|Chris with a nice local 'bow|
How did you get into fly fishing?
I grew up in NY State and did a good amount of fishing as a kid in local reservoirs and bass ponds. I moved to VT in 1995 to attend Johnson State College and one of the first courses I enrolled in was a fly fishing course worth about a half credit. I attended the first couple of classes and was honestly bored to tears so I dropped the class from my schedule. Kind of ironic huh? Fly fishing seemed like a lot of fun but I had this slightly warped image from those first classroom experiences that made me question whether it was really for me. A couple years later, I ended up renting a house in Waterville, VT with Mike Kontos (owner/Troutfitters) and a few other folks. Mike was way into fly fishing and actually gave me my first casting lesson out on the lawn. This was way more my speed than learning about the sport in a classroom. From that point, I would routinely go down to the river and flail...and flail...and flail, until eventually the stars began to align, my casts got better, my knot tying got quicker, my presentations were getting better and better and low and behold, I was actually starting to catch fish!
Do you remember your first fly fishing rig?
Absolutely. It was a Browning Diana 8'/5 weight that I bought from Bob down at Fly Fish Vermont when he had his first shop in Stowe's Lower Village. I used that rig for a LONG time until it finally met its demise in the door of my truck as many long rods eventually do. I also purchased a float tube pretty early in my fly fishing game and used it a ton over those first few years.
Conditions aside, what is your preference: dry, nymph or streamer and why?
I'm a nymph guy hands down and a firm believer in using some sort of strike indicator. There's still a stubborn cult of anglers out there that turn their noses up to using anything that resembles a "bobber" on a fly rod, and I have made believers out of many of them after their catch rates go way up with the addition of a strike indicator to their setup. Fish have an incredible ability to sample and spit out a potential meal in a fraction of a second with absolutely no clue to the angler. If you wanna get a clue, use a strike indicator. Presentation aside, I like to throw a setup that balances well. A bonefish rig is a perfect example. A 7-9 weight rod, floating line, fluoro leader and flies in the 4-6 range make for a setup that you can cast a country mile!
Trout are a big part of what you do. How has this summer been for trout in your neck of the woods?
|Mike and Chris escaped VT for some striper action recently|
Trout fishing certainly occupies a large portion of our business, but we do a ton of bass/warmwater trips as well throughout the season. Mike by far does the brunt of the guided wade trips and you can be assured that you are getting your monies worth fishing with him. He does plenty of pre-trip homework to assure his guests the best chances of success. We absolutely, under no circumstances will fish or guide trout water that is over 69 degrees. Whereas the Lamoille will quickly heat up in the summer, the tribs are generally cool enough to trout fish (unless we get a massive heat wave) throughout the season, but we can't necessarily march a group of 3-4 raw beginners up the North Branch of the Lamoille and expect them to enjoy the experience. As luck would have it, prime tourist season falls directly in line with some of the worst trout fishing of the year during July and August. Prime tourist season also generally means larger groups for us to guide, which pretty much equates to a lot of guided bass trips. Most of the bass trips are wade outings, but Mike and I both own motor boats and we've been doing more and more guiding with them. We realized very early on that if we wanted to have a successful guide business in this state, we had to have a trick up the sleeve for any type of fishing condition. Vermont is not necessarily a fishing "destination" where people come from all over the world to fish for massive King Salmon or other migratory fish. Because of this, fly fishing is usually an after-thought for tourists visiting VT. Tourists see the beautiful rivers and streams we have and often opt to simply "give it a shot." As a result we fish with over 90% raw beginners and are effectively growing the sport as we see it. As guides (especially in VT,) our job requires more "people skills" than anything. We are teachers first and foremost. With the right kind of instruction, success at fly fishing comes naturally. We try to keep things fun and offer a service that is professional and high quality. There was one season that we experimented with some new guides with hopes of expanding our business into other regions of the state....BIG mistake. There's plenty of great anglers out there. But if you don't have an ounce of people skills, don't ever consider a career as a fishing guide. The only complaint we ever had regarding our guide service was about a "guide" we had hired on a part-time basis. That was 1 complaint too many for us. Now Mike and I do 99% of the guiding and we have another guy by the name of Steve Stanley help out every now and then. We've found that less cooks in the kitchen is a good thing in our line of work.
Do you have any concerns for the Lamoille watershed right now? How did it weather the really nasty flooding we had this past spring (when the brown trout from the Johnson sewage treatment plant were set free)?
I most definitely have concerns for the Lamoille and it's tributaries. I would love to see protection offered to spawning fish in the spring. Our shop is on the banks of a major spawning trib of the Lamoille and, over the years, I've witnessed heaps of breeding rainbows leaving the river on sticks and stringers. If anglers could get quantity out of their heads and leave those fish alone for a month, they'd watch the quality increase. I always say that it's most often the anglers that like to take home every fish they catch that come into the shop in June and say, "the fishin' ain’t what it used to be." Go figure. There are also the newest threats the watershed is facing in regards to invasives like didymo. It's here and not going away, so we just have to learn how to live with it and hopefully keep it in check. Being a freestone stream, the Lamoille can be a stressful place for a trout in the heat of the summer. It doesn't help that much of the river runs through farmland and can receive some pretty heavy doses of phosphorus if farmers don't adhere to responsible ag practices. Nothing irritates me more than seeing rows of corn planted right up against the river. The flood moved a great deal of earth around and the river has taken a different course here and there as a result. It's incredible what a little water velocity will do.
How is the fall fishing in your area and how are things shaping up for the fall season?
|Chris shows a client how fun smallies on the fly are.|
The Fall is a great time to fish in VT. For me, the flying ant hatch (going on right now) signifies the start of some great trout fishing to come. Water and air temps begin to cool, insects and fish are more comfortable doing their thing and options become less and less limited for trout fishing. We also see far less evidence of the hatchery fish planted in the spring, leaving more of the wild trout in control of the prime habitat. The fall really gives us the best snap shot of how our wild trout faired the summer.
I know after the trout season shuts down in Vermont you guys head out for some fun in New York. What are you guys after?
I can remember a long, long time ago being in an Orvis shop around the Glens Falls, NY area thumbing through some photo albums they had kickin' around. The size of the fish in these photos was absolutely insane and they were being caught not too far from home in the Great Lakes Region. I believe it was around 2003-2004 that we began making annual trips out to Western NY to fish for these large brown trout and steelhead that were migrating up tributaries of the Great Lakes. We used to focus our efforts just west of Rochester, NY on a stream called Oak Orchard Creek or "The Oak" for those that know it. The Oak has some incredible runs of chinook "king" salmon, steelhead, brown trout and more and more Atlantic salmon (landlocked variety) these days, but the river was often ridiculously crowded and we wanted solace, so we began pushing further and further West where we could find unpressured fish amidst incredible scenery. Once we discovered Cattaraugus Creek with its emerald green water and enormous valley walls, we were sold. Four of us do an annual trip to WNY every November to fish the Catt and surrounding areas. We have gut-wrenching laughs, we bust balls endlessly and we catch some amazing fish in some amazing places. I mean, isn't that what it's supposed to be about?
It is pretty cool that you guys also guide on the Salmon River during the winter. It provides a great opportunity for Vermont anglers to fish with a Vermont guide. What do you guys offer?
|A fish like that is worth some cold fingers and toes!|
The Salmon River and Great Lakes tributaries in general provide me an opportunity to do what I love doing year round. I've become so familiar with the steelhead fisheries of NY, that it was a natural progression to begin guiding out there in the winter months. It's not really as easy as it sounds though. I have a wife and two young boys here in Vermont that I can't just up and leave for weeks at a time. It's not realistic for me to spend half the year guiding in Alaska or some other world-class destination like other guys that might not have anyone or anything to leave behind. The Salmon River is less than 6 hours away, it does in fact offer world-class fishing and it has helped me squeak through a couple of Vermont's long winters already. I would encourage my guests to book multiple days and offer better rates for doing so. I don't punch any clock and the length of the day is completely up to my guests. Mike didn't get a NYS guide license, but he often accompanies me out to NY a few days before I have guests to do a little scouting and pre-fishing. That's been a great way to get quickly in tune with what's going on on the river. I've had some excellent repeat guests that have become great friends and that's really what it's about for me. Winter steelheading is definitely not for the faint of heart and it's not a numbers game. It takes the right kind of angler to truly appreciate that type of experience, and when you share long days standing knee deep in 33 degree water just praying for the tug of that electrifying steelhead, you develop a strong bond with a person mostly on the basis that the person standing next to you is just as crazy as you are. Even some hardcore anglers think winter steelheading is crazy. But when you feel that first head shake after sometimes hours of chattering knees, frozen fingers and no love, it'll all make sense.
What has the Salmon been like lately? Did you notice a lot of differences after the flooding last fall?
I completely avoid the Salmon River during the salmon run which begins in late August and peaks in Sept/Oct. The place is an absolute madhouse and it's really not the kind of fishing experience I want for myself or my guests. In November, the numbers of steelhead entering the river increase drastically and the fishing can be excellent. The crowds are still pretty thick, so I haven’t guided the Salmon River in November but I give it more and more consideration each year. The high unemployment rate doesn't make for any less fishing pressure on the river either. Even in the dead cold of winter, I'm often surprised at how many people will be out. Fishing's pretty cheap, so it's still easy for someone with no job and little to no income to get out. The fishing last winter was pretty tough out there. The floods did change things a bit, but once steelhead find a prime lie they occupy it constantly. If one fish moves on, another takes its place and so on. The quandary with steelhead isn't finding them, it's enticing them to eat when their metabolism is slowed almost to a halt at times.
You guys have been a big part of the Ditch Pickle Classic for the past couple of years. Can you tell me the history of that event?
|Chris you caught that a day too early for the DPC|
The idea for the DPC came up about 3 years ago when Mike and I were discussing a tourney that some friends of his had out west. The winner won one of those singing fish wall mounts which we thought was hilarious. Around the same time Brendan Hare and I were discussing our gripes about the LCI. I don't really wanna say it was an "anti-LCI" event, but we did hold our first tournament on the same day as the LCI. We figured not many fly anglers competed in the LCI, so it wouldn't effect our attendance. That first year's event was a smallmouth tourney we called "Bass on the Fly" that we held at Waterbury Reservoir. We had about 11 guys show up and all throw in $20. Winner takes all. That tournament happened to be a super hot one and there was no shortage of water skiers that day. A pretty good size smallie won that tourney and we had a few guys stick around and BBQ at the state park afterward. We were already plotting how to make it better... Then Ken Capsey and Brian Price suggested Missisquoi Bay as a possible future venue. But "Bass on the Fly" was to chintzy...we needed a new image for this thing. Hundreds of emails, Facebook messages and a few drunken evenings later we planted a new seed that we would call the "Ditch Pickle Classic." We were all super excited about it and knew we would watch this thing grow and grow. In 2010 the DPC hosted about 14 guys for the inaugural run on Lake Champlain. In 2011 we grew to 37 guys divided over 17 teams and I'm not seeing any signs of shrinkage in the near future.
Any big plans for the future of the DPC?
I'm already extremely excited for next year's event! There's no doubt that it's gonna be bigger, better and a ridiculously good time! Each year we learn a tremendous amount from our accomplishments and our mistakes. We're developing great bonds with some key players involved in conserving the resource. We're gaining more and more attention from sponsors that want their brand attached to the event. We're meeting some great anglers from different parts of the country that all value the DPC's ethical spin on tournament bass angling. Our tournament fish are caught, quickly measured and documented digitally, and returned to the water in the same area where they were caught. We're not trying to change the world of competitive bass fishing. The Ditch Pickle Classic is simply an alternative kind of event solely for fly chuckers. I definitely see a bigger, expanded format for next year's DPC. One issue that I'd really like to fix is our tournament fishing hours. We're missing the best parts of the day with a 7am-3pm format, so we'll have to make some changes there. The idea of a 2-day event has been kicked around in the past and I'd like to give that idea some serious thought. The idea of an expanded tournament boundary has also come up and this year we did extend boundaries some. Next year we could possibly have multiple check in sites. We've even thought of hosting a series of tournaments throughout the season and having the DPC as the finalists' event. It's exciting to think about this event getting huge. But the bigger it gets, more structure and discipline will be required to keep things running smoothly. We're very open to feedback from the competitors as to how we can improve the event. We want everyone to be happy and to enjoy themselves. It's fishing after all.
Have you been out for bass much this summer?
Absolutely! It's the only way I can justify that motor boat sittin' in the driveway. I love poppin' for bass on the lake...I absolutely love it
Ok, time to bring up unpleasant memories… what fish(es) that you got into but didn’t land haunt your nightmares? Tell me their stories…
|Not the tarpon he wanted, but Chris seems pleased with this jack!|
My first ever tarpon experience haunts me to this day as it does for many others that have ever been in the presence of a silver king. I have fished with a guy by the name of John Meskauskas out of the Stuart, FL area a few times for snook, tarpon and big jack crevelle. My first time out with John a 125#'ish tarpon rolled right in front of the boat. When I casted I watched as a giant mess of tangled fly line made its way toward the first stripping guide, stopping the fly dead in its track. "That's ok," said John. "You didn't want that to be your first tarpon anyway." Thanks John. I feel much better now.
I love asking this one: if you could go anywhere in the world to fish for anything, price is no object, where would you go and what would you target?
I'm an absolute nut for the outter islands of The Bahamas. It's truly one of those places where the fish are really just an added bonus, but let me tell you that bonefish can be a big bonus! Wading a flat amidst a landscape that looks as though it was painted around you will change your life forever. It certainly changed mine and if I could drop everything right now I'd most definitely be in the Bahamas with a Kalik in hand and bonefish on the brain.