Manchester, Vermont isn’t a premier fly fishing destination. That isn’t to say that is a bad place to go if you want to catch trout. In fact, it is home to a solid, historic brown trout fishery in the Battenkill. The smaller streams in the mountains teem with native brookies, and bass or musky can be found in other local water bodies. It just isn’t what it used to be, and furthermore it isn’t made of the same stuff as nearby options like the North Maine Woods or the Upper Delaware River system.
For me, though, it is just fine. The historic piece is a large part of it. Like many young fly fishers, I was exposed to a little fly rod company called Orvis when I started in the sport. I grew infatuated, eventually incessantly talking to a store manager until I was able to land a job with Orvis in college. With a flagship store and rod factory in Manchester, the Orvis fan in me can’t help but get excited to fish in southwestern Vermont.
Additionally, I am enamored with the history of the sport in our country. Manchester is also home to the American Museum of Fly Fishing. This quintessentially New England building is bursting at the seams with rods, flies, and photographs of presidents and industry pioneers. Some of them fished the very waters that flow near the museum; albeit in a time where the angling was more productive.
Apart from those two fly fishing monoliths, Manchester is just a great place to be. Nestled in the mountains, it isn’t that far from New York or Boston. There is an absolute wealth of non-angling options for time off the water or for any traveling companions that would rather enjoy shopping than wetting a line. Food, hiking, and, in the fall, leaves, are all part of the charm of this corner of Vermont. And all of these activities happen to occur near, and even on the banks of, the waters around Manchester.
And the Battenkill is the centerpiece of all of these waters.
Flowing from the Green Mountains southward into Manchester, the Battenkill tumbles through quaint farmlands before it doglegs west and heads towards the New York border. The aesthetics have not changed much: small homes, gentle fields, and little New England hamlets punctuate a flow that is generally surrounded by old forests. Like nearly all east coast rivers, the fishing has changed. What was once a great brook trout fishery turned into a great brown trout fishery once those German transplants arrived. Logging, modern development, and use have taken their toll. The river is struggling, but improving. The trout aren’t what they used to be, but they are still there.
There are plenty of places where you can go to catch lots of big trout. There are also those places where you can go for so much more than just fish. History, culture, and a sense of being in a fly fishing place can’t be found in nearly as many destination. Fly fishing on the Battenkill requires work. I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded. But I have also seen enormous, golden fish swipe at my streamers. I have spooked dark, twenty-inch shadows out from under weedy banks. Countless gentle dimples have appeared on the waters’ surface in the evening, only taking the most precisely presented imitations of virtually invisible insects.
Manchester, Vermont is a premier destination. The reason why is simple: When you are there you get to live the story of the Orvis Company, the American Museum of Fly Fishing, and the Battenkill. The river’s story has it’s ups and downs, but it flows through a greater narrative of a local fly fishing culture that is hopefully building towards conflict resolution. And as aware and conscientious participants, we get to be a part of that story.