Local anglers welcome fall

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DEERFIELD VALLEY >> Even though a light layer of snow has fallen over the region, you can still spot anglers on local rivers.

"Fishing during the fall spawning season can be some of the best fishing of the year," said Steve Petrik, of West Dover, who goes fly fishing in various sections of the Deerfield River. "You will generally find there are less people out on the river so you have better odds of catching fish."

Experts say a collection of fish species in Vermont — from trout and salmon to different types of bass, pike, perch and walleye — becomes more active during the fall. The season is for feeding so the fish can boost their energy reserves as they head into winter.

Brook and brown trout are spawning at this point in the year, said Lael Will, fisheries biologist with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Their spawning usually occurs from late September to early November. Spawning for brown trout can go into December.

"Spawning in streams takes place in habitat that contains gravel-sized substrate as well as depths, flows, and groundwater influences that provide deposited eggs with enough oxygen to survive the winter. The female constructs a nest in the gravels and the male fertilizes the eggs before the female covers the eggs with clean, silt-free gravels," Will said. "Heavy siltation after nest construction can cause mortality to the incubating eggs due to the lack of oxygen."

Petrik said brook, brown and rainbow trout had not begun spawning on the Deerfield River above the Somerset Dam as of the weekend of Oct. 15 and 16.

"When the spawning begins, I find there is usually about four to six weeks of activity," he said, noting that there are now sections of the Deerfield River open year round.

Fish spawn once they become sexually mature, according to Will. Factors include water temperature and photoperiod, which is the time when an organism is exposed to light. Spawning is said to take place when temperatures range from 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The age at which fish reach sexual maturity differs among the sexes, Will said. Males usually mature during their second year. Females take one year longer.

Brook and brown trout are carnivorous, Will said. Depending where they are in their life, these fish will eat a variety of aquatic and terrestrial insects, fish, mollusks and crustaceans.

"Brook trout are fairly versatile in that they inhabit high elevation streams, large rivers, low gradient streams, beaver ponds and clear coldwater lakes provided that water temperatures do not exceed 72 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time. Optimal temperatures range between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They will seek thermal refuge by moving into higher elevation streams or by seeking groundwater seeps," Will said. "In Vermont, brook trout are often slow growing and short lived, rarely exceeding three to four years of age. They may live longer and grow more in lakes in ponds."

Trout feeding can begin to slow as water temperatures start dropping in September, Petrik said, so anglers might have to really work at getting these fish on the line.

"At this point, the fish have had a tough summer with people throwing all sorts of large dry fly and nymph patters at them. Wouldn't you be tired if people had been throwing big things in your face all summer?" Petrik said. "The best fish that you catch are the ones that have made it on their own in the river for a few years, learning from the school of hard knocks, and now are smarter and more aware of things around them. They weren't coddled. They learned there is a good and bad way to do things, not their way of doing things."

Will said brook trout will move to tributaries or a spring if available when spawning in lakes and ponds. Their eggs incubate over the winter and water temperatures affect the timing of incubation. Hatching happens in the spring.

"Young occupy shallow, low-velocity areas until they grow into the juvenile stage where they occupy swifter riffle areas," said Will.

The lower reaches of cold-water steams or cold-water lakes is where brown trout are usually found. These areas have slower velocities, according to Will.

"Compared to brook trout, brown trout can tolerate warmer water temperatures of up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit for short periods of time," she said. "They generally grow faster, live longer and achieve larger sizes than brook trout. They usually live to five to six years but have been known to live up to nine years."

Petrik said spawning generally occurs with the combination of below-freezing temperatures at night and higher flows in the rivers. He said it would be great to have a specific date around spawning but acknowledged it would be impossible.

"It is this sort of magical convergence which I personally attribute to that under a full moon, Winky's three-legged dog somewhere back in Searsburg barks at a bear who passes gas, which adds just enough methane to the air to trigger a localized rain storm. You just have to be ready for it, much like a powder day in winter," said Petrik, who spends a lot of time on a split board when there's enough snow on the ground.

He urged other anglers to be aware of where they are walking if wading in the rivers. He said the gravely areas where one might walk could be a place now where trout are covering their eggs. He suggested walking on the banks and rocks as much as possible

Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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