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!
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!.
Opening day of Vermont's trout season was definitely one to remember! The weather was fantastic, river flows were low and clear and water temps were 10 degrees above normal. Brown stoneflies size 12-14 were hatching and fish were paying attention. It felt more like June and fished more like early May out there.
I was able to get out on Saturday morning for a bit. Trout fishing rivers on opening day is generally very difficult. Our typical opening day is in the 40's and river flows are high and dirty. Catching a fish is a big bonus and not something you expect. I knew this year would be different considering the weather has been in the 60's and 70's all week and the flows were down. I had high hopes of getting into a few fish and thankfully only 5 casts in I landed a nice looking wild rainbow in a a back eddy of a large pool, I then missed a fish and was broken off on the hook set by a seemingly nice fish. Taking a temp the water was 48 degrees which is crazy warm for opening day. I expected fish in the deep pools but also thought they may be in some faster water given the temps. Moving down the river I then landed a nice sized wild brown deep in a pool under some heavy current, but moving into some pocket water I did not find any fish yet. Next I took a drive further down the river and fished a deep bend pool and run. There I was able to hook another very nice wild brown on the inside bend in slow sandy water, before I called it a morning and spent some long overdue family time. As I was heading out a hatch of brown stoneflies began and I remember thinking someone would catch a fish on a dry fly on opening day, little did I know, at about that same time our guide Andy hooked and lost two fish on the dry fly that he saw rise to eat brown stones, it was a bummer he lost them as he was fishing in the Otter Creek Classic. I would have loved to fish it but I just came off of a long maple sugaring season and hadn't seen my family much. I just wanted to get out, test some new equipment, and hopefully catch a fish or two. Thankfully I was able to accomplish all of the above!
Going forward, if the weather stays warm things should remain pretty good, for April. I am not saying that the fishing will produce big numbers and even consistent action, but it should be much easier to get into fish for the time of year and you may find some windows of good fishing. They key will be the water temps. If they remain warm then expect fish to begin spreading out and munching on nymphs in some faster water but if they cool back off then the deeper slower pools and runs will be the areas to target. We are jumping right into guiding thanks to the weather as well. Many years we don't take any trips until May but we have got a few trips here and there booked throughout the month. There are still some openings this month so feel free to reach out if you'd like to give it a go. April is a great time of the year to catch big trout if you put the time in. Whether with us or on your own get out there and take advantage of the prime early season conditions.
I am extremely proud to announce that I am now a member of Fly Fishing Team USA for the next two years. Equally exciting is that my friend and fellow
Vermonter and guide Matt Stedina earned a spot as well. This was a goal I set when I began competing and just got the call from the team captain last week after earning enough points to make the team. It will be a true honor to represent the United States in competition.
I am happy to turn the page on the 2020 fishing season and am looking forward to 2021, as is the rest of the world. I would classify the 2020 season as difficult. We started with cold weather and snow in early May resulting in slow fishing, and then it turned hot. I feel we only had about 3 weeks of prime fishing conditions all spring. Thankfully the bulk of my guided trips were during that time frame because my clients were locals only and we could play the conditions. As we all know the summer was just terribly hot and fishing was tough unless you were on a cold tailwater. Even lakes fished tough for bass at times. Some of the highlights were some nice fish on dry flies and stalking trout in technical conditions. Fall finally rolled in a produced decent to poor fishing. The water temps for much of the fall were cool, but it was so low that fish were just burying their heads under rocks all day long. I certainly caught fewer fish on average for most of the season even though the fish were there. It really made you up your game and the result will be that a lot of anglers will hopefully have improved their game, I know I did even though it felt at times I was doing the wrong thing.
I am optimistic about the 2021 season but as always we play the cards that mother nature deals us. Let's all hope for a cool and wet summer. I do know that there were good numbers of fish that survived last summer and plenty will be waiting for us come spring. I will be producing more youtube videos this year with some friends and guides so keep a lookout for those. Also feel free to chime in on what you would like to see. I am also hoping to get back to competing should COVID allow. And as always, I am excited to get out with new and return clients. See you all soon!
The foliage is at peak and the colors are far better than average, however the trout fishing has been as difficult as I have seen for this time of year with fish going long stretches of the day not willing to eat a fly. Thankfully being on the water this time of year offers more than just beautiful trout. The water is historically low and the trout have been hunkered down hiding under rocks leaving an angler wondering if the river has any fish in it. Not to say trout aren't being caught, but we have found ourselves on the river at times where no matter what we do the fish will have none of it. We have gotten into trout on a variety of rivers both large and small with nymphing being most productive, but there have been fish willing to eat a dry fly. Up stream Euro Nymphing has been the best tactic for me. Fish have been in pools and pocket water, but I think deep pools have been the most productive. I have been sneaking to the tailout of the pool and kneeling or sitting down casting as far up into the pool as possible and watching my sighter for the slightest tightening. This has worked to coax a few fish out of deeper water. I've explored some new waters both here and down south and have continued to find some pockets of stocked fish that survived the summer, in addition to some wild trout.
We are forecast to get some significant rain this week, but one rain event will really not help our river levels or bring up the water table much, we need a wet period with frequent rain to really help. If we do get a bump in water levels then the fish will likely feed and let their guard down.
I'd like to congratulate Guide Andy Masenas on taking second place at the Otter Creek Classic last weekend. Andy and I had a tough day Saturday but Andy put himself into third place on after day one. We fished some new water and got some wild and stocked browns and rainbows in the morning, then we chased ghosts on new water that was so low I don't think a trout was within a mile of us, and finally returned and got a few more where we started the day. Andy was able to fish well enough Sunday to jump into second place by technically nymphing a small spooky wild trout stream and then catching fish on dry flies out of a large pool to end his Sunday on a high note. He deserved a good result especially after having me slow him down Saturday. I had been looking forward to this tournament all summer, usually it is opening weekend of trout season and I cannot get there to fish. I ended up getting quite Ill on Friday night from a nasty cold the kids brought home earlier in the week, I almost bailed on Saturday and probably should have but ended up having one of the most miserable days on the water I have ever had. I decided midway through the day I'd not be fishing Sunday because I was functioning at such a low level and my wife was sick taking care of sick kids. I didn't submit my scores and DQ'd myself, turns out I would have had enough to be in 4th place but I had no desire to be out on the water, which is crazy because tournament fishing is one of my favorite things. I'm pretty bummed how it turned out but don't regret not fishing Sunday. Andy's great result really made my miserable weekend better. He is one of the best fishermen I know, and having competed against some of the best in the world, he is among some the best out there.
There is an awful lot to talk about in todays report. If I had a chance I would have made 2-3 more since my last. My apologies for the delay.
On the Guiding front we have gone from famine to feast in the matter of a few weeks. The summer was terribly slow, and suddenly i'm not able to get everyone out. Please bear with me if you want to get out in the next few weeks. I am trying to work through figuring out how to get three kids to and from 5 different school/ daycares throughout the week thanks to COVID, and Andy is now available only on weekends. I have had a lot of people looking to float. Thats not an option due to continued low water. We will be booking wade trips only. Thank you all for the support. I have heard from a lot of repeat clients in the past month.
As you all can tell we have entered a fall weather pattern which is so damn welcomed. This summer was really wearing on me. It was just so hot, humid, and sunny every day. I couldn't stand the sun anymore, and everyday just hoped it would be cloudy. The weather has been great the past few weeks aside from some nasty wind here and there, especially during the Ditch Pickle Classic which I'll get to later. Im back on the trout wagon after spending about three weeks thinking of only bass fishing which has been pretty good with a lot of fish eating top water flies in shallow water.
