Doug Lyons: No sad sacks on the Walloomsac

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As many folks know the Walloomsac River in Bennington is one of a handful of rivers in Vermont that is open outside the traditional trout season.

This has led to a dedicated group of anglers who have taken advantage of this extended season to fish for holdover and wild trout throughout the year.

While I don't have much of an appetite for casting to trout in near-freezing conditions I certainly had penciled in a date to give this preseason bonanza a go.

With word of sap running recently, word spread fast that the trout were in a taking mood and so I arranged with local angler and conservationist Christian Betit to give the 'Sac a go.

Christian is one of the denizens of the river and is well versed in the techniques required to trick these heavily worked over fish into taking an artificial. As we geared up for the afternoon it was suggested that I should be prepared to change flies quite a bit before getting into one of the nice fish we would be targeting.

Perhaps this was going to be a little more difficult than I had anticipated. As we walked downstream to where we would be fishing Chris explained that the trout had a tendency to hold over sandy areas of the river and moved about to feed on whatever might be in the drift. When feeding aggressively the trout would be willing to chase a streamer stripped across stream or perhaps take one on a dead drift.

Even though the day was overcast (and unseasonably warm) we soon spotted a pod of fish lying in the seam created by a pile of woody debris — just the sort of cover that all but screams fish me. Upstream from where we wished to get our day started a couple of anglers were fishing out of a drift boat (one of several we saw during the course of the afternoon) but they were perfectly happy to allow us to give these fish a shot.

One of the unique aspects of this particular style of fishing is that it is very much a visual game. The trout are there and easily spotted. This is the sort of fishing you read about and it was a surprise to me that we would be fishing over easily spotted targets. Christian noted that often one angler acted as a spotter while the other did the fishing.

Christian quite thoughtfully gave me the first shot at this pod of four or five fish.

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From his perch, he was able to see my fly (a large yellow streamer) as it drifted over the and past the fish. One by one the fly drifted past and not a fin flickered. They were not impressed. Trying a different approach we tried to get the fly deeper under the assumption that we simply were not getting down to the fish.

I had made the mistake of assuming that the hot streamer fishing that persisted much of the week would continue but unfortunately, the extreme warmth was bringing snow-melt rapidly downstream. One of the ironies of early season fishing is that warm days can rapidly change conditions and we were right in the middle of this. The warmer the day became the colder the water got and the slower the fishing was.

But for me, this was a learning experience and I absorbed my lessons as best I could in order to prepare for future outings. Christian, ever the positive thinking guide, remained sanguine and merely suggested that it was time to change flies. The fish continued to hold so there was at least the possibility of a take! What to go with?

Well, one of the least dignified but most effective flies in an anglers' arsenal has to be the Mop Fly. These flies, tied in a variety of colors, literally come from a mop!

Among the most popular colors anglers use are chartreuse, very bright yellows and even pink. Being a bit more of a traditionalist I chose to stick with a cream colored option. I could maintain at least a little dignity and claim that my use of this fly was specifically to imitate a crane fly larvae, which bears a striking resemblance to a cream-colored mop fly.

It is very important at this point to note that I was told quite clearly that when fishing over these trout it is important to extend the drift as long as possible because the trout will often turn to follow and then finally take your pattern. Which Christian reminded me just as I pulled my fly out of the jaws of the one trout that decided to go after my fly!

Having blown my chance at a good trout I turned the rod over to Christian to receive a few more lessons on coldwater fishing. While no trout were brought to net, I did learn how important it is to get the fly deep to get the attention of these fish and also that a tandem streamer combination with a smaller streamer trailing a larger one often turns the trick.

The day ended with the river rising and water temperatures dropping just as quickly.

There is still a week before the true Opening Day in Vermont and if you are itching to get some angling in the 'Sac is as good a bet as any. The fish are there and it is clear that given good conditions they are willing, healthy targets that are no pushovers. And given the happy nature of the anglers we encountered there appear to be no sad sacks on the 'Sac!

Doug Lyons is a long time angler who splits his time between greater Boston and fishing, hiking and relaxing in Southwestern Vermont. Doug maintains a camp in Shushan along with his wife Deanna and dog Maya.


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