Chasing opening day trout with a fly rod
Opening day for Vermont trout season is April 13 and anglers all over Bennington county are chomping at the bit to get out on the water.
Early season is always challenging and not for the faint of heart. Water temps during the second week of April in the Battenkill river valley can average 38 degrees on a good day. Considering brown trout normally feed between 44-75 degrees and optimally between 52-62 degrees, early season anglers can expect a lot of slow days to start, but gradually increasing their catch as the month of April ages onward.
Not only is water temperature a factor but water flow in general. Freestone flowing tributaries in combination with spring feed natural flowing rivers makes Vermont a virtual playground for fly-fishing.
However, early season fly fishers are at a disadvantage to their spin rod and bait fishing cousins. Spin rods offer a high degree of efficiency and can cover various depths and distances of water in a short amount of time. A simple split shot and a Panther Martin in high water can be three to five times more effective than fly casting endless streamers with a sinking line.
Fly fishing has a much lower trout mortality rate than both spin fishing and bait fishing. Fly fishing can consistently provide better chances for trout to be caught, released, and to survive the experience.
Proper handling, netting, and knowledge of their anatomy can help you help them. Bait fishing, although the most effective method of taking trout early season and virtually year around, can often be the deadliest experience a trout can survive. As the fish tend to naturally eat, and swallow live bait, the end result is normally a barbed hook ingested into the stomach lining of which they cannot survive.
Bait fishing, although highly lethal, can also be the most effective way of harvesting trout. Harvesting trout in Vermont is legal in rivers and sections of rivers designated by Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
There are plenty of opportunities for anglers to catch and keep, but equally as many for anglers to catch and release throughout Bennington county.
The river systems in Southwestern Vermont including the Battenkill, Walloomsac, Mettawee, Hoosic, and their tributaries are all blessed by being freestone flowing and spring fed. A freestone flowing stream is one that is changing in elevation and velocity. It is characterized by water flows generated by ice melt and thus affected seasonally.
Tributaries such as the Roaring Branch, the Green River, Bromley Brook, and others can be filled with their fair share of a high population of native brook trout. The brook trout is the only species native to the Battenkill. On the Vermont side, the last time the Battenkill was stocked with brown trout was 1972. The Battenkill is arguably the most famous and iconic river in the state if not in American fly-fishing history.
Historically, the Battenkill had its best opening glory days prior to it becoming a wild fishery. Those days, I hear, were filled with happy inn owners, tackle shops, and various eats and treats that no longer exist or failed to change with the times. There are many black and white pictures throughout Bennington county antique stores, retail shops, and town offices that adorn this era.
Bamboo fly rods, white shirts, ties, hip boots and basket woven creels seem to be all the rage as it was the latest technology of the era. Lightweight packable breathable waders, hard bottom boots with Carbide studs, and hybrid thermoplastic/thermoset composites adorn the latest in fly fishing rods and gear. Google Maps has taken the hide and seek out of finding the best fishing spots, and modern-day fly fishers are minimalist. A rod, a reel, a simple lanyard with a small fly box, some good intelligence, and some tenacity is in, and the big bulging vest guy is out.
In order to learn the sport of fly-fishing in the years prior to the internet, one had to read voraciously or learn by tribal knowledge. The local fly shop was the only Wifi hotspot available in those days and shortly thereafter, Blockbuster video made informational access to the sport easy and readily available.
As the smartphone has made every aspect of the sport reachable in your living room or on the river, many of the hidden mysteries of the sport are uncovered with a simple search, yet the only way you can fully enjoy the sport is to get out there and get disconnected from technology and reconnected with nature.
Above all, safety is of utmost importance. Early season high water flow can be very dangerous and deadly to both the experienced and the beginner; I normally never wade above my knees as a rule of safety. If you are an early season angler beware of the dangers that persist on the water. A bright and sunny day can also give you hypothermia. A Norwegian client once said to me, "There is no such as bad weather, only inadequate clothing" and it stuck. Best to underlayer with microfibers such as those made from polypropylene and mid-layer with natural fibers such as Merino wool. Cotton is a poor choice in colder climates as it absorbs water and keeps it held close to the skin. Moisture in the form of perspiration can cling to a person's skin, is not easily removed from cotton, and can freeze over.
In addition to underlayers, mid layers, insulation layers, and a shell layer is necessary to maintain core body temperatures for long extended periods of time. An insulation layer is needed to provide warmth, and something as simple as a puffy jacket will do. The shell layer is one of the most important in regard to keeping you impervious to rain, and breathable enough for you not to sweat. Taped or welded seams are essential in providing all day protection against the element of water. The shell layer also provides the entire system to work effectively. It not only deters water but more importantly provides a windproof barrier for the insulation layer to work. Once you live in cold climates long enough, everyone seems to have their system of staying warm, however, that normally breaks down when things get wet.
When wading in rivers this time of year, you learn to manage your clothing system. You can open strategic zippers to cool you off before you sweat, or you can simply slow down your activity level. If you need to warm up, do so by getting active and take along your best warm beverage.
Ray Berumen is the owner and guide of Taconic Guide Service in Manchester. Find it online at www.taconicguideservice.com.
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