There are are rivers here in the Northeast that hold a permanent place in the history of fly fishing. The Battenkill is one of them. Orvis was essentially born out of the Battenkill. Lee Wulff, John Atherton (The Fly and the Fish), and bamboo rod maker Hoagy Carmichael lived on the Battenkill. Countless names important to fly fishing worked its waters for wild brown and brook trout.
Unfortunately, the Battenkill has seen some tough times. It is just making a comeback and is even producing fish larger than could be expected even in its heyday. But even when the populations and bug life have been at their best on this stream it has made anglers search for answers. Many pools look smooth and slow, but are really very turbulent, making for some of the most technical dry fly fishing around. Don't go to the Battenkill expecting to catch a lot of trout. Fooling a sizable fish there is difficult.
I got to fish here for a short morning period on Tuesday. I hadn't planned on it, I hadn't expected it, and I knew I was going into a difficult scenario, but the chance to fish a new and historic waterway is never to be ignored. I chose to fish well above the most popular brown trout water to avoid the canoe and tube flotilla and other anglers. In three and half hours I felt like I had just fished a small western river filled with English chalk stream trout. The riffles, sunlit though they were, held small brookies and the odd juvenile brown. The banks of the holes, all brush lined, is where the larger fish lurked. Try as I might, I simply could not coax them out to take anything in the open.
It took me a little bit of observing to figure out that they were there... the fact that small fish occupied the sunlit center of the river told me bigger fish were in the prime bank lies, but were they in there just to hide? Repeatedly, I saw what I thought could be rises in the brush. Only when I purposely spooked that water was I sure it wasn't just odd rippling. I didn't see the fish, but after I disturbed the water the little disturbance ended. Every time I saw it after that I tried to squeeze my little BWO under the brush. Only one took and it was off quickly, leaving my fly buried in the branches.
Fortunately the small fish were cooperative, though less so than I would have expected. I landed a handful of brookies and one brown, each feeling like an achievement despite their diminutive stature.
Though I have checked it off the list, like every other storied river in the Catskills, Central Pennsylvania, and Maine I have had the pleasure to fish, Vermont's Battenkill hasn't seen the last of me.