In his critically-acclaimed book, Vermont River, author and fly-fisherman W.D. Wetherell never tells us exactly which river he is writing about. He writes: “if I have left it nameless, it is not for protective secrecy, but because to me it stands for the dozen New England rivers I have come to know.”
No matter. Wetherell does a fine job describing the personal journey that is a life of fly-fishing. His descriptions express what scores of fishermen wish they could express themselves. It doesn’t really matter which covered bridge spans the pool you are casting into, nor which ledge the water cascades over to churn and foam before swirling around the next boulder. The river is your friend and your companion. What matters is that you are there, smelling the sweet ferns as you walk the bank, and cursing the no-see-ums as you tie on the fly you are convinced will fool that fish that flashed briefly at your prior perfect prospect.
On this leg through Vermont, I was staying not on a Vermont river but at the Lake Mitchell Trout Club as the guest of my good friend and Confluence co-author, Bob Chamberlin. Lake Mitchell is really a big pond with Mitchell Brook flowing in and out with a burbling sound you can hear most everywhere on a quiet evening. Loons, ospreys, ducks of all types, and eagles frequent the pond. Great-blue herons – adults and babies- look down from a rookery near the shore.
Entering the lodge is like time travel with little changed from the turn-of-the-century (1900, not 2000). It is an exquisite example of period architecture and ambiance.
I don’t know the full story of the Club, but I can tell you that “Silent Cal” Coolidge fished here in 1929 (silently, I would guess) and was made an honorary member, according to framed letters in the large living room.
I can also tell you that Dahlia, the superintendent/caretaker/chef/fishing advisor, keeps the building and grounds in meticulous shape, and makes everyone feel welcome and well-taken care of. And her dogs do, too.
Trout Pond Bingo
I am not much of a pond fisherman. To me it seems so random: you have 360 degrees to cast, so you pick one point on the compass, cast and hope.
In my weaker, less charitable moments, I whine that pond fishing is like cow flop bingo, a rural fund-raising event in which they grid off a pasture with numbered squares. You pay for a square, they turn a cow loose to graze, and if the cow drops a pie in your square you win the prize. The sponsoring organization earns their share. The cow gets nothing, except some green grass.
In Trout Pond Bingo, you flip your fly out there and hope you put it in the correct square.
When the trout are rising regularly, though, you can aim your fly for the center of the rise ring. This works if the trout are staying in one place, eating plentiful bugs a-hatching.
But on the night I was fishing, I found myself chasing fish around the pond while they cruised along sipping mayflies and spinners and who knows what other bugs
I couldn’t see. I tried predicting their path and casting ahead, but with no luck.
On my drive up Rt. 100 through central Vermont, the White River had looked very enticing. Wetherell wrote about the White River, so it is within his universe of favored waters. I asked Dahlia (who is an excellent fly fisher in her own right) if she had any tips on where to try the White.
Dahlia pointed on the map to the section above Bethel, which is special regulation water – fly fishing only. Around noon, I drove up River Road from Bethel looking for a place to get to the river with some promising water.
After two false starts, I found a deep pool with a cut bank on a big bend. After wading across below the pool to a rocky beach on the inside of the curve, I started drifting a variety of streamers and nymphs from the main current into the slack water. After a few dozen casts, I started to mutter to myself about a Vermont curse, when I felt a heavy tug that felt like a snag. But it moved, and moved some more.
Ten minutes (and six seconds of video) later, I had a 20 inch rainbow at my feet. As I reached to get it into my net, it flopped and spit the hook, saving me the trouble of holding it down to perform the same task. It was easily the biggest fish of the trip.
Friday evening was a celebratory dinner at the Trout Club with Bill Conway (another Confluence co-author) and his family. The occasion was his older daughter Catherine’s graduation from Dartmouth. We had an enjoyable evening with is family before turning in to be up early on Saturday.
There is no river in Vermont called the Kingdom River, but to fans of Howard Frank Mosher, the Kingdom River is vivid and real in our reader’s eye.
Howard Frank Mosher, who sadly passed away in January, created a fictional version of the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) in Vermont, which he called Kingdom County. All of his novels have some tie to the NEK in various time periods. My favorites, from a fishing standpoint, are A Stranger in the Kingdom and God’s Kingdom, which are set in the 1950s. (Howard finished the third in the series called Points North to be published in 2018).
These enthralling novels tell the story of the Kinneson family in a town called Kingdom Common. The Kinnesons all fly fish in the Kingdom River which flows through the fictional town. The Kingdom River and other streams in the book appear to be some combination of the Black River that flows through Irasburg, the Willoughby River near Orleans, and the Clyde River near Newport.
When Howard Mosher died, I learned through connections on Facebook that Kathy White, a friend of another Confluence co-author, Phil Odence, knew Howard and his family. Kathy has a home on Lake Memphramagog, which also appears in many Mosher books.
When I was planning my journey, I wanted someone who could show me around the NEK rivers. Kathy connected me with David Smith, the former proprietor of the Irasburg General Store and a retired guide, who also knew Howard. On my way to meet David, I drove through Irasburg and cast a line for a few minutes into the Black River below a covered bridge just downstream from the village (top photo). I was now deep in Kingdom County.
I met David in Derby on a very warm afternoon. He took me to the Clyde River in Newport where a small dam had been removed (thanks to the efforts of David and the local Trout Unlimited chapter) below the hydropower dam on Clyde Pond. We were hoping to find some large salmon, rainbows or browns that move up from the lake. By large salmon, I mean five or six pounds.
At the old dam, I managed to catch three energetic smallmouth bass, but no sign of salmon. We then moved down to a long glide right in the village of Newport at about 6:00. There were no rises visible, so we were casting streamers. I was using a Brown Owl, a huge hairy fly that looks like a big stonefly (developed, I just learned, by Bob Broad, owner of Brown Owl Tackle Shop in Errol, NH).
I now understand how big those salmon are. Three times a huge fish slashed and splashed at my fly. The dorsal fin looked to be the size of dollar bill folded in half. But I couldn’t get it to take the fly. Or the next one, or the next one.
As my stomach rumbled just after 7:00, I realized that David might want to get home for dinner. He had generously given me, a total stranger in the Kingdom, his entire afternoon and some of his evening.
I had made a new friend, and had caught some fish in the “Kingdom River.”
Now, to quote Charles Kinneson from God's Kingdom, it was “time to get this show on the road.”