the reason most of you read this report- trout. The fishing has ranged from quite good to mediocre. As expected there are not many stocked fish left in our rivers, though I have heard reports of some still being caught in deeper gorges and such where they were able to stay cool, but for the most part we are fishing for wild fish. I've found that the wild fish have made it through another really tough season fairly well. Though we have seen some areas of the bigger rivers that have not produced too many fish. I'd say that maybe some wild fish died in some stretches but more than likely the wild fish migrated to better, cooler areas of the river and have not spread back out. Either way there are less fish available, but the quality has been good and even those small wild fish fight much better than a stocker. Please take care fighting those fish and handle them with care, they just had a tough time. A bunch of wild rainbows I caught on the Lamoille the other day were pretty skinny, but very strong, they just need to feed heavily this fall.
I personally have been hooking into nice fish almost every time out for the last month or two. I don't know why because usually I'm the one who catches a ton of fish but not the big ones. I don't think I am doing anything different, other than fishing more dry flies, but I'll milk this little run of bigger fish as long as I can. My recent clients have done fairly well on dry flies, catching small and mid sized rainbows and browns. September is just about the only month where I seem to have days that more fish are willing to eat the dry than the nymph consistently. That was true on the two trips I guided this weekend, although I fished for 15 minutes between my trips Saturday and nymphed up a double, and other two rainbows one of which was all of 16-17" and built well. Friday night we had our first frost of the season and the water was only 52 degrees to start the day on a medium sized trib, but was 68 on the big river in the afternoon so don't forget the thermometer. The trips we had out the previous weeks went similar to this weekend, but I noticed that the fishing seemed best this weekend midday, while the last few weeks it was steady all day.
The Iso hatch has been in full swing, but is waning especially on the big rivers, but on one trib saturday I saw more iso shucks on the rocks than I have ever seen on any river. The iso hatch is usually considered more of a big river hatch so this was kind of a surprise for me to see. The trout Saturday were preferring larger bushier dries size 10-12, but usually a go to iso pattern for me is a size 14 Adams irresistible. Remember that these are swimming nymphs, swinging then stripping in your flies will draw takes even after the hatch is over, and you can do this with both dries, and nymphs as well as soft hackles. I haven't seen a ton of other bugs recently other than tiny tiny baetis mayflies, but have seen some caddis, a few golden stone shucks, and terrestrials.
Next week is the Otter Creek Classic and we just had the Ditch Pickle Classic a few weekends back. Its great to have these events still happen and have something to look forward to during these strange times. I am particularly excited to fish the OCC happening now in the fall instead of the traditional opening weekend because I am usually not able to fish it at that time of year. I'll be prepping for the tourney by tying flies and trying to make a game plan. Unfortunately I don't know a ton of water down that way, and the water I do know that is productive is well known. I wish I had a chance to get down that way and scout but that will not be happening; I've got too busy a week ahead of me. I'll just wing it and hope I can find some fresh fish I can beat up on early and then pick apart some waters that other people have already fished and hopefully clean up some they left behind.
We finished 2nd once again as team in the Ditch Pickle Classic. My teammate Mike Woulf and I have fished it for 6-7 years together and still cannot seem to win one. I think its our second or third 2nd place and our 6th straight finish of 2,3 or 4th place. This year we were dealing with the remnants of a hurricane and the weather was about as bad as it gets. I had done a couple scouting trips prior to the event and had come up with a game plan that I thought would win it for us. Of course that game plan was out the window due to weather. We fished one small sheltered area of one bay most all of the first day until we were chased off by a large storm. At the end of the day we had caught only 5 bass three of which were small. I lost one good one on top water the took the fly 60-70 feet away and popped off in the weeds. Coming back in to the boat launch we were in 3-4 foot waves and that's after it had calmed down a bit. Right after dark the wind kicked up and it was almost hurricane force at my camp on the west side of the inland sea. We were worried about the giant tree out front falling on the camp. We set the alarm for 4:30 and woke to sustained probably 40 MPH winds. Not one of us even thought about going out it was so windy, so we went back to bed till 7 basically writing the day off. I texted my friend to see if he was out and said he found some sheltered water and was fishing so we decided to trailer over to a sheltered area we had never fished. We got on the water around 8:30 or so and began tossing top water in some weed beds, soon we had three nice largemouth in the boat, and Mike picked up two small but scoreable smallmouth right at the end to secure our second place. Losing that time really killed us however. Had we been staying in a place that wasn't getting pounded by the full force of the storm we would have probably gotten out sooner, but it was just so gnarly at my camp it wasn't even a consideration. Either way the weekend is always a highlight for us no matter the finish, many beers are drank and laughs had.
Good luck out on the water. We need more rain, it will really get the fish fired up to eat. If it does rain, see if you can get out that day or the next, even if the water is stained. I'd rather fish stained water than gin clear. In the fall the baseline flows are low so generally even when we get a big rain event the rivers clear and drop fast. When the rivers are clear move slow, blend in and fish up stream. If we do get some nice bumps in the flows the land locked salmon will start to push up the rivers. From here on out you'll have a chance at a big landlocked if you are in the right places. A big push or water is key, sometimes it takes a few to get them to run in good numbers.
We are directly in the path of Hurricane Isaias as I write this. 2-5" of rain is expected by tomorrow morning and we have had a nice steady soaking rain all day. This should be a good thing as long as we don't get any crazy flood similar to Hurricane Irene. Rivers have been low and Hot. We have done a bit of guiding but Covid continues to affect how much we are getting out with clients. I have been on vacation and have hit cold tail waters in Maine, NH and VT and spent some time casting from rocky points for stripers.
Stripers are definitely my nemesis on a fly rod, and though I have caught a few nice fish they are always a struggle for me. That didn't change last week. I could not get the big fish to eat, but they would follow my fly to the surface. I was fishing near massive schools of Pogy and think that I didn't bring flies big enough to match what the adult stripers were keyed into.
As I mentioned I have been fishing a variety of tailwaters, and its amazing how each one has a different personality. Some fish similar to free stone streams around here where nymphing is very often the most productive method, while others offer technical dry fly fishing. The two biggest fish pictured above were both caught prospecting with dry flies. That biggest brown may well be the biggest I've caught on a dry. It's amazing how slowly those two fish ate the fly and waiting for the fish to get the dry in its mouth is key when that happens. The largest fish pictured was under a tree tucked right against the bank with its nose basically on a nearly dry shelf with the tiniest trickle of water flowing over it, adjacent to a big riffle. I don't think many people would have even cast there. They key to getting this fish to eat the fly was to position myself so that I could get a natural drift without the fast riffle dragging my fly away. My first cast was not close enough the bank and resulted in nothing. I set the next cast about 3" off the shelf and 1' from the bank when the fish turned on the fly and missed it. I think I moved the fly about 6" down stream and suddenly he re appeared and slowly sipped the fly while swimming down river. When I set the hook I honestly thought it was a 12" fish until the big brown began pulling and making runs toward the opposite bank. After a pretty good battle I ended up down the river about 20 yards and only when I was about to net him did I realize just how big he was. Being on 6x tippet in shallow water I had a hard time getting him into the net because he was too big to lift his head out of the water, but on my second try he was safely in the net. Check out my instagram page @benwilcox_maplecountryanglers for the video of this and the other brown. In the video you can see how I only have the fish out of the water for maybe 5 seconds and then he is gone. A little trick I learned if you have a new high quality phone and you are by yourself, is to take video and then release the fish. You can then go back and take your favorite screen shots from the video and its much easier on the fish than using a self timer etc. I get the phone all set up while the fish rests in the net submerged under water and then lift it out quickly.
I can get you out on these rivers so shoot me a message if you'd like to give it a go, but please make sure you are following quarantine protocols.
Going forward I am hoping this hurricane brings a real shift in weather. I see the 10 day forecast is looking cooler and certainly this rain will help to boost river and lake levels as well as flush a lot of hot water out of the systems. Dry fly fishing with terrestrials will continue to be good and as we move into mid August Big White flies and Iso's will get going on the big rivers. If water temps are below 69 these hatches can be awesome fishing.
I hope everyone had a great 4th. We didn't do any guiding over the long weekend to spend time with our families, fishing conditions were poor anyways, otherwise I may have stuck around a day or two to get a few trips in. Thanks to all who contacted me about fishing over the holiday. I did shoot over from our camp to a tailwater with my wife for a day of fishing. It was really nice to get some time on the water with her without the kids and to see her catch fish on dry flies. Three kids 4 and under doesn't allow us to get out too much together anymore. While we were over there we shot a little bit of video of dry dropper fishing so check out the you tube link above to see some good footage of me picking apart a small piece of pocket water with a dry dropper on a Euro Rig.
I also had a chance to get up to Maine with the family camping a couple of weeks ago and was able to sneak away three mornings for 2.5 hours. I had a great time working some fairly heavily pressured wild fish that required perfect dead drifts. It was a nice challenge to adapt the the fish and fishermen. I found most success fishing a single nymph but caught fish on dries as well as double nymph rigs. Focusing on keeping the flies in a single current seam from below the fish was key. My success rate was much lower if I was positioned next to the fish. In all I was able to go 4/5 on trophy brook trout and caught around 75 trout and salmon in the three 2.5 hour sessions I got on the water. I wasn't able to get pics on most of the bigger fish but I believe I did catch one of my biggest ever, the second fish of the trip.
This summer is reminding me of two years ago, very hot and dry. We did just have a major storm roll through while I was writing this which knocked out power and downed trees. Here is Essex we got 1.5" of rain in about 20-30 minutes. That is definitely what we need but it would be much better if that came over the course of a day, for both the plants and my driveway. That flush of rain came at a good time since we have some major heat tomorrow and Friday and river levels will hopefully be up some and maybe not get as warm as they would have. If you are going to trout fish then its mainly a small stream game right now and after a rain event is the time to go. Those fish have been hiding out in some really bony conditions so a bump in water will get them moving around and feeding. We do have rain or storms in the forecast many days next week as we move into the two warmest weeks of the year on average. The more rain we get the better in my opinion. I am guessing most stocked fish have already died unless they happen to have found or been stocked near a cool water source or spring. Thankfully the wild fish are remarkably resilient and know where to go or how to survive the heat. After seeing the amount of fish survival after the summer of '18 I am not too worried. If we could just get Fish and Wildlife to protect them a little more with stricter bag limits or catch and release areas and close down some known thermal refuges to angling during the heat of the summer along with continuing to work on habitat improvement we would be in even better shape. In my opinion, catching fish that are stacked up at a cold water source for the whole summer just trying to survive is un ethical and should be avoided.
When water temps permit its a great time to start throwing some terrestrials, ants, beetles, hoppers, crickets, inch worms, all fall into the water and can convince a trout to rise to a dry fly. If there is an over hanging branch or grass then you may have a chance of catching fish there even if the water is not great looking, especially if there is shade on the water. I am going to tie some ant patterns this evening. I also start to throw some smaller nymphs and dries this time of year as many of the bigger hatches are over the fish will take a small fly more readily so have some size 18-20 in a variety of patterns ready to go and don't be afraid to use them. I haven't been on the lakes much because the trolling motor on my boat broke and my replacement has not arrived, so I don't have a ton to report there. Up north over the 4th the Hex hatch had already peaked due to the warm weather and surface water temps were hot. The thermocline was deep and pond fishing was not good at all. Be on the lookout for any cool weather and precipitation, otherwise get up early and hit a small stream. Please take a temp first. Also don't be afraid to take an overnight trip, we have a few small tailwaters in VT, and some great ones in NH, ME, MA, CT, and NY. If you want to get out give me a shout and I can find you some cool water to fish for trout or better yet we can fish bass and fall fish in the lower stretches of our big rivers. You are guaranteed to catch some fish on those trips.
Before I get into the fishing report, I wanted to take a moment to talk about trophy trout in Northern VT's rivers, and my concern with VT's "trophy" trout program. Here in Northern VT we are lucky to have wild populations of Brook, Brown, and Rainbow trout, with rainbows being most plentiful. I consider a trophy wild rainbow to be one over 15-16". There is a picture of one above. Very rarely in this area do they get over 20", with my personal best estimated to be 22-23", and I don't expect to catch one that size again. Browns tend to be far fewer in most rivers here, though make up for the majority of fish over 20". A brown over 24" is very rare but possible. Brook Trout are plentiful in the headwaters and decrease in numbers as we move down the watersheds but I catch wild brook trout mixed in with rainbows and browns here and there all the way into our big rivers, especially if the bigger river is near a small tributary, but not always. A trophy fish is one over 12-13". My guide Andy caught a brookie in a mid sized stream of about 16" last spring, and I caught one 3 pounds or so years ago. So why do I bring this up? Because I am concerned with what I am seeing on social media, and email etc., promoting stocked 2 year old rainbow and brown trout as Vermont Trophies, both by guides, recreational anglers, and VT Fish and Wildlife. I don't believe a fish raised in a hatchery, dumped in a river, and caught a few days later to be anything close to a trophy. I am worried that we, as fishermen, guides, and conservationists are accepting these fish to be trophies when they are anything but. If we accept that these planted hatchery fish are trophies are we going to fight to protect our true wild trophy trout and habitat? A hatchery trophy does not require great stream habitat, cool water, and spawning grounds. They can be dumped anywhere in the spring. If more fishermen's definition of trophy continues to fall in line with the VT Fish and Wildlife I fear the will to protect our wild trout will decline. I could go on and on about the archaic and awful regulations on our trout streams such as insane creel limits, lack of catch and release waters, lack of fly fishing only waters, lack of thermal refuge protection, stocking over wild fish, or lack of habitat improvements. But focusing on this one definition of a trophy I think is pretty important. As anglers, we need to make damn sure we recognize what is a trophy fish, what they need to survive, and try to influence VT fish and wildlife to shift focus more from stocking to conservation. Bottom line, a trout that barely has fins and was raised in a hatchery is NOT a trophy no matter how big it is.
Back to the fishing report. We have had a good run since my last report and had a lot of clients out on the water with us.I think many locals who had been on the fence about hiring a guide in their own backyard decided this was the spring to do it. Things have been pretty exciting out there both in the form of good numbers of fish on most days, rising trout, and some encounters with some very large fish.
Our floating season came to an end last week. We obviously need rain badly. We are going into the heat of the summer (started today) with super low flows which is going to put thermal stress on the fish. With low flows river temps could be over 70 up pretty high in the watersheds. It goes without saying that you need a stream thermometer for ethical catch and release trout fishing. The small streams will be where its at for a little bit anyway. My favorite small stream tactic is to use a 10' 2 or 3 wt tight line rod and leader with a dry dropper set up. I adjust the weight of the nymph for water depth but usually a 2.0-2.3 mm tungsten bead or small brass bead nymph will drift just off the bottom. This set up allows me to cover two parts of the water column and get a nice drag free drift with the long mono leader. In tight cover I'll use a bow and arrow cast. I honestly don't have many situations where the 10' rod is an impediment as long as you have the bow and arrow cast down.
I mentioned that we had some encounters with very big fish, including myself losing possibly the biggest brown I've had on my line. I have made an effort to fish tough situations this season whether that be spooky trout streams on low clear water under bright sun, such as was the case on this day, or fishing flat water, or shallow undercut banks. Basically days that people would not fish or water types that people would not normally fish. I have paid the price catching fewer fish on most days because of it and gone home skunked on occasion. My goal is to become a better angler and make Fly Fishing Team USA, so going to perfect water and catching 30 rainbows isn't going to get me there. Anyway back to that giant fish, I chose a new stretch of a crystal clear stream hitting the water at about 9 AM under full sunshine. The water was low and spooky. I worked a small run kneeling down under some tree branches with my tight line rod and quickly caught 3-4 rainbows and a brookie before moving up to a big pool with a crescent shaped bed rock wall. Having never fished this stretch I approached the tailout of the pool extremely slowly on the left outer bank which was in the shade thanks to some overhanging branches. I couldn't see into the water at all thanks to the glare. I had a dry fly/ dry dropper rod tucked into my waders and chose the tight line rig because I was worried if I bombed floating line over the pool the fly line could spook some fish. I began casting upstream where the flow started to dissipate with 2 size 16 natural colored nymphs on 6x fluorocarbon tippet. On my 5th or 6th drift working the tailout I set and was into a large fish, it darted upstream before going absolutely nuts on the surface of the water alternating between a kind of tail walk and jump downstream. It then turned upstream ripping off line from my drag. This is where I got into trouble as my 5 wt was in my waders sticking up into the trees and I needed to quickly move up river with the fish, I was frantically trying to get the rod out of my waders with my left hand while the fish ripped drag off the reel in my right. Suddenly it turned left and the nymph just popped out. It was a bummer but on 6x I would have had a lot more to go through to get that fish in the net, I was very happy to have snuck so close and fooled the fish under the given conditions. That same day Andy had his streamer hook straightened by a big brown!
As we move forward I'll be looking for cool downs, cool nights and rain to drop river temps so that we can get back on some bigger streams. Golden stones have started hatching and I've seen decent numbers of shucks on the rocks. When river flows are up again a big stonefly is always a good bet, and a stimulator is a great dry fly for a dry dropper rig from now through fall.
I'll be In Maine camping with the family this weekend and spending more time out on the lakes bass fishing. The bass fishing has been good. I was on the lake last night and there were good numbers of large small mouth and pike in shallow water. I was with my three kids, so effectively fishing was tough but I got a few, and lost a very nice bass pulling clousers slowly, but more importantly the girls got some perch to bite and had a blast netting and reeling in the fish.
94 Degrees here today in Northern VT, breaking the record for the warmest day ever recorded in May. Not the records I want to be setting! It's pretty wild that my last report includes a picture of my drift boat covered in 2" of snow. I will be laying off of the trout until the back half of the weekend when we have highs forecast in the upper 50's. I can guarantee that the big rivers are topping 70 degrees this week and possibly some smaller sized streams as well. You will want to have your stream thermometer with you and please, if you are catch and release fishing, move to cooler water if you temp 69 or higher. We got about a week of very good trout fishing and I expect it to be great after the weather cools back down.
I have also included a link to a new quick you tube video that I created about Euro Nymphing tight to structure. I decided to make this little video after having a productive morning catching rainbows, but noticing that most all of them were tucked directly under or behind rocks instead of more traditional lies in the slower steady current downstream of boulders. Check it out for some more detailed tips and to see some footage of hooking fish in the soft water tight to mid stream boulders.
As you can see from the pictures above, clients and myself have caught a large variety of fish recently with a ton of different methods. Trout have been taking dries, nymphs, small streamers and soft hackles. Let the fish decide what they want to eat and go with it, but keep in mind it can change rapidly. Many times nymphing will be the best bet but this is not always the case and if you are not prepared to adapt you may find your self having a frustrating day. I had a beautiful evening on the big water swinging soft hackles in a wide riffle. Fish were chasing caddis and I was seeing them jump into the air for both the real thing and my green soft hackles swung just under the surface. If I am going to be fishing with only one rod, Ill usually opt for a euro nymphing rod with a 10 or 15 pound leader that I can nymph, dry dropper, swing wet flies and streamers and even throw a dry, but if I am headed down to the river for the evening hatch, then a 4 wt with floating line is what I have been opting for. Most times out I am bringing both with me however.
Our early hatches are over and we have been seeing March Browns, Sulphurs, Cahills, Yellow sallies, and lots of caddis both tan and dark, Its changing fast out there so be prepared for everything really.
On the Bass and Pike front things have been good. Fish are in shallow bays related to structure, but you can find fish everywhere right now. I've spotted some bass on beds. The best part is that quality bass have been eating top water flies pretty readily. There is not much more fun than that to me. It will be interesting what the record breaking heat wave will do to the bite and spawning stages of the bass. Water temps obviously rose rapidly the last few days. I'll be back on the boat soon to find out.
The Governor just gave the green light to outdoor recreation businesses to re open so that's certainly good news. We've had snow the past three days here in Northern VT and while spring has been on hold most of the past month, things will be improving beginning tomorrow. So too will the fishing and I think by the weekend or at least next week, things should be fishing well.
We have been out quite a bit since last report and actually there is quite a bit of new info to cover. Generally the fishing has been slow with water temps in the 40's. I have yet to personally take a river temp over 46. There have been a few flurries of activity here and there thanks to hendricksons coming off. Guide Andy got into a lot of wild rainbows that had moved into a riffle for about an hour last week and reported seeing lots of fish rise. Once the hatch waned it slowed back down to almost nothing. The same was true for Guide Evan who caught his personal best brown trout a week and a half ago as well as a few other decent browns, but when he moved to a different stream it was dead. Such has been the case for a few weeks. If you happen to be on the river during or just prior to a hatch usually midday to early afternoon, then you've lucked out. The three of us got out on the drift boat and scouted a new stretch of water last week on a cold windy raw day. The only fish landed was the beauty pictured above, though we lost one other nice fish and had 3-4 more bites, all on streamers. We all agreed we need to float this stretch again when the fishing becomes more consistent to see what we really have on that particular piece of water before we bring clients there. On that afternoon we saw some Hendricksons hatch and a few BWO's but not in numbers enough to get the fish to eat nymphs.
During non hatch times small streamers have out produced nymphs on a pretty consistent basis. Some days streamers have produced all the action and nymphs have been totally ignored. I've been fishing streamers both on a tight line set up tied on jig hooks and with a conventional sink tip line. If I had to choose I'd pick the conventional line set up to fish streamers because you can cast so much farther and cover more water, but the tight line rig gives you more versatility if you want to nymph as well. Most fish have been in slower water and back eddies, but have been willing to chase a streamer. I've only caught one fish on a dead drifted streamer and that was out of a back eddy this evening. We have noticed that when the water has been stained, we have moved some fish from relatively shallow featureless river areas that you would not typically even bother to fish. We found about 3-4 fish on a sandy slow moving flat one afternoon about 2-3 deep. This is a good lesson to cover all the water not just prime areas, especially when the water is high or stained.
I'll be toting my dry fly/ dry dropper rod around from now on since there will be dry fly opportunities here and there from here on out. I also have a few dry fly patterns I want to test thoroughly this spring which I am hoping will find a permanent spot in the box. As the water warms up into the 50's expect to find fish feeding more regularly throughout the day and the fishing to become much more consistent. I expect nymphs to become the primary producer of fish due to the increased number of bugs available for the fish to eat. You'll need to be ready with just about everything in the next few weeks. Here in VT we don't have many very heavy hatches, but we do have a huge variety of bug species so it can be a little tricky figuring out what the fish want to eat sometimes in the spring. I will generally start with a caddis and a mayfly pattern and keep switching bugs until I get things dialed in or run out of time! Remember to swing your flies at the end of the drift. I actually saw two fish follow my swung nymphs to the surface last week only to turn off at the surface. They will be committing soon!
Stocking appears to be about half done so many of our local rivers have a bunch of new inferior trout competing with our wild ones. Within the next couple of weeks that should be complete. I don't have anything against some stocking, but I do believe that some rivers get too many stocked fish or shouldn't be stocked all together due to healthy numbers of wild fish. I wouldn't be surprised to see some hold over stocked trout either.
As you all can imagine, guiding will be slow to no existent for much of the spring. Because of this I have decided to start filming some fishing sessions and put together some YouTube videos that will offer some pretty good tips for you all out on the water. I uploaded the first video yesterday, where myself and guide Andy fish a pond for the first time and get into a lot of brook trout. There is some good footage of trout taking the fly and lot of info that will help you if you decide to hit some still water, which right now is the way to go if you want to consistently catch trout. Bear with me on the editing as I'm doing this all with an iPhone 11 and tripod and am still figuring out the editing process and capabilities among other things. For instance, I didn't know the text would cover my face the entire opening monologue, i just thought it was going to appear and go away after a few seconds. Either way I guarantee you will learn something from this video if you haven't spent a lot of time fishing still water for trout, and if you have there is hopefully enough fish catching footage to keep you entertained and we show you out most productive flies at the end.
As you will see in the video the still water trout fishing has been good. I've been out on two ponds, neither of which I had ever fished before and gotten into good numbers of stocked rainbows and brookies both times. While also getting pickerel, suckers, and perch to the net. The big challenge has been finding the fish and both times out on these new ponds it took an hour or so until we found the fish and got things dialed in. I'll leave the rest of the still water info out of this report as you can just watch the video to learn all you'll need.
On the river front things have been slow which is normal for this time of year especially considering how cold it's been. I've been just a few times and have managed to land wild rainbows and brook trout. I actually caught my first ever fish on opening day of VT trout season. Usually I am still busy with maple sugaring, but since we finished early I was able to find a bit of time to fish and ended up with a single wild brook trout that ate a micro streamer. Since then all of the river fish I have caught have been on 12 to 16 attractor nymphs with mostly floro orange tag or collars. Now that things look to warm up I will be spending a bit more time on the rivers. I have seen midges, early dark stoneflies, very small baetis, and a couple bigger flies from a distance that I could not identify. We will soon see our first larger mayflies and caddis flies popping and you should be prepared with more natural nymphs to imitate bwo's, blue quills, quill gordons, hendricksons, grannom caddis, as well as maybe a few dry flies or emergers. I actually saw a fish rise on opening day, and have seen fish rising on the ponds, so it pays to be prepared. Your best bet will be to fish in the warmest part of the day on the warmest days if you have the flexibility. If not get out there and don't be discouraged if you get skunked, you may well catch the biggest fish of the year. I'll get another report in as things start to heat up.
The US Fly Fishing National Championship was supposed to start today in Basalt, CO, obviously that didn't happen. Quite a bummer as I have a lot into this tournament and going in ranked 10th in the US was hoping for a good finish to make Fly Fishing Team USA. Hopefully it can be rescheduled sometime this year, I guess on the bright side I will have more time to train.
Opening day of the Vermont Trout Season is less than three weeks away but with it comes a lot of uncertainty. Many areas of the country are shut down thanks to COVID-19 including Vermont. My hope, along with everyone else, is that we can assume some normalcy by then and have the virus under control. Starting today the state is going under lockdown with all non essential businesses shut down for a couple of weeks. Residents are being ordered to stay home for non essential activities. Best case scenario is that the strict social distancing measures can stop community transmission during the next few weeks.
While many, including myself consider fly fishing absolutely essential, I doubt the Government does. Will that stop me from getting out as soon as I wrap up my maple sugaring season? (agriculture is an essential business, because people need to eat) No, but I'll probably be fishing alone. I don't really start booking trips until mid May and all of the trips booked are a go. We will see where we are at when we get into May. I certainly haven't had new inquiries about fishing for the past week or so. I will probably take some more protective measures when guiding in the short term like having clients aways driving in their own vehicles, keeping snacks and drinks in separate coolers, maintaining a safe distance between people and sanitizing cork grips of fly rods. The great thing about fly fishing and all other outdoor activity is that it is an activity that can still be done while containing the spread of this disease. I can't imagine how much harder it would be to quarantine in say, NYC. I'd go crazy. We as Vermonters should all feel lucky to live in a great state where the outdoors is simply out our back door.
All winter I had been prepping for the 2020 Fly Fishing National Championships in Basalt Colorado at the end of April, which has been postponed until the fall or next spring. This is a big tournament for myself as well as my teammate Matt Stedina, we are ranked 10th and 11th in the country going into the tournament. The top 15 point getters make Fly Fishing Team USA so a decent showing is important for us to make the team. I've tied lots of flies, done as much research on the water as possible, and evaluated all the gear I'll need and upgraded some things like reels, fly lines etc. I am really hoping the tournament happens in the fall. The end of April was a big stretch for me as I don't usually get the opportunity to fish prior to that, so I would be going into nationals without having really fished since October. The other competitors have been fishing all winter. I'm going to take the spring and really get some training in especially if COVID-19 hangs around and I don't do a lot of guiding. Last summer I worked a lot on dry dropper fishing, this summer I'll also focus on dry fly fishing, as well as nymph tactics in all types of water. I will focus a lot on clear, low streams, and flatter water and fish a lot of less desirable water that most people pass up. Im also playing around with different leader formulas and will continue to dial that in before nationals. My goal is to catch more fish on a dry fly than I ever have and I plan to bring two rods with me at all times (except early season) with one being a dedicated dry fly rod.
I anticipate early season trout fishing to be quite good. We've had an early spring so the snow has been slowly melting for the past month. Most mid sized and small rivers look great right now and have me itching to get out more than usual for this time of year. I anticipate the by the time trout season opens we will already have some bugs hatching or at least moving, and the water may be a little warmer than usual. This should make the fish a bit more active and willing to take a fly come opening day. I have seen fish rise on opening weekend on a few occasions but nymphing attractor patterns and larger bugs and slowly fishing small to mid sized streamers will be the best producers for sure.
Everyone stay healthy and we will be on the water before we know it.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers