Above are some wild VT trout I've landed from early and mid April. It has been a great start to the season.
I was able to finish up my sugaring season and join the Otter Creek Classic Fly Fishing Tournament down in Middlebury, VT in Mid April. The tournament was great fun and the weather was incredible. I was able to win the tournament by consistently catching fish both Saturday and Sunday, despite the cold water and lethargic trout, and I did it in entirely new water I'd never fished before. Generally, early season is not a numbers game, and the results of the Otter Creek Classic usually is one of quality over quantity. That was the case for most of the anglers who scored a fish, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. While April is not a time to catch lots of trout, it is a time to catch the biggest one of the season and a real solid number of large trout were caught. My approach was a bit different. Based on the warm weather and a couple of successful outings the week prior I knew there was a small portion of fish that were actively feeding in shallow flat water. Knowing this, I targeted specific water types, which meant a lot of walking and exploring new sections of rivers. My approach was to quickly fish pools and likely holding water looking for a big fish laying deep, which I eventually found on Sunday, (see picture above) and then slowly and methodically fish the slow, sunny, flat water where I was hoping to find a feeding fish. This method worked well for me and I was able to catch 10 wild trout during the event, and even got to sight fish to a rainbow actively feeding at the tailout of a pool. By covering lots of water and being very stealthy when I got the the water type I was looking for I was able to capitalize on the few feeding fish and take the win.
I am going to try doing some more on the water video reports that I will post up to YouTube and the website. These will give you similar info as I write on the report, but also some more visuals. Let me know if you like the format.
As I said, the fishing had been good for the calendar date thanks to that crazy warm weather last week. Things have retuned to normal this week with cooler weather and a big slug of rain over the weekend. The rivers are high and muddy today but smaller sized streams will be fishable by today or tomorrow. The big rivers will take some time to come down. Keep grinding away and eventually you'll find a trout or two. I would still stick with early season patterns and tactics until the water warms up and the bugs get to hatching. Good luck out there!
Late Winter/ Early Spring 2023
Glad to be back with you all in 2023. Last year was really put on hold after undergoing major foot and ankle surgery and a long recovery. My apologies for not getting more out to you all. The good news is I'm almost to 100% and much better off than I was pre surgery. I'm very much looking forward to getting back on the water with repeat and new clients this year.
I know a few of you have been out taking advantage of the year round catch and release trout regulations on most of our rivers. While the fishing is anything but good, it is nice to get out on a sunny winter day with the possibility of hooking a trout. Often this time of year can yield a quality fish if you get lucky enough to trigger a bite.
I am now writing a monthly column in the Northwoods Sporting Journal. I just put the April column up on the webpage under the articles section. It's a tactics article for catching late winter/ early spring trout and will be helpful for your VT fly fishing anytime from now through May.
I am predicting that early spring fishing will be better than normal because of the low snowpack and overall warmer than average temps. Should this pattern hold for the next 3-4 weeks I anticipate that the fishing will be better than average in April. I'll get another post up after my first few outings of the year.
What an amazing spring fishing season we had! Lots and lots of fish were caught, and all trips were quite successful. Two months of really solid fishing thanks to good river temps and ample rain was a welcomed change from the previous two spring seasons where we only had a short window of good fishing. I spent a lot of time guiding and instructing both new and repeat clients. I was also able to get to New York for a fishing tournament and took third place in a stacked field, as well as get to Northern NH with the family camping and fishing. I took as much time to get outside as I could because on Monday, June 27 I underwent ankle and foot reconstruction surgery. I'll be on crutches the entire summer and am hoping to get back in the river by mid September if all goes well. Obviously, I will not be doing any guiding, but I am booking trips for Andy and John all summer.
Going forward we are obviously in the summer pattern of lower flows and higher temps. This combination typically has us fishing for trout by focusing on small streams that stay cold year round, or fishing for bass and fallfish on the lower stretches of the big rivers. That being said, on trips this week we have been able to get on some mid sized streams thanks to below average air temps. The fishing has remained good both with dries and nymphs. Andy's client a few days ago had to deal with really high water from a morning downpour but after some moving around they found fishable water and some nice brook trout and even hooked into a giant brown trout in the turbid water (when big browns like to feed during the summer) but it came un buttoned. The brown ate an un weighted stonefly in fairly shallow water. The fourth of July weekend is looking warm but only briefly before we see below average temps return next week once again! Typically I head north to camp for the holiday and fish the hex hatch on still water for big fish, but that's obviously not happening this year. We could potentially get a few clients out for the hex hatch next week if we get a specific request.
My Favorite rig this time of year is a dry dropper either on a euro rod or standard rod for longer range applications. When fishing a small stream I still prefer a 10' euro rod over say a 7.5' 3 wt. I have been quite enjoying my new Diamondback 10' 2 wt. I find that on small streams using a thin long leader and 10' rod allows me more control over my dry and nymph than a small weight forward rod and line set up. By being able to cast the thin leader into small pockets or runs from below the fish, I can attain a much better presentation than with the shorter rod. This is because when you cast a shot rod with a heavy fly line (in comparison to a long mono leader) the short rod is not able to hold the fly line off of the water resulting in the heavy line landing immediately on the water and accelerating over the tail out of a pool or run therefore pulling your fly out of the strike zone where the majority of fish are found. Remember, trout will eat a swung or skated fly, but rarely will eat a fly being pulled downstream faster than the current. By sneaking close with a 10' rod and long leader I can flick a short cast forward and hold the entire leader off of the water getting the absolute best presentation from the moment the fly lands all the way through the tail out. Lots of trout, and brook trout in particular, will hold under the rocks at the end of a plunge pool or pocket and eat your fly just before it spills down to the next run. I hear many people say there's no way you can cast a 10' rod in tight tree lined streams but its simply not true. If you have any space at all you can find an angle to make a cast, and the places where you cannot a bow and arrow cast is effective and accurate. The 10' rod also gives a distinct advantage when bow and arrow casting allowing a longer cast, from further away, and better presentation. Ive certainly used the bow and arrow cast to great effect in tournaments where trout were holding in difficult to reach places.
The last week in June was the annual Ditch Pickle Classic bass fly fishing tournament on Lake Champlain. My teammate Mike Woulf and I were defending champions from last year and had a good showing this year as well, finishing third out of about 50 teams. It was a great way to go out before surgery. The fishing was challenging but we ended up catching more fish than ever before, we were just a couple 18" fish short in the end. We came into the tournament with a plan to fish shallow and mid depth bass and vary our locations to find bass feeding shallow. This is because we are better at this type of fishing and enjoy it more. The problem was we had two hot days back to back that jumped surface temps up about 10 degrees in one day. We found that the bigger bass went deeper in every area we tried during the day. We got some good ones early and then only found small fish during the heat. We ran all over the lake but didn't find any big fish till evening. The combination of that evening from 7-9 and next morning from 5-6:30 was maybe the best top water fishing for bass either of us have experienced. Huge numbers of smallmouth filtered up onto our flat we had chosen and began chasing baitfish. Throwing a popper toward swirls resulted in a bass almost every time. In the end we put a lot of fish in the net. I came up with 5 in the 18-20" class and two just under that I had to count for my seven total which gave me two points under the leaders who tied three way with 7 bass in the 18-20" range. I was happy that I didn't lose a single fish the entire tournament. Mike was just behind me, but ended up loosing three giants and had to count a few smaller bass in his bag. The winners all found fish deep throughout the day and we didn't make that adjustment. We now know what we need to work on next year! Thanks to all that hosted, organized and sponsored the event. We look forward to that weekend every year.
Memorial Weekend Report
I hope everyone reading this is able to take advantage of the good fishing Vermont has to offer at the moment. You can't go wrong whether you hit a big river, small stream, lake or pond. We will have to watch what river levels do over night, and too much rain in one area could dictate where you fish Saturday, but everything should be in play for Sunday and Monday.
We have had a rollercoaster of weather as usual lately. Big rivers hit 70 degrees plus two weekends ago for an afternoon or two. Thats the earliest I can remember that happening. Only a few days later I was cancelling float trips and fishing small streams in high, cold water. This past week has put up big numbers of fish for clients and myself. River temps and flows have been ideal and the bugs are coming off. Trout have responded by eating heavily all day long. We have been catching them in all water types this week from shallow riffles to slow deep pools and flats. Most of the fish have been in the deepest water in or just below a riffle. Not a lot of stocked fish in the skinnier heavier stuff but that's where you're more likely to find a wild fish.
Fly selection has certainly mattered this week. For instance on my Tuesday guide trip the fish were all over a size 12 CDC PT with reddish collar, but when I fished back through the same water in the afternoon the bulk of the fish wanted a size 18-20 perdigone. Conversely, Yesteday's float caught fish all morning on a natural sized 16 PT but large stones and attractor flies in the afternoon. I have begun to see more risers during the day and we had a few nice dry fly eats under bright sun in the middle of the day this week. I've seen trout trying to grab large March Browns off of the surface.
Going into the weekend and beyond, please have your stream thermometers handy on the rivers and move up the watershed if its above 70.
On the lakes Bass are spawning and some have already spawned. We have seen largemouth on their beds and caught a few nice ones in 3-7 feet of water that were chasing baitfish.
We have some availability mid week, evenings and weekends in the next month.
I will be getting my ankle and foot reconstructed on June 27 thanks to years of soccer injuries, and will be on crutches for 6 weeks. I'm hoping to be back on the water for September. I will have guides available all summer long so don't worry!
Good Time To Hit The Water
May 10 in Northern VT can be hit or miss. This year the day started out slow thanks to a cold night and was on fire by the afternoon. The next few weeks should be really good here, especially if we get back to seasonal air temps.
Our river trout here are really responsive to water temps. In the spring the trout do not bite well at all until the water gets into the mid 50's. Prior to this past weekend, the rivers were very hit or miss though some quality fish were caught. This morning began with a guided trip that was a grind to dig up some fish holding in deep water. The water temp was 52 degrees. Nymphs and small streamers got the eats, and there was not much for insect activity. My client had to leave shortly after noon and after a long lunch I got back on the water on my own in the same place we ended the guide trip. By then, clearly the hendrickson nymphs had begun their drift and fish were eating throughout the water column. Interestingly enough the profile of the fly seemed most important this afternoon. Dark and bushy was best, though all colors of fly tied with a hackle, or bushy dubbing worked. Slim profile perdigones of the same color and size got almost no eats however. I was able to get fish on long range dry- double dropper rigs in big water including a nice sized wild brown, but most came tightline nymphing the deepest holes or troughs amongst the riffles (though fish were eating mid water column as well as on the bottom). Most trout preferred dead drifted flies, though a few came on the swing. More and more will follow suit as the water continues to warm and the trout see more and more bugs. I did not see any fish rise today, though I saw a nice spinner fall yesterday and I'm sure somewhere out there a nice fish was eating spinners before dark.
Hatches include Hendricksons and Quill Gordons, a few baetis, brown stoneflies, sized 18 dark caddis, and there are a ton of huge cased caddis on the stones right now.
Stillwater trout fishing was good back in April when I was out and will continue to be a great option especially if river conditions take a down turn. I have not gotten out after bass, pike or other warm water fish as of yet.
I am nearly booked for the next few weeks, but may be able to work in a few more trips. My guides have some weekend availability and evening availability over the next two weeks as well. Give me a shout to coordinate a time on the water.
Final Month of the Season
Fishing the past week and a half has been excellent. Looking at the short and long term weather forecast, I expect that trend to continue as the water temps should hold in the 50's to low 60's.
While the fishing has been great, you will probably only experience that if you are fishing the correct water type. Fish have been concentrated in fast, shallow riffles. The heavier the better. Ankle to knee deep water has been the best for me. If you have been concentrating on deeper water and some of your go to pools you may have found that you are not catching many fish. There have been a few outings recently where we couldn't get a single fish in anything but shallow water. Remember however that each day is different, and the large wild brown pictured above was hooked by me in a slow flat pocket, but you will definitely want to be in proximity to fast water until the water temps cool off.
Clients and I have been targeting fast water with a combination of dry flies, dry dropper and tight line nymphing. Most days fish have been eating nymphs, from size 14-20 but if there has been a hatch than dry flies have out produced on a couple of occasions. I find this type of fishing to be extremely fun, and a real key for success is when nymphing is keeping your nymphs off of the bottom. Fish in riffles are actively feeding and are looking up for their food. Even in less than a foot of water, your nymphs can drop too quickly, and drift below the trout. The key is to use nymphs that are not too heavy, and if you are tight line nymphing, using a very horizontal sighter angle and leading your flies through the drift. This will keep your flies off of the bottom and in the strike zone. Generally you do not want to be touching bottom when fishing riffles. Small streamers have taken a few fish here and there for me in both black and olive.
landlocked Atlantic Salmon are in the rivers but I have not targeted them as of yet.
Unfortunately my family and I have come down with COVID despite the adults being vaccinated. I have had to cancel or pass on to fellow guides, this weeks trips and I probably won't schedule any for most of next week. The beautiful thing about fishing is you can quarantine alone on the river, I just don't have the energy to get out there yet!
Fall is in the air and I couldn't be happier about it. Gone are the days of 90 degrees and 100% humidity. The river temps are dropping back into the 50's and 60's and fish have been looking up. I dare say September is my favorite month to fish in VT.
Before I get into current conditions I wanted to wrap up the summer. Again, my apologies for the lack of reports. There are only so many hours in the day and with an increase in guided trips this summer, meant an increase in nights tying flies and less (or no) time to write and manage the site. While things started out bleak in June, the summer turned out to be ok as far as fish health go. Thankfully the rain came, and while august and September haven't been wash outs there have been enough rain events and cooler weather to keep from worrying too much about the well being of the trout. In fact, just about every river I have been on that receives stockings of trout still has good numbers that survived. That doesn't happen, especially on the big rivers, every summer. While some stocked fish look unhealthy, many are still fit indicating a lack of stress. As for the fish I actually care about, our wild rainbows, browns and brook trout, they have looked to be in great shape, well built and strong. Lake Champlain fished quite well for bass most of the summer until around late August when we had a bit of a heat wave that warmed lake temps up and drove bass deeper. The water has since cooled off and fish are now coming back shallower where it's easier and more fun to get after them with fly gear.
I also had a great trip out to Colorado to fish some amazing wild trout rivers with my USA Fly Fishing Teammates. It was a great learning experience and I've got some new tricks and fly patterns to help my clients on the water when fishing is tough.
As for current conditions, rivers temps are prime, but could get a little too warm on a few of these warmer afternoons coming up on the bigger rivers. Nights are cooling down well and are longer now, giving temps more time to drop. The fishing has been a little more up and down than I'd like for the past week. It seems that the fish have either been all ON when there is a hatch or all OFF. When its on its been easy, dry flies and nymphs have been producing fish without much difficulty. When it's been off it has been a challenge. I've had to think outside the box to get them to eat. Throwing normal confidence patterns has not always worked. Small streamers, mops, and very small nymphs have produced when it been tough but not one method has been consistent. One day a black streamer was the ticket, another morning a client couldn't touch a fish until we put on a mop, and then later in the day only very small size 20 or smaller nymphs took fish. Just keep these in the back of your mind when you are not having success and you'll probably be able to turn a skunk into at least a few trout in the net. I think a few things have been playing into this feast or famine pattern- sustained fishing pressure, sporadic hatches, and generally low water levels.
As for hatches, the iso hatch is winding down. Swinging nymphs for these swimming mayflies has been losing its effectiveness. Two weeks ago I could have clients do nothing but swing nymphs and catch plenty. BWO and baetis have been coming off. I was able to pick off a few wild browns and rainbows yesterday afternoon on a size 20 shuttlecock emerger in some flat water. Cloudy and rainy days are best for these hatches. October Caddis should be around, though I have not seen any yet. These are large orange caddis around size 12. Ants have still been emerging and there were a lot on the water yesterday afternoon as well. I have still had the best luck prospecting dry flies with an ant. That has been true for me since June. Other terrestrials like hoppers and beetles are still a good choice. There are also 1000's of cray fish around, especially in the big rivers. Its never a bad option to have a crayfish imitation or just a brown woolly bugger on your line.
The Rain Has Finally Come
The rain that we have desperately needed has finally arrived! Two weeks ago I predicted that cooler and wetter weather could be on the way, it surely has. 3" of rain fell here on the weekend, and then another 1.5" so far this week! Northern VT has been under moderate drought dating back 13 months, and while a week or two of wet weather will not end it, it will do wonders for our local fish, and water table. We actually had to re schedule two trips earlier this week for the end of this week due to high water, not something we have had to do at all this year prior . I think those clients will be in for a treat. Thanks to increased flows and cool water temps we should be able to branch out and have a lot more options for finding trout.
I have not been out on many of our rivers too much lately due to low warm water but have managed to find some good windows of fishing on some of our freestone streams for myself and clients on top of a few of our stand by's that stay cool all summer long. I got out last night, just before the storm blew everything out, scouting for the trip I was supposed to be guiding today. I found stocked browns both this years and hold overs from last year, as well as some wild brook trout. Fish were willing to eat both a nymph and a dry fly. This has been the case most of the summer. We hit a nice sulphur hatch recently that had quite a few wild rainbows looking up, and then just at dark there was a great sulphur spinner fall that produced a very well built rainbow on a yellow spinner mayfly pattern.
When fishing high water, I usually start with the same flies that I fish in low water. Many people automatically go to big bright flies and attractor nymphs, which work well at times, but I tend to start with what the fish have been already eating, and if I am not getting the bites on those flies, I'll then try bigger brighter flies, worms, jig streamers etc. You can also fish one bigger brighter pattern and one natural pattern together and let the fish tell you what they want. Don't forget the dry flies either! top patterns have been, sulphurs #16-20, ants #12-16, golden stoneflies, tan caddis #12-18.
Just because its rainy this week and cooler doesn't mean it will last forever, it's still July after all. We will surely see more prolonged periods of 70+ degree water, so keep your stream thermometers ready. In fact, when I began fishing yesterday, my plan was to fish down low on the river and was surprised to find a 70 degree reading. I simply got back in the truck and drive about 8-10 miles up river where I got a nice reading of 67 to start the afternoon. I have also been taking fewer trout pictures and most of the ones I have taken have been of the fish in the water, in order to minimize stress to the fish. For now take advantage of the higher flows and cooler weather. The fish will be happy and should continue to feed very well.
I have had a LOT of people attempting to schedule trips last minute, I could have probably scheduled 8 groups for the past weekend just from Wednesday to Saturday. Its worth a try, but we generally are either booked, or if nothing is booked for a weekend have made some sort of plan on our own. It would be wise to plan ahead at least a few weeks.
I truly apologize for the lack of reports. I know many of you look to these for guidance before heading out fishing. We have had a very busy spring guiding season, combined with a trip to the Truckee River in CA, and everything else involved with keeping this guiding business going, and I haven't had time to write a report last month.
The roller coaster that characterized spring is continuing into summer. We had a heat wave to start this week and now will have a prolonged stretch of cool and wet weather. Thankfully things seem to be trending wetter which is so very needed up here, though the rivers have been so low you cannot tell from the flows that its been raining recently. We need this wet weather to continue. The fishing should bee good over the July 4 weekend.
One the days that it is cooler, and subsequently the river temps drop, the fishing has been pretty good. We have had a few nice windows to get onto the big rivers, and we have capitalized on those with good fishing and quality fish. The small and mid sized streams have been ok, but running cooler. (most rivers are not fishable after days of 90's). The water is so low that they can really be tough on some days, but the next might fish very well. If you can get out after a rain then go for it, because you might have a stellar day.
Hatches the entire year have been strong, as strong as I have ever seen. There have been lots of caddis, sulfurs and cahills, among many other mayflies, and tons of stoneflies out there, though terrestrials have been the best for me as far as dry flies go lately. The dry fly fishing has been decent, I think due to the lower flows. I have been playing around with a 18-20' dry fly leader that really gives a nice delicate presentation to spooky trout.
There have been too many highlights to cover all the specific scenarios we have encountered, but the one that struck me recently was just how resilient our wild trout are. We have seen good numbers of wild fish most everywhere we have gone save a few stretches on the big rivers where the habitat is degraded due to poor farming practices. Guide Andy was taking two beginner anglers out for Bass and Fallfish on the lower stretch of the Winooski River recently. I had guided this stretch two weeks prior during a heat wave and temped it at 81. The day Andy was there the temps had dropped into the mid 60's. To his complete surprise, his client landed a 17-18" wild brown on a pink hopper and then a 13-14" wild rainbow on the same fly. We honestly didn't think wild trout could survive down this low on the river. It was quite a shock but amazing to see how there trout are able to live in conditions that biologist would tell you are not survivable.
lastly, my teammate Mike Woulf and I are finally Ditch Pickle Classic champions, having won the team division on Lake Champlain last weekend. I was also the individual tournament champion and won $1140 for catching the biggest bass of the tournament, which Mike and I split. We have been trying to win this tourney for years with lots of 2nd and 3rd place finishes.
I have some openings this summer. Please reach out if you'd like to fish!
May is a Rollercoaster
Fishing picked up throughout early May and finally a week or so ago things got pretty good out there on the rivers, while trout fishing on the lakes was very good in early May. We have certainly had a rollercoaster May as far as weather and temperatures go. We broke records the past two days hitting 92, with our big rivers touching 70 today, which is neither normal or ideal for trout fishing. Thankfully we cool back off and will get some much needed precipitation this weekend. Please get in the stream thermometers out and avoid fishing for trout if the temps hit 70 degrees as the mortality rate of caught and released fish rises dramatically. It seems in recent years May has gone from cold to summer hot with nothing in between. I really hope that's not the new normal. We used to get quite rainy cool May weather it seemed. One thing is for sure we could use rain and a wet summer.
During hot sunny days from here on out you will be better off fishing early or later in the evening. I saw this first hand yesterday. I got a much needed day off from guiding and was on the river solo at 9 AM. Water temps were 64 and fish were eating nymphs in deep fast water. I was able to find good numbers of wild fish with some stockies in the mix. I was actually broken off by two large fish in one run and landed another wild rainbow of around 14" among some smaller ones. Fish were eating both on the dead drift near the bottom, mid column and taking swung nymphs near the surface. I was not able to get any to eat a dry, though I tried, but did get one to eat a nymph under a dry in a swirling back eddy. The previous evening Andy was out with two clients and from 5-6:30 they had great dry fly action on mayfly and attractor flies such as a hornberg dead drifted and then swung.
Back to my day, after around 11 things slowed down. I went up a small wild trout tributary and while I caught a few wild brook trout and rainbows, the fish were not really willing to eat a fly. I saw many swim over and take a look and even nudge the fly but not eat it, and wouldn't even look at a dry. The combination of hot temps, low water, and an angler already fishing through based on the boot tracks I saw, had the fish on edge. I then moved down to a mid sized wild trout stream where it continued to be tough until I had to leave at 3:30 to pick up the kids. I did land a nice 12" wild brook trout unfortunately with a snelled hook stuck in its belly the line hanging out of its mouth. I cut the line and hoped he would make it. 50 yards down stream I found an 18" brown dead on the bottom with a hook stuck in its throat and about 20" of line and sinkers hanging out of its mouth. It was alarming to say the least to find the same thing twice in one stretch of river. I have nothing against other methods of fishing, but when I see this it makes me appreciate the culture and sustainability of fly fishing and really makes me wish the state of VT would do more to protect our wild fish. We don't have a single fly fishing only section of river in the state which is a joke compared to just about everywhere else you go, where many rivers or sections of river are fly fishing only.
Time will tell how long the floating season will last this year. I've been on the drift boat a lot recently with clients, and have been getting lots of stocked fish with a few wild rainbows and browns here and there. Glad to see that wild fish made it through once again. In fact, on some streams they are thriving, we probably got 30+ wild fish of all three species of trout in about 2 hours on a mid sized stream last weekend while wading however.
There are Hendrickson, Quill Gordons, March Browns, Brown Stoneflies, Yellow Sally's, and # 12-16 or so tan caddis out there right now so you'll need to be prepared with just about everything incase the fish get picky, which they have been at times, while others they have been eating about anything. Slender body mayfly nymphs have been the most consistent producer for me and clients lately.
I have a new youtube video from me and Andy's weekend trip down to Central New York, where we found good fishing back in late April before the rivers turned on here. There is a link on the home page and videos page. We have some good footage on there. I am nearly booked for the next few weeks but we can get some weekends and maybe a few weekdays in here and there between Andy and I so get in touch!.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers