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Vermont Anglers Facing Ruthless and Record-Breaking Floods

With its unprecedented rainfall, what's to come of Vermont's fly-fishing season?

Vermont Anglers Facing Ruthless and Record-Breaking Floods

Vermont’s Otter Creek continues to rise above its banks as more rain is forecasted this week. Viewing east/northeast from the Swamp Road bridge in Cornwall. (Chris Ingram photo)

On Monday, July 10, Vermont was hit hard and fast when a powerful storm system rolled in and dropped a significant amount of rain in a short time. Overnight, five to seven inches fell across the majority of the state with up to nine to ten inches in several locations. The steep mountainous regions of central and southern Vermont shed the water quickly through every riffle and gully down into tributaries and into the larger river systems like the Black, Dog, Mad, Winooski, and White rivers and Otter Creek. Several towns such as Ludlow, Montpelier, and Waterbury and others—many of which had only recently completed restoration efforts from the devastating flooding of Hurricane Irene in 2011—were inundated with raging floodwaters. Downtown areas and Main Streets were completely underwater. Roadside ditches gave way and gravel roads were totally washed away. And the fishing … you might want to hold off on that as more thunderstorms and flooding events continue to pummel Vermont. 

Vermont’s fly anglers are no strangers to precipitation events. During most times of the year a little rain is met with a warm welcome. Summers in the Green Mountain State are often characterized by sweltering air temperatures and low flows that force anglers to target warm water species on broad water or hike up into the mountains hunting for trout hiding in deep water pools. This year started off in a similar fashion, and aside from some serious smoke and haze from the wildfires burning through southern Quebec, we were just getting settled into the middle of our fishing season. That is until July hit with historic and catastrophic flooding, forcing anglers off the water and questioning the viability of the rest of the season.

Guiding Light

Steven Atocha owns The Middlebury Mountaineer/Green Mountain Adventures, a fly shop and outfitting business in Middlebury, Vermont. He has seen his share of bad weather events come in and disrupt anglers but suggests any trepidation should be relatively short lived. Of course, with more rain on the way and while the larger rivers remain at or above flood stage, it’s not advisable to wade in or launch a raft just yet, but he’s optimistically looking ahead to the rest of the fishing season.

He affirms most anglers he knows have been happy with the current water levels and mentions how recent high-water events have changed some of the rivers in the area, filling in some holes and opening up others. While the main river systems might still be unfishable, he points toward the freestone streams that shed water within 12 to 24 hours and become fishable relatively quickly after a storm event. “These freestone streams fish better with a slight stain to the water, so all of these storms have made for some great nymph fishing and streamer action. The issue is that we have seen high water events every few days recently,” Atocha noted.

A fly angler bending while fishing a small rocky river as the sun sets.
The freestone streams of the Green Mountains tend to move water and clear up quickly, providing anglers with a viable option to continue fishing during frequent and extended storm events. (Chris Ingram photo)

With the safety and well-being of clients first and foremost, Atocha has had to reschedule quite a few trips due to water levels and thunderstorms, but everyone has been very understanding and they’ve been able to make it all work. They’ve been very careful when booking trips and are certain to let people know about the recent rainfall events and the possibility of having to postpone or cancel if conditions are unsafe. “There are definite safety concerns with high water, and we have had to reschedule our walk-and-wade trips when conditions were unsafe, but fortunately for us, we have three rafts in our guide program and have been able to take clients bass and pike fishing on inland lakes when the rivers have been too high,” Atocha added.

He cautions beginner anglers that may find the current conditions a bit tough but suggests seasoned anglers will love the higher flows. With most river temps in the mid-60s, he’s been finding bigger fish moving up to the heads of pools and sitting in the softer water just to the right or left of the main flow. “Euro nymphing has been an effective way to target these fish,” he adds, “and lighter tippet has allowed us to find some of the larger trout that are sitting low in the water column where thermals are a bit more favorable.”

A fly angler kneeling on a streamside rock watching his drift on a swift stream.
During higher water flows, Steven Atocha of The Middlebury Mountaineer/Green Mountain Adventures recommends anglers hit the head of pools with Euro sticks and light tippet to target the larger fish feeding along the soft edges. (Chris Ingram photo)

With a great start to the season and things now in full swing, Atocha and his team are looking forward to the angling activity through the rest of the summer and into fall. They were receiving one to three requests per day for guiding and have worked to accommodate as many as they could and prior to the flooding. “We’ve had a lot of rain this spring and summer and the rivers were at a healthy level. Normally, this time of year we are dealing with high temps and low water, so to be able to still be fishing down in the White River valley has been amazing,” he concluded. 

Silver Lining

Cleanup efforts continue as homeowners, businesses, and industries repair and rebuild, and one fatality has been reported from the floods. With several rivers still on the rise and more rain in the forecast, the duration of this disruption is unknown. 

Hardship aside, flooding and high-water events are actually a part of the health and vitality of any aquatic ecosystem. These events do occur and should not be perceived as a calamity to the fishery, but rather an opportunity for streams and rivers to widen their banks, for trees to fall in and provide habitat and nutrients, and for fish to migrate into new areas. Optimism remains high as Vermont anglers eagerly await returning to their favorite stretches—and hopefully stumble upon a few new honey holes along the way.




Two fly anglers sit on a river bank watching a third angler fish.
Vermont’s fly fishermen have been keeping a close eye on the soggy forecast and rising water levels along their favorite trout streams. (Chris Ingram photo)

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