What is a "Trophy? Trout?
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.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers