Sunday, December 11, 2011

Friday Anger Interview

Matt is a steelhead magnet!
The Friday   Sunday Angler Interview was a bit late this week... but here it is!  I met up with a great angler last week while out fishing. Matt Lavallee is mostly a spin fisherman but he is doing quite well with the long rod already after less than a year seriously fishing with one. I don't think that there are many folks who know the lower Winooski as well as he does too. He is also one of the many participants in the Vermont Master Angler Program- with some really awesome entries for this year already!
How did you get into fly fishing?
One of my most fondest and prominent memories on the water as a child was walking upstream on the Winooski River in Bolton and running into a group of fly fishermen. Not being older than 10 or 11, I'd never run into fly fishermen before, and had no idea what it was.  As I sat back and watched in amazement at how they picked up the floating line off the water, slingshot it behind them, and then in front of them, laying it evenly across the water and then watching with predator-like eyes at the dry fly as it drifted down, I knew this wasn't something anybody could do.  I was filled with excitement and curiosity.  Each one of them had a stringer of browns and rainbows and continued to land fish after fish.  Needless to say that night I arrived home, I looked in my father’s garage for something that resembled the rods and reels that they were using.  I ended up finding a baitcasting reel, putting it on a spinning rod with braided line, and somehow thinking I was now a fly fisherman!  I scanned the fields for grasshoppers, caught a few and ran to the same spot on the river where I'd ran into the fly fishermen before to learn this amazing fishing technique.  Nobody was there, as it was now a weekday and they were at work.  I spent hours upon hours trying to cast like they did with obviously no success.  After hours upon hours of trying to get the hang of trying to shoot my, "fly line" which was actually thin diameter braided line, forward over 50 feet in front of me like they did, I gave up.  As any young child, I decided it was just TOO hard for me to learn and I gave up too soon.  I was then forced to move from Bolton into Winooski with my family, and the passion I had for fishing dwindled away as I got caught up in school. Over 10 years later after getting back into fishing altogether, I picked up a fly rod and reel after spin fishing for about 4 years again, went to Bolton and managed to find that exact spot I was at when I was a child and it was just pure nostalgia!  It was one of the first places I'd ever actually fly fished.  I had felt complete and was at a loss for words when I had landed my first trout in the same spot I had ran into the fly fishermen as a kid.  It was a small rainbow, and I was hooked on fly fishing after feeling the first tug of that fish on my fly rod after I set the hook!

This is the spot where Matt first saw fly fishing
I know you have primarily been a spin angler for many years but you are getting more into fly angling. What have you seen as the biggest differences? What has the biggest challenge been?
The biggest issue for me was and is casting, especially at a distance.  Being a beginner, I'm far from presenting a fly at a distance to a fish whereas with a spinning rod I'd be able to achieve that distance with ease.  I find almost everything about fly fishing has been and still is difficult to learn.  Casting, presentation, using the right fly and even landing a fish!  There are many more things that go into fly fishing as opposed to spin fishing, and I love that.  Fly fishing overall has been more difficult than spin fishing, and I think that is why I'm starting to do it much more often lately.  Just like every angler out there, I love a good challenge!  Once I start tying my own flies, I will have a greater sense of accomplishment when landing a fish on a fly that I've tied myself.  I'm very much looking forward to it.

You have been doing really well with the Vermont Master Angler Program. What is it about that program that gets you excited?
I love the Master Angler Program.  It gives me a reason to target species that I normally wouldn't target and gives me a new respect for them.  I love going on the website and browsing through pictures of every kind of fish and seeing who caught it, and how.  It makes me feel even more proud to be fishing VT waters after seeing some of the beautiful fish on the Master Angler Program. 

What species do you want to chase more for the MAP?
I'd love to start targeting as many species as I can, but I'd love to catch a few huge pike and longnose gar, the pure size of them intrigues me.  I've landed a few before but nothing over 30".  I'd also love to land a MAP qualifying pike or longnose gar on a fly!

Yes, this is a laker from the Winooski!
The Winooski is your home water. At this point I think there are few people who know that water as well as you do. What species have you caught in the lower Winooski?
It would almost be better to list the species I haven't caught in the lower Winooski!  Species I have caught in the lower Winooski are steelhead(rainbow trout), lake trout, brown trout, landlocked salmon, brown bullhead, pike, pumpkinseed, yellow and white perch, small and largemouth bass, walleye, sturgeon, carp, fallfish, longnose gar, American eel, redhorse, white suckers and freshwater drum.  Almost every species you can catch in the Lake will at some point or another be in the tributaries, it's just a matter of when.

Have you seen an increase in fishing pressure in the area over the past few years?
This year has had a great increase in fishing pressure because of the amount and quality of fish coming from the lower Winooski, and not to mention other Lake Champlain Tributaries.

