April in Vermont is always a total crapshoot when it comes to fishing. The water is high and dirty from runoff, and depending on the year, it can be pretty unpleasant to be out there. In the past, I have mostly ignored opening day for those reasons, waiting for later in the month when the players would be out and about. But for the past couple of years the weather has been much more cooperative. Water levels have been good, and we have had some pretty spectacular days for the beginning of April. This year’s opening weekend ended up as one to go into the record books for me.
I had not done much to prepare for trout season, since I am not going to be guiding trout this year, instead focusing on the warmwater species in Vermont and Lake Champlain. However, I was asked by folks from the state on Thursday if I could spend some time on opening day fishing with Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin. I welcomed the opportunity, but I have to admit that I was a bit anxious.
Friday night was also a showing of the Fly Fishing Film Tour in Middlebury, Vermont, which I did not want to miss. I knew I would end up getting home pretty late and I would not have any time to prepare. When I got up at 6 a.m. on Saturday, I was trying to locate all the things I would want to have with me when I fished that day. I kept misplacing things, could not find my streamer box, and had to tear through some of the stuff I packed away for an upcoming trip to Florida. I ran out the door at 8 a.m. with minimal gear and a handful of flies I had tied up over the winter.
I headed to a spot where I had seen a nice fish the weekend prior. He had been sitting in the tailout of the pool, nabbing nymphs. The water was a bit higher now and had a nice gray-green color to it. The color of money. I crossed the river in a shallow spot and headed up to the head of the pool. I tied a big Conehead Zonker on the leader, which I lengthened with a couple of feet of 3X Mirage. A long, skinny leader will let you get your weighted flies deeper. I swung the fly through the head of the pool and focused on the opposite bank. Nada. Then I tried a favorite old trick of mine. I treated that big rabbit streamer like a nymph and high-sticked it through the soft spot on the inside of the head of the pool.
On the first drift, I felt the grab. It wasn’t a super hard take, more like a good solid thump, but with a quick broadside in the morning sun, I knew I had a good fish on. It bulldogged like a brown typically does, and I kept a tight line. Once I got the line on the reel, the fish didn’t put up a very long fight—not surprising with the water at a chilly 41 degrees. When the net went under him, I started hootin’ and hollerin’. My first fish of the 2011 trout season in Vermont, was a brown that measured at 23 inches. I took some pictures and watched him swim away. Then off to Waterbury to fish with the Governor.
Things went fine in Waterbury. Governor Shumlin isn’t a fly angler, so we had spinning gear for him to use. He was having a great time tossing spinners out into the high, muddy water. I did all I could to try to get him into something, but unfortunately there weren’t any fish willing to play. I enjoyed my time with him and offered to get him out later when the fishing is better. He said he would be taking me up on that. The new Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Pat Berry was also there. A former fly-fishing guide in Montana, he is good friends with some of my fishing buddies, and we had a lot to talk about. We fished a while after the Governor left, and then I headed home to try to get some of the many things on my to-do list done.
Sunday ended up another gorgeous day. I had not planned on fishing but some bad news had come my way and I needed to calm myself down. Time on the river is always a good prescription in this situation. I geared up again with the same stuff I had used on Saturday and headed out. Once again, I put on the Zonker fly from the day before. It had that special juju, and I wanted to keep it going.
I looked down at a spot that I normally pass right by, but something said to me that I needed to hit it. It is a nice soft spot next to the current at the head of a pool with a good drop off. Anyone see a pattern here? My first cast plunked down right where I wanted it to, and I let the fly drift down into the hole. It swung for a few seconds, and then I started slowly striping back. Two strips and thump! Fish on. I got a good look at it and could tell it was another awesome fish. I had to keep pressure on him to keep him out of the current. I had the trout in the net fairly quickly and got some good photos. He swam off into the depths quickly.
Another 23-incher fish brought to hand. If my trout cookie cutter is stuck at 23 inches I will take it!
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I enjoyed the sun on the water and got the much needed relaxation I required. Rivers have an ability to wash away worries if you let them.
I have to say that as far as opening weekends go, this one is in my record books. Two big brownies and fishing with the Governor and Fish and Wildlife Commissioner…not too shabby!