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Trout Fishing in the Battenkill River

Trout Fishing in the Battenkill River
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“I guess I will.” I restrung my rod and stuck a box of caddis fly imitations into my shirt pocket. I didn’t bother climbing back into my waders.

I stood on the river’s edge below the bridge, and now there were half a dozen fish feeding steadily, splashing at the insects that fluttered over the water. My fly was invisible on the dark water. I cast upstream of a feeding trout, and if he rose when my fly was on the water, I lifted my rod. A couple of times I guessed the fish had splashed at my fly, but I didn’t hook him.

As the dusk gathered, the fish began to feed more hungrily. Now I had at least a dozen actively rising fish in front of me. I cast frantically, amateurishly, first to this one and then, when another rose nearby, I’d interrupt the drift of my fly, lift my line, and cast to him. Perhaps some of these were worthy trout, although I couldn’t judge.

Then I caught one. He did not come skittering in over the surface, but neither did he slog heavily at the end of my line. I landed him easily and measured him against the markings on my rod. His nose failed by an inch to reach the one-foot mark. He was a brook trout, a species native to the Battenkill. Perhaps this one was a descendant of those that settled here after the glaciers retreated. More likely his ancestors were hatchery trout that were heavily stocked a century ago.

Either way, I knew he was another wild trout, a survivor born in the river. It’s been many years since hatchery-raised trout have been dumped into the Battenkill. I revived him carefully and slipped him back into the river.

“How big?”

I turned. My friend had been watching from the bridge.

“About 11 inches,” I said.

“Brown?”

“Brookie.”

“Three-year-old fish,” he said. “Brook trout don’t live much longer here. That’s a trophy brookie for the Battenkill. About as big as they get.”

On most of the western rivers I fish, an 11-inch trout would be an embarrassment. I realized I was still taking the measure of the Battenkill.

In Arlington the river takes a right turn and flows east to west into New York, where, for some reason, they call it the Batten Kill. On the third day I prowled this stretch, which for several miles meanders between Route 313 and a dirt road. I drove the dirt road and stopped wherever I found a pulloff. More beautiful trout water, another sparkling May day — high blue sky, pillowy white clouds, that same persistent breeze. Perfect for photography, but not the sort of day that encouraged mayflies to hatch.

I saw more fishermen than I had the previous two days. Most of them carried spinning rods, and I did not try to engage them in conversation. They were probably pleasant people. But spin fishermen do not study insects, and they ignore rising fish. They toss their lures into likely looking currents. When trout are not feeding on insects, a man with a spinning rod will outfish a fly caster. But during an insect hatch, the fly fisherman has the advantage.

I could not learn anything from these fishermen.

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