Now for our bread and butter, and the reason most of you read this report- trout. The fishing has ranged from quite good to mediocre. As expected there are not many stocked fish left in our rivers, though I have heard reports of some still being caught in deeper gorges and such where they were able to stay cool, but for the most part we are fishing for wild fish. I've found that the wild fish have made it through another really tough season fairly well. Though we have seen some areas of the bigger rivers that have not produced too many fish. I'd say that maybe some wild fish died in some stretches but more than likely the wild fish migrated to better, cooler areas of the river and have not spread back out. Either way there are less fish available, but the quality has been good and even those small wild fish fight much better than a stocker. Please take care fighting those fish and handle them with care, they just had a tough time. A bunch of wild rainbows I caught on the Lamoille the other day were pretty skinny, but very strong, they just need to feed heavily this fall.
I personally have been hooking into nice fish almost every time out for the last month or two. I don't know why because usually I'm the one who catches a ton of fish but not the big ones. I don't think I am doing anything different, other than fishing more dry flies, but I'll milk this little run of bigger fish as long as I can. My recent clients have done fairly well on dry flies, catching small and mid sized rainbows and browns. September is just about the only month where I seem to have days that more fish are willing to eat the dry than the nymph consistently. That was true on the two trips I guided this weekend, although I fished for 15 minutes between my trips Saturday and nymphed up a double, and other two rainbows one of which was all of 16-17" and built well. Friday night we had our first frost of the season and the water was only 52 degrees to start the day on a medium sized trib, but was 68 on the big river in the afternoon so don't forget the thermometer. The trips we had out the previous weeks went similar to this weekend, but I noticed that the fishing seemed best this weekend midday, while the last few weeks it was steady all day.
The Iso hatch has been in full swing, but is waning especially on the big rivers, but on one trib saturday I saw more iso shucks on the rocks than I have ever seen on any river. The iso hatch is usually considered more of a big river hatch so this was kind of a surprise for me to see. The trout Saturday were preferring larger bushier dries size 10-12, but usually a go to iso pattern for me is a size 14 Adams irresistible. Remember that these are swimming nymphs, swinging then stripping in your flies will draw takes even after the hatch is over, and you can do this with both dries, and nymphs as well as soft hackles. I haven't seen a ton of other bugs recently other than tiny tiny baetis mayflies, but have seen some caddis, a few golden stone shucks, and terrestrials.
Next week is the Otter Creek Classic and we just had the Ditch Pickle Classic a few weekends back. Its great to have these events still happen and have something to look forward to during these strange times. I am particularly excited to fish the OCC happening now in the fall instead of the traditional opening weekend because I am usually not able to fish it at that time of year. I'll be prepping for the tourney by tying flies and trying to make a game plan. Unfortunately I don't know a ton of water down that way, and the water I do know that is productive is well known. I wish I had a chance to get down that way and scout but that will not be happening; I've got too busy a week ahead of me. I'll just wing it and hope I can find some fresh fish I can beat up on early and then pick apart some waters that other people have already fished and hopefully clean up some they left behind.
We finished 2nd once again as team in the Ditch Pickle Classic. My teammate Mike Woulf and I have fished it for 6-7 years together and still cannot seem to win one. I think its our second or third 2nd place and our 6th straight finish of 2,3 or 4th place. This year we were dealing with the remnants of a hurricane and the weather was about as bad as it gets. I had done a couple scouting trips prior to the event and had come up with a game plan that I thought would win it for us. Of course that game plan was out the window due to weather. We fished one small sheltered area of one bay most all of the first day until we were chased off by a large storm. At the end of the day we had caught only 5 bass three of which were small. I lost one good one on top water the took the fly 60-70 feet away and popped off in the weeds. Coming back in to the boat launch we were in 3-4 foot waves and that's after it had calmed down a bit. Right after dark the wind kicked up and it was almost hurricane force at my camp on the west side of the inland sea. We were worried about the giant tree out front falling on the camp. We set the alarm for 4:30 and woke to sustained probably 40 MPH winds. Not one of us even thought about going out it was so windy, so we went back to bed till 7 basically writing the day off. I texted my friend to see if he was out and said he found some sheltered water and was fishing so we decided to trailer over to a sheltered area we had never fished. We got on the water around 8:30 or so and began tossing top water in some weed beds, soon we had three nice largemouth in the boat, and Mike picked up two small but scoreable smallmouth right at the end to secure our second place. Losing that time really killed us however. Had we been staying in a place that wasn't getting pounded by the full force of the storm we would have probably gotten out sooner, but it was just so gnarly at my camp it wasn't even a consideration. Either way the weekend is always a highlight for us no matter the finish, many beers are drank and laughs had.
Good luck out on the water. We need more rain, it will really get the fish fired up to eat. If it does rain, see if you can get out that day or the next, even if the water is stained. I'd rather fish stained water than gin clear. In the fall the baseline flows are low so generally even when we get a big rain event the rivers clear and drop fast. When the rivers are clear move slow, blend in and fish up stream. If we do get some nice bumps in the flows the land locked salmon will start to push up the rivers. From here on out you'll have a chance at a big landlocked if you are in the right places. A big push or water is key, sometimes it takes a few to get them to run in good numbers.
We are directly in the path of Hurricane Isaias as I write this. 2-5" of rain is expected by tomorrow morning and we have had a nice steady soaking rain all day. This should be a good thing as long as we don't get any crazy flood similar to Hurricane Irene. Rivers have been low and Hot. We have done a bit of guiding but Covid continues to affect how much we are getting out with clients. I have been on vacation and have hit cold tail waters in Maine, NH and VT and spent some time casting from rocky points for stripers.
Stripers are definitely my nemesis on a fly rod, and though I have caught a few nice fish they are always a struggle for me. That didn't change last week. I could not get the big fish to eat, but they would follow my fly to the surface. I was fishing near massive schools of Pogy and think that I didn't bring flies big enough to match what the adult stripers were keyed into.
As I mentioned I have been fishing a variety of tailwaters, and its amazing how each one has a different personality. Some fish similar to free stone streams around here where nymphing is very often the most productive method, while others offer technical dry fly fishing. The two biggest fish pictured above were both caught prospecting with dry flies. That biggest brown may well be the biggest I've caught on a dry. It's amazing how slowly those two fish ate the fly and waiting for the fish to get the dry in its mouth is key when that happens. The largest fish pictured was under a tree tucked right against the bank with its nose basically on a nearly dry shelf with the tiniest trickle of water flowing over it, adjacent to a big riffle. I don't think many people would have even cast there. They key to getting this fish to eat the fly was to position myself so that I could get a natural drift without the fast riffle dragging my fly away. My first cast was not close enough the bank and resulted in nothing. I set the next cast about 3" off the shelf and 1' from the bank when the fish turned on the fly and missed it. I think I moved the fly about 6" down stream and suddenly he re appeared and slowly sipped the fly while swimming down river. When I set the hook I honestly thought it was a 12" fish until the big brown began pulling and making runs toward the opposite bank. After a pretty good battle I ended up down the river about 20 yards and only when I was about to net him did I realize just how big he was. Being on 6x tippet in shallow water I had a hard time getting him into the net because he was too big to lift his head out of the water, but on my second try he was safely in the net. Check out my instagram page @benwilcox_maplecountryanglers for the video of this and the other brown. In the video you can see how I only have the fish out of the water for maybe 5 seconds and then he is gone. A little trick I learned if you have a new high quality phone and you are by yourself, is to take video and then release the fish. You can then go back and take your favorite screen shots from the video and its much easier on the fish than using a self timer etc. I get the phone all set up while the fish rests in the net submerged under water and then lift it out quickly.
I can get you out on these rivers so shoot me a message if you'd like to give it a go, but please make sure you are following quarantine protocols.
Going forward I am hoping this hurricane brings a real shift in weather. I see the 10 day forecast is looking cooler and certainly this rain will help to boost river and lake levels as well as flush a lot of hot water out of the systems. Dry fly fishing with terrestrials will continue to be good and as we move into mid August Big White flies and Iso's will get going on the big rivers. If water temps are below 69 these hatches can be awesome fishing.
I hope everyone had a great 4th. We didn't do any guiding over the long weekend to spend time with our families, fishing conditions were poor anyways, otherwise I may have stuck around a day or two to get a few trips in. Thanks to all who contacted me about fishing over the holiday. I did shoot over from our camp to a tailwater with my wife for a day of fishing. It was really nice to get some time on the water with her without the kids and to see her catch fish on dry flies. Three kids 4 and under doesn't allow us to get out too much together anymore. While we were over there we shot a little bit of video of dry dropper fishing so check out the you tube link above to see some good footage of me picking apart a small piece of pocket water with a dry dropper on a Euro Rig.
I also had a chance to get up to Maine with the family camping a couple of weeks ago and was able to sneak away three mornings for 2.5 hours. I had a great time working some fairly heavily pressured wild fish that required perfect dead drifts. It was a nice challenge to adapt the the fish and fishermen. I found most success fishing a single nymph but caught fish on dries as well as double nymph rigs. Focusing on keeping the flies in a single current seam from below the fish was key. My success rate was much lower if I was positioned next to the fish. In all I was able to go 4/5 on trophy brook trout and caught around 75 trout and salmon in the three 2.5 hour sessions I got on the water. I wasn't able to get pics on most of the bigger fish but I believe I did catch one of my biggest ever, the second fish of the trip.
This summer is reminding me of two years ago, very hot and dry. We did just have a major storm roll through while I was writing this which knocked out power and downed trees. Here is Essex we got 1.5" of rain in about 20-30 minutes. That is definitely what we need but it would be much better if that came over the course of a day, for both the plants and my driveway. That flush of rain came at a good time since we have some major heat tomorrow and Friday and river levels will hopefully be up some and maybe not get as warm as they would have. If you are going to trout fish then its mainly a small stream game right now and after a rain event is the time to go. Those fish have been hiding out in some really bony conditions so a bump in water will get them moving around and feeding. We do have rain or storms in the forecast many days next week as we move into the two warmest weeks of the year on average. The more rain we get the better in my opinion. I am guessing most stocked fish have already died unless they happen to have found or been stocked near a cool water source or spring. Thankfully the wild fish are remarkably resilient and know where to go or how to survive the heat. After seeing the amount of fish survival after the summer of '18 I am not too worried. If we could just get Fish and Wildlife to protect them a little more with stricter bag limits or catch and release areas and close down some known thermal refuges to angling during the heat of the summer along with continuing to work on habitat improvement we would be in even better shape. In my opinion, catching fish that are stacked up at a cold water source for the whole summer just trying to survive is un ethical and should be avoided.
When water temps permit its a great time to start throwing some terrestrials, ants, beetles, hoppers, crickets, inch worms, all fall into the water and can convince a trout to rise to a dry fly. If there is an over hanging branch or grass then you may have a chance of catching fish there even if the water is not great looking, especially if there is shade on the water. I am going to tie some ant patterns this evening. I also start to throw some smaller nymphs and dries this time of year as many of the bigger hatches are over the fish will take a small fly more readily so have some size 18-20 in a variety of patterns ready to go and don't be afraid to use them. I haven't been on the lakes much because the trolling motor on my boat broke and my replacement has not arrived, so I don't have a ton to report there. Up north over the 4th the Hex hatch had already peaked due to the warm weather and surface water temps were hot. The thermocline was deep and pond fishing was not good at all. Be on the lookout for any cool weather and precipitation, otherwise get up early and hit a small stream. Please take a temp first. Also don't be afraid to take an overnight trip, we have a few small tailwaters in VT, and some great ones in NH, ME, MA, CT, and NY. If you want to get out give me a shout and I can find you some cool water to fish for trout or better yet we can fish bass and fall fish in the lower stretches of our big rivers. You are guaranteed to catch some fish on those trips.
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