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Edition 4 Archives - FFI Magazine

Nearly 100 covered bridges once crossed Vermont rivers and many are still viable. Their covers were primarily to protect weather-exposed bridges themselves, though others like one well-known “kissing bridge,” multitasked. Bridges old and new provide excellent angler access, and the state also operates under a law allowing universal river ingress unless specific posting is present.

It took a long time getting back. Despite owning an address in Vermont’s northeast corner for 20-odd years, I was mostly on the road making a living fishing nearly everywhere else. The fishing I did have at home was a beautiful variegate of trout waters ranging from small stream perfection to some serious flows, to quieter currents, and also lakes big and small with the kind of smallmouth angling I could always brag on. Fishing nostalgia aside, now there was yet another good reason for returning.

Depending on whose figures you read, Vermont is currently the home of more outstanding craft beer brewers per capita than any other state. And there was my pal Dave Beattie, a former New Hampshire saltwater fly fishing guide who is more learned about those breweries than anyone I know. “For better or worse,” he claimed, “I pretty much know every brewery bigger than a closet in Vermont now. Not that it’ll get me much but it was fun learning.”

Dave’s knowledge in the brew department (especially IPAs) rivals an oenophile of the first order. He’ll reel off taste characteristics of beers and ales that would shame the purple prose of a high-end cigar catalog copy writer. Gaining such expertise seemed a natural outreach for him during downtime on family ski trips to Vermont, along with periodic beer mule runs loading up on top tier brews that still aren’t available out of the state. Of course along the way a certain amount of intel began to be gleaned not having to do with IPAs and porters. A well-known truth is that fly-fishers tend to favor good beer as well as chatting with kindred souls while sipping a few. You see where this is going? What he learned launched Dave into a whirlwind of research on what would prove to be some of the state’s best trout fishing and as a bonus, the option to enjoy some fine angling for smallmouth, pike and assorted other species.

The thing about Vermont fishing is that variety is close. Unlike the distances we might travel between blue-ribbon spots in, say, Montana or Wyoming, the Vermont experience is compressed. In a very good way.

The state may not make the scoreboard for sheer numbers of hulking class trout or bigmouth bass with bellies like crenshaw mellons, but cognoscenti of the state’s fishing point to this: There is consistent, reliable angling for brook, rainbow and brown trout that runs the gamut from giggly fun with headwater brookies, to technical torture during misread hatches.

As late season rains fill and cool summer-low rivers, large meaty flies—both weighted and not—are key in coaxing larger fish—mainly browns.

There’s always the possibility of Moby-class brown trout that forget their persona and nosh a hapless swinging buggery type of fly, especially in the fall. There is excellent largemouth and stellar smallmouth bass fishing, and you can extend the fun to reliable fly fishing for big northern pike and a handful of panfish species. Though not fly rod targets for normal fishers, you should know about muskies and walleyes and a batch of others from bowfin to channel cats—gar anyone?

Flinty Yankee settlers straight from the dark stories of Annie Proulx’s “Heart Songs” carved a difficult existence here through hard-scrabble farming or logging. Steep, rocky terrain, hidden valleys and primitive roadways engendered, and to an extent still do today, the opportunity for reclusive or at least private lifestyles. Celeb writers—Sinclair Lewis, Robert Frost, and John Irving called the state home, as did Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who spent 20 years of his exile here. Today, a large percentage of native “woodchucks,” and imported flatlanders now full-time Vermonters, tend to the entrepreneurial, often iconoclastic, and nearly always idiosyncratic. Think characters reminiscent of the Durrell family (“My Family & Other Animals”) or perhaps a reined-in, semi-sanitized cast from a Christopher Moore novel. Even the non-human aquatic and mammalian life can be quirky: There are the well-recognized legends of classic lake monsters Champy and Memphry for example, and if your were driving Route 106 in Reading you might see grazing alongside a couple of miniature goats and an Appaloosa pony, an African plains Zebra named Zeus.

Tooling along in the state, a preponderance of vehicles in sight would be equipped with ski or various bicycle racks along with beer stickers, and off winter of late you would note a sampling of car-top rod racks, and nearer the rivers, semi-ready fly rods projecting like quills from beds of pickups or at full mast on car hoods. There’s obviously a lot of DIY fly fishing going on here. Still, for many out-of-staters Vermont fly fishing tends to suggest limited waters—the Battenkill (admittedly even by Lee Wulff to be a most difficult trout fishery), the Connecticut (trout, bass), perhaps Lake Champlain (bass, pike, muskie, and Godknowswhatelse). It’s also true that more vacation-oriented visitors to the state have often enjoyed excellent fly-fishing programs—instruction or guiding—while staying in such elegant resorts as the Woodstock Inn (an excellent venue for baiting your significant other), or perhaps the Equinox Resort in Manchester, home to the Orvis flagship store and it’s excellent fishing school.

Let’s assume, though, that you are on a total fishing-centric trip where coffee, donuts and cigars comprise sufficient repast—along with appropriate samplings of the best beers of course. Depending on your timeframe a serious hops-and-hackle tour of the state should be broken into key regions with “hubs” central to specific fishing and breweries/brew pubs. If you have the luxury of plentiful off-water time you could indulge in brew tours and trails, some even including driver service and discount lodging, check out www.vermontvacation.com/things-to-do/made-in-vermont/beer and www.vermontbrewers.com/brewery-trails ).

It’s beyond the purview here to describe every prime river, lake or pond in the state. These listings are suggestions that offer some excellent fishing along with the best brew pubs/breweries and eating close by.

Vermont streams and rivers follow predictable trout species populations with wild brookies in the smaller upper waters, rainbows in the mid-sectors, and browns in the lower reaches, especially in deeper pools that possess definition-forming structures. Fish populations have recovered well since the devastating August 2011 tropical storm Irene, except where restoration efforts gouged bottom strata or resulted in channelization.

In general, virtually all headwaters and small tributaries offer native brook trout best fished on 3 or 4 weights. Rainbows, whether stream-bred or stocked, figure in middle river sections where they are joined eventually by brown trout that continue in lower reaches. Depending on the river flows and temperatures, smallmouth and finally largemouth bass along with other species figure in the mix. Ponds and lakes include trout or warmwater fish and are usually managed for specific species. Know that Vermont operates on a Land Trust system law that permits public access to all waters unless specifically posted. As for brews, well as they say, so many beers, so little time.

SOUTH

The iconic Battenkill —between Manchester and Arlington, is managed as a wild trout fishery in Vermont but was stocked with browns in New York. Technically one of the most difficult rivers, an angler can lick his wounds hitting the Little West Branch, a trib of the ‘Kill for brook trout that like midges.

The north flowing Mettawee, is also a wild fishery. The river is small though with some deep spots downstream from Dorset along Route. 30. There are fun rainbows in the sector. Near Pawlet ‘bows are larger with some influx of browns. Butternut Bend downstream of Pawlet can be good. Access via the River Road. off Route. 30.

Libations and Comestibles
While breweries are absent in the Arlington-Manchester hub, an excellent watering hole with various craft beers and good grub is Mulligan’s Pub & Restaurant, in Manchester.

Originating from Black Pond further north in the Green Mountains, the Black River stretch above Ludlow has brook trout and browns and not too much pressure. There’s a six-mile trophy-stocked section beginning at Ludlow. EarlyMay through-mid-May sees a hendrickson hatch that starts non-traditionally in the morning, though overall the go-to tactic is short-line nymphing. The lower river below Springfield reservoir to the Connecticut holds smallmouths.

Of side interest is arguably the world’s most photographed farm—Jenne Farm—20 minutes from the Black in Reading (also home to that privately owned zebra Zeus). It was also a setting in Forrest Gump.

Libations and Comestibles
Check out the Trout River Brewery in Springfield. The dog-friendly tasting room has snacks but you can bring in food. Angler-themed beers run the gamut from IPAs to stouts and more. Outer Limits Brewing in Proctorsville serves up beers running from Bavarians to amber ale to IPAs. Meat and Cheese boards, pizzas, wings, snacks are on the menu.

SOUTH CENTRAL

A tributary of the Connecticut, Ottauquechee River starts near Killington ski country as freestone brook trout water. From Bridgewater Corners to Taftsville’s covered bridge the river is a mix of riffles, chutes and pools. In the slower stretches nymphs or dries are favored depending on what’s happening. Streamers are popular in faster runs. The river has cut a deep gorge, often called the state’s Little Grand Canyon, through the village of Queechie. A steep trail on the gorge’s east side reaches some good pools holding brown trout, but be wary of rising water from an upstream dam.
Tribs of the Ottauquechee worthy of exploring include: Mill Brook, Roaring Branch, Neal Brook, and Lulls Brook, along with area ponds like Colby, Knapp, Amhurst, and Echo.

Libations and Comestibles
No lack of drinks and eats at this latitude. White River Junction is coming on strong with restaurants that cater to virtually all tastes. Close by is River Roost Brewery, a young, small outfit specializing in beautiful hop-forward brews. You’ll roll your eyes over Glimpse, a double IPA tough to equal.

The Long Trail pub/brewery in Bridgewater Center is smack on the Ottauqueechie River. You can sip one, then just watch the stream roll by until ready to fish.

Long Trail Brewing Co. at Bridgewater Corners is smack on the Ottauqueechie River. Sip one and watch the stream roll by. American ales, including many IPAs, are available. Soups, chili, wings and more are on the pub menu.

At the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor on the Connecticut River there’s Riverbend Taps and Beer Garden. Their top IPAs include Clown Shoes-Galactica and Clowns Shoes-Space Cake. The pub grub is good, too.

Worthy Kitchen in Woodstock offers brews from the best crafters in the state along with unbeatable burgers and an otherwise fine full menu.

First Branch Coffee in South Royalton is home to Upper Pass Beer Co’s tasting room. They also serve locally sourced food and host live music. Don’t Miss Taco Tuesday or Flatbread Friday.

The original Worthy Burger in South Royalton on a railroad siding has amazing burgers and sandwiches along with a mega beer list.

Brocklebank Craft Brewing in Tunbridge hosts good bluegrass many nights.

CENTRAL

The Winooski along with its tributaries are targets in this area. Rising near Cabot (good brookies can be found not far from Plainfield), the Winooski flows through the state capital, Montpelier, and boasts a “trophy” area around Waterbury (browns and rainbow stockers are in excellent shape and there are holdovers reaching good size), and finally empties into Lake Champlain near Winooski, past Burlington. This lower section holds smallmouth bass and sees runs of landlocked salmon from the big lake. There’s good pocket water below the Bolton Dam. Below Plainfield near Marshfield and the Twinfield Union School and Onion River Campground is a productive sector. Caddis predominate on the river but not exclusively. Nymphing with Hare’s-Ears and Pheasant-Tails is productive, as is fishing streamers. Several guide services offer float trips on the Winooski with May-June, September-October seeing floatable water.

Stevens Branch is an interesting anomaly. This tributary of the Winooski flows right through downtown Barry. Despite urbanization it holds a lot of trout. Wild brook trout exist above Route. 63 in South Barre. Downstream there’s a mix of rainbows, browns and brook trout. Tributaries of the Stevens itself include: Gunner Brook with all three trout (an important spawning trib for the Stevens); Jail Branch has brook trout in its upper reaches in Washington, and from East Barre to its mouth holds all three trout species. Below East Barre Dam, trout populations are low. Consider North Branch as well.

The Dog River is managed only for wild trout, and on catch-and-release basis. It harbors some big browns and can be tough. Evening low light can give you a decided advantage.

The Dog River tributary of the Winooski is managed entirely for wild trout, and is catch-and-release only. Though it holds rainbows and some brookies, it’s really a big brown trout stream with beautiful clear pools, and it can be tough. Fishing the low light of evening can increase your odds of hookups. The river rises north of Roxbury, flowing past Northfield. Public access points are found off Highway12 out of Montpelier with the river following near that road. Route 12A is the route to take out of Northfield Center. With no hatches underway it’s pretty much a one-fish pool fishery. Flies like John Barry’s (of Copper John fame) Slump Buster, and Kris Keller’s Montana Mouthwash ( a Super Bugger sort of thing), can fool those larger browns.

Mad River, another Winooski trib, has brook trout in its upper reaches with its flow increasing from small brook trout streams like the Austin, Stetson and Mill Brook. From small pocket water the river changes to more riffles, runs and pools holding brown trout around Waitsfield. The Mad has traditionally been stocked downriver from a gas station between Warren and Waitsfield, on down to Kenneth Ward Memorial Access in Moretown. No stocking occurs on down from there to the No. 8 dam. Below Moretown the river flows through a dairy farm valley, the flow slowing before the river enters the Winooski. Typical of many Vermont rivers in tourist areas in summer, you might interact with swimmers. Fishing early and late makes sense.

Artist Mary Lacy’s “Trout Wall” mosaic mural in downtown Bethel reflects a fish-centric mindset among locals and visitors, especially those keen on the White River.

The White River is a tributary of the Connecticut, flowing through east-central Vermont. Fairly large with both good riffle water and deep pools, it is sometimes floated by various guide operations. In fishing the White one considers its First, Second, and Third branches with good access near covered or concrete bridges (especially the first and second branches) around towns like South Royalton and Bethel. The pocket water of the First branch in the Tunbridge area holds all three trout. There are larger browns in the Second branch (out of East Randolph), typically holding under bankside cover in gently flowing sectors. Below Bethel smallmouths are in the mix.

The White River is a complex consisting of three branches plus the main stem. The dam-free river has overall good access, especially near bridges. All three trout species are present with smallmouths entering the mix below Bethel. While caddis predominate in some sectors, fishing for large browns in deeper pools or beneath bankside cover with quiet flows calls for different tactics. Dave Beattie worked a Slumpbuster streamer to coax a grab from this good pool-holding brown. Be careful to properly ID browns from Atlantic salmon that are produced at the White River National Fish Hatchery. No open season exists on those salmon cultured during the now defunct restoration effort to restore historical runs of Atlantics on the Connecticut River.

The White is totally dam free and figured in the defunct Federal Atlantic salmon restoration program on the Connecticut River. The small tributaries of the White’s mainstem and Third branch hold wild populations of all three trout and are worth fishing on their own. Caddis predominate, so beadhead nymphs and Elk-Hair dries are standard fare. If you luck into a mayfly situation you’ll usually do well with Pheasant-Tails or Hare’s-Ear nymphs, and a Hare’s-Ear parachute normally suffices for duns. Marabou Muddlers and Woolly Buggers are fine in deeper or turbulent water.

Libations and Comestibles

This is Vermont’s “brewery central.”

In Stowe is the vonTrapp Brewery and Bierhall serving their own lagers, pilsners, kölslh style ales, qne double IPAs, plus blends of others brewers. The brewery is located close to the famed area lodge.

Alchemist Brewery banged a home run with their flagship Heady Topper brew. Their full line is served in the new visitor-tasting center in Stowe, birthplace of alpine skiing in the East and a favorite destination for visitors.

Alchemist Brewery specializes in fresh, unfiltered IPAs. Its flagship Heady Topper (though brewed in Waterbury, available state wide) is distributed to the brewery and Alchemist Visitor’s Center in Stowe for retail sales and tasting.

Alchemist Brewery banged a home run with their flagship Heady Topper brew. Their full line is served in the new visitor-tasting center in Stowe, birthplace of alpine skiing in the East and a favorite destination for visitors.

Not without good reason is Waterbury dubbed the best beer town in New England and “the epicenter of beer in the Northeast.” The Black Back Pub (black back being a colloquialism for big, native brookies) one of a handful of great pubs including: The Prohibition Pig Brewery; The Reservoir—Restaurant & Tap Room, both of those just a good cast from one another in the village.

The Blackback Pub—an angler favorite— dubbed Waterbury the best beer town in New England not without good reason; a quick recent count comes up with 11 pub/eateries in the village.

Waitsfield is home of Lawson’s Finest Liquids brewery whose citrusy Sip of Sunshine IPA garnered awards across the board from the country’s top rating groups; consumer beer fans obviously agreed. Lawson's followed up with Double and Triple Sunshine along with countless others. You can find them all at the brewer’s large, open space taproom where visitors enjoy terrific pub grub, casual seating, and an always-on fireplace. Their entire craft brews are also on sale in the taproom’s retail space.

WEST CENTRAL

In Waitsfield you’ll find Lawson’s Finest Liquids, creator of the award winning citrusy Sip of Sunshine IPA and runner-up Double and Triple Sunshine along with countless others. Their large taproom/retail store has all their brews along with terrific pub fare. Don’t miss their secret sauce served with giant pretzels.

The Worthy Burger Too restaurant is a seven minute walk from Lawson’s.

New Haven is a tributary of Otter Creek. Near Ripton its upper pocket waters, plunge pools and several feeders enjoy good brook trout populations. Near Lincoln and on to Bristol, brook trout still predominate but are joined by rainbows. Because the river here runs near a road and has pools and waterfalls, swimmers often use the river in summer. Long runs with riffles and pools are key features in the the widening near Bristol Flats. After Notch Brook, the river begins slowing some. Below Muddy Branch tributary there’s a mix of deeper pools and overall slower flow. This section receives stocking.

Otter Creek, depending where you fish, harbors all three trout species as well as bass and northern pike. The river really begins as a southern brook trout stream near East Dorset and flows 112 miles to Lake Champlain. Some parts of the river are rather remote and some are very accessible. The New Haven (above), Middlebury, Neshobe Rivers and Furnace Brook are four tributaries offering good trout fishing in their own right. There’s good trout fishing through Middlebury, then as the river grows in size, bass and pike enter the mix. The lower main river has developed into a fine northern pike fishery, especially below Vergennes.

Libations and Comestibles

In Rutland, the Beer Works Brewery is a good stop, as is the company’s Hop ’n Moose Pub.

Foley Brothers in Brandon has a big list of IPAs and one fine Irish stout. Also in Brandon the Red Clover Ale Co. is a small brewery and tap room with a list covering everything from brews featuring mosaic hops to red ales.

Home of Middlebury College, Middlebury town has no shortage of brews. Consider Otter Creek Brewery and pub, The Drop-In Brewing Co., Two Brothers Tavern—and there are more.

Bristol is known for the Hogback Mountain Brewing where you’ll find Pilsners, Kölsch and Brown Ale, Stout and IPAs. Lucky Star Catering offers local pub food in the taproom, along with dinners to go.

In Vergennes look for Hired Hand Brewing Co., for fine local brews and pizza, and also The Bobcat Cafe and Brewery with its house crafted brews and good pub grub.

NORTH/NORTHEAST/NORTHWEST

Along with the big water body itself, many of the state’s rivers empty into Lake Champlain providing a potpourri of fishing and species depending on the season. Just for samples, the “Salmon Hole” area of the Winooski River at the base of the first dam on the river can provide some excellent fishing for landlocked salmon, lake-run “steelhead” and bass. The Malllet’s Bay area has some fine bass fishing. The list goes on.

Libations and Comestibles

Burlington on the shores of the lake is home to the University of Vermont and thus rife with great watering holes and restaurants downtown and neighboring. Just one of the good ones is The Vermont Pub & Brewery on College Street, the state’s first craft brewery offering a number of award winning brews as well as light pub chow.

In neighboring Essex Junction, 1st Republic Brewing, the On Tap Bar & Grill, and Pearl St. Pub all get high marks.

Just south of Burlington in Shelburne, with its terrific decoy collection, is Fiddlehead Brewing Co. In the tasting room you’ll find their signature Fiddlehead IPA as well as Second Fiddle and Mastermind, both double IPAs, plus the tasting room’s series of powerhouse Triple IPAs. And right next door is Folino’s Wood Fired Pizza where you can bring in the Fiddlehead brew you just purchased.

CHAMPLAIN PROPER

The Lamoille River begins near Greensboro as a small brook trout stream. As it reaches Greensboro Bend some rainbows enter the scene. The river remains small until Haynesville where an eponymous brook enters, giving the stream a bit of size. Below Pottersville Dam east of Wolcott and down below the dam at Morrisville you get tailwater fishing, especially for rainbows. Several guide operations float the upper and middle river stretches. August can have excellent fishing, particularly on dries—assuming some cool weather arrives and the water temperature falls into the 60’s for a few days. There can be a fine flying ant hatch as well as isonychias that can spark some fun action on the fast swimming nymphs. Target the water from Waterman Brook through the town of Johnson where the Gihon River enters. There are some deep pools here and you’ll find both rainbows and browns. The main stem produces into early summer unless rising temperatures push trout back into the Gihon or down to Ithiel Falls.

From Fairfax Falls, just below Cambridge, downstream three miles has been a trophy stocked area. Look for some large browns. Below this area smallmouths begin to show, the fish having moved in from Arrowhead Mountain Lake which offers good warmwater fishing. Below the lake are two more dams before the river enters Lake Champlain. A motley array of warmwater species is available in the slower flows.

Passumpsic is a major Connecticut River tributary and is best known for its good size rainbows and browns in the deep, slow pools primarily below any of seven hydropower dams. From its mouth at the Connecticut up to the East and West Branches (brookies in the branches ) above Lyndonville, the dams are: East Barnet, Passumpsic, Gage Station, Arnold Falls, Pierce Mills, Great Falls, and Vail Station. Arnold Falls is in downtown St. Johnsbury enabling dehydrated anglers to enjoy top craft brews in two excellent pubs, or a handful of excellent restaurants with specialty menus. Trophy stocking does occur in spring from the top of the Gage Dam upstream to the top of the Arnold Falls Dam. Come October those stocked rainbows and browns have become extremely savvy and are in terrific shape. From the Connecticut River boundary upstream to the top of Arnolds Falls Dam the river is another in the state that’s open year around.

For some early (cold) spring fishing—mid-April to early May—anglers can hit the Willoughby River in Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom” to watch “steelhead”—rainbows from Lake Memphremagog— ascending falls to spawn. Though Willoughby Falls in Orleans provides the best action, Coventry Falls on the Black River in Coventry and Lewis Creek Falls in North Ferrisburgh also have rainbow runs. Willoughby Falls proper and a section upstream are closed until June 1 to protect spawners, but the downstream water is open giving a good shot at these fish. However, it gets too many rods for my taste.

This entire northern area of Vermont, known as The Northeast Kingdom, is rich with small ponds and larger lakes with trout, smallmouth, largemouth, pike and panfish opportunities. Depending on time of year fly-fishers can binge on surface hatches, pop for bass, or use sinking heads and streamers for a potpourri of species.

Libations and Comestibles
Greensboro Bend is ground zero for the state’s highest profile craft brewery, Hill Farmstead. Launched in 2010 by the self-directed Shaun Hill, the brewery produces ale’s and sours and has garnered praise as the “world’s best new brewery” for the last seven years, per by Rate Beer (ratebeer.com). Not surprisingly the praise triggered a cult of fans who come across the U.S. East, down from Canada, and even from the Midwest to visit the brewery and tap room, and to stand in long lines to buy beer and attend sell-out concerts. Some of the faithful sleep in vehicles awaiting morning openings.

A tad north in Glover is the Parker Pie Co., a four- time winner for best pizza, bar, wings, and beer menu in the Norhtheast Kingdom (per locals and the FoodNetwork). It’s an idiosyncratic spot with roaming dogs, kids hula-hooping with old guys, and folks just hanging out. Friday is Oyster Night.Ooysters and pizza? Yep.

Morrisville is home to Rock Art Brewery and tap room, known throughout the state for it’s malt-forward Vermonster brew. If that’s not your thing you’ll find everything else—IPAs, pilsners, stout, ales, sours. And it’s located by the Lamoille River.

GUIDES/OUTFITTERS/SHOPS

In no particular order, here are sources for trips, tackle and info covering
the entire state.

The Fly Rod Shop
theflyrodshop.com
Bob Shannon’s Stowe-based shop is an info clearing house on state fishing. Shannon’s stable of guides specialize in the Lamoille, Winoooski, Dog and Little Rivers. For still water there’s Lake Elmore, Lake Eden, Waterbury Reservoir and more. On the website there are free downloadable maps of the Lamoille and Winooski Rivers that include details on fishing spots, hatches and more. River trout drift trips and lake trips are offered. For non-anglers there are assorted tours around the state including a Craft Beer & Spirits venture. Bob is co-author of the book “Vermont Trout Streams: A Fly Angler’s Guide to the Best” which you should have. There are childrens’ fishing and survival programs and free casting clinics for all.
802-253-7346 or 802-253-3964


Catamount Fishing Adventures
catamountfishing.com
Year-‘round Stowe guide Willie Dietrich offers wade trout trips along with drift boat floats and pond and lake fishing for smallmouth bass. An FFF certified casting instructor he won’t use a cell phone on guide trips. Good for him!
802-253-8500


Green Mountain Troutfitters
www.gmtrout.com
Hyde Park
Working the state’s north-central regions including Stowe, Jeffersonville (Smugglers’ Notch) with wade and raft float trips, head guide Mike Kontos, also has other guides available even for groups. They offer a variety of lake fishing as well, plus kids’ camps. Offered are:
Walk n’ Wade River/Stream Tours, Drift Boat Trips, Lake Fishing, Bass Fishing
802-730-4298


Stream & Brook
streamandbrook.com
brian.zinger@gmail.com
Co-owners Brian Zinger and Brian Cadoret work with a stable of six other guides. They offer wade trout trips throughout the state, plus focused pike trips and canoe trips for a host of warm water species. Waters include: White, Lamoille, Winooski Rivers, Black River in the NEK, Otter Creek and Lake Champlain.
802-989-0398


Green Mountain Adventure
https://mmvt.com
Middlebury
The focus is on rainbows and browns in Otter Creek, the New Haven and Middlebury Rivers. Guides have good areas 15 minutes from town. Float trips on Otter Creek and White River are also offered. There’s also the option of excellent fly fishing for bass and northern pike. GMA hosts the Otter Creek Classic event in April
802-388-7245.


Maple Country Anglers
maplecountryanglers.com
Ben Wilcox owner along with Andrew Masenas (guide)
They headquarter in Richmond near Burlington. Guiding is focused on central and northern VT within one hour of Burlington. Maple Country offers wade fishing small streams, lakes and ponds as well as Western style drift boat trips on the Lamoille, White, Winooski for trout and/or smallmouth from a 13 ft. Aire Super Puma Raft with customized frame designed specifically for fishing Vermont’s Rivers. The boat seats 1 or 2 anglers plus rower and is equipped with lean bars, casting platforms, raised swivel seats.
802-318-0091


Chuck Kashner
vermontfishingtrips.com
cdkashner@gmail.com
Wade trout fishing on various rivers. Chuck also offers bass/pike trips on various lakes, including big Lake Champlain. He lives in Poultney and will meets guests in southern Vermont: Manchester, Bennington, Rutland, Pawlet, Castleton and Ludlow. He also guides bird hunters in fall and is known for providing stellar lunches for clients.
800-682-0103
802-645-0009


Woodstock Inn & Resort—Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Program
Inn is located on Suicide 6 Mtn.
fish@woodstockinn.com
They target central VT waters including on-the-property or public waters like the White, Black, and Ottauquechee.
14 The Green,
Woodstock, Vermont
888- 338-2745


Orvis (flagship store)
orvis.com
4180 Main St, Manchester, VT
Your visit to the Orvis store will have you chatting up any number of angler/employees knowledgeable not only in that area but statewide. You’ll easily fill your tackle quiver here. Bob Shannon’s trout stream book is also available, and Orvis has several Endorsed guides who work locally.
802-362-3750


The American Museum of Fly Fishing
amff.org
Across from the Orvis headquarters, the museum is steward of fly fishing traditions, and practices. It features a revolving series of exhibits along with many events tailored to the seasons.
802-362-3300


Bob Young
www.youngsflyfishing.com
Young specializes in southern VT, offering
wade or drift boat fishing. An Orvis Endorsed guide, Bob is a former casting instructor for the company.
802-375-9313


Taconic Guide Service
Ray Berumen, has a stable of excellent guides, and offers wade and drift boat fishing. He specializes in southern VT.
taconicguideservice.com
802-688-4304
802-688-3934


Peter Basta
http://www.vtflyfishingguide.com
Pete was Orvis Fly Fishing Guide of the Year in 2002.
He targets small to medium streams in southern VT including the Battenkill, all within one hour drive from Manchester. He also uses a one-angler float craft.
802-867-4103

VERMONT STATE CONTACTS

Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife is a key contact source. Charlee Drury (charlee.drury@vermont.gov) 802-828-1000, Information/Marketing at the Montpelier office should be able to offer thoughts on speaking to biologists who handle waters in areas of your interest, but here are a few fisheries biologists you can contact directly:

Jud Kratzer, jud.kratzer@vermont.gov, 802-751-0486, St. Johnsbury office. Jud helps manage all Northeast Kingdom fisheries from brook trout to northern pike.


Pete Emerson, peter.emerson@vermont.gov, 802-751-0485, St. Johnsbury office. Peter is responsible for managing fisheries and fisheries habitat in the Northeast Kingdom.


Shawn Good, shawn.good@vermont.gov, 802-786-3863, Rutland Office. Shawn leads the department’s work on pike and muskellunge. He also manages bass in southwestern Vermont and southern Lake Champlain.


Bret Ladago, bret.ladago@vermont.gov, 802-485-7566, Roxbury Lab. Bret’s work is focused in Vermont’s central fisheries district which includes the White, Waits, Ompompanoosuc, and Ottauquechee River watersheds.


Lee Simrad, lee.simard@vermont.gov, 802-879-5697, Essex Junction office. His work is centered on lakes and streams in southern Vermont. Besides coldwater and warmwater sportfish populations he works on rare, endangered and threatened fish species. He is also in charge of the management and enhancement of the Battenkill, which supports one of Vermont’s longstanding premier wild trout fisheries.

Jerry Gibbs
Jerry Gibbs lives, fishes and writes from the mid-Maine coast unless he is on the road hunting off-radar wa-ters, fish and anglers that will make a good story. His downtime is saved for chasing grouse with his French Brittany, Jack. Gibbs is the former Outdoor Life fishing editor.

Before Kamchatka and Jurassic Lake landed on the fly-fishing travel landscape, there was no better place for really big rainbow trout than southwest Alaska’s Kvichak River.

This was “the land of the midnight sun,” “the great land,” Russia’s blunder and the United state’s major coup. Fifty-bazillion acres of natural resource wonderland that included the most remarkable wild salmon runs on earth, including Bristol Bay and all of its legendary rivers—the Naknek, Nushagak, Togiak, Egigik, Ugashik and Kvichak.

While you could catch salmon and rainbows on all of those rivers, the Kvichak stood out for what its rainbows were not—very few resembled the classic, heavily colored and spotted “leopard” ‘bows that Alaska fishing became most famous for. The Kvichak’s fish, instead, spent their time in Lake Iliamna, living an existence like that of their sea-run cousins, the steelhead. The Kvichak rainbows fed heavily on Iliamna’s bounty—smolt and lamprey eels and other protein-rich edibles—before migrating out of the lake and into the river each June. They were bigger than rainbows found elsewhere—up to 20 pounds—they were chrome-bright coming out of the lake, they were silver-sided, extraordinarily muscular, and they posted up at the heads of islands and other ambush points, sites set on massive salmon smolt and lamprey outmigrations from Iliamna.

Neither Jurassic or Kamchatka is on my plate right now, so when Jack Mitchell phoned in May and said three slots had opened at his lodge on the Kvichak, which rests on an island smack dab in the middle of the river’s prime trout water, and that I could grab them for a last-minute steal, I called a couple friends and booked a flight to Anchorage.

A day later our Lake and Peninsula shuttle landed in Igiugig and shortly after Season’s manager “Musky Dave” had our gear aboard a jetsled, headed three miles downstream to the lodge.

The lodge is open from June through mid-October. Anglers can tackle salmon all summer long, but it’s the river’s rainbows and the opportunity to swing for them with two hand rods and get that tight-line grab that really stands out in spring and, again, during fall.

You’re not going to see this lodge advertised in Travel & Leisure. It offers four double-occupancy rooms with single beds, and two common bathrooms with hot showers. It has a great dining room with views of the river flowing by, literally, just a few yards away. The kitchen is small but effective and a common area, separated from the dining room, is a great place to kick back on a couch, read a book, look out the window at the water and weather passing by, or drink a cocktail while reviewing the day with fellow guests. Fly tying? You bet. Bring a vice and twist ‘em up. A wader drying room and a fleet of 16-foot long Hog Island skiffs all equipped with 15-horse prop engines, round out the offerings.

The lodge is spartan but comfortable and efficient. But, to be honest, I didn’t travel from my home in Montana to the Alaska outskirts for a spa treatment. I could have been offered a deep tissue massage and a mud bath and I would have said, “Hell no, that’d be cutting into my rainbow time.” I was there for one reason—to fish hard in near 24-hour daylight, and swing up as many big, bright rainbows as I could, hoping that one or more might top out at 30 inches.

Before the trip I asked Mitchell why I should fish the Kvichak versus other Bristol Bay area streams and he said, “Because it’s about the best swing fishing anyone has ever seen, and if you don’t get your fingers out of the way the reel handle is going to bust your knuckles. These fish are different—every one you hook, you know it’s on from the first instance—they just rip. They hand you a new ass. They’re just like steelhead, maybe even better.”

It didn’t take us long to know these fish are different. They fought hard, jumped higher, and lasted longer than the trout we catch in Montana, and we were fishing 6 and 7-weight spey rods! The fish were located as advertised, at the heads of islands and in some of the scallops along the sides of islands. They ate the swung fly like they’d waited their entire lives for it, and they charged to the middle of the river in, like, two seconds, once you came tight on them. We caught a lot of fish in the 16-to 20-inch range and then, as the trip wore on, we started to see some giants.

That’s a good thing because one of my friends, a lawyer, didn’t think the fishing was up to snuff. During a discussion around the dinner table, after a guest had just described getting completely destroyed by a big rainbow earlier that day, the lawyer said, “I just got to tell you that your claim about these fish being the hardest fighting rainbows ever is a bunch of bullshit. The fish we catch on the Blackfoot and Clark Fork in Montana fight just as hard.”

There was silence and then laughter, and the next day the lawyer was eating crow, to his credit admitting that he possibly, possibly, could have spoken too soon. We were at the dinner table, a couple Alaska Ambers and bottles of wine floating around the table, when the lawyer said, “Ok, so I hooked this big rainbow on my 8-weight spey rod today and it just worked me over, just kicked my ass. For a while I didn’t know if I could land it. Thing measured 23-inches but it was a rocket. I don’t know what a 26 or 28 would be like. So, you guys might be right after all.”

One morning I walked downstream from the lodge and fished some good looking water with no return, before Mitchell picked me up in a boat. I told him I wanted him to drop me off in relatively heavy flow, at the top of the next island. Mitchell did so and secured the boat while I braced myself against the current and stripped out line, ready to make my first cast. That’s when the rod yanked down and I lifted up, only to feel—nothing. I flipped the Dalai Lama to the right and another rainbow quickly smacked it. Strike two. I turned to Mitchell and shouted over the river, “Did you see that?” but I already had my answer—Mitchell was shaking his head, a frown on his face, an arm extended and a thumb pointed down. I flipped him off, then made another cast. Near the bottom of the swing I came tight to a good one.

After a few jumps and a few runs into heavy current, I had a 23-incher in the net. There was no way to shoot photos while holding a spey rod, a net, and a boat in heavy flows, so one of the brightest rainbows I’d ever seen slid back into the river captured only by Mitchell and my eyes. We hi-fived before Mitchell said with a grin, “Nice fish. But don’t flip me off again.”

The next day I was wade-fishing one of the Kvichak’s hundreds of channels, in an area called “the braids.” I was working behind one of my friends, so I waded out deep, trying to cover water he hadn’t reached. Somewhere along that run the line tightened, a fish launched out of the water and repeated that act about six more times in about 10 seconds—rapid fire takeoffs and landings. I was hollering, laughing, yelling, “Did you see that?” while trying to keep the fish fast to the fly. A few minutes later a 24 slid into the net, this one as chromy as the others, just heavier and a little longer. My friend and I admired the fish and I said, “This right here is what we came for.”

During a week on the Kvichak we caught rainbows to 25 inches, saw fish that pushed 30, got more efficient with our fishing each day, and saw tons of wildlife, including a grizzly bear, a couple moose, scads of ducks and shorebirds, along with Arctic terns that severely molested us whenever they deemed us a threat to their nests.

Mitchell has fished the Kvichak in fall and spring and said each has its advantage, but he reiterated that during fall the fish are at their peak size and fitness, having gorged all spring and summer on smolt, lamprey eels, mice and voles, salmon eggs and salmon carcasses.

“They start chasing leeches and Dalai’s again during fall and it’s just madness,” he said.

There are a few advantages to fishing at Mitchell’s operation versus staying at other lodges on the Kvichak. First, you’ll pay about half the price of the other lodges. Second, Mitchell’s is on an island and surrounded by water. You can walk and wade several nearby braids, all loaded with rainbows and grayling. So if you want to get up early and fish, you fish. If you want to stay out late and fish, you fish. You’ll sacrifice some luxuries when you stay at Mitchell’s, versus the higher-end lodges, but you’ll get a great deal, throw to the same mega-rainbows the other lodges target, and you’ll do so for as many hours in a day as you please.

A few fall dates are available for 2021, including at press time the weeks of September 26-30 and September 30-October 5. For spring 2022 the weeks of June 7-12; June 12-17; and June 17-22 are open.

Greg Thomas
Greg Thomas is a well-travelled steelhead fanatic and writes for various outlets, including the New York Times, Outside, Forbes, Big Sky Journal, Field & Stream, etc. He has penned several books on fly fishing, including Fly Fisher’s Guide to Wash-ington and Fly Bible Montana. He lives in Missoula, Montana and owns the website, Anglers Tonic. See more of his work at www.anglerstonic.com and on Instagram @anglerstonic.

Washington state’s Upper Columbia River landed on the fly-fishing landscape a couple decades ago, and the first man on the spot was Jack Mitchell.

Mitchell is well established in the Evergreen State, having built his empire on the Yakima River and other locals, including the Klickitat River and the Olympic Peninsula. But he’s never been one to stand still. He’s always looking for more—more killer fishing, more emerging fisheries, and the places to offer great trips and accommodation. What he found on the upper Columbia was an overlooked trout fishery with some monster rainbow trout included in the mix. In addition, the massive Columbia, flowing out of Canada and into northeastern Washington—about two hours north of Spokane—offered stellar aquatic insect hatches, trout that fought as hard and leapt as high as any others, and nearly nobody was working the water. I.e., this was an untapped fishery just begging for infrastructure.

Mitchell provided that when he threw down on several acres near Northport and constructed a spectacular four-bedroom lodge just yards from the Columbia. Fact is, you could pitch a rock off the full wrap-around deck and easily hit the water. But why bother when there are fish to catch?

GFFI has followed the fishery for several years and in May we hit Black Bear Lodge to fish with Mitchell and see if the ‘bows were as acrobatic as described . . . and whether this locale has what it takes to pull us away from the Northern Rockies for something, well, kind of unknown.

We did not arrive at prime time for large fish. Most of the bigs, trout ranging between 21 and 26 inches, had bolted up the tributary streams and were in the thick of the spawn. We focussed on caddis-scarfing rainbows in the 17 to 20-inch range and caught 15-to 20 a day, mostly on nymphs with a few late-afternoon sippers taking spent caddis and emerging pupa.

It was a bobber and nymph game, all cast from Stealthcraft boats (equipped with jet engines and rowing oars). We fished double nymph rigs, including pupa and emergers, just a foot or two under the surface. We covered giant slicks and current lines formed by massive backflows (“re-circs”) that wound their way around rocky points and then back up the shoreline before returning to the main flow.

This was Mother’s Day caddis time and the daily insect flights started around noon and really cranked up to a “breathe through your nose” event by 3 p.m. We saw plenty of trout feeding on the surface, but the river’s varied and heavy currents created massive drag on our floating lines and kept our bugs under the surface.

As mentioned, later in the day and into early evening we found some big fish feeding in long runs and slick water and were able to tempt several with spent caddis. It was a great time of the year to be on a remote stretch of river, and the trout were extremely healthy and strong. But I had to think what it might be like if the big boys were feeding on top and we could have hunted them with large dries.

That scenario takes place in June and early July when size 8 and 10 green drakes come off. The action happens in the afternoon and stretches to 10 p.m., which makes for an interesting fishing schedule. Sleep in. Sip some coffee. Enjoy the Montana-esque views from the lodge’s bay windows or wraparound deck. Have that mimosa if you please (you’re on vacation, right?). And then gear up around 2 p.m., for what Mitchell and his guides consider to be one of the West’s greatest fly-fishing events.

By June and July all of the big fish are back from the tributaries and trying to gain the strength and weight they lost from the spawn. The green drake is the way to do it and these fish feed casually on the surface. We’re talking 20-plus-inchers in heavy water, rising to a highly visible dry fly. Getting them to take is not the issue—holding a fish that size in heavy current is.

(Note: You can’t get in on that drake action this year, as Black Bear is fully booked for the drake hatch in 2021. But if you want in for 2022, Gil’s Fly Fishing International is now filling slots and we can hold yours.)

While the drake hatch is a premiere event, don’t overlook fall and spring fishing. During both seasons anglers can swing streamers off single-hand and trout spey rods, with the potential of landing something huge. During fall the trout key-in on October caddis, which makes swinging pupa and soft-hackles a good way to go. And don’t ignore the dry fly—October caddis adults are large enough to draw the attention of the biggest trout. Picture in your mind a 20 to 24-inch native rainbow rising to that offering. In addition, fall might be the prettiest time of year on the river, with the cottonwoods and aspens aglow and elk bugling from the hills. The fall fishery begins in late August and peaks in late September and October. Prime dates for fall streamer and soft-hackle action are available for 2021.

In the end, we can’t say enough about the upper Columbia’s rainbow trout. They are bug-oriented, they feed actively on the surface, they are as strong as any rainbows we’ve ever encountered, and they take advantage of the big river’s flows to make any size fish a challenge on a 5 or 6-weight rod. Black Bear Lodge rests on an amazing bluff above the river and allows anglers to walk down to an awaiting boat and fish as they please. No drive time. No shuttle. No hassle. Just fun fishing through a beautiful landscape with the chance to catch worthy rainbow trout.

Northport is easy to reach from the West’s major population centers. Anglers can fly to Spokane and rent a car for the beautiful two-hour drive north, or the lodge can provide transportation to and from Spokane for parties of four or more. Max occupancy at the lodge is six guests. So, if you don’t feel like driving to and from Montana or the Yellowstone region for high-quality trout fishing, Black Bear should appeal. Want to avoid airlines altogether? Drive time from Seattle is about six hours.

Call GFFI for rates, open dates (fall 2021 dates available), and booking details. —the Editors

This might look like the easiest way to protect your cash and passports when traveling. But you’ll be much better off if you plan ahead, make physical and digital copies of your travel docs, and understand where to look for help if things go south.

There are many things we love about international travel. Seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, seeing fisheries we’d never get a chance to explore if we just sat at home. Alongside that dose of adventure, however, comes a new set of logistical challenges. International travelers must juggle a passport, additional cash, tickets, and a variety of other documents on each trip.

Managing the security of passports and paperwork while traveling abroad can require a bit of forethought, and a good dose of awareness. Knowing how to keep documents secure—and what to do in case something goes missing—is a good thing before you actually have to deal with a problem.

I was recently at a lodge where a rogue wave hit a snorkeling boat (the snorkelers were already in the water) and the boat flipped over. Everyone was safely rescued, but several of the travelers had their backpacks in the boat, complete with wallets, phones, and passports. Divers were able to rescue the packs later that afternoon, but the incident brought to mind the question: What if the packs were lost? The snorkelers had no back-ups of their passports or driver’s licenses; no copies stored in the cloud or filed away with family in the States. Without their packs, they would suddenly have been ID-less in a foreign country.

Keeping travel paperwork safe might seem like a complex task, but it’s really not. Here are a few key tips on how you can keep your paperwork secure, and manage any incidents if something goes missing.

Harding Bush, a former Navy SEAL and associate manager of operations for Global Rescue, notes it’s worth protecting more than just your passport.

“Important documents during international travel go beyond just your passport and include a driver’s license or other identity cards, medical insurance or evacuation service information, medical prescriptions, bank cards and credit cards, and your important contacts list,” he said.

A small duffel or backpack is a good place to keep your documents. You can carry it on your person and if you are forced to check it, you can place a passport and cash in a small notebook so nobody is any the wiser.

Keep Multiple Copies in Multiple Locations
Before you even leave home, make multiple copies of your passport, both physical and digital. Copy the page with your photo and name, as well as any relevant visas. Store one digital copy in the cloud and send one (or two) to trusted friends or family members. Keep physical copies in your luggage (I store one in each piece of luggage, in a hidden pocket or under the foam in a Pelican case). In case you have to replace your passport, consider keeping a few passport-style images with you as well, tucked into your wallet.

Use the Lodge or Hotel Safe
“Understand the laws of the country you are visiting,” Bush said. “Is it a requirement that foreigners carry their passports at all times, or is a copy sufficient? The country you visit determines this requirement — not your home country. Use the room safe to store your passport if it’s not with you.”

No matter how homey your destination feels, go ahead and lock your passport in the room safe. It’s too tempting to leave it on your bedside table or lying around, but it’s worth locking up your passport, if for no other reason than, when it’s time to pack up and go home, you’ll know exactly where it is and won’t have a panicked search. (I’ve seen this happen many times at lodges—an angler will lose their passport the night before departure, only to have housekeeping find it behind the bed or between the cushions of a chair.)

If you do use the hotel safe, peek in on your passport and other paperwork every few days. Safes are easily broken into. And, while it’s a more secure option than leaving your passport lying around, it’s worth confirming its location a few times during your stay, and certainly in advance of your departure day.

Don’t turn your backs on a pile of luggage, especially if it contains the documents you’ll need to get out of a foreign country and back to your home turf. Keep track of your docs, keep them on your body, and never check them, even if being ordered to by officials. Simply take them out of your baggage and carry on-person.

Don’t Advertise It
Sometimes you’re going to be carrying your passport around. Maybe it’s a travel day and you need it in your bag since you’re going to the airport. Perhaps you’re camping and there’s no “hotel safe” to keep it in. Or it could be that you’re in a country that requires you to have valid international ID on your person. Whatever the reason, just because your passport is within arm’s reach does’t mean that it’s safe.

Bush seconds this. “The backpack goes everywhere with you—do not check it at the gate when offered by the airline. It goes in the taxi with you—not in the trunk. Ensure the specific documents required are accessible. You want to be streamlined and not have to fumble or search for these items when needed.”

Store your passport in an internal pocket of your bag, jacket, or even your waders (if you’re actively fishing)—never use the outside pockets. They are easy to access, sure, but exterior pockets, especially on bags, are also ridiculously easy for petty thieves to access. (I often travel with a roll-top bag with no external zippers for this very reason . . . . I’m going to hear and feel someone unrolling the crinkly waterproof fabric.) If you’re in a high-rise area, consider concealing your passport inside a book or notebook as well. The less you advertise it, the less likely it is to go missing.

Cash Management
The same “don’t advertise it” theory holds for cash. Keep a small number of small bills in your wallet, with the less-value bills on the outside (i.e. if you have $10s, $20s, $50s, and $100s, wrap the $10 bills on the outside of the wad). There’s no need to flash high-value bills around.

Keep the bulk of your cash out of your wallet. I typically split my travel cash into three piles: the small bills for daily use go into my wallet, then the remainder (often larger bills for guide tips, incidental fees, etc.) is split into two piles. Each of the two piles go into plain white envelopes—document envelopes, never bank envelopes—and one is stored in a very deep internal compartment near the bottom of my roll-top bag, the other hidden underneath the foam padding of my Pelican case. Both these bags are my carry-ons and rarely—if ever—leave my sight when I’m away from home. If I burn through the funds in the wallet, I’ll refill from one of the envelopes at night in my room, in private.

Protect It
Fly anglers are not necessarily known for being easy on our gear. By the very nature of fishing, we spend a lot of time out in the elements, on water, and in generally damp conditions. Bad conditions for documents and paperwork.

Modern passports are remarkably sturdy critters. But, as the snorkelers whose boat overturned learned, even passports are subject to saltwater damage and ruination. Consider keeping your passport in a simple ziplock bag when traveling, which helps mitigate humidity and water damage, even when it’s stored deep in your bag. One or two drops of water damage is fine, but if your passport receives water damage to the front cover or the personal information page, it means you’ll have to replace the whole thing—which also means an emergency trip to a consulate or embassy abroad. Not how you want to spend your fishing days.

Bush also recommends using a carabiner on your backpack’s top carrying strap so you secure it while onboard a boat. (This would have been useful in the case above, where the boat flipped and the bags were not secured.) He adds that if you plan to use your phone while on a boat, it should have a lanyard attached to your person, as well as being in a waterproof container.

In Case You Lose Your Passport
“Losing your passport is inconvenient, but it’s not the end of the world,” notes Bush. “As soon as you realize your passport is missing, you should notify local law enforcement and your home country’s consulate or embassy. Your hotel or guide service can likely assist you with contacting law enforcement and establishing a police report for the missing passport. Embassies will require a police report to move forward with replacing the passport. There’s also a good chance your lost passport could be turned into the police if found, and the police report can also function as a way to board aircraft for a domestic flight without having the usual required identification.”

It’s important to remember the embassy will not consider your lost passport an emergency, and the replacement process will happen on their schedule, not yours. You may have to wait over a weekend for the embassy to open, or divert your travel for a visit to a consulate or embassy, a potentially inconvenient and expensive process. US embassies can issue an “emergency passport,” which may not be suitable for onward travel to countries other than America.

Are you sure your bag is getting on that plane? Don’t count on it. Take all documents and cash onboard with you. If you must leave important items in a checked bag, make sure it only contains copies of your documents.

Use Common Sense
As with most things, security while traveling is largely common sense. Pay attention to what’s happening around you. If you’re in a crowded street swing your backpack around to the side so you can monitor it. Don’t store things in outer pockets. And, just like all the airport PA systems so helpfully remind you, never leave your bag unattended.

If you’re traveling in a group, it’s tempting to give everyone’s passports to the “group mom”—don’t do it. If everyone’s ID is stored together and that pile of passports goes missing, you’re all in trouble. Take control of your own documents.

In case you’re storing documents or extra money in a carry-on bag, be prepared to quickly fish it out in case you have to check the bag. The spare money I keep in my Pelican case is carried in a plain envelope which is then placed in a thin notebook, so if I have to shift luggage in a busy airport, it just looks like I’m grabbing my notebook and not a stack of bills.

With a little forethought and planning, travel documents should not be something you’re overly worried about. Store spare copies in multiple locations and with friends or family. Don’t use exterior pockets on your bags. Take the extra 30 seconds to secure your documents in the hotel room. A bit of effort on the front end lessens your chances of being the angler running around without a passport when your travel buds are navigating immigration, tired and eager to get home, just like you.

Jess McGlothlin
For more than fifteen years, photographer and writer Jess McGlothlin has worked in the fly-fishing industry in several countries. Her work has taken her around the globe, leading her to chase fish on six continents, and she still somehow enjoys airports. See more jessmcglothlin.com

I’m sitting in my living room reading an archived Sports Illustrated story on my iphone (google “he’s got a very fishy look si”). Though written in 1979, it tells of a time when something resembling an iphone wasn’t even the stuff of Star Trek reruns . . . because the series wouldn’t appear for another five years. The story features a former intelligence officer who used to sit at the bottom of the Madison River, breathing through a length of shower hose, watching insects and trout.

That man was Charles Brooks.

I never saw this story when it was originally published. I was in ninth grade, and my trout fishing was limited to one weekend each year when my father would take me to Loon Lake in the British Columbia interior to troll flatfish and worms for pan-friers. But one trip I saw a fly-fisher, and knew someday that’s what I would be.

Country Pleasures

Ten years later I was a high school teacher suddenly able to afford my own fly tackle. I lived in a little town in eastern British Columbia, only a few hours drive from Calgary, Alberta, which I later discovered was the spiritual center of western Canadian fly fishing. I was lucky enough to have relatives there, and would visit a few times each month. Soon I was spending every other Saturday hanging out at Country Pleasures, the iconic Calgary fly shop.

A little shop with big character, “the Pleasures” featured paintings of tarpon and trout, many by the late Jack Cowin. A rack of Sage and Orvis rods sat just over there—mostly too expensive for my meagre salary. And in the middle of the store, beneath well-stocked bins of hand-tied flies, was the book case. Here I discovered Gierach and Gingrich, Schwiebert and Swisher, and a fellow west coaster named Roderick Haig-Brown. Maclean was there too, along with one of anglit’s newest heroes, a fellow named Duncan. Oh and McGuane. There was always McGuane. One of the proprietors was named Jim McLennan, and he turned out to be that Jim McLennan. Despite the misgivings of one of his co-owners, a crusty fellow convinced that only a dry fly was fishing, Jim introduced me to nymph fishing and the works of Charles E. Brooks.

On McLennan’s recommendation I bought Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout, and read it cover-to-cover. Right there on page 4 was where I first read the shower hose story:

“In 1961,” Brooks wrote, “I felt I might learn more about nymphs, both real and artificial, if I went down under the water. I had a face mask; I rigged a tube from an old shower hose, hitched up my jeans, and went down for a look.”

Brooks relates how he noticed that a drifting artificial fly would “turn and roll over and over.” The real bugs didn’t. Brooks noted that “almost always, only the back of a natural nymph would be visible [to a feeding trout] as they drifted along a few inches above the bottom.”

These careful observations led him to create the Brooks series of nymphs, stonefly patterns tied “’in the round’, unflattened , and without different back and belly colors.” No mater how much these flies tumbled and spun, they looked the same to the trout. Brooks claimed that flies worked better that way, and I believed him.

The Brooks Method

Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout covers all of the great nymphing strategies. Within its pages you’ll find Skues, Hewitt and Sawyer, and the Leisenring Lift. But the method that really grabbed me was the one that shares the author’s name. The Brooks Method was “Danger Close” fly fishing in fast, heavy water. Put the sneak on a trouty looking spot, and high stick a full sinking line with a short leader through the currents, feeling for the take, and taking care not to lose your footing.

Though I tried this method, I never really took to it. The gear wasn’t versatile enough. Where I fished in southern Alberta, a day on the stream might require several tackle changes: deep nymphs in the morning; dry flies midday; an indicator nymph on a big deep flat after lunch; and streamers in the evening. I already carried way to much stuff in my vest to add another reel outfitted with a full-sinking line. So I learned the high-stick floating line technique from Jim McLennan, and later realized that it was much like the Brooks Method minus the full-sink line. It took a long time, but eventually I discovered the black magic that allowed me to randomly lift the rod and pull big trout off the bottom.

In the Round

I’ve always been a rather hasty tyer. Fly tying was a means to an end rather than anything I might actually enjoy. Those quaint visions of winter evenings spent sipping scotch in my tying parlour were always lost on me. But once I adopted Brooks’s tying strategy I actually became interested, because my efforts were met with almost immediate success on the water. It turned out that Brooks was right: flies really did work better when tied in the round.

One of the biggest brown trout of my life took my rough tie of a Brooks Stonefly nymph in a rocky, wild piece of water along a grassy bank on the Bow River south of Calgary. The fly was moving along at a good pace, and the trout must have snapped it out of the drift beside the rock I was covering, because the line suddenly jumped upstream. Once it realized it was hooked, the big fish eased its way into the current and headed downstream, with me splashing along behind it. I eventually netted it, and its tail stuck out so far beyond the frame that I realized I needed something bigger if this whole nymph fishing for larger trout thing was going to become a habit.

The Thompson Stone

I don’t know if Charles Brooks ever fished steelhead, and at the time I was studying his methods I had no idea that Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout would eventually take me to the banks of British Columbia’s Thompson River and to a strain of wild steelhead that would come to define my fly fishing life.

On the Thompson it was tough not to notice the abundant golden stonefly shucks that adorn most every rock. I’m not sure of the genus of these bugs—my friend and noted aquatic entomologist Rick Haefle could probably give them one look and let me know, but it’s fun just to think of them as golden stones, and so I do.

Coming to steelheading from a trout fishing background, I began to wonder if steelhead would take a golden stone imitation. But the problem with Thompson steelhead is that they are—or sadly were, as the river is now closed to angling—notoriously difficult to catch on a fly. So fishing a pattern for a day, or two, or even three or more might not tell you anything about whether or not these fish would take it. It wasn’t until about seven years into my time on the Thompson that I had a four-fish morning in the same run, finally convincing me that Thompson steelhead liked golden stonefly imitations a lot. And that fly was my Thompson Stone, which owed pretty much everything to the thinking of Charles Brooks.

The Thompson Stone didn’t start out tied in the round. In fact, the first versions were tied on the Partridge Bartleet Supreme Atlantic salmon hooks. When I dropped the original in the currents and watched it drift past, as I held the leader to mimic the effects of a tight line wet fly swing, I noticed it tended to fish either sideways or tipped upside down. It rarely fished as I imagined it would, upright and looking natural. At the time I was experimenting with tube flies, and I wondered if a Thompson Stone tied on a tube might be a solution. Perhaps if I used a heavier hook it might keep the fly oriented as I intended. So I did . . . and had the same problem.

I recalled something about tying in the round as a solution to this turn and tumble of a traditional tie, and so I simplified the pattern and tied it as Brooks might. In the currents the fly now looked the same from every angle, and I stopped worrying about how it was fishing and started actually fishing it.

My presentation owed something to Brooks as well, fishing a sunk fly on a tight line, feeling for the take. Because the Thompson Stone was tied with wire it wanted to sink, so I let it. Then when the line tightened the fly would rise in the currents. Steelhead took the fly most often during the back half of the drift, as the fly rose and then drifted along just under the surface. Years later I learned that none other than the venerable Harry Lemire was fishing a nymph-style fly in a similar fashion as a solution to situations where steelhead were tough to seduce.

The Thompson Stone is an impressionistic tie that looks a little bit like a stonefly and a little bit like a caddis pupa, and enough of each that steelhead seem to find it irresistible no matter where I find them. It’s one of my top steelhead producers, and one of only four steelhead flies you’ll regularly find in my vest.

Nymph fishing for larger fish, whether 20-inchers on a blue-ribbon stream or 20-pounders on a steelhead river, has become the focus of my moving water angling. And even on lakes, where I chase big rainbows spring and fall, I’m adapting the skills Brooks taught and the in-the-round tying method that gives me confidence in my flies during those long fishless days.

Becoming a good nymph fisher is harder than it looks, but you’ll know you have it when you set for no apparent reason and are rewarded with the pulse of life on the line. It’s a long drift from the bottom of the Madison to just subsurface on BC’s greatest steelhead river, but Charles Brooks pushed me off and pointed the way. Seek him out. There’s much to discover while fishing a Brooks Stonefly on a tight line.

Dana Sturn
Dana Sturn is a steelhead devotee and the founder of Spey Pages. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and can be found each year, minus 2020 of course, swinging up chinook and steel on the Dean River, among other places. Follow him on IG @danawsturn

Steelhead (Pacific)

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Oncorhynchus Mykiss (Chomer, Steel, Metalhead . . . Unicorn)

SIZE

Summer run fish: 5 to 20 pounds (depending on drainage)
Winter-run fish: 8 to 25 pounds (depending on drainage)
World Record: 42 pounds, Southeast Alaska (in salt on conventional tackle)

DIFFICULTY RATING

Summer-run fish: 7/10
Winter-run fish: 9/10

KNOWN FOR

Freight train-like takes on swung flies; tail walking acrobatics and lightning-fast runs; inscrutability (which leads some anglers to believe that they are as real as…unicorns)

FAVORITE DESTINATIONS

California (Winter—Eel)
Oregon (Summer—Rogue; North Umpqua; Deschutes; John Day; Grande Ronde. Winter—North Umpqua; Siletz; Nehalem; Clackamas; Sandy)
Washington (Summer—Klickitat; Grande Ronde. Winter—Rivers of the Olympic Peninsula, Skagit [if they’re open!])
Idaho (Summer—Salmon, Snake and Clearwater rivers [sadly, these runs are severely depressed and likely to become extinct if removal of four Snake River dams does not occur]
British Columbia (Summer—Dean; Skeena and its tributaries. Winter—Squamish; Kitimat.)
Alaska (Karluk; Situk; Anchor; the many small rivers of southeastern Alaska)

On the taxonomical chart, steelhead are classified as rainbow trout—albeit rainbow trout that have access to the salt and migrate to and from the ocean. (Some recent studies at Washington State University have suggested that rainbow trout might actually have evolved from steelhead that became landlocked and unable to migrate back to the Pacific.) When they first hit fresh water, steelhead are a study in monochromatic tones—gunmetal gray/silver/white—hence their nickname, “chromers.” The longer they linger in their home rivers, the more they assume rainbow characteristics—fine spots, and a band of red/magenta along their flanks. (Some bigger fish may boast two bands of red.) Chrome-bright fish with just a hint of magenta on their gill-plates are something to behold!

Steelhead exhibit a variety of lifestyles depending on the drainage in question, but a basic breakdown goes like this: summer steelhead enter their natal rivers sexually immature; that is, they won’t be ready to spawn for several months (in some drainages, up to six months or more). “Summer” can be a bit of a misnomer, as summer-run fish enter some rivers as early as March and April, others as late as October and November. Winter steelhead enter their home rivers ready to spawn, and generally get the job done within a month of returning. They can be found anywhere from late November to late March, again, depending on the river. Though generalizations can easily be dispelled when it comes to Pacific steelhead, a few can be made:

Winter fish tend to be larger; on rivers in Oregon and Washington, winter fish are more likely to hit the magic 20-pound number (though some northern BC summer-runs sometimes eclipse 20 pounds) Summer fish—even the small one-salt fish that return in July to rivers like Oregon’s Deschutes—tend to be feistier. They’ll move further to take a fly, take a fly harder, run faster and jump more frequently than winter fish…though some of winter fish’s more subdued behavior when hooked is a result of cold water.

The phrase “the tug is the drug” is applied these days to every fish from smallmouth to snook, but it originated with steelhead. Perhaps it’s because of the raw power of a steelhead’s take on a swung fly. Perhaps it’s because there are usually long periods of nothing between grabs—sometimes days. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.) But there is something magical and absolutely addictive about the moment when a fish takes. Though I’ve hooked hundreds of steelhead in the 22 years I’ve been at it, I still can’t help screaming like a 12-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert when the tug comes. It just doesn’t get much better in fly fishing. And if the take isn’t enough, the steelhead’s lightning fast runs and aerial displays won’t disappoint. Now and again you’ll find a lethargic fish that just wants to dog down. But that’s not the norm…especially with summer fish.

The notion of “fly fishing Zen” has become a bit cliché, but I can’t think of any angling pursuit that’s more Eastern (as in Far East) than steelhead fishing. Find a stretch of water that’s moving about the pace of a modest walking stride, that’s two-to six-feet deep, preferably dotted with structure in the shape of boulders or ledges. Cast, swing, step, step. Cast, swing, step, step. The whole run. Then hike or float to the next one and…repeat. I seldom have deep thoughts, but if they are to occur, it’s going to be while steelhead fishing. It’s truly a chance for your mind to race to…nothing. With a sprinkling of possibility. The idea of doing nothing is essential to success. For as jarring as the aforementioned tug can be—especially if it comes after nine hours of stepping and casting on a 37-degree, rain-falling sidewise outing—lifting your rod tip or grabbing your line is likely to end your encounter before its even started. Some like to hold a loop; others like to set their drag light. Either way, let the fish take the fly and DO NOTHING. More often than not, the fish hooks itself.

Some of the—I won’t call it monotony, but perhaps sameness—is relieved by the joy of throwing a spey rod. There’s a simple grace to the motion. But there’s also the raw thrill of casting 100 feet of line—a feat beyond the reach of most of us (unless you’re Steve Rajeff or Brian O’Keefe). When I picked up my first spey rod in 2000, 1/3 of the anglers I’d see on Oregon steelhead rivers fished spey rods; these days, 95 percent are spey fishing, with increasingly light sticks. (Personally, I don’t like to go lighter than a 6-weight so I can land fish in a reasonable amount of time.)

If you’re serious about steelheading, be prepared to go without much sleep. Low-light hours are by far the best—you’re up before the sun and not returning to camp/motel before dark. During long summer days, hardcore anglers may go to sink-tips and bigger flies during the afternoon, trying to dredge a fish or two up from deeper pools/runs. I prefer to do a bit of trout fishing or examine the selection of craft beers that my angling friends have taken care to stock in the cooler.

NOTE: I’ve heard that there are people who attach bobbers to their fly line and fish nymphs or egg patterns for steelhead. That topic is not going to be discussed here.

Pacific steelhead range from southern Alaska to central California in the eastern Pacific, and along Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula in the west. They once could be found as far south as Baja California, but those runs are largely gone…and populations through central California are sparse at best. (That being said, there is a recent initiative to bring steelhead back to the mostly concrete Los Angeles River…who knew!) In truth, steelhead populations are not faring well in most of their traditional range. Habitat degradation, dams that block access to historical spawning grounds, bycatch by commercial and tribal fisheries and the various problems posed by hatchery fish all contribute to declining fish populations. Like other salmonids—perhaps even more so—steelhead need cold, clean water. A commodity in shrinking supply.

Steelhead are born in fresh water. In their nascent years, they feed on small insects, much like a trout. (They are formally classified as steelhead trout, after all!) As they grow to smolt size—10 inches to 12 inches or so—they migrate to the Pacific. Assuming they make it past dam turbines and predators, some fish will spend a year at sea before returning to fresh water to spawn; others spend two or three years at sea. Unlike Pacific salmon, all five species of which die after spawning, some steelhead return to the salt for another year(s) of feeding and growing after their first spawning…and do it all over again.

Some fish—like those returning to the upper tributaries of the Snake River—travel over 500 miles once leaving the salt to reach their spawning grounds. There’s ongoing debate about whether steelhead feed once they return to fresh water. Some insist not; others are adamant that they’ve seen 30-inch steelhead feeding on PMDs alongside 12 inch rainbows. Frank Moore, WWII hero and dean of the North Umpqua in southern Oregon, debated this point with author/angler Roderick Haig-Brown. To bolster his stance (that steelhead DID eat), Moore is said to have once mailed the stomach contents of a fish he’d killed (back when numbers permitted such harvest) to Haig-Brown. The stomach was filled with caddis. My position on this question—they sometimes eat.

As mentioned above, on the larger rivers, like the Deschutes, the Queets, the Bulkley, the Dean, spey rods have become the tool of choice. If I’m fishing a floating line with hair-wing flies or skaters, I usually go with a 6 or 7-weight; if I’m throwing sink-tips and/or weighted flies, I go to an 8-weight stick. (If you’re starting out spey casting, a fast-action rod makes it pretty easy to jack a fair bit of line…though a more medium-action rod may make you a better spey caster in the long run.)

Line technologies seem to have been accelerating at a breakneck pace; I lost track of the cutting edge back around 2007. Though I imagine there are pockets of aficionados who have returned to traditional lines, shooting-head setups–Scandis for floating lines and Skagits for tips—now seem to rule the day. Again, paired with a fast-action rod, they’ll have the new spey caster making 60-foot shots after a morning’s tutorial. Winter anglers—and those willing to dredge in the more clement months—definitely want an assemblage of tips. I have lots and lots of tips—mostly because the markings on the line indicating respective sink rates quickly become illegible (at least to my eyes), and I’m never sure what I’m actually throwing…so I buy a few new ones each year…and then forget which is which again. This problem could be addressed with a simple classification system in my tips wallet. Maybe a winter project.

Like everything surrounding steelheading, there’s great debate on the best reel for the job. Some don’t feel a good drag is necessary—or any drag at all, if you’re in the Hardy camp. Others go all in for the four-figure Saracione or Bogdan. Personally, I do like a reel with a drag—a hedge against playing a fish too long, or losing the fish of a lifetime. Whatever reel you get, be sure that the tolerances between the frame and the spool are tight so your running line can’t sneak through. On the last day of a trip to the Bulkley several years ago, I lost five fish in a row thanks to a reel with loose tolerance. As cheap as I am, I replaced said reel quickly after that trip.

Flies—another point for long debate, preferably fueled with powerful brown liquid. Light skies, dark flies; dark skies, light flies…or is it the other way around? Skaters? Maybe; if a fish can see a hair-wing fly from 6 inches below the surface, it can certainly see a waking Muddler or some other gurgling surface presentation. Bigger profile flies? Probably a good idea for off-color water and/or winter fishing. As a friend who once operated an Atlantic salmon camp in Russia has said, you need only two flies: Confidence and Doesn’t Matter.

Chris Santella
Chris Santella is the author of numerous books, including the best-selling Fifty Places To Fly Fish Before You Die, and carries frequent bylines in the Wash-ington Post and The New York Times. When not writing, San-tella creates and plays music, or chases steelhead from his home base in Portland, Oregon.

The Canadian Rockies are one of the most pristine pieces of wilderness on earth. Home to breathtaking views, charismatic mega-fauna, and world-class fisheries, it is really tough to beat the biodiversity and raw beauty found in this part of the world. With golden light beaming through the changing cottonwood leaves, and gin-clear rivers cutting through the landscape, fall is the most stunning time of year here.

BC Bull Trout

Riverside walks like this are not uncommon while hunting big British Columbia bulls during fall. This specific piece of water holds fish that are not spawning. It’s a short system and isn’t conducive for spawning behavior. This means these bulls are in here for one reason, and one reason only… to eat other fish.

Gin-clear fall water is a perfect environment for sight stalking these fish. We were lucky enough to find and hook into fish shortly after we showed up.

We weren’t the only ones cruising the riverbanks that morning. This is something you should prepare for—the Rockies are grizzly country. Although encounters are rare, bear spray and knowledge on how to behave in bear country is essential.

Bull trout spend the latter part of August through early October gorging themselves on kokanee salmon. These landlocked sockeye are a year-round food source for big bulls and contribute heavily to the size and numbers of these spectacular, native fish.

A good release is the best way to end an epic day of sight fishing for “dino” bull trout.

Late Season Westslopes

After breakfast and coffee on a crisp and frosty morning, we hopped in the truck and headed to the river, raft in tow. Although peak fishing season is mid-July to early September, early October still produces some spectacular dry fly fishing.

Starting a little bit early, we decided to drag our feet before launching the boat, just to give things enough time to warm up. Despite being cold, we started moving fish right away.

We found big fish eating small dries in skinny water, and to top it all off we had another day of gorgeous, clear weather. The quality of late-season fishing is very weather dependent; sunny, bluebird days up your chances of epic action; snowy days and a crashing barometer diminish your chances in October.

We got to fish small flies in skinny water with a screensaver for the backdrop! Fall fishing for cutthroat is extremely picturesque, and even with a drop in bug activity on colder days, these fish are still very willing to come up and eat a dry fly.

While not essential, a hot cup of strong coffee is highly recommended for frosty October mornings in the Rockies. Sometimes taking a break when things are slow is just the ticket. Doing so allows the water, the bugs and the temperature to heat up.

Bonus Browns

After a few solid days of catching bulls and cutthroats, we mixed it up and snuck away to hidden gem where we hoped to find trophy brown trout.

Another cold, early morning with a classic Canadian coffee to keep the frost at bay. We knew we were going to be covering a lot of ground, so showing up at the crack of dawn gave us time to accomplish our mission.

We spotted fish in shallow water right out of the gate. Unfortunately, they were pre-spawn and starting to make redds. Because bigger fish only spawn every two-to four years, we knew there would be other fish—not spawning—waiting for a tasty meal.

Most of the day was spent walking and fishing where we knew there weren’t staging fish. Needless to say we covered some serious ground.

In the 11th hour we managed to find the fish we spent all day searching for.

Dan was fortunate enough to shake hands with this stunning buck. This made the early morning grind, and all those miles we covered, well worth the effort

The setting sun brought our day nearly to a close. We were still hoping for one more fish and, lucky for us, a big brown was tucked away in an undercut, just waiting to ambush its next meal. After a quick hello and a snapshot, we sent this dinosaur back to the undercut. With a round of high-fives and fist-bumps we took in the last few moments of a fading sun and made out way back home.

Final Thoughts

Whether fishing in your backyard or halfway around the world, angling takes us to stunning places and allows us to witness incredible things. It’s a pastime we can share with good friends and family, a pastime that keeps us in touch with the natural world. As anglers, we have the responsibility to conserve and protect all of our public lands and waters for future generations. We are extremely blessed here in the Rockies. Blessed with large, untouched tracts of wilderness, and all the amazing angling opportunities at our fingertips. With the healthiest populations of bull trout and westslope cutthroat in the world, and trophy browns that rival just about anything you could find in New Zealand, this truly is a place that every angler needs to experience at least once in their life.

Ready For It: Click HERE to visit Gil’s Fly Fishing International for open dates in the Canadian Rockies.

Curtis Hall

Based out of Fernie, BC, Curtis spends much of his time on the water guiding and photographing anglers on some of the best cutthroat and bull trout water Canada has to offer. When not fishing, he can be found in the studio hosting the Hunter Conservationist podcast with his father Mark.

Releasing a nice Nipigon brook trout. G Ellis

Brook trout are a fish of wild places. These beautiful trout don’t thrive anywhere near pollution, industry or too many people. Brookies require cold, clear, clean water to thrive and require upwelling springs to spawn. Most brook trout, no matter where in the world they are found, rarely reach a foot in length and live in small creeks and ponds. Places that grow giant brook trout—fish that are measured in pounds, not inches—are few indeed. The intrepid fly angler often looks to far northern Ontario, Quebec, or Labrador to catch a personal best brook trout. These fly in trips are definitely adventures and produce big fish, but they can strain the pocketbook. Fortunately, some of the best trophy brook trout fishing in North America can be easily accessed from southern Ontario by commercial flight or vehicle. And the Nipigon River is the place to be.

Located on the northernmost coast of Lake Superior, the Nipigon River is the largest tributary to Lake Superior. Situated just west of Thunder Bay, the Nipigon is huge and swift, with three hydroelectric dams controlling its flow. That great river drains Lake Nipigon, a massive, cold-water lake that easily could have been classified as another Great Lake. Lake Nipigon remains a wild place, with little human impact and limited access. The lake is undeveloped, and largely protected by government, and this has kept its fishery world-class. The Nipigon empties into Nipigon Bay one of the largest bays on the Canadian side of Lake Superior. All three of these areas provide incredible trophy brook trout fishing, with the possibility of a fish that could threaten the world record. That should not be too surprising, as the world record brook trout was caught in the Nipigon River on July 21, 1915. That fish weighed 14 and a half pounds and measured 31.5 inches. It’s one of the oldest records on the books. That great brookies genetics live on in Nipigon country today.

An average sized Nipigon River brookie. G Ellis

I have fished on the Nipigon system for nearly four decades. In that time, I’ve seen the brook trout fishery improve and the average size of the fish increase. That’s due to careful and strict fisheries management. Last year, the average brook trout in my boat measured 20 inches long and would weigh close to four pounds. Many fish were 23 inches or better with the largest fish topping 25 inches. That’s a brook trout approaching eight pounds. In 2021, nearly all fly anglers can expect to get their fish of a lifetime in these waters. But this is extreme brook trout fishing in formidable water. In addition, this is not the wild fly-in experience—you will see other anglers on most days. However, there is a lot of water to spread out on and boats can take you a long way from anyone.

Canadian fly angler Alyssa Lloyd and 24-inch Lake Nipigon brookie. G Ellis

Nipigon River
As mentioned, the Nipigon River is large, with many sections of swift, deep water. There are a few sections of rapids, but most of the historic white-water that drew anglers to the river 100 years ago have been drown under reservoirs. Yet brook trout continue to thrive in the river and use any current break, boulder or neck down to set up and feed. Due to the size and speed of the water, you need to use an 8 or 9-weight rod, with a sink-tip or full-sink line. Many Nipigon fly anglers choose to use a switch rod. This gear may sound extreme, but as soon as a six-pound brookie grabs your streamer and starts tearing downriver it will all make sense. More than once, I’ve had to convince an angler I’m guiding that they’ve actually hooked a brook trout and not a chinook salmon, rainbow or laker. These fish are very big and feisty.

Catch-and-release played a huge role in the comeback of Nipigon brook trout. G Ellis

Fishing on the Nipigon is mostly done from a boat. The angler works the bank or riffles, swinging large streamers, as the driver holds position. This is “chuck-and-duck” fishing, a million miles away from the delicate presentations most brook trout anglers are used to. Nipigon brook trout are primarily meat-eaters, with smelt, sculpin and stickleback high on the menu. For this reason large streamers, like Jim’s Smelt, the Marabou Smelt and the Pearl Slipper, tied on #2-#6 hooks are top producers. The smelt imitations are especially good in the spring and early summer when those silver baitfish are coming through the turbines. I’ve seen brookies come up and chow a four-inch smelt in one gulp. Swinging these smelt patterns in the fast water below dams can bring arm-wrenching strikes. Some of these smelt-fed brook trout are nearly saucer shaped, due to the gorging.

Gord Ellis guiding on the lower Nipigon River. Peter Brewster

Darkish patterns, like the Blacknose Dace, Little Brown Trout, Sex Dungeon and Marabou Muddler, pick up later in the summer when sculpin make up a large part of a brook trout’s diet. These patterns are best fished slowly and on the swing. There are hatches on the river, including a lot of caddis, stonefly and Hexagenia, in July and early August. Nymphing also pays dividends, especially if you see fish boiling on emergers. During a big hatch it never hurts to have a rod strung up with a floating line, ready if fish are showing on the surface. A large Stimulator or Chernobyl Ant in #4-#6 often draws attention from fish that are looking up. I’ve found Nipigon brookies are not super selective when they are eating off the top.

One of my most memorable Nipigon brook trout was taken on a dry fly. The fish was rolling along the far edge of the river and was taking caddis. I tied on a #6 Stimulator and did my best to get to the fish. It was a long cast, but I finally found the sweet spot and laid the fly down about 10 feet above where the brookie was showing. As the fly drifted downstream the water bulged and a huge, colored up brookie came completely out of the water. It was a thrilling sight, and that fish fought like gangbusters before finally coming to the net. It was an even 25 inches and likely weighted about seven pounds. I twisted the fly free and watched it swim off thinking, Not a bad brookie on a dry.

Why not wear a smile after catching a nice Nipigon brookie. G Ellis

On the Nipigon’s lower section, below Alexander Dam, “coaster” brook trout from Lake Superior start showing up in late July and August as they stage for the fall spawn. These fish are generally larger than the resident brookies and are quite aggressive, especially the hook-nosed males. The fishing for lake-run brookies is generally good right until the season closes on Labor Day.

You can wadefish the area in some places, particularly below the Alexander Dam. The water depth cans change due to fluctuations from the dam, so be aware of that when if you wade in. When water levels are low on the river, it opens up a lot more of the bank to the shore anglers. However, the majority of the river requires a boat to fish.

Lake Superior’s Nipigon Bay is home to giant coaster brook trout. G Ellis

Nipigon Bay
As mentioned, Lake Superior’s brook trout are locally called “coasters” due to the roaming nature of these fish. Coasters are similar to a sea-run trout as they are very silver and lean, compared to Nipigon River resident fish. These brook trout are active as soon as the ice goes out in May and are usually found hugging the shore. Most people fish these cruisers from a canoe, kayak or boat, and work smelt patterns tight to the bank with sink-tip line. Most coasters are caught in less than 10 feet of water. An 8 or 9-weight 10-foot rod helps anglers punch out casts in sometimes heavy wind.

Peter Brewster and a Nipigon brookie that took a dry fly in August. G Ellis

Lake Superior brook trout gravitate to rock-strewn shorelines and points, especially if the wind is blowing up on it a bit. Another great option is to fish around river or creek-mouths, where warmer water flows into chilly Lake Superior. The river water draws smelt, suckers, minnows and insects, so coasters are never far away. Wading anglers have access to coaster brook trout at many river-mouths and up the rivers. Lake Superior brook trout follow spawning suckers into the rivers in May and gorge on spawn. This is when an egg pattern, or a colored bead works wonders. Deep pools and runs near the river-mouth will be your best bet.

The most remote fishing for coaster brook trout is found on the large islands in Nipigon Bay, in particular St. Ignace, Simpson, Wilson and Bowman Islands. The water around these islands is strewn with boulders and reefs, with a few small creeks running in. These are boat-only destinations, although there are a couple of outfitters that can get an angler out there for a few days. This water is crystal clear, and it is an amazing experience to see big brook trout appear behind a fly and inhale it as you are stripping in your line. Some truly huge brook trout swim these remote waters, with fish of up to 27 inches being recently recorded.

Lake Superior’s Nipigon Bay is home to giant coaster brook trout. G Ellis

Lake Nipigon
Although the fishing techniques and basic fish locations are quite similar to Lake Superior, there are also some notable differences when fishing Lake Nipigon, basically a huge inland sea. For starters, thanks to the massive draw of the Nipigon River, Lake Nipigon has a fair bit of current. This is especially noticeable on the south end of the lake where the river exits. Because of this draw, you are often fishing current rips and breaks that look a lot like a river fishing scenario. These breaks draw both brook trout and other fish, like lake trout and pike. It is not uncommon to have massive pike eat a streamer in five feet of water on Lake Nipigon.

Lake Nipigon brook trout tend to have more color than Lake Superior fish and have a bit more girth in general. Yet they are keyed in on the same stuff, that being smelt, sculpin and stickleback. Lake Nipigon is one of the coldest lakes in Ontario and only has about 60 frost-free days a year. Even in July, you can find surface water temperatures that are in the low 40-degrees Fahrenheit range. This keeps the brookies quite active throughout summer and nosing around rock reefs, points and the many island that dot this great lake.

This 25.5-inch Nipigon brook trout is beginning to show spawning colors. G Ellis photo

Access to Lake Nipigon is not great, with the most complete marina facilities found on its east side at High Hill Harbor. There are also a couple of outfitters on Lake Nipigon that provide access and accommodation as well. Due to the sheer scale of the lake, a guide can be a great help to a first-timers on Lake Nipigon (or anywhere on the Nipigon system, really). The lake is also uncharted, which means reefs and other hazards are not marked. Boaters always need to be cautious on this water.

It should be noted that the whole of the Nipigon system is managed to preserve a strong population of brook trout. There was a time, less than 20 years ago, when catching a trophy brook trout was a rarity. The fish had not been well managed and high bag limits mixed with poor water management left the brook trout on the ropes. Today, the bag limit for brook trout is one fish, and it has to be over 22 inches. That ensures the trout being harvested has spawned three times. Most anglers practice catch-and-release with these gorgeous and rare fish, and that has also improved the fishery. Lake Nipigon has a single barbless hook regulation and a slightly longer brook trout season than the river and Lake Superior, closing on September 15.

The access point to Lake Nipigon’s South Bay and all that rests beyond. This is the land of giant brook trout. Larger boats allow anglers to reach these fish even when the weather comes up . . . and get out of danger quickly when conditions deteriorate. This is big water with all the associated risks. Be prepared for anything. G Ellis photo

The Nipigon system is not for everyone. It can be a challenge to fly fish and it is not a numbers game. Yet, if you are looking for that fish of a lifetime, a brook trout you can think back on with pleasure, this is your place. And you can do it without mortgaging the house.

Gord Ellis
Gord Ellis is a writer, broadcaster, photographer and fly-fishing guide from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Ellis has worked as an outdoor writer since the mid-1980s. In 2018 Ellis was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Hurricanes and a relaxing Caribbean getaway don’t mix well. High winds, low light and lashings of rain are hardly the idyllic combination you may have pictured when you booked your flats-fishing trip.

Guides don’t like those conditions either. If nothing else, a guide’s duty is to make your vacation memorable and passionately share the environment with you. Trying conditions make this an uphill battle. However, I can tell you that some of the best fishing of the year takes place between early July and the end of November, right in the heart of hurricane season.

The Caribbean hurricane season spans six months, beginning in June and ending in November. Practically, half the year we have chance of incurring hurricanes and/or tropical storms. In recent years several hurricanes have caused significant damage to parts of the Caribbean, along with Louisiana, Florida and Texas. Over in the western Caribbean, we don’t usually see destructive storm systems passing through. This is due to our geographic location. Most storms tend to curve away from the Yucatan Peninsula, as opposed to crossing right over it. In addition, the western Caribbean usually doesn’t see a shift in weather patterns until September, and those systems are usually gone by the end of November. Essentially, that makes our hurricane season about half as long as you might find elsewhere in the Caribbean.

We can’t predict the future, so there’s now way to guarantee a storm won’t influence you trip during hurricane season, but those who roll the dice often find significant reward. I often quote Delboy’s classic line from the British sit-com Only Fools and Horses, that being, “He who dares wins, Rodders”. Although comical, the sentiment rings true. I would warn against booking a trip during hurricane season months in advance. But, if you monitor the weather patterns and can book a trip a couple weeks to a month in advance of your arrival date, you limit the risks.

What makes the risk worth the reward?

It all comes down to shifting pressure systems that arrive during hurricane season. We see the occasional storm and low pressure band during the first half of the year, but between early September and the end of November an active cycle of mixed pressure systems and weather patterns arrives, and this creates some intense fishing widows.

Flats species, like bonefish, permit and tarpon, are very keyed into their environment and can sense these subtle changes well before a storm arrives. I believe this powerful ability—as if they can predict the future—creates our red-letter fishing days. When fish sense these changes they quickly move onto the flats in increased numbers, possibly stay for longer spells and, more often than not, throw caution to the wind when it comes to feeding.

I am reminded of a day not long ago when I landed seven permit in three hours, along with the obliging bonefish and a micro-tarpon, which completed my slam. The day was gray and overcast, with a fast approaching band of low pressure, and the fish were keyed into this. We saw significant numbers of fish, and they were hungry.

Lo and behold, a few days later, the band of low pressure released heavy rains and strong winds before moving north. We headed out a day or two after the storm, on a beautiful bluebird sky morning, avoiding blown-out spots and colored water, in the hopes of another great day. While we weren’t able to fish our usual permit spots, due to water color and clarity, we did have a very memorable afternoon chasing bonefish on the beach. At one point it seemed like every bonefish in Mexico was cruising that beach, looking for a post-storm snack. We quickly lost count of numbers and just called it a great day.

We also see this behavior with Chetumal Bay’s tarpon. Pressure changes can send these fish into chaotic feeding spells, before they go deep. Sometime they’ll move closer to Xcalak and over the reef to feed in deeper water. When the pressure equalizes and calm returns, the fish are back on the flats within a few days, rolling high and on the feed.

As you can see, the fishing can be off-the-charts good later in the year. And by rolling the dice you can take advantage of some good deals, paying off-season rates. You’ll find fewer boats and anglers on the water and if you hit it just right, you’ll have the chance to enjoy your most memorable day on the water.

So, it’s up to you. Take the high-traffic season and more predictable weather, or take a swing at some of the most productive flats fishing of your life, with fewer boats and anglers on the water, less pressured fish that are willing to eat, and cheaper rates for your experience.

Will Robins
Will Robins started his adventure into the world of fly fishing on the chalk streams and freestone spate rivers of his home county of Yorkshire in England. He quickly progressed to the large reservoirs and lakes, competing regularly in the competition circuit. Will hit his peak in the competitive world, being promoted to team captain for England fly fishing. Here, Will led the team to a gold medal at the international level. Following his competition success, Will started guiding on his home rivers for trout and grayling. As well as working at the world-renowned Farlows of Pall Mall fly store in London. Will eventually made the switch to the salt and has not looked back. He started his first saltwater operation, Precision Fly Charters, out of Ambergris Caye, Belize in 2018. Currently, Will owns and operates Fly Fishing Costa Maya, a fly shop and guiding service based in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Nearly 100 covered bridges once crossed Vermont rivers and many are still viable. Their covers were primarily to protect weather-exposed bridges themselves, though others like one well-known “kissing bridge,” multitasked. Bridges old and new provide excellent angler access, and the state also operates under a law allowing universal river ingress unless specific posting is present.

It took a long time getting back. Despite owning an address in Vermont’s northeast corner for 20-odd years, I was mostly on the road making a living fishing nearly everywhere else. The fishing I did have at home was a beautiful variegate of trout waters ranging from small stream perfection to some serious flows, to quieter currents, and also lakes big and small with the kind of smallmouth angling I could always brag on. Fishing nostalgia aside, now there was yet another good reason for returning.

Depending on whose figures you read, Vermont is currently the home of more outstanding craft beer brewers per capita than any other state. And there was my pal Dave Beattie, a former New Hampshire saltwater fly fishing guide who is more learned about those breweries than anyone I know. “For better or worse,” he claimed, “I pretty much know every brewery bigger than a closet in Vermont now. Not that it’ll get me much but it was fun learning.”

Dave’s knowledge in the brew department (especially IPAs) rivals an oenophile of the first order. He’ll reel off taste characteristics of beers and ales that would shame the purple prose of a high-end cigar catalog copy writer. Gaining such expertise seemed a natural outreach for him during downtime on family ski trips to Vermont, along with periodic beer mule runs loading up on top tier brews that still aren’t available out of the state. Of course along the way a certain amount of intel began to be gleaned not having to do with IPAs and porters. A well-known truth is that fly-fishers tend to favor good beer as well as chatting with kindred souls while sipping a few. You see where this is going? What he learned launched Dave into a whirlwind of research on what would prove to be some of the state’s best trout fishing and as a bonus, the option to enjoy some fine angling for smallmouth, pike and assorted other species.

The thing about Vermont fishing is that variety is close. Unlike the distances we might travel between blue-ribbon spots in, say, Montana or Wyoming, the Vermont experience is compressed. In a very good way.

The state may not make the scoreboard for sheer numbers of hulking class trout or bigmouth bass with bellies like crenshaw mellons, but cognoscenti of the state’s fishing point to this: There is consistent, reliable angling for brook, rainbow and brown trout that runs the gamut from giggly fun with headwater brookies, to technical torture during misread hatches.

As late season rains fill and cool summer-low rivers, large meaty flies—both weighted and not—are key in coaxing larger fish—mainly browns.

There’s always the possibility of Moby-class brown trout that forget their persona and nosh a hapless swinging buggery type of fly, especially in the fall. There is excellent largemouth and stellar smallmouth bass fishing, and you can extend the fun to reliable fly fishing for big northern pike and a handful of panfish species. Though not fly rod targets for normal fishers, you should know about muskies and walleyes and a batch of others from bowfin to channel cats—gar anyone?

Flinty Yankee settlers straight from the dark stories of Annie Proulx’s “Heart Songs” carved a difficult existence here through hard-scrabble farming or logging. Steep, rocky terrain, hidden valleys and primitive roadways engendered, and to an extent still do today, the opportunity for reclusive or at least private lifestyles. Celeb writers—Sinclair Lewis, Robert Frost, and John Irving called the state home, as did Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who spent 20 years of his exile here. Today, a large percentage of native “woodchucks,” and imported flatlanders now full-time Vermonters, tend to the entrepreneurial, often iconoclastic, and nearly always idiosyncratic. Think characters reminiscent of the Durrell family (“My Family & Other Animals”) or perhaps a reined-in, semi-sanitized cast from a Christopher Moore novel. Even the non-human aquatic and mammalian life can be quirky: There are the well-recognized legends of classic lake monsters Champy and Memphry for example, and if your were driving Route 106 in Reading you might see grazing alongside a couple of miniature goats and an Appaloosa pony, an African plains Zebra named Zeus.

Tooling along in the state, a preponderance of vehicles in sight would be equipped with ski or various bicycle racks along with beer stickers, and off winter of late you would note a sampling of car-top rod racks, and nearer the rivers, semi-ready fly rods projecting like quills from beds of pickups or at full mast on car hoods. There’s obviously a lot of DIY fly fishing going on here. Still, for many out-of-staters Vermont fly fishing tends to suggest limited waters—the Battenkill (admittedly even by Lee Wulff to be a most difficult trout fishery), the Connecticut (trout, bass), perhaps Lake Champlain (bass, pike, muskie, and Godknowswhatelse). It’s also true that more vacation-oriented visitors to the state have often enjoyed excellent fly-fishing programs—instruction or guiding—while staying in such elegant resorts as the Woodstock Inn (an excellent venue for baiting your significant other), or perhaps the Equinox Resort in Manchester, home to the Orvis flagship store and it’s excellent fishing school.

Let’s assume, though, that you are on a total fishing-centric trip where coffee, donuts and cigars comprise sufficient repast—along with appropriate samplings of the best beers of course. Depending on your timeframe a serious hops-and-hackle tour of the state should be broken into key regions with “hubs” central to specific fishing and breweries/brew pubs. If you have the luxury of plentiful off-water time you could indulge in brew tours and trails, some even including driver service and discount lodging, check out www.vermontvacation.com/things-to-do/made-in-vermont/beer and www.vermontbrewers.com/brewery-trails ).

It’s beyond the purview here to describe every prime river, lake or pond in the state. These listings are suggestions that offer some excellent fishing along with the best brew pubs/breweries and eating close by.

Vermont streams and rivers follow predictable trout species populations with wild brookies in the smaller upper waters, rainbows in the mid-sectors, and browns in the lower reaches, especially in deeper pools that possess definition-forming structures. Fish populations have recovered well since the devastating August 2011 tropical storm Irene, except where restoration efforts gouged bottom strata or resulted in channelization.

In general, virtually all headwaters and small tributaries offer native brook trout best fished on 3 or 4 weights. Rainbows, whether stream-bred or stocked, figure in middle river sections where they are joined eventually by brown trout that continue in lower reaches. Depending on the river flows and temperatures, smallmouth and finally largemouth bass along with other species figure in the mix. Ponds and lakes include trout or warmwater fish and are usually managed for specific species. Know that Vermont operates on a Land Trust system law that permits public access to all waters unless specifically posted. As for brews, well as they say, so many beers, so little time.

SOUTH

The iconic Battenkill —between Manchester and Arlington, is managed as a wild trout fishery in Vermont but was stocked with browns in New York. Technically one of the most difficult rivers, an angler can lick his wounds hitting the Little West Branch, a trib of the ‘Kill for brook trout that like midges.

The north flowing Mettawee, is also a wild fishery. The river is small though with some deep spots downstream from Dorset along Route. 30. There are fun rainbows in the sector. Near Pawlet ‘bows are larger with some influx of browns. Butternut Bend downstream of Pawlet can be good. Access via the River Road. off Route. 30.

Libations and Comestibles
While breweries are absent in the Arlington-Manchester hub, an excellent watering hole with various craft beers and good grub is Mulligan’s Pub & Restaurant, in Manchester.

Originating from Black Pond further north in the Green Mountains, the Black River stretch above Ludlow has brook trout and browns and not too much pressure. There’s a six-mile trophy-stocked section beginning at Ludlow. EarlyMay through-mid-May sees a hendrickson hatch that starts non-traditionally in the morning, though overall the go-to tactic is short-line nymphing. The lower river below Springfield reservoir to the Connecticut holds smallmouths.

Of side interest is arguably the world’s most photographed farm—Jenne Farm—20 minutes from the Black in Reading (also home to that privately owned zebra Zeus). It was also a setting in Forrest Gump.

Libations and Comestibles
Check out the Trout River Brewery in Springfield. The dog-friendly tasting room has snacks but you can bring in food. Angler-themed beers run the gamut from IPAs to stouts and more. Outer Limits Brewing in Proctorsville serves up beers running from Bavarians to amber ale to IPAs. Meat and Cheese boards, pizzas, wings, snacks are on the menu.

SOUTH CENTRAL

A tributary of the Connecticut, Ottauquechee River starts near Killington ski country as freestone brook trout water. From Bridgewater Corners to Taftsville’s covered bridge the river is a mix of riffles, chutes and pools. In the slower stretches nymphs or dries are favored depending on what’s happening. Streamers are popular in faster runs. The river has cut a deep gorge, often called the state’s Little Grand Canyon, through the village of Queechie. A steep trail on the gorge’s east side reaches some good pools holding brown trout, but be wary of rising water from an upstream dam.
Tribs of the Ottauquechee worthy of exploring include: Mill Brook, Roaring Branch, Neal Brook, and Lulls Brook, along with area ponds like Colby, Knapp, Amhurst, and Echo.

Libations and Comestibles
No lack of drinks and eats at this latitude. White River Junction is coming on strong with restaurants that cater to virtually all tastes. Close by is River Roost Brewery, a young, small outfit specializing in beautiful hop-forward brews. You’ll roll your eyes over Glimpse, a double IPA tough to equal.

The Long Trail pub/brewery in Bridgewater Center is smack on the Ottauqueechie River. You can sip one, then just watch the stream roll by until ready to fish.

Long Trail Brewing Co. at Bridgewater Corners is smack on the Ottauqueechie River. Sip one and watch the stream roll by. American ales, including many IPAs, are available. Soups, chili, wings and more are on the pub menu.

At the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor on the Connecticut River there’s Riverbend Taps and Beer Garden. Their top IPAs include Clown Shoes-Galactica and Clowns Shoes-Space Cake. The pub grub is good, too.

Worthy Kitchen in Woodstock offers brews from the best crafters in the state along with unbeatable burgers and an otherwise fine full menu.

First Branch Coffee in South Royalton is home to Upper Pass Beer Co’s tasting room. They also serve locally sourced food and host live music. Don’t Miss Taco Tuesday or Flatbread Friday.

The original Worthy Burger in South Royalton on a railroad siding has amazing burgers and sandwiches along with a mega beer list.

Brocklebank Craft Brewing in Tunbridge hosts good bluegrass many nights.

CENTRAL

The Winooski along with its tributaries are targets in this area. Rising near Cabot (good brookies can be found not far from Plainfield), the Winooski flows through the state capital, Montpelier, and boasts a “trophy” area around Waterbury (browns and rainbow stockers are in excellent shape and there are holdovers reaching good size), and finally empties into Lake Champlain near Winooski, past Burlington. This lower section holds smallmouth bass and sees runs of landlocked salmon from the big lake. There’s good pocket water below the Bolton Dam. Below Plainfield near Marshfield and the Twinfield Union School and Onion River Campground is a productive sector. Caddis predominate on the river but not exclusively. Nymphing with Hare’s-Ears and Pheasant-Tails is productive, as is fishing streamers. Several guide services offer float trips on the Winooski with May-June, September-October seeing floatable water.

Stevens Branch is an interesting anomaly. This tributary of the Winooski flows right through downtown Barry. Despite urbanization it holds a lot of trout. Wild brook trout exist above Route. 63 in South Barre. Downstream there’s a mix of rainbows, browns and brook trout. Tributaries of the Stevens itself include: Gunner Brook with all three trout (an important spawning trib for the Stevens); Jail Branch has brook trout in its upper reaches in Washington, and from East Barre to its mouth holds all three trout species. Below East Barre Dam, trout populations are low. Consider North Branch as well.

The Dog River is managed only for wild trout, and on catch-and-release basis. It harbors some big browns and can be tough. Evening low light can give you a decided advantage.

The Dog River tributary of the Winooski is managed entirely for wild trout, and is catch-and-release only. Though it holds rainbows and some brookies, it’s really a big brown trout stream with beautiful clear pools, and it can be tough. Fishing the low light of evening can increase your odds of hookups. The river rises north of Roxbury, flowing past Northfield. Public access points are found off Highway12 out of Montpelier with the river following near that road. Route 12A is the route to take out of Northfield Center. With no hatches underway it’s pretty much a one-fish pool fishery. Flies like John Barry’s (of Copper John fame) Slump Buster, and Kris Keller’s Montana Mouthwash ( a Super Bugger sort of thing), can fool those larger browns.

Mad River, another Winooski trib, has brook trout in its upper reaches with its flow increasing from small brook trout streams like the Austin, Stetson and Mill Brook. From small pocket water the river changes to more riffles, runs and pools holding brown trout around Waitsfield. The Mad has traditionally been stocked downriver from a gas station between Warren and Waitsfield, on down to Kenneth Ward Memorial Access in Moretown. No stocking occurs on down from there to the No. 8 dam. Below Moretown the river flows through a dairy farm valley, the flow slowing before the river enters the Winooski. Typical of many Vermont rivers in tourist areas in summer, you might interact with swimmers. Fishing early and late makes sense.

Artist Mary Lacy’s “Trout Wall” mosaic mural in downtown Bethel reflects a fish-centric mindset among locals and visitors, especially those keen on the White River.

The White River is a tributary of the Connecticut, flowing through east-central Vermont. Fairly large with both good riffle water and deep pools, it is sometimes floated by various guide operations. In fishing the White one considers its First, Second, and Third branches with good access near covered or concrete bridges (especially the first and second branches) around towns like South Royalton and Bethel. The pocket water of the First branch in the Tunbridge area holds all three trout. There are larger browns in the Second branch (out of East Randolph), typically holding under bankside cover in gently flowing sectors. Below Bethel smallmouths are in the mix.

The White River is a complex consisting of three branches plus the main stem. The dam-free river has overall good access, especially near bridges. All three trout species are present with smallmouths entering the mix below Bethel. While caddis predominate in some sectors, fishing for large browns in deeper pools or beneath bankside cover with quiet flows calls for different tactics. Dave Beattie worked a Slumpbuster streamer to coax a grab from this good pool-holding brown. Be careful to properly ID browns from Atlantic salmon that are produced at the White River National Fish Hatchery. No open season exists on those salmon cultured during the now defunct restoration effort to restore historical runs of Atlantics on the Connecticut River.

The White is totally dam free and figured in the defunct Federal Atlantic salmon restoration program on the Connecticut River. The small tributaries of the White’s mainstem and Third branch hold wild populations of all three trout and are worth fishing on their own. Caddis predominate, so beadhead nymphs and Elk-Hair dries are standard fare. If you luck into a mayfly situation you’ll usually do well with Pheasant-Tails or Hare’s-Ear nymphs, and a Hare’s-Ear parachute normally suffices for duns. Marabou Muddlers and Woolly Buggers are fine in deeper or turbulent water.

Libations and Comestibles

This is Vermont’s “brewery central.”

In Stowe is the vonTrapp Brewery and Bierhall serving their own lagers, pilsners, kölslh style ales, qne double IPAs, plus blends of others brewers. The brewery is located close to the famed area lodge.

Alchemist Brewery banged a home run with their flagship Heady Topper brew. Their full line is served in the new visitor-tasting center in Stowe, birthplace of alpine skiing in the East and a favorite destination for visitors.

Alchemist Brewery specializes in fresh, unfiltered IPAs. Its flagship Heady Topper (though brewed in Waterbury, available state wide) is distributed to the brewery and Alchemist Visitor’s Center in Stowe for retail sales and tasting.

Alchemist Brewery banged a home run with their flagship Heady Topper brew. Their full line is served in the new visitor-tasting center in Stowe, birthplace of alpine skiing in the East and a favorite destination for visitors.

Not without good reason is Waterbury dubbed the best beer town in New England and “the epicenter of beer in the Northeast.” The Black Back Pub (black back being a colloquialism for big, native brookies) one of a handful of great pubs including: The Prohibition Pig Brewery; The Reservoir—Restaurant & Tap Room, both of those just a good cast from one another in the village.

The Blackback Pub—an angler favorite— dubbed Waterbury the best beer town in New England not without good reason; a quick recent count comes up with 11 pub/eateries in the village.

Waitsfield is home of Lawson’s Finest Liquids brewery whose citrusy Sip of Sunshine IPA garnered awards across the board from the country’s top rating groups; consumer beer fans obviously agreed. Lawson's followed up with Double and Triple Sunshine along with countless others. You can find them all at the brewer’s large, open space taproom where visitors enjoy terrific pub grub, casual seating, and an always-on fireplace. Their entire craft brews are also on sale in the taproom’s retail space.

WEST CENTRAL

In Waitsfield you’ll find Lawson’s Finest Liquids, creator of the award winning citrusy Sip of Sunshine IPA and runner-up Double and Triple Sunshine along with countless others. Their large taproom/retail store has all their brews along with terrific pub fare. Don’t miss their secret sauce served with giant pretzels.

The Worthy Burger Too restaurant is a seven minute walk from Lawson’s.

New Haven is a tributary of Otter Creek. Near Ripton its upper pocket waters, plunge pools and several feeders enjoy good brook trout populations. Near Lincoln and on to Bristol, brook trout still predominate but are joined by rainbows. Because the river here runs near a road and has pools and waterfalls, swimmers often use the river in summer. Long runs with riffles and pools are key features in the the widening near Bristol Flats. After Notch Brook, the river begins slowing some. Below Muddy Branch tributary there’s a mix of deeper pools and overall slower flow. This section receives stocking.

Otter Creek, depending where you fish, harbors all three trout species as well as bass and northern pike. The river really begins as a southern brook trout stream near East Dorset and flows 112 miles to Lake Champlain. Some parts of the river are rather remote and some are very accessible. The New Haven (above), Middlebury, Neshobe Rivers and Furnace Brook are four tributaries offering good trout fishing in their own right. There’s good trout fishing through Middlebury, then as the river grows in size, bass and pike enter the mix. The lower main river has developed into a fine northern pike fishery, especially below Vergennes.

Libations and Comestibles

In Rutland, the Beer Works Brewery is a good stop, as is the company’s Hop ’n Moose Pub.

Foley Brothers in Brandon has a big list of IPAs and one fine Irish stout. Also in Brandon the Red Clover Ale Co. is a small brewery and tap room with a list covering everything from brews featuring mosaic hops to red ales.

Home of Middlebury College, Middlebury town has no shortage of brews. Consider Otter Creek Brewery and pub, The Drop-In Brewing Co., Two Brothers Tavern—and there are more.

Bristol is known for the Hogback Mountain Brewing where you’ll find Pilsners, Kölsch and Brown Ale, Stout and IPAs. Lucky Star Catering offers local pub food in the taproom, along with dinners to go.

In Vergennes look for Hired Hand Brewing Co., for fine local brews and pizza, and also The Bobcat Cafe and Brewery with its house crafted brews and good pub grub.

NORTH/NORTHEAST/NORTHWEST

Along with the big water body itself, many of the state’s rivers empty into Lake Champlain providing a potpourri of fishing and species depending on the season. Just for samples, the “Salmon Hole” area of the Winooski River at the base of the first dam on the river can provide some excellent fishing for landlocked salmon, lake-run “steelhead” and bass. The Malllet’s Bay area has some fine bass fishing. The list goes on.

Libations and Comestibles

Burlington on the shores of the lake is home to the University of Vermont and thus rife with great watering holes and restaurants downtown and neighboring. Just one of the good ones is The Vermont Pub & Brewery on College Street, the state’s first craft brewery offering a number of award winning brews as well as light pub chow.

In neighboring Essex Junction, 1st Republic Brewing, the On Tap Bar & Grill, and Pearl St. Pub all get high marks.

Just south of Burlington in Shelburne, with its terrific decoy collection, is Fiddlehead Brewing Co. In the tasting room you’ll find their signature Fiddlehead IPA as well as Second Fiddle and Mastermind, both double IPAs, plus the tasting room’s series of powerhouse Triple IPAs. And right next door is Folino’s Wood Fired Pizza where you can bring in the Fiddlehead brew you just purchased.

CHAMPLAIN PROPER

The Lamoille River begins near Greensboro as a small brook trout stream. As it reaches Greensboro Bend some rainbows enter the scene. The river remains small until Haynesville where an eponymous brook enters, giving the stream a bit of size. Below Pottersville Dam east of Wolcott and down below the dam at Morrisville you get tailwater fishing, especially for rainbows. Several guide operations float the upper and middle river stretches. August can have excellent fishing, particularly on dries—assuming some cool weather arrives and the water temperature falls into the 60’s for a few days. There can be a fine flying ant hatch as well as isonychias that can spark some fun action on the fast swimming nymphs. Target the water from Waterman Brook through the town of Johnson where the Gihon River enters. There are some deep pools here and you’ll find both rainbows and browns. The main stem produces into early summer unless rising temperatures push trout back into the Gihon or down to Ithiel Falls.

From Fairfax Falls, just below Cambridge, downstream three miles has been a trophy stocked area. Look for some large browns. Below this area smallmouths begin to show, the fish having moved in from Arrowhead Mountain Lake which offers good warmwater fishing. Below the lake are two more dams before the river enters Lake Champlain. A motley array of warmwater species is available in the slower flows.

Passumpsic is a major Connecticut River tributary and is best known for its good size rainbows and browns in the deep, slow pools primarily below any of seven hydropower dams. From its mouth at the Connecticut up to the East and West Branches (brookies in the branches ) above Lyndonville, the dams are: East Barnet, Passumpsic, Gage Station, Arnold Falls, Pierce Mills, Great Falls, and Vail Station. Arnold Falls is in downtown St. Johnsbury enabling dehydrated anglers to enjoy top craft brews in two excellent pubs, or a handful of excellent restaurants with specialty menus. Trophy stocking does occur in spring from the top of the Gage Dam upstream to the top of the Arnold Falls Dam. Come October those stocked rainbows and browns have become extremely savvy and are in terrific shape. From the Connecticut River boundary upstream to the top of Arnolds Falls Dam the river is another in the state that’s open year around.

For some early (cold) spring fishing—mid-April to early May—anglers can hit the Willoughby River in Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom” to watch “steelhead”—rainbows from Lake Memphremagog— ascending falls to spawn. Though Willoughby Falls in Orleans provides the best action, Coventry Falls on the Black River in Coventry and Lewis Creek Falls in North Ferrisburgh also have rainbow runs. Willoughby Falls proper and a section upstream are closed until June 1 to protect spawners, but the downstream water is open giving a good shot at these fish. However, it gets too many rods for my taste.

This entire northern area of Vermont, known as The Northeast Kingdom, is rich with small ponds and larger lakes with trout, smallmouth, largemouth, pike and panfish opportunities. Depending on time of year fly-fishers can binge on surface hatches, pop for bass, or use sinking heads and streamers for a potpourri of species.

Libations and Comestibles
Greensboro Bend is ground zero for the state’s highest profile craft brewery, Hill Farmstead. Launched in 2010 by the self-directed Shaun Hill, the brewery produces ale’s and sours and has garnered praise as the “world’s best new brewery” for the last seven years, per by Rate Beer (ratebeer.com). Not surprisingly the praise triggered a cult of fans who come across the U.S. East, down from Canada, and even from the Midwest to visit the brewery and tap room, and to stand in long lines to buy beer and attend sell-out concerts. Some of the faithful sleep in vehicles awaiting morning openings.

A tad north in Glover is the Parker Pie Co., a four- time winner for best pizza, bar, wings, and beer menu in the Norhtheast Kingdom (per locals and the FoodNetwork). It’s an idiosyncratic spot with roaming dogs, kids hula-hooping with old guys, and folks just hanging out. Friday is Oyster Night.Ooysters and pizza? Yep.

Morrisville is home to Rock Art Brewery and tap room, known throughout the state for it’s malt-forward Vermonster brew. If that’s not your thing you’ll find everything else—IPAs, pilsners, stout, ales, sours. And it’s located by the Lamoille River.

GUIDES/OUTFITTERS/SHOPS

In no particular order, here are sources for trips, tackle and info covering
the entire state.

The Fly Rod Shop
theflyrodshop.com
Bob Shannon’s Stowe-based shop is an info clearing house on state fishing. Shannon’s stable of guides specialize in the Lamoille, Winoooski, Dog and Little Rivers. For still water there’s Lake Elmore, Lake Eden, Waterbury Reservoir and more. On the website there are free downloadable maps of the Lamoille and Winooski Rivers that include details on fishing spots, hatches and more. River trout drift trips and lake trips are offered. For non-anglers there are assorted tours around the state including a Craft Beer & Spirits venture. Bob is co-author of the book “Vermont Trout Streams: A Fly Angler’s Guide to the Best” which you should have. There are childrens’ fishing and survival programs and free casting clinics for all.
802-253-7346 or 802-253-3964


Catamount Fishing Adventures
catamountfishing.com
Year-‘round Stowe guide Willie Dietrich offers wade trout trips along with drift boat floats and pond and lake fishing for smallmouth bass. An FFF certified casting instructor he won’t use a cell phone on guide trips. Good for him!
802-253-8500


Green Mountain Troutfitters
www.gmtrout.com
Hyde Park
Working the state’s north-central regions including Stowe, Jeffersonville (Smugglers’ Notch) with wade and raft float trips, head guide Mike Kontos, also has other guides available even for groups. They offer a variety of lake fishing as well, plus kids’ camps. Offered are:
Walk n’ Wade River/Stream Tours, Drift Boat Trips, Lake Fishing, Bass Fishing
802-730-4298


Stream & Brook
streamandbrook.com
brian.zinger@gmail.com
Co-owners Brian Zinger and Brian Cadoret work with a stable of six other guides. They offer wade trout trips throughout the state, plus focused pike trips and canoe trips for a host of warm water species. Waters include: White, Lamoille, Winooski Rivers, Black River in the NEK, Otter Creek and Lake Champlain.
802-989-0398


Green Mountain Adventure
https://mmvt.com
Middlebury
The focus is on rainbows and browns in Otter Creek, the New Haven and Middlebury Rivers. Guides have good areas 15 minutes from town. Float trips on Otter Creek and White River are also offered. There’s also the option of excellent fly fishing for bass and northern pike. GMA hosts the Otter Creek Classic event in April
802-388-7245.


Maple Country Anglers
maplecountryanglers.com
Ben Wilcox owner along with Andrew Masenas (guide)
They headquarter in Richmond near Burlington. Guiding is focused on central and northern VT within one hour of Burlington. Maple Country offers wade fishing small streams, lakes and ponds as well as Western style drift boat trips on the Lamoille, White, Winooski for trout and/or smallmouth from a 13 ft. Aire Super Puma Raft with customized frame designed specifically for fishing Vermont’s Rivers. The boat seats 1 or 2 anglers plus rower and is equipped with lean bars, casting platforms, raised swivel seats.
802-318-0091


Chuck Kashner
vermontfishingtrips.com
cdkashner@gmail.com
Wade trout fishing on various rivers. Chuck also offers bass/pike trips on various lakes, including big Lake Champlain. He lives in Poultney and will meets guests in southern Vermont: Manchester, Bennington, Rutland, Pawlet, Castleton and Ludlow. He also guides bird hunters in fall and is known for providing stellar lunches for clients.
800-682-0103
802-645-0009


Woodstock Inn & Resort—Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Program
Inn is located on Suicide 6 Mtn.
fish@woodstockinn.com
They target central VT waters including on-the-property or public waters like the White, Black, and Ottauquechee.
14 The Green,
Woodstock, Vermont
888- 338-2745


Orvis (flagship store)
orvis.com
4180 Main St, Manchester, VT
Your visit to the Orvis store will have you chatting up any number of angler/employees knowledgeable not only in that area but statewide. You’ll easily fill your tackle quiver here. Bob Shannon’s trout stream book is also available, and Orvis has several Endorsed guides who work locally.
802-362-3750


The American Museum of Fly Fishing
amff.org
Across from the Orvis headquarters, the museum is steward of fly fishing traditions, and practices. It features a revolving series of exhibits along with many events tailored to the seasons.
802-362-3300


Bob Young
www.youngsflyfishing.com
Young specializes in southern VT, offering
wade or drift boat fishing. An Orvis Endorsed guide, Bob is a former casting instructor for the company.
802-375-9313


Taconic Guide Service
Ray Berumen, has a stable of excellent guides, and offers wade and drift boat fishing. He specializes in southern VT.
taconicguideservice.com
802-688-4304
802-688-3934


Peter Basta
http://www.vtflyfishingguide.com
Pete was Orvis Fly Fishing Guide of the Year in 2002.
He targets small to medium streams in southern VT including the Battenkill, all within one hour drive from Manchester. He also uses a one-angler float craft.
802-867-4103

VERMONT STATE CONTACTS

Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife is a key contact source. Charlee Drury (charlee.drury@vermont.gov) 802-828-1000, Information/Marketing at the Montpelier office should be able to offer thoughts on speaking to biologists who handle waters in areas of your interest, but here are a few fisheries biologists you can contact directly:

Jud Kratzer, jud.kratzer@vermont.gov, 802-751-0486, St. Johnsbury office. Jud helps manage all Northeast Kingdom fisheries from brook trout to northern pike.


Pete Emerson, peter.emerson@vermont.gov, 802-751-0485, St. Johnsbury office. Peter is responsible for managing fisheries and fisheries habitat in the Northeast Kingdom.


Shawn Good, shawn.good@vermont.gov, 802-786-3863, Rutland Office. Shawn leads the department’s work on pike and muskellunge. He also manages bass in southwestern Vermont and southern Lake Champlain.


Bret Ladago, bret.ladago@vermont.gov, 802-485-7566, Roxbury Lab. Bret’s work is focused in Vermont’s central fisheries district which includes the White, Waits, Ompompanoosuc, and Ottauquechee River watersheds.


Lee Simrad, lee.simard@vermont.gov, 802-879-5697, Essex Junction office. His work is centered on lakes and streams in southern Vermont. Besides coldwater and warmwater sportfish populations he works on rare, endangered and threatened fish species. He is also in charge of the management and enhancement of the Battenkill, which supports one of Vermont’s longstanding premier wild trout fisheries.

Jerry Gibbs
Jerry Gibbs lives, fishes and writes from the mid-Maine coast unless he is on the road hunting off-radar wa-ters, fish and anglers that will make a good story. His downtime is saved for chasing grouse with his French Brittany, Jack. Gibbs is the former Outdoor Life fishing editor.

Before Kamchatka and Jurassic Lake landed on the fly-fishing travel landscape, there was no better place for really big rainbow trout than southwest Alaska’s Kvichak River.

This was “the land of the midnight sun,” “the great land,” Russia’s blunder and the United state’s major coup. Fifty-bazillion acres of natural resource wonderland that included the most remarkable wild salmon runs on earth, including Bristol Bay and all of its legendary rivers—the Naknek, Nushagak, Togiak, Egigik, Ugashik and Kvichak.

While you could catch salmon and rainbows on all of those rivers, the Kvichak stood out for what its rainbows were not—very few resembled the classic, heavily colored and spotted “leopard” ‘bows that Alaska fishing became most famous for. The Kvichak’s fish, instead, spent their time in Lake Iliamna, living an existence like that of their sea-run cousins, the steelhead. The Kvichak rainbows fed heavily on Iliamna’s bounty—smolt and lamprey eels and other protein-rich edibles—before migrating out of the lake and into the river each June. They were bigger than rainbows found elsewhere—up to 20 pounds—they were chrome-bright coming out of the lake, they were silver-sided, extraordinarily muscular, and they posted up at the heads of islands and other ambush points, sites set on massive salmon smolt and lamprey outmigrations from Iliamna.

Neither Jurassic or Kamchatka is on my plate right now, so when Jack Mitchell phoned in May and said three slots had opened at his lodge on the Kvichak, which rests on an island smack dab in the middle of the river’s prime trout water, and that I could grab them for a last-minute steal, I called a couple friends and booked a flight to Anchorage.

A day later our Lake and Peninsula shuttle landed in Igiugig and shortly after Season’s manager “Musky Dave” had our gear aboard a jetsled, headed three miles downstream to the lodge.

The lodge is open from June through mid-October. Anglers can tackle salmon all summer long, but it’s the river’s rainbows and the opportunity to swing for them with two hand rods and get that tight-line grab that really stands out in spring and, again, during fall.

You’re not going to see this lodge advertised in Travel & Leisure. It offers four double-occupancy rooms with single beds, and two common bathrooms with hot showers. It has a great dining room with views of the river flowing by, literally, just a few yards away. The kitchen is small but effective and a common area, separated from the dining room, is a great place to kick back on a couch, read a book, look out the window at the water and weather passing by, or drink a cocktail while reviewing the day with fellow guests. Fly tying? You bet. Bring a vice and twist ‘em up. A wader drying room and a fleet of 16-foot long Hog Island skiffs all equipped with 15-horse prop engines, round out the offerings.

The lodge is spartan but comfortable and efficient. But, to be honest, I didn’t travel from my home in Montana to the Alaska outskirts for a spa treatment. I could have been offered a deep tissue massage and a mud bath and I would have said, “Hell no, that’d be cutting into my rainbow time.” I was there for one reason—to fish hard in near 24-hour daylight, and swing up as many big, bright rainbows as I could, hoping that one or more might top out at 30 inches.

Before the trip I asked Mitchell why I should fish the Kvichak versus other Bristol Bay area streams and he said, “Because it’s about the best swing fishing anyone has ever seen, and if you don’t get your fingers out of the way the reel handle is going to bust your knuckles. These fish are different—every one you hook, you know it’s on from the first instance—they just rip. They hand you a new ass. They’re just like steelhead, maybe even better.”

It didn’t take us long to know these fish are different. They fought hard, jumped higher, and lasted longer than the trout we catch in Montana, and we were fishing 6 and 7-weight spey rods! The fish were located as advertised, at the heads of islands and in some of the scallops along the sides of islands. They ate the swung fly like they’d waited their entire lives for it, and they charged to the middle of the river in, like, two seconds, once you came tight on them. We caught a lot of fish in the 16-to 20-inch range and then, as the trip wore on, we started to see some giants.

That’s a good thing because one of my friends, a lawyer, didn’t think the fishing was up to snuff. During a discussion around the dinner table, after a guest had just described getting completely destroyed by a big rainbow earlier that day, the lawyer said, “I just got to tell you that your claim about these fish being the hardest fighting rainbows ever is a bunch of bullshit. The fish we catch on the Blackfoot and Clark Fork in Montana fight just as hard.”

There was silence and then laughter, and the next day the lawyer was eating crow, to his credit admitting that he possibly, possibly, could have spoken too soon. We were at the dinner table, a couple Alaska Ambers and bottles of wine floating around the table, when the lawyer said, “Ok, so I hooked this big rainbow on my 8-weight spey rod today and it just worked me over, just kicked my ass. For a while I didn’t know if I could land it. Thing measured 23-inches but it was a rocket. I don’t know what a 26 or 28 would be like. So, you guys might be right after all.”

One morning I walked downstream from the lodge and fished some good looking water with no return, before Mitchell picked me up in a boat. I told him I wanted him to drop me off in relatively heavy flow, at the top of the next island. Mitchell did so and secured the boat while I braced myself against the current and stripped out line, ready to make my first cast. That’s when the rod yanked down and I lifted up, only to feel—nothing. I flipped the Dalai Lama to the right and another rainbow quickly smacked it. Strike two. I turned to Mitchell and shouted over the river, “Did you see that?” but I already had my answer—Mitchell was shaking his head, a frown on his face, an arm extended and a thumb pointed down. I flipped him off, then made another cast. Near the bottom of the swing I came tight to a good one.

After a few jumps and a few runs into heavy current, I had a 23-incher in the net. There was no way to shoot photos while holding a spey rod, a net, and a boat in heavy flows, so one of the brightest rainbows I’d ever seen slid back into the river captured only by Mitchell and my eyes. We hi-fived before Mitchell said with a grin, “Nice fish. But don’t flip me off again.”

The next day I was wade-fishing one of the Kvichak’s hundreds of channels, in an area called “the braids.” I was working behind one of my friends, so I waded out deep, trying to cover water he hadn’t reached. Somewhere along that run the line tightened, a fish launched out of the water and repeated that act about six more times in about 10 seconds—rapid fire takeoffs and landings. I was hollering, laughing, yelling, “Did you see that?” while trying to keep the fish fast to the fly. A few minutes later a 24 slid into the net, this one as chromy as the others, just heavier and a little longer. My friend and I admired the fish and I said, “This right here is what we came for.”

During a week on the Kvichak we caught rainbows to 25 inches, saw fish that pushed 30, got more efficient with our fishing each day, and saw tons of wildlife, including a grizzly bear, a couple moose, scads of ducks and shorebirds, along with Arctic terns that severely molested us whenever they deemed us a threat to their nests.

Mitchell has fished the Kvichak in fall and spring and said each has its advantage, but he reiterated that during fall the fish are at their peak size and fitness, having gorged all spring and summer on smolt, lamprey eels, mice and voles, salmon eggs and salmon carcasses.

“They start chasing leeches and Dalai’s again during fall and it’s just madness,” he said.

There are a few advantages to fishing at Mitchell’s operation versus staying at other lodges on the Kvichak. First, you’ll pay about half the price of the other lodges. Second, Mitchell’s is on an island and surrounded by water. You can walk and wade several nearby braids, all loaded with rainbows and grayling. So if you want to get up early and fish, you fish. If you want to stay out late and fish, you fish. You’ll sacrifice some luxuries when you stay at Mitchell’s, versus the higher-end lodges, but you’ll get a great deal, throw to the same mega-rainbows the other lodges target, and you’ll do so for as many hours in a day as you please.

A few fall dates are available for 2021, including at press time the weeks of September 26-30 and September 30-October 5. For spring 2022 the weeks of June 7-12; June 12-17; and June 17-22 are open.

Greg Thomas
Greg Thomas is a well-travelled steelhead fanatic and writes for various outlets, including the New York Times, Outside, Forbes, Big Sky Journal, Field & Stream, etc. He has penned several books on fly fishing, including Fly Fisher’s Guide to Wash-ington and Fly Bible Montana. He lives in Missoula, Montana and owns the website, Anglers Tonic. See more of his work at www.anglerstonic.com and on Instagram @anglerstonic.

Washington state’s Upper Columbia River landed on the fly-fishing landscape a couple decades ago, and the first man on the spot was Jack Mitchell.

Mitchell is well established in the Evergreen State, having built his empire on the Yakima River and other locals, including the Klickitat River and the Olympic Peninsula. But he’s never been one to stand still. He’s always looking for more—more killer fishing, more emerging fisheries, and the places to offer great trips and accommodation. What he found on the upper Columbia was an overlooked trout fishery with some monster rainbow trout included in the mix. In addition, the massive Columbia, flowing out of Canada and into northeastern Washington—about two hours north of Spokane—offered stellar aquatic insect hatches, trout that fought as hard and leapt as high as any others, and nearly nobody was working the water. I.e., this was an untapped fishery just begging for infrastructure.

Mitchell provided that when he threw down on several acres near Northport and constructed a spectacular four-bedroom lodge just yards from the Columbia. Fact is, you could pitch a rock off the full wrap-around deck and easily hit the water. But why bother when there are fish to catch?

GFFI has followed the fishery for several years and in May we hit Black Bear Lodge to fish with Mitchell and see if the ‘bows were as acrobatic as described . . . and whether this locale has what it takes to pull us away from the Northern Rockies for something, well, kind of unknown.

We did not arrive at prime time for large fish. Most of the bigs, trout ranging between 21 and 26 inches, had bolted up the tributary streams and were in the thick of the spawn. We focussed on caddis-scarfing rainbows in the 17 to 20-inch range and caught 15-to 20 a day, mostly on nymphs with a few late-afternoon sippers taking spent caddis and emerging pupa.

It was a bobber and nymph game, all cast from Stealthcraft boats (equipped with jet engines and rowing oars). We fished double nymph rigs, including pupa and emergers, just a foot or two under the surface. We covered giant slicks and current lines formed by massive backflows (“re-circs”) that wound their way around rocky points and then back up the shoreline before returning to the main flow.

This was Mother’s Day caddis time and the daily insect flights started around noon and really cranked up to a “breathe through your nose” event by 3 p.m. We saw plenty of trout feeding on the surface, but the river’s varied and heavy currents created massive drag on our floating lines and kept our bugs under the surface.

As mentioned, later in the day and into early evening we found some big fish feeding in long runs and slick water and were able to tempt several with spent caddis. It was a great time of the year to be on a remote stretch of river, and the trout were extremely healthy and strong. But I had to think what it might be like if the big boys were feeding on top and we could have hunted them with large dries.

That scenario takes place in June and early July when size 8 and 10 green drakes come off. The action happens in the afternoon and stretches to 10 p.m., which makes for an interesting fishing schedule. Sleep in. Sip some coffee. Enjoy the Montana-esque views from the lodge’s bay windows or wraparound deck. Have that mimosa if you please (you’re on vacation, right?). And then gear up around 2 p.m., for what Mitchell and his guides consider to be one of the West’s greatest fly-fishing events.

By June and July all of the big fish are back from the tributaries and trying to gain the strength and weight they lost from the spawn. The green drake is the way to do it and these fish feed casually on the surface. We’re talking 20-plus-inchers in heavy water, rising to a highly visible dry fly. Getting them to take is not the issue—holding a fish that size in heavy current is.

(Note: You can’t get in on that drake action this year, as Black Bear is fully booked for the drake hatch in 2021. But if you want in for 2022, Gil’s Fly Fishing International is now filling slots and we can hold yours.)

While the drake hatch is a premiere event, don’t overlook fall and spring fishing. During both seasons anglers can swing streamers off single-hand and trout spey rods, with the potential of landing something huge. During fall the trout key-in on October caddis, which makes swinging pupa and soft-hackles a good way to go. And don’t ignore the dry fly—October caddis adults are large enough to draw the attention of the biggest trout. Picture in your mind a 20 to 24-inch native rainbow rising to that offering. In addition, fall might be the prettiest time of year on the river, with the cottonwoods and aspens aglow and elk bugling from the hills. The fall fishery begins in late August and peaks in late September and October. Prime dates for fall streamer and soft-hackle action are available for 2021.

In the end, we can’t say enough about the upper Columbia’s rainbow trout. They are bug-oriented, they feed actively on the surface, they are as strong as any rainbows we’ve ever encountered, and they take advantage of the big river’s flows to make any size fish a challenge on a 5 or 6-weight rod. Black Bear Lodge rests on an amazing bluff above the river and allows anglers to walk down to an awaiting boat and fish as they please. No drive time. No shuttle. No hassle. Just fun fishing through a beautiful landscape with the chance to catch worthy rainbow trout.

Northport is easy to reach from the West’s major population centers. Anglers can fly to Spokane and rent a car for the beautiful two-hour drive north, or the lodge can provide transportation to and from Spokane for parties of four or more. Max occupancy at the lodge is six guests. So, if you don’t feel like driving to and from Montana or the Yellowstone region for high-quality trout fishing, Black Bear should appeal. Want to avoid airlines altogether? Drive time from Seattle is about six hours.

Call GFFI for rates, open dates (fall 2021 dates available), and booking details. —the Editors

This might look like the easiest way to protect your cash and passports when traveling. But you’ll be much better off if you plan ahead, make physical and digital copies of your travel docs, and understand where to look for help if things go south.

There are many things we love about international travel. Seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, seeing fisheries we’d never get a chance to explore if we just sat at home. Alongside that dose of adventure, however, comes a new set of logistical challenges. International travelers must juggle a passport, additional cash, tickets, and a variety of other documents on each trip.

Managing the security of passports and paperwork while traveling abroad can require a bit of forethought, and a good dose of awareness. Knowing how to keep documents secure—and what to do in case something goes missing—is a good thing before you actually have to deal with a problem.

I was recently at a lodge where a rogue wave hit a snorkeling boat (the snorkelers were already in the water) and the boat flipped over. Everyone was safely rescued, but several of the travelers had their backpacks in the boat, complete with wallets, phones, and passports. Divers were able to rescue the packs later that afternoon, but the incident brought to mind the question: What if the packs were lost? The snorkelers had no back-ups of their passports or driver’s licenses; no copies stored in the cloud or filed away with family in the States. Without their packs, they would suddenly have been ID-less in a foreign country.

Keeping travel paperwork safe might seem like a complex task, but it’s really not. Here are a few key tips on how you can keep your paperwork secure, and manage any incidents if something goes missing.

Harding Bush, a former Navy SEAL and associate manager of operations for Global Rescue, notes it’s worth protecting more than just your passport.

“Important documents during international travel go beyond just your passport and include a driver’s license or other identity cards, medical insurance or evacuation service information, medical prescriptions, bank cards and credit cards, and your important contacts list,” he said.

A small duffel or backpack is a good place to keep your documents. You can carry it on your person and if you are forced to check it, you can place a passport and cash in a small notebook so nobody is any the wiser.

Keep Multiple Copies in Multiple Locations
Before you even leave home, make multiple copies of your passport, both physical and digital. Copy the page with your photo and name, as well as any relevant visas. Store one digital copy in the cloud and send one (or two) to trusted friends or family members. Keep physical copies in your luggage (I store one in each piece of luggage, in a hidden pocket or under the foam in a Pelican case). In case you have to replace your passport, consider keeping a few passport-style images with you as well, tucked into your wallet.

Use the Lodge or Hotel Safe
“Understand the laws of the country you are visiting,” Bush said. “Is it a requirement that foreigners carry their passports at all times, or is a copy sufficient? The country you visit determines this requirement — not your home country. Use the room safe to store your passport if it’s not with you.”

No matter how homey your destination feels, go ahead and lock your passport in the room safe. It’s too tempting to leave it on your bedside table or lying around, but it’s worth locking up your passport, if for no other reason than, when it’s time to pack up and go home, you’ll know exactly where it is and won’t have a panicked search. (I’ve seen this happen many times at lodges—an angler will lose their passport the night before departure, only to have housekeeping find it behind the bed or between the cushions of a chair.)

If you do use the hotel safe, peek in on your passport and other paperwork every few days. Safes are easily broken into. And, while it’s a more secure option than leaving your passport lying around, it’s worth confirming its location a few times during your stay, and certainly in advance of your departure day.

Don’t turn your backs on a pile of luggage, especially if it contains the documents you’ll need to get out of a foreign country and back to your home turf. Keep track of your docs, keep them on your body, and never check them, even if being ordered to by officials. Simply take them out of your baggage and carry on-person.

Don’t Advertise It
Sometimes you’re going to be carrying your passport around. Maybe it’s a travel day and you need it in your bag since you’re going to the airport. Perhaps you’re camping and there’s no “hotel safe” to keep it in. Or it could be that you’re in a country that requires you to have valid international ID on your person. Whatever the reason, just because your passport is within arm’s reach does’t mean that it’s safe.

Bush seconds this. “The backpack goes everywhere with you—do not check it at the gate when offered by the airline. It goes in the taxi with you—not in the trunk. Ensure the specific documents required are accessible. You want to be streamlined and not have to fumble or search for these items when needed.”

Store your passport in an internal pocket of your bag, jacket, or even your waders (if you’re actively fishing)—never use the outside pockets. They are easy to access, sure, but exterior pockets, especially on bags, are also ridiculously easy for petty thieves to access. (I often travel with a roll-top bag with no external zippers for this very reason . . . . I’m going to hear and feel someone unrolling the crinkly waterproof fabric.) If you’re in a high-rise area, consider concealing your passport inside a book or notebook as well. The less you advertise it, the less likely it is to go missing.

Cash Management
The same “don’t advertise it” theory holds for cash. Keep a small number of small bills in your wallet, with the less-value bills on the outside (i.e. if you have $10s, $20s, $50s, and $100s, wrap the $10 bills on the outside of the wad). There’s no need to flash high-value bills around.

Keep the bulk of your cash out of your wallet. I typically split my travel cash into three piles: the small bills for daily use go into my wallet, then the remainder (often larger bills for guide tips, incidental fees, etc.) is split into two piles. Each of the two piles go into plain white envelopes—document envelopes, never bank envelopes—and one is stored in a very deep internal compartment near the bottom of my roll-top bag, the other hidden underneath the foam padding of my Pelican case. Both these bags are my carry-ons and rarely—if ever—leave my sight when I’m away from home. If I burn through the funds in the wallet, I’ll refill from one of the envelopes at night in my room, in private.

Protect It
Fly anglers are not necessarily known for being easy on our gear. By the very nature of fishing, we spend a lot of time out in the elements, on water, and in generally damp conditions. Bad conditions for documents and paperwork.

Modern passports are remarkably sturdy critters. But, as the snorkelers whose boat overturned learned, even passports are subject to saltwater damage and ruination. Consider keeping your passport in a simple ziplock bag when traveling, which helps mitigate humidity and water damage, even when it’s stored deep in your bag. One or two drops of water damage is fine, but if your passport receives water damage to the front cover or the personal information page, it means you’ll have to replace the whole thing—which also means an emergency trip to a consulate or embassy abroad. Not how you want to spend your fishing days.

Bush also recommends using a carabiner on your backpack’s top carrying strap so you secure it while onboard a boat. (This would have been useful in the case above, where the boat flipped and the bags were not secured.) He adds that if you plan to use your phone while on a boat, it should have a lanyard attached to your person, as well as being in a waterproof container.

In Case You Lose Your Passport
“Losing your passport is inconvenient, but it’s not the end of the world,” notes Bush. “As soon as you realize your passport is missing, you should notify local law enforcement and your home country’s consulate or embassy. Your hotel or guide service can likely assist you with contacting law enforcement and establishing a police report for the missing passport. Embassies will require a police report to move forward with replacing the passport. There’s also a good chance your lost passport could be turned into the police if found, and the police report can also function as a way to board aircraft for a domestic flight without having the usual required identification.”

It’s important to remember the embassy will not consider your lost passport an emergency, and the replacement process will happen on their schedule, not yours. You may have to wait over a weekend for the embassy to open, or divert your travel for a visit to a consulate or embassy, a potentially inconvenient and expensive process. US embassies can issue an “emergency passport,” which may not be suitable for onward travel to countries other than America.

Are you sure your bag is getting on that plane? Don’t count on it. Take all documents and cash onboard with you. If you must leave important items in a checked bag, make sure it only contains copies of your documents.

Use Common Sense
As with most things, security while traveling is largely common sense. Pay attention to what’s happening around you. If you’re in a crowded street swing your backpack around to the side so you can monitor it. Don’t store things in outer pockets. And, just like all the airport PA systems so helpfully remind you, never leave your bag unattended.

If you’re traveling in a group, it’s tempting to give everyone’s passports to the “group mom”—don’t do it. If everyone’s ID is stored together and that pile of passports goes missing, you’re all in trouble. Take control of your own documents.

In case you’re storing documents or extra money in a carry-on bag, be prepared to quickly fish it out in case you have to check the bag. The spare money I keep in my Pelican case is carried in a plain envelope which is then placed in a thin notebook, so if I have to shift luggage in a busy airport, it just looks like I’m grabbing my notebook and not a stack of bills.

With a little forethought and planning, travel documents should not be something you’re overly worried about. Store spare copies in multiple locations and with friends or family. Don’t use exterior pockets on your bags. Take the extra 30 seconds to secure your documents in the hotel room. A bit of effort on the front end lessens your chances of being the angler running around without a passport when your travel buds are navigating immigration, tired and eager to get home, just like you.

Jess McGlothlin
For more than fifteen years, photographer and writer Jess McGlothlin has worked in the fly-fishing industry in several countries. Her work has taken her around the globe, leading her to chase fish on six continents, and she still somehow enjoys airports. See more jessmcglothlin.com

I’m sitting in my living room reading an archived Sports Illustrated story on my iphone (google “he’s got a very fishy look si”). Though written in 1979, it tells of a time when something resembling an iphone wasn’t even the stuff of Star Trek reruns . . . because the series wouldn’t appear for another five years. The story features a former intelligence officer who used to sit at the bottom of the Madison River, breathing through a length of shower hose, watching insects and trout.

That man was Charles Brooks.

I never saw this story when it was originally published. I was in ninth grade, and my trout fishing was limited to one weekend each year when my father would take me to Loon Lake in the British Columbia interior to troll flatfish and worms for pan-friers. But one trip I saw a fly-fisher, and knew someday that’s what I would be.

Country Pleasures

Ten years later I was a high school teacher suddenly able to afford my own fly tackle. I lived in a little town in eastern British Columbia, only a few hours drive from Calgary, Alberta, which I later discovered was the spiritual center of western Canadian fly fishing. I was lucky enough to have relatives there, and would visit a few times each month. Soon I was spending every other Saturday hanging out at Country Pleasures, the iconic Calgary fly shop.

A little shop with big character, “the Pleasures” featured paintings of tarpon and trout, many by the late Jack Cowin. A rack of Sage and Orvis rods sat just over there—mostly too expensive for my meagre salary. And in the middle of the store, beneath well-stocked bins of hand-tied flies, was the book case. Here I discovered Gierach and Gingrich, Schwiebert and Swisher, and a fellow west coaster named Roderick Haig-Brown. Maclean was there too, along with one of anglit’s newest heroes, a fellow named Duncan. Oh and McGuane. There was always McGuane. One of the proprietors was named Jim McLennan, and he turned out to be that Jim McLennan. Despite the misgivings of one of his co-owners, a crusty fellow convinced that only a dry fly was fishing, Jim introduced me to nymph fishing and the works of Charles E. Brooks.

On McLennan’s recommendation I bought Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout, and read it cover-to-cover. Right there on page 4 was where I first read the shower hose story:

“In 1961,” Brooks wrote, “I felt I might learn more about nymphs, both real and artificial, if I went down under the water. I had a face mask; I rigged a tube from an old shower hose, hitched up my jeans, and went down for a look.”

Brooks relates how he noticed that a drifting artificial fly would “turn and roll over and over.” The real bugs didn’t. Brooks noted that “almost always, only the back of a natural nymph would be visible [to a feeding trout] as they drifted along a few inches above the bottom.”

These careful observations led him to create the Brooks series of nymphs, stonefly patterns tied “’in the round’, unflattened , and without different back and belly colors.” No mater how much these flies tumbled and spun, they looked the same to the trout. Brooks claimed that flies worked better that way, and I believed him.

The Brooks Method

Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout covers all of the great nymphing strategies. Within its pages you’ll find Skues, Hewitt and Sawyer, and the Leisenring Lift. But the method that really grabbed me was the one that shares the author’s name. The Brooks Method was “Danger Close” fly fishing in fast, heavy water. Put the sneak on a trouty looking spot, and high stick a full sinking line with a short leader through the currents, feeling for the take, and taking care not to lose your footing.

Though I tried this method, I never really took to it. The gear wasn’t versatile enough. Where I fished in southern Alberta, a day on the stream might require several tackle changes: deep nymphs in the morning; dry flies midday; an indicator nymph on a big deep flat after lunch; and streamers in the evening. I already carried way to much stuff in my vest to add another reel outfitted with a full-sinking line. So I learned the high-stick floating line technique from Jim McLennan, and later realized that it was much like the Brooks Method minus the full-sink line. It took a long time, but eventually I discovered the black magic that allowed me to randomly lift the rod and pull big trout off the bottom.

In the Round

I’ve always been a rather hasty tyer. Fly tying was a means to an end rather than anything I might actually enjoy. Those quaint visions of winter evenings spent sipping scotch in my tying parlour were always lost on me. But once I adopted Brooks’s tying strategy I actually became interested, because my efforts were met with almost immediate success on the water. It turned out that Brooks was right: flies really did work better when tied in the round.

One of the biggest brown trout of my life took my rough tie of a Brooks Stonefly nymph in a rocky, wild piece of water along a grassy bank on the Bow River south of Calgary. The fly was moving along at a good pace, and the trout must have snapped it out of the drift beside the rock I was covering, because the line suddenly jumped upstream. Once it realized it was hooked, the big fish eased its way into the current and headed downstream, with me splashing along behind it. I eventually netted it, and its tail stuck out so far beyond the frame that I realized I needed something bigger if this whole nymph fishing for larger trout thing was going to become a habit.

The Thompson Stone

I don’t know if Charles Brooks ever fished steelhead, and at the time I was studying his methods I had no idea that Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout would eventually take me to the banks of British Columbia’s Thompson River and to a strain of wild steelhead that would come to define my fly fishing life.

On the Thompson it was tough not to notice the abundant golden stonefly shucks that adorn most every rock. I’m not sure of the genus of these bugs—my friend and noted aquatic entomologist Rick Haefle could probably give them one look and let me know, but it’s fun just to think of them as golden stones, and so I do.

Coming to steelheading from a trout fishing background, I began to wonder if steelhead would take a golden stone imitation. But the problem with Thompson steelhead is that they are—or sadly were, as the river is now closed to angling—notoriously difficult to catch on a fly. So fishing a pattern for a day, or two, or even three or more might not tell you anything about whether or not these fish would take it. It wasn’t until about seven years into my time on the Thompson that I had a four-fish morning in the same run, finally convincing me that Thompson steelhead liked golden stonefly imitations a lot. And that fly was my Thompson Stone, which owed pretty much everything to the thinking of Charles Brooks.

The Thompson Stone didn’t start out tied in the round. In fact, the first versions were tied on the Partridge Bartleet Supreme Atlantic salmon hooks. When I dropped the original in the currents and watched it drift past, as I held the leader to mimic the effects of a tight line wet fly swing, I noticed it tended to fish either sideways or tipped upside down. It rarely fished as I imagined it would, upright and looking natural. At the time I was experimenting with tube flies, and I wondered if a Thompson Stone tied on a tube might be a solution. Perhaps if I used a heavier hook it might keep the fly oriented as I intended. So I did . . . and had the same problem.

I recalled something about tying in the round as a solution to this turn and tumble of a traditional tie, and so I simplified the pattern and tied it as Brooks might. In the currents the fly now looked the same from every angle, and I stopped worrying about how it was fishing and started actually fishing it.

My presentation owed something to Brooks as well, fishing a sunk fly on a tight line, feeling for the take. Because the Thompson Stone was tied with wire it wanted to sink, so I let it. Then when the line tightened the fly would rise in the currents. Steelhead took the fly most often during the back half of the drift, as the fly rose and then drifted along just under the surface. Years later I learned that none other than the venerable Harry Lemire was fishing a nymph-style fly in a similar fashion as a solution to situations where steelhead were tough to seduce.

The Thompson Stone is an impressionistic tie that looks a little bit like a stonefly and a little bit like a caddis pupa, and enough of each that steelhead seem to find it irresistible no matter where I find them. It’s one of my top steelhead producers, and one of only four steelhead flies you’ll regularly find in my vest.

Nymph fishing for larger fish, whether 20-inchers on a blue-ribbon stream or 20-pounders on a steelhead river, has become the focus of my moving water angling. And even on lakes, where I chase big rainbows spring and fall, I’m adapting the skills Brooks taught and the in-the-round tying method that gives me confidence in my flies during those long fishless days.

Becoming a good nymph fisher is harder than it looks, but you’ll know you have it when you set for no apparent reason and are rewarded with the pulse of life on the line. It’s a long drift from the bottom of the Madison to just subsurface on BC’s greatest steelhead river, but Charles Brooks pushed me off and pointed the way. Seek him out. There’s much to discover while fishing a Brooks Stonefly on a tight line.

Dana Sturn
Dana Sturn is a steelhead devotee and the founder of Spey Pages. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and can be found each year, minus 2020 of course, swinging up chinook and steel on the Dean River, among other places. Follow him on IG @danawsturn