The line slid through the eyes of my Redington 5-wt, flying on out over the Winooski River in a smooth tight arc, the bright color-tinged leaves in the background fluttering on their stems like a million squiggling butterflies. The 7-foot leader had just enough backbone to roll the little copper-headed Prince with a pheasant-tail dropper out over the surface of the dark blue water until it reached the end of the line.
In one easy motion it stopped and then dropped gently to the surface. Immediately the sinking tip went to work, dropping the flies down through the flat water until they were bouncing along the bottom. I felt the two imitations slipping along the smooth rocks of the mountain stream, looking like two carcasses of insects torn free from their home stone. Sensing the pull more than feeling it, I set the hook with a little tug straight back on the line.
The vibrations coming back through the Rio line told me that I had a small but ambitious trout on the hook. The fish ran upstream a ways, wiggled a bit in the current behind a big rock and then shot to the other side of the waterway. He liked that side of the brook where the overhang provided a deep shadow and a hiding place. But the sharp hook wouldn’t give up.
This time of year the river is low and it shows it’s skeleton. Large boulders and small rocks that have been moved into place by years of flood waters and spring run-off, provided safe havens for countless little brookies, rainbows and browns. A big trout would be 14 inches with most being in the 6-8 inch range. This little fellow I had on decided to leave the protective bank and darted downstream a bit, pulling in behind a dark gray boulder that had several bits scoured limbs across it’s bow.
Tipping up the tip of my rod, I skittered the tiny fellow toward me, stripping in line as I did so. The fish jumped twice before landing in my little trout net. Keeping him in the water, I admired the deeply-colored spots on his side. With a quick twist of the wrist I pushed the hook out of his jaw and set him free. The little brookie didn’t hesitate a second. He just booked it away from me and headed upstream as fast as he could go.
I shook out my line, waved to my partner and took a few steps up the brook. Here another small riffle slid between two boulders and then straightened out into shallow flat water. I tossed the rig up into the fast current and let the two flies tumble along in the down flow. Bounce...bounce...strike. I missed this little fellow, but knew that there were more to come.
Between Cabot, Vermont (you have to stop at the creamery for cheese) and East Montpelier, the Winooski River goes through many changes. Just below the Plainfield Dam a small brook enters from the east and joins the Winooski as it tumbles down through a wonderful boulder field, ending the swift water beside a field just below Goddard College. If you fish it slowly and thoroughly it can provide a morning of sheer fishing delight. Wide enough to accommodate short casts but narrow enough to give definition to good water, there are numerous riffles, back eddies and overhanging trees that provide some great fishing.
I know that this time of year there are a lot of things to do in the outdoors here on the North Shore, but there is nothing like a last-of-the-year fly fishing trip into the mountains of the northern states. the air is crisp, the temperatures are dropping and the leaves are just beginning to turn on the mountains. The swamp maples, the earliest trees to have color, have already made the move to red. As you walk the banks on trails worn deep by countless fishermen, the smell of the fall earth tweaks the senses.
The trout are gorging themselves as if they know that winter is coming and there is enough insect activity to provide them with a constant food source. The water has a lot of oxygen and the fish are active.
After looking into the fly box, I pulled out a little dark brown stone fly imitation. I attached it to the end of the leader and roll cast it upstream about a hundred feet. It started to quarter down by me, caught in a little quick water between a couple of big stones and eased into a short run of flat water.
Feeling the twitch, I set the hook and let the fish run down stream a bit. I was torn between wanting to play the fish a while and the fact that in doing so I was increasing the chance that the fish could be hurt by the long byplay. I put the fish on the reel and whipped the knob to bring him to the net. I wet my hands, and reached down and gently pulled the barbless hook from his mouth.
I held him for a second, marveling at the wonder of his creation, and then I slowly put him back in the stream. He had no idea what had just happened to him.His brain couldn’t reason that out. He just knew he wanted to return to the good place where food came to him regularly. Where he felt safe. Perhaps in the end that is all any of us wish for.