By Matt Dickerson
April 11, one week from Saturday, is Opening Day of Vermont’s inland fishing season.
Of course everybody who cares already knew that. The date has been circled on calendars since Halloween. It’s still good to say it, though. Opening Day. Coming soon. Dust off the fishing rods. Check the waders for leaks. Buy a few flies or lures. Or just walk around the local tackle shop and reflect that the long winter is coming to an end; fishing is coming soon.
With increased opportunities for year-round fishing — several rivers, including Otter Creek in Middlebury are now open all winter for catch-and-release fishing for the hardy angler — it may seem like Opening Day would mean less than it used to.
But it doesn’t. Opening Day is fixed in the imaginations of anybody who grew up fishing under the restrictions of fishing seasons. It’s as much a harbinger of spring as sugaring and mud seasons. Opening Day is the one day anglers spend months thinking about, looking forward to and even planning for.
My own planning, for example, is careful. Expert, even. Many years of early-season cold-weather experience on rivers from northern Maine to central New York, with Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and even Colorado thrown in, have been gathered, analyzed and synthesized into my own sure-fire strategies for Opening Day success.
Take Opening Day last year, for example. It was a cold April with more snow than usual still on the ground. My years of experience told me that there was no reason to get up early on a morning like that. Trout metabolism is slow in water below 40 degrees, and the fish are sluggish. A couple hours of sunshine can bring the temperature up, and even one or two degrees can make a difference in getting fish to bite — 10 a.m. was the right time to get on the water.
Several anglers were already leaving as I arrived at Otter Creek just north of Middlebury. I felt sorry for them; they obviously did not have my years of experience. They had probably been there since dawn, and were now so frigid or numb they were leaving just when things were about to get good.
“How was the fishing?” I asked.
They had pasted big grins on their faces, presumably to hide their misery and discomfort. “Fine,” one replied, as he lay a big stringer of fat rainbow trout in the back of his pickup. “They was bitin’ real good for about two hours. Really slowed down a bit the last hour or so, though, so we’re heading out.”
As it turned out, once the sun started shining and the air temperature began to warm — around 9 a.m. or so — all that snow starting melting quickly. This not only raised the water level, but actually cooled it down even further. Recently melted snow, after all, is only slightly warmer than unmelted snow, and when lots of it goes into a river the water gets cold.
So nothing was biting from 10 a.m. on, during the time I was putting into practice my expert wisdom. Which illustrates one of the best things about expert wisdom like mine: It works especially well in hindsight.
This is why this Opening Day I am going to enter the first annual Otter Creek Classic fly-fishing contest: There will be prizes raffled off among all participants, and not just for the person catching the biggest fish. That means people like me, whose years of fishing expertise and wisdom is especially good at analyzing why we failed to catch fish, will have a chance of winning something.
Another reason I’m entering the contest is that the approach appeals to me much more than other tournaments. And I’m not just talking about the raffle approach to prizes: The tournament is catch-and-release, and the reporting of fish is based on the honor system, so it encourages sustainable ethical fishing (rather than just filling the creel), and more camaraderie among the participants.
The tournament is being sponsored by Middlebury Mountaineer. It has a $10 advance entry fee ($13 on event day) with proceeds earmarked for the New Haven River Anglers Association — which means fees benefit the whole community in the form of the NHRAA’s conservation and education efforts.
The state-sanctioned competition will take place on Otter Creek and the New Haven and Middlebury rivers. Those interested in registering or learning more may call Jesse at Middlebury Mountaineer at 388-7245.
And, yes, there will also be prizes that are based on actual fish caught. But don’t worry. I’ve just shared my expertise with you, so your chances of catching the big one are just as good as mine.