Fishing is mixed depending on what you are targeting and when. I wrapped up my maple sugaring season last week and by the beginning of next week will be able to devote more time to being on the water. I was able to get out three times last week for a few hours or less and was able to get into a fish each outing, highlight being a nice brown lost after about 30 seconds.
The trout fishing has remained good for the time of the year with the water temps in the upper 40's last night. I expect this week ahead will be slower as the temps are cool and nights are below freezing, but warming up for the weekend which will help get fish feeding again. I have hooked most of the trout on nymphs including small brown stones, caddis larvae, and soft hackle PT's. Again, I cannot stress the importance of getting your flies down. If you are fishing with an indicator that means adjusting the indicator not just for each stretch of water but for each individual drift. For instance last night on the Winooski I was fishing a large pool below a river wide riffle and after taking about 10 drifts through the same piece extended my cast another 5 feet or so and found my flies were not getting to the bottom as the water was deeper. I brought my indicator up my leader about 18" and on the first drift hooked an 11" wild rainbow. Had I not adjusted the depth I could have taken 100 casts and not hooked a fish. Clearly that indicates the fish have not wanted to move off the bottom nor have I had any really chase down a streamer. This will change as the river temps rise and we see our mayflies start hatching, then you will get away with your flies not being on the bottom.
I have heard reports of Hendrickson's south of us but have not personally seen any. What I have seen most is brown stoneflies. While trout fishing has been above average fort the time of the year, you can expect things to get much better as we get into May.
Steelhead fishing on the champlain tribs has been another story. Right now river levels are low and clear, not what I like for steelhead. There are not many fish in the river and the fishing pressure has been fairly high. I am hoping for a good rain or snow to bump up levels and hopefully push some fish up from the lake. There is still time and the water is plenty cold for them to make a run. I had spoken first hand last week with three reliable and very good fishermen, one of whom lives on the river, and I only know of two adult steelhead caught between them. I had to check it out myself Friday morning and I didn't do any better. I did have non stop action on stocked steelhead and large lake run suckers up to around 22" so it was a good time. The suckers can get a little boring as they don't put up a good fight, but it can be good practice getting them to eat and playing them. It is especially helpful in practicing turning a big fish and learning how much pressure to put on them. I had a bit of fun sight fishing to them in the skinny pocket water and horsing them through the current on 4x and my 10' 4 weight Orvis. The sucker pictured above had two lamprey marks so its pretty clear he lived in Champlain.
Reports second hand are that small mouth fishing on the lakes and ponds has picked up and was fairly good the last few days.
The past weekend was the 8th Annual Otter Creek Classic. I was not able to fish the opening day of the tournament, though I did make it down to Middlebury to get score cards so that my wife and I could fish Sunday. I had about 20 minutes to kill between picking up the score cards and meeting some fishing buddies for a beer so naturally I hit the river in town. Clarity on the big river was surprisingly good and while I did not hook a fish felt really confident about hooking a fish or two the next morning in that exact spot. Believe it or not I saw two fish rise that evening. That is the second time I have seen rising fish on opening day of trout season.
We arrived on the river the next morning with temps in the low 20's and was unpleasantly surprised to find the river had come up and gotten pretty dirty overnight. I decided to stick it out as there was no pressure because of the conditions, everyone else was on the tribs fishing clear water! I ended up landing this brown around 10:30 once the water warmed a tad. I really had to work for this fish, but knowing there where fish in front of me helped me stay focused. I finally got the fish to eat an orange and tan streamer by casting up stream allowing the fly to sink to the bottom and dead drifting it along the bottom on a tight line. The fish took the fly just as it came off the bottom. I would recommend trying this tactic out if you are not having luck with nymphing or stripping streamers.
The tournament was a great time and was well run by the Middlebury Mountaineer as usual. There were good numbers of fish caught with about 20% of anglers landing at least one fish over the course of both days. The vast majority of fish were landed on Saturday, which made me a little bummed I was not able to fish! There were a lot of 20" fish landed which was great to see. Congratulations to the winners and everyone who managed to land a fish.
The fish are in really good shape as the winter was very good for them and they have not struggled through high spring run off. This means there are more big wild fish out there for us to catch this weekend, which looks awesome. The river levels are good and the sun will warm the water and get the trout more active. By the end of the weekend the smaller rivers could even get a little spooky when going after the big wild fish in the rivers right now, but by then the big rivers will be in good shape. This past weekend the majority of fish were caught on large stonefly nymphs and some on streamers. I would start there when out this weekend, but be on the lookout for insect activity and be ready with some smaller PT nymphs, and hares ears among others. I have also caught fish early in the season on green caddis larvae. Its probably not going to be a match the hatch type situation, but it always will pay to understand what type of bugs you are seeing and having a good nymph pattern to cover it.
Many of us are eagerly awaiting Saturday morning, the opening day of VT's rout season. I know a lot of fly fishermen have already been out taking advantage of the mild spring weather and good river flows on some of the open waters, but for the rest of us it starts this weekend. Owning a large maple sugaring operation means my trout season usually starts the second week of the season once the sugaring season is over, but it looks like I may be able to get out for a little while saturday due to the forecasted cold weather.
Things look better than most opening days this year, and for one reason, river flows. They are currently at very fishable levels, even the big rivers. Driving along the Winooski today I noted great clarity for the time of the year and very fishable flows, smaller rivers are clear and look great. We just need to keep our fingers crossed that the rain forecast for Thursday is light in nature, the current forecast calls for 1/4 to 1/2 inch of rain. While many opening days are largely symbolic, because of high dirty water due to snowmelt from our mountains, this year we have almost no snow and are not seeing much of any runoff because of it.
Unfortunately the weather has trended cold this week and for the weekend meaning the water temps are going to be very chilly and the fish pretty lethargic. First and foremost be safe when wading the rivers and wear a wading belt. As for the fish, streamers fished deep and slow, as well as nymphs properly presented on the bottom will be the ticket. You really need to make sure your flies are getting deep and down to the bottom or you are mostly wasting your time.
Good luck to everyone who is competing in the Otter Creek Classic this weekend. I say compete, but really this tournament is about getting outside, meeting up with your old fishing buddies, and drinking a few beers. To be honest what more could you ask for in a spring weekend. My wife and I have signed up, though I am not sure if I will get more than a couple hours on the river. I really just hope to make the BBQ on sunday! I sign up every year and usually don't get to fish because of sugaring but I know that my enrollment fee is being used for the good of our rivers and trout. If you have not signed up I highly encourage you to do so by contacting the Middlebury Mountaineer.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers