By Matt Dickerson
April is over — or it will be by the time most of you read this. May 1 is opening day of spring turkey season in Vermont. Seems like I’ve seen more turkeys this year than usual. Everywhere I drive. Cornfields and hay fields and lawns next to roads all over the county. Plenty of hens and toms both, keeping good company.
And I started seeing them earlier this year than usual as well. That is to say, the toms got a pretty good start on their strutting and staking out territory (and claiming hens). But then maybe it always seems like that in April. As Norman Maclean notes in his classic novella, “A River Runs Through It,” when you starting looking for trout, you start seeing them. The same, I’m sure, goes for turkeys.
Of course there is the sad fact that there have been years past when I’ve seen lots of birds and not gotten one. And also years when I’ve seen very few and have still managed to fill two tags. They seem to know when to disappear (turkeys, not tags).
In short, seeing lots of bearded birds in April is not necessarily a harbinger of success. It is only an indication that if I am not successful, I’ll be even more frustrated. Still, I have one picked out, and as of my scouting expedition this morning (three days before the start of the season) he was still gobbling.
Speaking of seeing trout, I’m starting to see them too. Water levels in local rivers are already low for the time of year and a couple warm days have brought water temps up a little closer to the range that fish get active. My own experience is that mid-May through mid-June is the most active time of the year for trout in the state’s rivers — the ideal time for them to be active based on water temperatures and food supply.
The state stocking program is also well under way. Ponds and lakes are usually stocked first, before rivers, as they are less susceptible to stressful water level fluctuations that are difficult on freshly stocked fish. Several thousand brookies, browns, and rainbows have already been put into inland lakes and ponds, including a few in Addison County. Reports of completed stockings are available online at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.
With flat-water stocking nearly done, the stocking of rivers is now beginning in earnest. A few rivers — those that get trout in the trophy-stocking program — have already been stocked with two-year old browns and rainbows that are often over 15 inches long. These include the Missisquoi and the Lamoille.
Otter Creek, upstream of Rutland, and the Winooski River should also be stocked with large trout within the next two or three weeks. Several branches of the White River have already been stocked, though not with trophy fish. And the New Haven and Middlebury rivers are scheduled to receive an influx of hatchery-bred browns, rainbows, and brookies in the 9- to 12-inch range over the next few weeks.
Those plan on fishing some of these rivers should keep in mind that we now live in an age of infectious diseases and invasive species. As we think this week about the swine flu, we should also remember that the ecosystems of Vermont rivers are also susceptible to several diseases that are often spread by humans. Didymo (“rock snot”) has now been found in a few Vermont rivers. It can be a really a nasty invasive algae that we don’t want spreading around the state.
For those who, like me, are fans of the felt-soled wading shoe, it’s probably time to make a change. As good as felt is at providing traction on wet rocks, it’s also soaks up a lot of water and can stay damp for days, which makes it a great host for transporting microorganisms from river to river.
Unless anglers spend their whole year fishing one small stretch of water, they should replace the felt with something like an Aqua Stealth sole. And whatever is used, it’s a good habit to disinfect gear whenever switching water bodies. I’d just as soon not discover that didymo has become like trout and turkeys in Vermont: if you start looking for it, you’ll see it.