Fishing for Color

A trout for this season

There are no doubt people so jaded that they cannot appreciate the changing colors of fall here in Vermont. The sort of folks who spend all day looking into a computer screen as though The Answer is in there, somewhere, if they could only tease it out. There are so many synthetic stimulations and distractions that it is possible to miss the miracle that happens every year in these parts in favor of playing the latest video game or watching the latest episode of some television series about medieval kings and queens and zombies and dragons and what all. Or that one about the CIA blonde who has never once obeyed a superior officer’s orders and turns out always to have been inspired in her insubordination.

For me, if it came down to choosing between my smartphone and the glories of this season, then it wouldn’t be any choice at all. There’s no App for October.

Glorious as the foliage is, I found something in my first year or two as a Vermonter that is a match. Just as mysterious, just as dramatic, and requiring a little effort to apprehend. What I’m talking about is the brook trout in spawning colors.

Brook trout are the native species in these parts. They were here before brown trout and rainbow trout which were introduced to our waters—and waters across the country—because they grow bigger and can take more abuse from the environment in the form of high water temperatures and more pollution… though no trout can take very much of that.

Still, the brook trout is relatively sensitive and, also, a little easier to fool than those invaders. It is also less desirable as a catch for most anglers.

But the brook trout is, among other things, the state fish of Vermont. A distinction of which it is probably blissfully unaware. But it is appropriate because the fish is not only native to Vermont waters, it also has the good grace to do its part in making fall in Vermont glorious by its colors. Just like the maples, the ash, the oaks and aspens.

The brook trout is already a beautiful fish. Most of the year it is a sort of deep green in color, with marbling that can be white with small red and blue dots along the flanks and some pink tinting on the fins. Then, in the fall, as the leaves change color, so do the male brook trout. Their colors become vibrant and their bellies show the kind of oranges and reds that could have come straight from an especially dazzling maple. The scientific explanation for this transmogrification is that it makes the male more noticeable to females. I’m fine with that, I suppose, but I like to believe it may also have something to do with the trout just wanting to be part of the pageantry. But, then, I have a weakness for anthropomorphizing.

Anyway … where the fall might be a good time to take down the fly rod and sort out the fishing vest and then put it all away until next spring and opening day, I postpone this in the hope I can take one last day on the water.

The little streams are the best, though there are places on the Battenkill where you can catch brook trout. Catch them all year long, in fact.

On the little streams you can get by with hip boots instead of chest waders and you can move along from pool to pool, checking out each new view and vista. There isn’t a lot in the way of casting and the fly selection comes down to the usual suspects: Adams, Coachman, Hornberg, Wooly Bugger … whatever seems right. Brook trout are not especially fussy.

It is a fine time to be out on the stream, and you feel a sort of “last chance” mood about the fishing. Trout season will end within days and there will soon be snow on the mountains and, then, in the valleys.

The fish are small. Not much bigger than the hand that holds them as you work to free the hook and then take a moment or two to marvel at the hues—reds, oranges, greens and creamy whites that no amount of electronic tinkering and creativity—no number of pixels— could ever quite match.

Then you slip the little fish back into the water and move to the next pool, thinking just how fine it is to be alive, out here, and away from all things electronic. ◊

Geoffrey Norman is a regular columnist for Stratton Magazine.