Friday, July 6, 2018

Hunting Wild Trout in Vermont

When it gets hot, go north. And when it's hot up north, get in the coldest water you can find and just relax. Or, you could pretend it's no hotter than normal and hike many miles on a new to you coldwater river looking for big trout. 

I really didn't know what to expect from this stream, a fairly remote one as streams in the East go. There was very little information online. All I could find was that it had stocked trout and smallmouth in some sections. There were a couple tributaries that I was sure would stay cool and hold brookies. Other than that, I had no idea what to expect.

 My immediate impression of the river on the first night was that it looked like viable trout river, was plenty cold (despite daytime temps in the 90's the river never exceeded 68 while I was there), but seemed to be devoid of sizable fish.

After an evening skunking I decided to try fishing a large flat pool above a tributary mouth at night.

NOTHING. Nothing. I didn't hear, see, feel, catch trout or a smallmouth or anything other than snakes and crayfish.

So I was pretty sure this was a dead river, hence the detour to the Battenkill the next morning. We got back from the 'kill in the afternoon and I committed myself to fully exploring the mystery river and at the very least reaching a tributary I was sure would have brook trout. What I found was a whole different animal from what I had seen the night before. Water being released at an upstream dam, more mayflies were out, and the first place I fished produced a rainbow.


 Based on the abundant crayfish and baitfish I had already observed, and the fact that trout streams that have a generation cycle frequently fish well with streamers during releases, I chose to fish streamers. Not big articulated flies, smaller single hook flies that would match chubs, dace, and crayfish effectively. You have to be able to read a river well to be a good streamer fisherman, and I'm not just referring to reading water, I'm talking about knowing what streamers are appropriate, when, and why. This particular stream didn't really have the kind of structure and baitfish population that lends to big flies.
 I kept fly length under 3 inches, and the fish hit aggressively and often...
when I was on top of them. It became immediately clear that the heat and sun had pushed fished out of a lot of normally viable holding water. Even if the water isn't warm enough to present a problem , bright sun can. So except during the release period, I only found fish in places with shade, deep chutes or holes, and fast water. But the number of fish in those little pockets was impressive.

Ten rainbows landed and five lost or missed in, I got a surprise. A wild brookie. The first of a fair number of them. 

That was the turning point for me. This stream, this sleeper river with almost no little literature to its name, had wild trout in it. From that point on my task was to find a big brown. The very next good stretch of chutes gave up a gorgeous brown in classic Loch Leven Strain colors. No red spots, huge perfect black spots widely spaced, gorgeous golden belly. As I knelt down and slid my hand under his belly he shook free and swam off. As he went I quietly said "thank you for playing".

After making a brief detour on a brookie tributary, more on that in a future post, I kept the 3wt rigged with a dry dropper to do something I don't do often that I first saw done by Pete (TROUT1), and that's fish two rods. When I missed or moved noncommittal fish with the streamer I caught them with the 3wt. The first one I landed moving upstream was a gorgeous brookie.

After letting that fish swim off I thought to myself that I should send that photo to Pete when I got home.

Eventually I had gone as far up as I could go, I literally hit a huge wall. Back downstream I went, opting to hit some of the water I hadn't and try for fish I had missed and moved.

I got a few rainbows in the water I had already covered and missed more on both rods in a glide I had missed on the way up before fishing a long stretch of pockets. The first half of that water was fishless aside from a few brookies too small to even fit my PTSH dropper in their mouths. Then I got to this set of pockets:

I swam my fly through the lies in that piece of water, hitting as many as I could without recasting. I got the fly in the fastwater in front of the brown colored submerged rock right in the middle of that photo and a substantial fish came out and hammered it, sending spray into the air. That fish proceeded to fight like no trout I had ever hooked, playing the riverbed equivalent of pinball, bouncing rock to rock until he found a hole he could fit into. I was then tasked with puling him back out. four times he dove under a rock and I got him out until finally no amount of pulling with the 5wt would do and I had to extirpate him by hand. 

I mumbled to the fish as I fought, held, photographed, and released it. After it swam away, I fell back over the midstream boulder and exhaled. Then I popped up quickly to my feet an shouted into the nothingness of that Vermont river valley words of the profane and ecstatic. I've caught bigger, I've caught more colorful. That fish dissolved a stress that had built in with the heat of the day, a need to find the right fish. And that was the right fish. I kept celebrating for the next hour as I continued downstream. I released the last rainbow in the lost pocket I wanted to hit and climbed up the bank and was still celebrating that wild brown when I got into cell service for the first time in five hours. 

The first of the barrage of texts I got at that moment was from John Huber. 

He had heard through the grapevine that Pete had passed away. 

Peter Simoni, TROUT1, approaches a favorite pool. 
Life is fleeting. Nobody is here forever. Take every chance to talk to someone on the water, you never know who you will meet or what you will learn. Never stop exploring. Never stop fishing. Never stop experiencing. 


  1. That was a great fishing trip Rowan! You always find a way to catch them. The challenge is wonderful. Sorry to hear about Pete.
    Tie, fish, write, conserve and photo on, forever.

  2. I truly enjoy reading about your fishing adventures. Great pictures to boot. Dude, you can catch fish with the best of them. Unlike me, you always seem to figure out how to connect and I admire you for that.

    Best Regards, Sam

    1. Thanks,
      But that is praise I'm not sure I could live up to. I am less immune to failure than many.

  3. Very thoughtful Rowan and a nice tribute to your friend Pete.