It seems like it was a banner year for landlocked salmon. How have you done?
I had landed only four landlocked salmon for the year out of about 8 or so I'd had on, but among those four I'd landed I had one rather large one, which was my personal best at just over 28".  The only downside to that was that the pictures I took of it were in the net because I planned on releasing it, and it was not able to be entered into the MAP.  I did however land one that came in at 24" which I had entered in July.  It was a big surprise to me as it was a collateral catch while fishing for smallies and the occasional walleye.  I am looking forward to next year’s run, or even landing another one in the river this spring as I have a few spots picked out on the lower Winooski that seem promising.

Has it been a good year for steelhead for you?
Gorgeous piece of steel Matt!
It's been a PHENOMENAL year for steelhead for me.  I've already entered 6 qualifying steelhead into the MAP, and have probably lost another 6 big enough to qualify.  My very first steelhead on a fly happened to be a MAP qualifying size, coming in at 24.5".  As with landlocked salmon, I've landed my personal best steelhead this year only about a week ago and it was 27.75".  I landed it on my fly rod, which is only a 5 wt.  One of my most memorable fights out of any fish I've ever landed, regardless of method.  I'm very proud of myself to have won that vigorous battle, and netting it solo as well.  The season however, isn't over for me.  I plan to fish the lower Winooski for steelhead until it closes in March with both my spinning and fly rod, weather permitting.

The Winooski has some of the best habitat for sturgeon in Vermont. Have you seen many sturgeon in the river?
In the spring, they seem to run up quite thick in the lower Winooski.  I have heard stories of people hooking 3-4 in the same day, and I wouldn't doubt that.  I had my first experience with a sturgeon this spring and it was just amazing.  I had absolutely no say as to where the fish was going in the water; I was just tagging along for the ride as it went where it pleased.  The size they can get to is just outstanding and they really can dwarf any fish in the rivers and in the Lake.

Matt's two-fer
What has been the biggest surprise catch you have had while fishing the lower Winooski?
I've had quite a few this year, but I guess when it comes to, "catching" it would have to be my first carp(s).  After hooking my very first carp and battling it out for a good 30 minutes, I walked down to the bank to net it.  Before I knew it, the carp was in the net with his trusty sidekick, ANOTHER carp!  While netting the carp, it's mate (I assume) was following it while I was fighting it, and decided to swim right into my net as I was netting the one on the end of my line.  I was in shock!  It has made for a great fishing story.

I have heard that you had a chance to film a segment with Lawrence Pyne for the Vermont Outdoor Journal. How did that go?
I was very fortunate to have been a part of his segment about the Master Angler program in Vermont, he's a great guy.   Lawrence contacted me via e-mail after seeing the different species I had entered into the MAP from the lower Winooski river.  He wanted to get some footage of me fishing and get an interview afterwards asking about the kind of fishery the lower Winooski is, and why many anglers overlook it because it's so close to the city.   We met up in late October with the river being quite high.  I had been fishing for my MAP steelhead entry, and that's what we were focusing on since I hadn't yet landed a steelhead big enough to qualify.  After a great day on the water with Lawrence, I did manage a steelhead about 17" on camera, but the day was coming to an end, and Lawrence and I parted ways.  I thanked him for the opportunity, and the episode should be airing around spring.  I decided to give a different spot a try before leaving myself, and ended up landing a 26.5" lake trout, it was just too bad Lawrence had already left.  As he left, he told me jokingly I had better not land a MAP qualifying steelhead, and the very next day I did just that.  A trophy sized steelhead and my personal best at the time, coming in at 27".  If only we had picked the next day to film, it would have been it on camera!  Overall the experience was perfect, and I felt very honored to be on the show.  I've since then sent Lawrence a few pictures of the MAP qualifying steelhead I've been catching.

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…
June of last year I had hooked into a fish that was so powerful and fast, after the initial hook set it took off and ran almost 100 yards across the river, just about spooling me within seconds.  It was the kind of run that makes your heart skips a beat.  When it finally slowed, it turned 90 degrees and ran into the deepest part of the river.  Shortly after that, it had gotten my line hung up on a snag at the bottom.  So not only did I not see the fish, but it outsmarted me and had wrapped my line around something in the water, and broke me off right after.  I was devastated, and it took me quite a while to get over it.  At that time of the year, I have no idea what it could have been.  I'd like to say it was either a monstrous salmon or steelhead, but since I didn't manage to get a glimpse of it I'll never quite know for sure, and it just kills me!

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?
That's a tough one.  Even though it's relatively close to home, I'd love to visit New York and fish for steelhead and browns on a fly in some of the great rivers and streams they have. There is just something about catching huge trout in small water that gets me pumped.

Are you hoping to do more fly angling in the future?
I definitely am, there is no doubt about that.  I'm hoping to use it just as often as my spinning rod from now on.  I plan on buying an 8 wt outfit next year for salmon and steelhead.  I may even try targeting pike and longnose gar with it as well.  Only time will tell!

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