Fall weather has arrived in Southern Vermont and with the change trout fishing should get exciting soon. The browns and brookies will be going into spawning mode soon if they haven’t already and that means some aggressive fish willing to hit big streamers.

The temperature is dropping but unfortunately so is the water level. With these conditions the Manchester stretch of the Battenkill was a bit tough to fish. There was some rise activity from 6:45am until at least 8, but no obvious hatch that I could discern. Finding deeper pools and runs was the best bet due to the low water levels. On a positive note the cool daytime temperatures and overnight lows in the mid-40s to low 50s have kept the water temps cool. Water clarity was better than I would like. On the Battenkill a little bit of stain goes a long way to putting the odds in favor of the angler. After the next rain I think the fishing will improve significantly.

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Low water on the Battenkill isn’t all that unusual for September. Normal flow would put water about half way up the rocky stream side on the right. 

I tried a little of everything. Dry flies, terrestrials, nymphs and streamers. The only thing that got any action was a #8 brown and grizzly stimulator. I heard on good authority that flying ants were hatching earlier in the week and the trout were loving it. It was an overcast morning so large or bright dries were the only option if I wanted to actually see where my fly was.

The fishing season may be winding down but it’s not over yet. If you’re one of the people lamenting that you didn’t get out as much as you wanted this spring, make up for it now. The Battenkill has some big browns in it and once the spawn starts the fishing will be great.

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At the start of August I spent a week on the coast in Downeast Maine, about an hour north of Bar Harbor. The fishing was a bit lackluster but clear skies and minimal wind helped make up for it.

I caught several pollack, the small “harbor” fish that often stick to the bottom along much of Maine’s shoreline. The very first saltwater fish I ever caught was a pollack. That was 20 years ago and when I landed it I had no idea what it was, nor had I heard of a pollack. I’ve been educated since then and, on this trip, put in some time targeting this species. The mackerel weren’t running so I tried fishing my trusty diamond jig on bottom. The rule in these waters is that if you fish on bottom you’ll get pollack, fish higher in the water column and you’ll catch mackerel. Jigging on bottom worked well and pollack, even small ones in the 12 inch range, put up a decent fight on a medium action spinning rod. I caught several in an afternoon and kept some to fillet. Most of the fish took the jig in spite of also fishing a piece of pogy (Atlantic Menhaden) on bottom. I only caught one pollack on bait.

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A pair of mackerel and a lone pollack. At least we didn’t get skunked!

My wife and I put in an afternoon of fishing and somehow she managed to pull out a pair of mackerel, one of which was probably close to 16 inches, the longest mackerel I’ve ever seen. I had no luck until the last few minutes when I took a pollack. When I got these fish dressed out for the freezer I took a look at the stomach contents. The larger of the mackerel had recently eaten a sand eel of approximately three inches in length and the pollack had a small shrimp.

Regarding the pogy I’d used for bait, this was a new experience for me. According to Bub Johnson, our contact at the lobster docks, this was the first time the pogy had run since the 1990s. The first morning, when the tide was in and the water was calm, I saw the water boiling near shore. I put in the canoe thinking it was mackerel but quickly discovered it was pogy. I cast to them for a bit and even tried some flies but couldn’t get anything to bite. I learned later that day via internet search that pogy are plankton feeders and won’t take lures, bait or flies. The only way to catch one is to snag them. I figured that out on my own and hooked one for the express purpose of using it for bait. It’s too bad they won’t take a lure or fly because they put up a terrific fight even when hooked near the mouth, as mine was. I found that with the canoe I could ease up the school to within 10 feet. Watching them feed and go about their daily routine was quite a sight. A school of thousands of fish, about 14 inches in length apiece, slowly rotating in an orderly circle, in a column extending from the surface where their backs broke the surface down past where my polarized sunglasses could see. The only drawback is that apparently when the pogy run, the mackerel don’t.

Given the time away from the daily grind, the time with family, the good weather and bucolic coastal scenery, the lack of fish was hardly detrimental.

Few flies have met with the success of the venerable clouser minnow. Initially tied in the late ’80s for Susquehanna smallmouth, it has become a staple for warmwater, saltwater and in smaller sizes even trout fisherman.

The clouser minnow is simple to tie and can be dressed slim and sparse or big and bushy. I’m not going to go into detail about the tying process, there are already plenty of videos online about that. I’d rather emphasize the tremendous versatility of this pattern. It can be tied in myriad color combinations for any species. Originally tied with bucktail, the modern selection of materials, such as arctic goat and streamer hair, for example, allows for even more possibilities. Each material adds a different set of optical characteristics. Krystal flash is my material of choice to imitate the general shine of fish scales, usually pearl because it goes with everything, but sometimes another color depending on what I’m trying to achieve. I usually stick with the original bead chain eyes since these are readily available and are cheap at places like hardware stores and big box department stores.

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A 1/0 saltwater clouser tied with mackerel colors. Simple and very effective!

Cost effectiveness and ease of tying are big priorities for me. If it costs a fortune to tie and takes more than a few minutes per fly, I’m not going to tie very many. There’s nothing worse than having to hold back on where to cast for fear of loosing a costly fly that’s in short supply in your fly box. The clouser is cheap and easy to tie, making it perfect for… well, everything really. It’s ideal for beginners because you can crank them out and get the hang of tying them in short order.

One of the pitfalls of the clouser is clipping the butt ends of the bucktail too close to the eyes. Trim just behind the hook eye and wrap thread over the butts. If you cut too close to the eyes, you’ll end up with butts too short to tie down. They’ll stick up and create an odd-looking profile. Will the fish care? probably not, but at the very least it will compromise the structural integrity of your fly.

This fly is often overlooked for trout. It works well in size 6 but can be tied bigger for larger fish. Smaller sizes tied on regular trout hooks (as opposed to the usual styles like the Musatd 3407) work well for average size specimens. The first fish my wife ever caught was on a white and black clouser tied on a size 10 wet fly hook. That little trout measured 8″.

If you’ve never had a go at this classic pattern, you’re being derelict of your fishing experience. Tie up a few yourself and save your money for more complicated patterns!

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