Anything Fly Fishing

The Otter Creek Classic

7 Mins read

Travel through Green Mountain National Forest to Ripton, VT.

By himself, Ricky drives through the Green Mountain National Forest towards Middlebury, Vermont. Leaving U.S. Route 89 at Royalton, he travels west along VT-Route 107, passes by the old Vermont Castings factory, and through the towns of Bethel and Gaysville. At Stockbridge, Ricky journeys along VT-Route 100, past the Liberty Hill Farm, through Rochester, and on to Hancock. There, Ricky picks-up VT-Route 125, passes the Middlebury College Snowbowl, Bread Loaf and the School of English, and the Rikert Outdoor Center, on to his lodgings in Ripton.

Ricky has stayed at a cottage in Ripton several times. He parks his car by the red barn outside of his lodgings. The cottage is a comfortable two stories. Downstairs is a kitchen and dining area as well as a great room. Up a narrow, winding staircase is the bathroom and a bedroom with a Queen-size bed. Ricky places his rods, reels, boots, waders and jackets in the great room. It is there that he signs the guest log and adds to his collection of folk music CDs. At the dining table, Ricky spreads out his leaders, tippets, flies and other accessories. Ricky drags his suitcase with clothes and washroom paraphernalia upstairs. Although not allowed inside the cottage, Chester the Cat keeps Ricky company as he walks from the cottage porch to his car and back. After unloading and unpacking, Ricky settles in for a quiet and peaceful stay.

The Cottage

Chester the Cat

Since Ricky arrives one day early, he hops in his car and travels VT-Route 125 to the Ethan Allen Highway to Middlebury’s Merchant Row for dinner at Sabai Sabai Thai restaurant. Arriving by 5:30, Ricky sits at his favorite window seat overlooking Triangle Park. Accompanied by a 22 oz. Singha beer, he orders a chicken satay appetizer, coconut Tom Kha soup, vegetable & tofu Massaman curry, and mango sticky rice with Thai custard. After a relaxing dinner, Ricky wanders among the shops and galleries of downtown Middlebury. He peers through each window. He gazes at the photographs and paintings and crafts that he cannot take home, because the shops are closed, and his house has no wall space, and he is here to fish for trout.

At 4 PM the next day, Ricky retraces his route and checks-in at the Middlebury Mountaineer. Coinciding with the opening of trout fishing season during the second weekend of April, the Otter Creek Classic hosts fly-fishers of all ages and from all locales. Ricky has fished The Classic since its inception 15 years prior.

Middlebury Mountaineer

Upon entering the Middlebury Mountaineer, Ricky is greeted by Dave. After fist bumps and the exchange of pleasantries, Dave checks Ricky’s license, disclaimer and registration. His documents being in order, Dave gives Ricky a daily scorecard to track the species of fish, (pike, pickerel and panfish are not allowed), their length, the river where the fish was caught, and the time of the catch; his early-bird, sign-up swag; a trash bag; a tape measure; and other odds and ends. Once official, Ricky meanders through the Middlebury Mountaineer. He scrutinizes the boots, socks, waders, jackets, sweaters, vests, fly line, trout leaders, and assorted flies. He peruses the books; the authors Daniel, Kreh, Wulff, Gawesworth, Caucci, and the Hilyards. The texts on various, global geographies as well as the techniques of casting, strip-setting, nymphing and fly tying.

He wanders over to the gratis beer keg, pumps the tap, and pours himself a brew. While cruising and drinking, Ricky chats with the numerous other fly-fishers on assorted topics. However, in spite of the meandering, scrutinizing, perusing, drinking and chatting, there is but one certainty, no one knows where trout can be caught and what fly will catch them.

At 5 PM, the hosts of The Classic, Steve and Jesse, call the rowdy crowd to order. Steve welcomes the fly-fishers, gives a history of The Classic, notes the community activities, describes the White River, the New Haven River, other 501(c)(3) conservation partnerships, and thanks the sponsors.

Next Jesse takes the podium. A former fly-fishing guide and now a product developer, he describes how, along with Steve, they thought-up the Otter Creek Classic, nurtured it, and watched it mature. Jesse recaps the rules, guidelines and updates. The fishing boundaries are the Otter Creek and White River watersheds. If water flows into the White River or the Otter Creek in Vermont, fishing is in-bounds. The White River’s lower boundary is its confluence with the Connecticut River. The Otter Creek’s lower boundary is its confluence with Lake Champlain. Certain areas of the East Creek and the Otter Creek are closed to competition. Fishing these areas will be disqualified and subject to street justice.

Scoring is straightforward. Each day, (Saturday from sunrise until 5 PM, and Sunday from sunrise until noon), the six longest trout are recorded and scored; one inch in length is equivalent to one point. In addition, for each day, 5 additional points are awarded for catching the 3 species of trout, (Rainbow, Brown, and Brook). Timed photographs must accompany each measured fish. Lastly, 5 additional points are awarded for filling the trash bag over the course of the weekend.

At the end of each day, a signed scorecard is returned to the Middlebury Mountaineer. Photographs are electronically submitted by 5 PM on Saturday and noon on Sunday. And it goes without saying, only fly-fishing is allowed.

At 6:30 PM, Ricky and his fellow fly-fishers walk one block to the Town Hall Theater. After confirming entry by eTicket, they roam the Theater’s halls, investigate the fly-fishing artisans, and purchase red raffle tickets. After an hour, Ricky and his fellow fly-fishers enter the theater for the movie. Ricky feels that purchasing raffle tickets, just before entering, affords him the best chance for one of his tickets to be chosen.

The movie is the International Fly Fishing Film Festival compendium. Short films include searching for peacock bass in the Amazon’s jungles; hunting for brown trout in Iceland; casting for brook trout in Maine; travelling from the Bahamas to the Everglades in pursuit of bonefish, tarpon, and jacks; trekking in Argentina for golden dorado; angling for Atlantic salmon on the Margaree river with Ella, the Dollar Dog.

The Movie

Although the film is glitzy, it is the intermission and the raffle that has Ricky and everyone else animated. Steve and Jesse orchestrate the intermezzo. Numbers are drawn by a youngster reaching into a cooler full of tickets. A ticket is handed to Steve. The winning number is read aloud. After a few moments, the cry of, “Up here. I’ve got it,” fills the venue. After Steve matches the winner’s number with that of the ticket in his hand, he and Jesse award the prize(s). Raffle prizes include fly-fishing rods, fly-fishing reels, fly boxes filled with different type of flies, socks, hats, gaiters, fly-rod carriers, floating and sinking fly lines, fly-tying kits and materials, dry fly floatant, tippet nippers, sling bags, travel bags, coolers, carry-ons, all types of decals; a cornucopia of fly-fishing accoutrements.

The next morning at 6 AM, armed with an Addison County map and Lawton Weber’s Northern Cartographic of Vermont Trout Streams, 2nd edition, Ricky leaves the cottage and heads out VT-Route 125 to fish The Classic. Rods, reels, lines, tippets and techniques notwithstanding, there are three words that comprise The Synonyms of Success: Stones, Travel and Trash.

Before leaving the cottage, Ricky checks his stonefly box. As the well-oxygenated watershed is fed from the Green Mountain National Forest snow melt, it is cold and clear and unpolluted; ripe for both nymphal and terrestrial Stonefly patterns. As members of the moth family, Stoneflies can exist in their naiad stage for up to four years and as terrestrials they can live year-round. Worldwide there are over 3,500 species leading to much diversity in presentation. They have a generalized insect anatomy, yet some unique features exist. Simple mouthparts with chewing mandibles; multiple-segmented antennae; compound eyes with several ocelli; legs ending in two claws. The abdomen is soft and includes remnants of the nymphal gills. Nymphs and adults have paired cerci projecting from the tip of their abdomen.

Stoneflies – Terrestrials and Nymphs

Getting into his car, Ricky knows that he will constantly rove. By driving from fishing spot to fishing spot and wading through each location, he maximizes his chances of landing a trout. Successfully fishing the Otter Creek watershed of Addison County demands change; to an nth degree; the maxim of keep moving. Casting in acceptable terrain; experimenting with fly selections; identifying the waterways’ deep pools; recognizing the rivers, streams, brooks and run-offs. All are necessary but not sufficient. Catching trout requires relocating and roaming.

It is 6:30 AM. Ricky arrives at his first fishing spot; the bridge over the Middlebury River outside of Ripton. Parking at the pull-off, Ricky climbs down the bank to the river. Here the water is clear, clean and fast. He Euro nymphs under the bridge. He flips tandem flies. He wanders downstream. Nothing. After 1 ½ hours, he moves on.

Ricky drives to his next spot; the Middlebury River opposite the Waybury Inn. He walks across the bridge and climbs down to the river. Like before, he Euro nymphs and flips tandem flies and continues wandering. Again, nothing. After another 1 ½ hours, he moves on.

The Waybury Inn

The Middlebury River

Ricky crosses the Ethan Allen highway to continue fishing the Middlebury River. Stopping at the put-in just below the highway’s overpass, Ricky gathers his kit and walks to the river. This time wading into the middle, Ricky casts black Stone fly nymphs downstream. Slowly, with patience and persistence, flies are aimed towards the shoreline, hoping to catch a small trout lurking under the protection of the rocky bank or a downed log. Again, nothing.

At 1 P.M., Ricky travels north to fish the Otter Creek below the Belden Falls Dam of the Otter Creek Gorge Preserve. Turning left off the Ethan Allen highway onto Belden Falls Road, Ricky drives under the railroad bridge and parks in the Belden Falls parking lot. Getting out of his car, Ricky descends the canoe friendly stairs to view the waters rushing over the Green Mountain Power Dam to form the Otter Creek’s tailwaters.

The Sign by Belden Falls

Middlebury River Trash

The awards ceremony and after party is no sooner than 1 o’clock on Sunday. On warm days, the gathering is outdoors along the New Haven River at Sycamore Park. (On days of inclement weather, the gathering is held in the great room of a local tavern.) Steve and Jesse award the professional, adult and junior trophies, the WhistlePig™ rye whiskey, the winners of the various lotteries, the other swag. Volunteers serve hamburgers and hot dogs with all the trimmings. Water, sodas and beer flow. For this second weekend in April, the Otter Creek Classic makes for wonderful memories and looking forward to the future of Vermont fishing.

The First Trout of April from a Pool in Sycamore Park

Copyright 2024 by Eric Silfen. All rights reserved.

Hoell, H.V., Doyen, J.T., & Purcell, A.H. (1998) Introduction to Insect Biology and Diversity (2nd edition). Oxford University Press. Pp. 383-386. ISBN 978-0-19-510033-4.

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