Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Fishing - Brook Trout

In my front yard a proud Araucana rooster announces the first rays of crimson light at about 5:00 am. A quick cup of french roast coffee and I hustle out the door, like the early bird pursuing the proverbial worm. At the stream, I don my hip waders and wade quietly into the pool of dark blue water, just as the sun peaks over the ridge behind me, casting its glorious golden rays on the tops of the sugar maples, just starting to show leaves against the cerulean blue sky. One, two, three false casts in perfect rhythm, like an eternal metronome ingrained in my being, and I let the weight forward 6 weight line fly toward the riffle at the top of the pool, where it embraces the protruding rock and churns quickly around the base. I know from past piscatorial lessons that this is where the feisty brook trout awaits his breakfast, served in the swirling current of first light. Today I am presenting him with an irresistible rust-colored thorax elk hair caddis. The high floating fly whips around the ripples carved out by the rock. As it slows down its drift, it twitches ever so slightly in the slack water, as if attempting to break free from the surface to take flight. There is a moment where my thoughts are singularly focused in the present. Time seems to stand impossibly still. Suddenly, a fierce gaping hole opens in the darkness below and the caddis fly is sucked into a vortex of tooth and muscle. Instinctively I lift the rod tip and allow the ferocious battle to begin. I am on the opposite end of a delicate fly rod using tippet thinner than a human hair when the brookie shows his tenacious personality and rockets out of the water, swinging his head in rebellious denial of my dreams. The fight is one that has been repeated throughout history. The fight pits our prowess against nature’s oldest drive; to provide food. As I land the beautiful brookie in the net, I breathe deeply and admire the perfect yellowish brown spotting on the back and the orange and white tipped fins under his belly. This moment is sacred. And in recognizing this, fully present of having a choice, I choose to release the beautiful being back into the watery world at my feet. There will be many more, but in the tradition of my teachings, I always release the first fish of the season. At the water’s edge I whisper, “Goodbye, my brother. Thank you for sharing your beauty with me.” And such begins the summer.

Biologists from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department on April 27 made initial recommendations to the state’s Fish and Wildlife Board for antlerless deer hunting opportunities during Vermont’s 2011 deer hunting seasons. The Board approved the proposal on the first of three votes necessary to make it law. Citing a severe winter that likely suppressed deer herd numbers in all of the state, the department is proposing to reduce the harvest of antlerless deer during the 2011 deer seasons. The Fish and Wildlife Board voted to reduce the number of December muzzleloader permits issued to 9,575 permits for 14 of the state’s 24 wildlife management units, and to allow antlerless hunting during the archery season in most of the state. Biologists estimate hunters will combine to take 5,224 antlerless deer in the three hunting seasons. “The proposal represents a fairly conservative approach to antlerless deer hunting this fall,” said Mark Scott, Director of Wildlife for the department. “We’ve been able to reduce deer numbers in parts of the state and meet our management objectives in recent years through aggressively issuing muzzleloader permits. That, combined with severe winter weather, contributes to our proposal to the Board to issue fewer antlerless permits during the muzzleloader season this year.” The Board voted to open 23 of the 24 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) to the taking of antlerless deer during the archery season, October 1-23 and December 3-11. Like last year, the Board voted to close WMU-E to antlerless hunting during the archery season. Youth deer hunting weekend on November 5-6 is again proposed to be an either-sex season statewide. Any deer could be taken during this season, regardless of antler length or points. Muzzleloader season antlerless permits are proposed for 14 of the 24 WMUs. This year’s proposed muzzleloader permits reflect a 63 percent decrease from the 2010 total of 25,600. Biologists expect hunters who receive the permits to take about 1,800 antlerless deer in the December 3-11 muzzleloader season. “Statewide, our deer herd is in excellent health,” said Scott, “and proof of that is how well the herd fared during a winter that was above average in its severity. Antlerless deer hunting remains a crucial tool in maintaining the herd’s health, and we still need to harvest antlerless deer to achieve our management goals.” The Board will hold public hearings on the proposal. Antlerless permit applications for the December muzzleloader season are available on Fish and Wildlife’s website. The deadline to apply will be August 25.

As of this writing, our state is inundated with floodwaters. Lake Champlain lake levels are at a record high for the entire history of record-keeping. Flood stage is recorded as 100’ above sea level. The highest previously recorded level was 102.1’ in 1869. Currently we are at 103’ and we have still not crested. Much of the shoreline and roadways have been closed near the lake. Entire lakeside communities have been under several feet of water and are unreachable by anything but boat. When a Northwest wind sweeps over the lake from Canada and New York it dramatically erodes the shoreline. There are sediment plumes that extend all the way into the center of the 4 mile wide waters. Clean water is rapidly being overtaken by these plumes and creating havoc for lake fishermen. As of this writing, of the more than 25 fishing access areas on Lake Champlain and major rivers only 6 are even open. All others have been closed until the water recedes. As of April 27, the access areas that remained useable for launching boats included: Tabor Point, West Swanton; Mallet’s Bay, Colchester; Lamoille River, Milton; Converse Bay, Charlotte; and Larabee’s Point, Shoreham; and Valentines, Grand Isle.
Our walleye fishing season opened Saturday, May 7th and many anglers were looking to access the lake and its tributaries. The Fish & Wildlife Department has cautioned people who plan on heading out on the water to use extreme care when launching boats and while on the water, as there will be many hazards, both floating and under the water.
For more information, call Fish and Wildlife’s Mike Wichrowski at 802-241-3447.

There is currently a proposal in front of the F&W Board to vote on changing the Boundaries for Waterfowl Hunting in our state. I sat in on the Public Meeting on May 3 in Swanton and was shocked to see so few in attendance. There were approximately 40 people, all die-hard duck hunters who tend to think very passionately about their sport to the exclusion of all else. I found it very odd that of the 40+/- participants that only 3 of us were from “out of town.” This proposal was initiated to appease hunters who prefer to hunt Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge which currently is included in the Lake Champlain Zone (LCZ), and which historically has a split season that does not allow hunting during that split. The proposal considers making the Refuge part of the Interior Zone which traditionally runs 60 days straight. Here’s the problem: Missisquoi is the top destination for waterfowl hunting in the state. It also typically freezes up earlier than the rest of the lake. So, being included in the LCZ, typically it gets closed down during the split for as many as 12-14 days in October during the peak migration. The purpose of the split was to allow late season diver hunters to hunt much later into the season since their 60 days was “split” between a 1st and 2nd season. Since most of the diver ducks like whistlers and bluebills come down late in December, this permitted them to hunt the broader open lake later. With Missisquoi as a part of the LCZ, the two Opening Days were getting over-crowded and, although the split allowed the Refuge to “rest” and build up its duck populations again, those who saw how many birds were using the refuge during the split and then migrating before the 2nd Opener became frustrated. So they proposed to change the Missisquoi Refuge area by including it in the Interior Zone, allowing them 60 days straight. Ironically, at the meeting the F&W Board took a vote and it fell like this; 9 “Against”, 7 “For” and 24 abstaining. WTH? (What the H***?) The Board is hoping that those people who abstained and those who did not attend will send emails or letters to them before the next meeting on May 18, when this proposal will go to its second vote. Why would those who would be benefitting from the change not show? And more curiously, why would those who would benefit from more hunting opportunity (locals) be against it? It befuddles the mind.

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