Friday, February 13, 2015

A week off (end to 2014's trout season)

The end of October is the end of Vermonts trout season on many rivers and tributaries to those rivers (unless specified otherwise by the State)  This means all fishing is prohibited from Oct 31st to the second Saturday in April. 

I took the last week of October off to do as much fishing as I could.  To say I fished hard for the whole week would be a huge understatement.  I was free to do what I absolutely love, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

This time of the year, big browns migrate to proper spawning habitat just like salmon.  If you're lucky, you can time it right and run into BIG browns in BIG numbers.  While they might not cooperate, it is very exciting to see.

I spent one day on a Winooski trib and spotted 8-10 browns over 20".  I moved half of them, and spooked the other half. My stealth could use some work I suppose.   I managed to get a few to grab metal, but I couldn't get a good hookset. 

A good buddy of mine, Drew, who guides both cold and warmwater species in Vermont wanted to take a trip out to some tribs on another big river in Vermont.  He'd taken time off as well, and we planned for an early start, and late return.  It was time to find some hogs - and find them we did.

Drew is probably the best sight fishermen I know.  He knows exactly what he's doing, and can spot a fish from a mile away that I couldn't see from a foot away.  It takes experience to spot a camouflaged fish, and he has it.  I always like to pick his brain when we fish, and I always seem to learn something new, so it was great fishing and great conversation.  Long story short, we BOTH broke personal bests, with mine being a 26" prehistoric looking male in full spawning color.  After the day was done, I took a friend two days later after making him swear to secrecy.  Not as experienced, he had trouble casting in the tough conditions, but did manage an 18" brown.  I landed a thick 25" brown towards the end of the day followed by a few smaller ones.  The fishing was much harder than a few days before.  Still, a 25" brown is an awesome fish and I was super psyched. 

Yup, I could fit my hand in his current personal best VT brown!

I told myself I would put more time in chasing trout in October, and I did just that!  It was hard to leave the salmon for a few days, but absolutely worth it!

I spent a few days looking for salmon on the upper stretches of the Winooski River and its tributaries. I struck out the first day on two tributaries and a few sections of the main river, but the second day I was in luck.  While on a tributary on Halloween(last day of trout season), I was taking my time, going from pool to pool when I happened to spot a suspended fish.  I remained motionless, and watched the fish for 5 minutes.  It moved a few feet leisurely while I watched, but wasn't feeding.  I could tell right away it was a salmon.  It was just resting in a pool.  It must have been migrating up this tributary to spawn, but there were no redds in sight.  Had I stumbled upon a salmon on a redd, I would have moved on.  The State moved these fish to spawning water so they can spawn, I'd hate to bother or see someone else bother a fish that will most likely naturally reproduce if left alone.  With rod in hand, I went with a stealthy approach - two small nymphs, a 16 and an 18.  The drifts were dead on, and the fish showed no interest.  I changed nymphs, colors, sizes, presentation types, reaction from this fish at all.  What the heck?  "Alright" I said to myself, let's see what it does for this.  I tied on a big and heavy white bunny leech.  I got the fly wet first (rabbit hair is annoying like that) and proceeded to cast upstream of the fish.  Once I saw the fly was at the same depth as the fish, I began to strip.  Long, steady strips.  I was hoping for the fish to show interest, and was surprised when the fish turned and bolted towards the fly.  It didn't just charge the fly, it destroyed it.  The fly disappeared in its mouth, and as I set the hook, I could feel a solid hookset on the fish.  It started to shake its head and tail-dance to rid itself of the white fluff in its mouth.  No dice, she was in my net in 5 minutes.

A beautiful, silvery-blue female.  Once I had her in the net for sure, I dropped to my knees, threw my rod on the bank, clenched my fists and threw them up in the air in excitement.  Yes, I even shouted like a happy little kid.  At that moment in time, the world stopped.  I could have been the first person in a decade to catch a salmon in this tributary, and it felt utterly amazing. 
Stunning color on this beautiful female Atlantic.  She was tagged and transported upstream almost two weeks prior to me catching her. 

I spent most of the day on this tributary, searching for more salmon.  Unfortunately, I didn't find or spook any.  I even disturbed some of the deeper pools on purpose just to see if I could spook any (after I'd fished it already)  The further upstream I got, the more dangerous it was.  Since I was alone, I just couldn't risk going beyond a certain point, and I headed home.  On the walk back to the car, I got a call from my girlfriends father about a 10 lb salmon he'd just landed from the Winooski.  I didn't believe him at first until the picture went through to my phone, and wow.....

I got in my car and drove to one of my favorite spots on the river where he'd just landed the fish and started fishing.  It didn't take long to hookup, and this time it was a male that contrasted the bright silvery female I'd landed earlier in the day.

Often mistaken for brown trout, the male salmon get a kype, followed by a darker, butter-like color and even orange spots like brown trout. 
A few ways to tell apart spawning salmon from brown trout are the tails, the teeth and the mouth.  The tails on salmon are slightly forked, but not always.  Browns almost always have a square tail.  The caudal peduncle (where you'd grab a fish right near its tail) is generally thinner in a salmon than a brown.  The end of the jaw is usually in line with the back of the eye on a salmon, whereas on a brown trout, the end of the jaw(maxillary) goes beyond the back of the eye.  Hence why big male browns have huge mouths.  The final the most definitive thing to look at is the teeth on the roof of the fishes mouth.  A salmon has a single line of "vomerine" teeth on the roof of its mouth, where a brown has a zig-zag pattern instead of a straight line.

Upon landing this fish, I didn't have much time before having to head home.  It was Halloween, after all.  I couldn't have asked for a better week off, and I loved every second of it.  I may even have to take two weeks off next year! I love October!

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