The 2015 trout season has begun. This marks a huge time of change for our resident fish. Conditions change very quickly this time of year as we are heavily influenced by run off from a deep snowpack and unsettled weather. You will find that river levels and clarity are fluctuating rapidly based on temp, precipitation and sun intensity. You have to be willing to be flexible on what rivers and stretches you choose to fish. In the next couple of weeks we should be seeing warming water temps and hopefully see our rivers clear. The big rivers such as the Winooski pictured here will likely be unfishable in all but their upper reaches for weeks. Until then its time to hit the smaller tributaries. Check river flows before heading out. I use the App FishHead, which saves all of the rivers you select and gives you realtime flows as well as graphical history for the day, 5 days, and 10 days. I makes it very easy to determine if your favorite rivers are rising or falling and what level they are at. It is very helpful in determining which river to spend time on.
Speaking of the Winooski tributaries, remember that Preston Brook, Pinneo Brook, Ridley Brook, and Joiner Brook in the Richmond/Duxbury area are closed to fishing until May 31 to protect our spawning wild Rainbow Trout. Trout will be changing their habits dramatically from now through the next couple of weeks. As the water warms and insects begin increasing their subsurface activity fish can be found not only in their deeper wintering holes, but in the riffles and runs as well. As this happens the fishing increases dramatically. From now through early May the trout fishing will be pretty slow, but should you hook into a fish, chances are it will be worthy of a pic.
Tactics should include nymphing deeper holes and focusing on getting your flies down to the bottom quickly. This is probably the most important aspect of getting a fish to eat this time of the year. Fish are not feeding in the middle of the water column and if your flies are not on the bottom you are probably only getting some casting practice. I like to dead drift a white wooly bugger or stonefly nymph and drop either another stonefly nymph, egg or san juan when the when the water is off color, weight is key. As it clears I will use smaller nymphs as well, such as a green caddis larvae. Streamers are another good option, but again getting the fly down is important. You may be able to move a fish with a streamer more easily than nymphs. I use an intermediate line with a sink tip to get the fly deep. I really prefer not to throw streamers when ever possible, but this time of the year I never go to the river without two rods, one nymph rig and one streamer rig. I will usually nymph a likely pool first and then throw the streamer if unsuccessful. Insects that are most active are the early dark Stoneflies and for caddis, the American Grannom, which are fluorescent green but usually covered in a brown or black sheath of sticks and leaves.
Now onto Steelhead, the runoff should have pushed a bunch of fish into our lake Champlain Tribs. I will be prospecting a couple of them this week. I fully anticipate being able to hook into a fish or two. This is a great opportunity to hook one of your larger fish of the season. The Steelhead are in the river to spawn and they feed while they are in the river. I have had luck with these fish in high off color water so anytime you get a chance go for it. My favorite rig is a double bead brown stonefly with a yellow egg dropped off of it. I have had about 50/50 success on either fly. Use plenty of weight and fish all types of water. These fish will hold in pools, runs, and rapids. I had a friend catch a nice 19" steelhead in a super fast, narrow and shallow rapid last year, a spot most everyone would walk past.
Trout fishing in ponds is good this time of year. Vermont fly fishermen do not spend nearly as much time pond fishing as maybe we should. When I lived in Maine, this was a much bigger deal, and pond fishing for brook trout is very popular. I grew up fishing a pond in Northern Vermont that my family has a camp on, and my second ever fish on a fly rod was from this pond. I will be guiding a couple guys from NH on this pond in May and am really looking forward to it. From Ice out until the end of the Hex hatch around July 7 you have a good opportunity to catch trout on stillwater with a fly rod. I usually throw small streamers and wooly buggers and drop a nymph off the back of it if nothing is hatching. Trolling works well too. I am not above trolling for a while, sometimes it is fun and thats why we fish. Just remember on a fly fishing only water trolling with a fly rod is not considered fly fishing.
Whatever you decide remember to be patient and not get discouraged, fishing will improve daily. It is just nice to be out after this brutal winter, so what if you get skunked. Be safe wading in high flows.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers