On the Fly
A Waitsfield fishing fanatic casts his sights online
Like California’s surfers, Vermont anglers tend to be pretty tight-lipped when it comes to sharing their favorite spots. So I was surprised when, after only a little cajoling, Waitsfield’s Peter Cammann agreed to tell me exactly where some smallmouth bass tend to spawn. But he would do so only when the fish were actually there — the spring phenomenon typically happens in May. When the time was right, he’d give me directions — providing I promised to keep the location secret.
I agreed to the deal with Cammann, 50, a former fishing guide, blogger and author of two fishing books. But on the morning we’d agreed to hook up, it was snowing.
So we met at Burlington Bay Café. Looking relaxed and suspiciously tanned for this time of year, Cammann happily pecked away at his Dell laptop, which is as much a part of his “natural environment” these days as secret fishing holes. Since March, Cammann has been running The Streamside Guide, a blog containing “observations, confessions and ramblings on fishing.” For his worldwide readers, it’s a refreshingly new take on the sometimes-tedious talk about tackle and travels. But for many Vermonters, the blog is a reprise of an old radio show, and a reminder of their state’s bounty.
Cammann’s first confession? He’s not a native Vermonter — he grew up in the New York metro area. As he tells readers in The Streamside Guide, he doesn’t remember exactly where or when he learned to fish, only that he’s been casting since he was 4 or 5. When he was 12, his mother taught him how to fly fish in a backyard swimming pool in Long Island.
“She took a ring, tossed it into the pool and said, ‘If you can cast into that ring, wherever it drifts, then I’ll give you a hook,’” Cammann recalled. “It took me a while, but it’s really not a complicated sport.”
Cammann went for it. With a degree from Tufts and some reporting experience at a local paper in Massachusetts, he moved to the Mad River Valley in 1985 — Fayston, and later Waitsfield — and soon began writing articles for Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Fly Fisherman. Then came the book deals: Fishing Vermont’s Streams and Lakes and Ultralight Spin-Fishing were both published by Woodstock’s Countryman Press.
Shortly after relocating to the Green Mountains, Cammann also began working as a fly-fishing guide. He kept it up for 10 years until calling it quits in 1996. “I discovered I spent most of my time using my fly rod as a pointer, saying, ‘The fish is over there,’ and watching someone else cast to the fish I’d spotted,” said Cammann. “I got on the water 100 days a year, but I didn’t fish very much, and it changed my whole attitude toward fishing — for a while I didn’t fish unless somebody showed up with a credit card.”
The writing slowed down, too — Cammann has long worked other jobs and now runs a property-management company in Burlington — until The Streamside Guide bubbled up. “It came about through failure,” he said of his blog. “I took an idea for a book, pitched it to a couple of agents and three publishers, and they all said, ‘This is fantastic — but there’s no way we can sell it.’”
The idea? “Looking at fishing from the point of view of somebody who has enormous deficiencies in their favorite sport, and having fun with that,” explained Cammann, who has stories from his wife and 16-year-old daughter as well as a slew of funny fishing tales of his own. For example, once he was fishing out of a canoe off the Massachusetts coast, using live, herring-like fish called menhaden as bait. The smelly, flashy fish attracted the attention of a seagull, which Cammann somehow ended up hooking. The seagull started flying away — with Cammann still holding on — and hilarity ensued. “If you fish enough, there are enough psychotic stories,” he said.
After Cammann’s book idea was rejected, he decided to turn it into The Streamside Guide, loosely based on a five-minute radio segment he developed and broadcast in the Burlington area — on WNCS from 1988 to 1990, and WDEV from 1991 to 1996. Even back then, Cammann said, he realized he needed to cast a wider net. “If I spend time talking about what to do and how to do it, I isolate about three-quarters of the population,” he noted. “But if I bring into it the fact that this is something I’ve done all my life and I screw up like crazy, I draw in a lot more people.”
Cammann aims to grow his virtual fishing community to about 1000 before establishing a permanent website with, he hopes, more interactivity and steady advertisers. Since it debuted, the blog has drawn in about 200 readers, he estimated. Many are from out-of-state and even overseas. “There’s still this great mystique about Vermont, which is very cool,” he said. “They like hearing about the Winooski and the Dog River, and they ask about the Batten Kill.”
The tricky part, added Cammann, is giving a sense of place without giving the place away. Online information is controversial among the adventure-obsessed, as evidenced by the turbulence caused by surf cams that have exposed country’s best breaks. For his part, Cammann said he’s able to create “a verbal contour map” of certain locations without divulging specific holes.
Two areas he will openly share: Luquillo, Puerto Rico, and Ripton, Vermont. The former is his favorite place to fish, Cammann acknowledged, for its seemingly endless salt flats and trenches filled with barracuda, grouper, tarpon and yellowtail. The latter is the site of a gnarly, mile-and-a-half slog upstream in the Ripton Gorge, which left Cammann so black and blue, he’s sworn never to return. “Anybody who goes through the process will find the most amazing trout they’ve ever seen,” he vowed. “And they’ll risk their lives doing it.”
On other, more placid rivers around Vermont, Cammann now gets in about 60 to 70 to days per season — which for him stretches from late February to November. One secret behind Vermont’s fishing, he revealed, is uncovering the stuff most anglers are overlooking. In the time we spent at Burlington Bay, Cammann guessed that 1000 people had driven past our original meeting spot. Another secret, he confessed, is that it’s not about catching fish. “I could be perfectly happy missing strikes all day,” he said. “If I fool one enough to come up, I’m halfway there.”