Happy Memorial Day weekend. This is one of the best weekends to be in Vermont. Between prime time fishing conditions and all the great activities like the Vermont City Marathon, you just can't beat it.
The weather has cooled and is cooling the rivers off as well. The big rivers were in the 60's which is great, but I was a little worried that they could creep a bit too high so early in the season. Flows are great for fishing and floating, though low for the seasonal averages and some rain would be a good thing. Small streams are looking pretty darn low, but there is still a lot of ground water running which will keep things from getting real low until we get some rain next week.
As of now pretty much all the rivers have been stocked and the fish are very active and willing to eat on the surface and all through the water column. Last night the stocked brown trout seemed to literally eat anything. They took big foam stimulators, caddis pupas, golden stone nymphs, PT's and caddis dries. Every fly that was tied on produced at least a fish. It was fun at first, but made it difficult to get dialed in to what any wild fish may be focusing on or even getting the flies to them. I even caught two browns at once. One took the dry and the other the nymph I had dropped off of it, its not the first time that has happened but its a pretty fun thing to have happen. I hope I can repeat that in the White River Open Tournament next Saturday!
During the day, if you can find a location where there is a hatch going on you will catch fish as long as you are prepared for what is hatching, and the life cycle the fish are keyed into. Look for birds swooping over the water from you car as you drive along the river. The fish really follow the insect activity. If there is no hatch, then you can and will certainly catch fish, but you will need to likely nymph them up or use a dry dropper rig with an attractor dry, or streamer. Flip over some rocks to see what is under them and start there with your nymphs. I use at least two and keep switching them until you find what the fish are keying into.
As for bug activity there is a lot going on. During the full day float I had Wednesday, I saw a good flurry of tan caddis #14-16 laying eggs around 10 AM with some yellow #14-16 stoneflies mixed in. As the afternoon progressed we began seeing the mayflies pop and I saw the first two big March Browns of the season floating on the water, a few Pale Evening Duns which are fairly abundant in this area, and some small #20 maybe, grayish mayflies, I did not capture any in order to identify. The Caddis and Stoneflies were sporadic throughout the day as well.
The weekend should feature some very active trout and an increase in the number of March Browns and PED's. The fish have been looking up so you will probably get some opportunities here and there throughout the day on dries and more likely towards dark. Look for spinners (mature mayflies) in clouds above the river bobbing up and down and laying eggs on the water, and fish rising in slower water. It may be a bit too early for the March Brown spinners since they just started, but you may see some of them, or the last of the Hendrickson spinners. I try to match the size, and a spent wing rusty spinner imitation usually gets the job done.
I will say for all to hear that I am in no way an entomologist. I have self taught through tons of reading and time on the water and I guarantee I am not always correct in identifying insects. I will say the more you know the greater your catch rates will be. I would recommend anyone who fly fishes to start learning as much as they can. It will help you so much in your ability to consistently catch trout. Thomas Ames' Hatch Guide For New England Streams has been on my bedside table for years. I look at it almost daily during fishing season.
Now for my story from Wednesday's guided float trip. I did a full day trip on Wednesday with the clients intention of wading in the morning and then heading up to fish a trout pond in the NEK. I woke the night before around midnight and could hear the wind howling. I stressed for hours that night on what to do and finally after checking weather reports and river flows decided the wind was way too much to take the drift boat on a pond. I called an audible and decided a full day river float would be best. At least I figured I would have the current to help the boat down the river. The guys had never fly fished and the 30-40 MPH wind gusts being channeled up the river valley where not going to make casting easy, in fact near impossible. They had their spin gear and that really saved the day. I pinched barbs and we made our way down the river with white caps coming up it many times. It was actually kind of comical as they would cast out in front of the boat and the lure would land 30 yards behind it!! Good news is that the fish did not seem to mind and we caught fish all day including a lunker rainbow of about 18-19" and fat. We unfortunately did not get any pics as it flopped out of his hands. The float, which usually takes around 6 hours if you don't stop very much, took us 9 hours and we only stopped once. My arms and back really got a workout as I had to push non stop the whole time to keep us going down the river. It was a tough day, but a very successful one that took a lot of plan changes to make it work.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers