Wildlife Watch: Fishing guides navigate topsy turvy summer

Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 4:09 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - If you had planned a fishing trip this summer, you might have had some change of plans with all the wet weather. Ike Bendavid hit the water with some experts who saw the weather’s impact up close.

Heading out to the Winooski River, Ben Wilcox casts his reel and shares his passion for fly fishing.

“I didn’t know fly fishing guiding was a thing back then but I remembered, when I get older, I just want to take people fishing,” Wilcox said. Nowadays he owns Maple Country Anglers and hosts tours around Vermont.

But this season, Wilcox said conditions went from bad to horrible. “We didn’t get rain at all. The rivers were low and hot and obviously, like a light switch, it started raining and we had the historic flood in July and that messed things up for a while. This river here - the Winooski River -- was unfishable almost the whole summer.

And that extra rain caused more than just cancellations. Wilcox has been able to see the impact on the ecosystem up close. ‘There was so many landslides and sediment that was being pushed down the river. It was muddy the whole time and a lot of other rivers were like that which, forced us to fish smaller streams or reschedule,” he said. “We are able to find these smaller streams or easy-wading parts of a river because we know them all so well.”

Matt Trombley runs charter trips on Lake Champlain, where the volatile weather also impacted his clients. “When the big, heavy floods hit in July, it did affect me from a trolling standpoint. My larger vessel is normally out of a marina in the Otter Creek and because of the high flows we had to pull the vessel and I lost three weeks’ worth of trips with that vessel,” he said.

Trombley says he was able to get other boats out in the water but there were changes in lake levels and fishing. “We approached almost flood stage late July, early August. It did certainly affect the trout and salmon fishing in the month of August,” he said. “There was a lot of sediment that came into the lake, a lot of debris. It took six to eight days for those flood waters -- specifically out of this region, out of the Otter Creek -- to make it to the lake. But that brought a lot of floating logs, pieces of docks, stuff that are hazards for us navigating.”

When it comes to cancellations, Trombley says that when they can get the boat out, they do. “T tell people to dress for the weather. Bring a raincoat and as long as it’s not windy and blowing sideways, we usually generally are going to go out,” he said.

Despite the season winding down, both guides say they are still hitting the water as conditions return to normal. “I will be guiding right up to November,” Trombley said.

“Right now, the fishing is good. We finally had some dry stable weather and the rivers are coming down to a fishable level,” Wilcox said.

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