ORLEANS — One of the state’s premier wildlife watching opportunities is happening right now in Vermont. The steelhead rainbow trout have started their upstream migration, leaping up waterfalls in a spectacular display of determination on their way to their spawning grounds.
The best place to spot steelhead is at Willoughby Falls just outside downtown Orleans in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Other places to see migrating steelhead include Coventry Falls on the Black River in Coventry and Lewis Creek Falls in North Ferrisburgh, though Willoughby Falls remains the best viewing opportunity.
“When people think of wildlife watching, they typically think of moose or birds, but I would guess that most people don’t think of fish,” said Jud Kratzer, fisheries biologist for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. “This is a rare opportunity to watch fish in nature. Images of salmon or trout hurling themselves up scenic waterfalls are typical from places like Alaska, but many people may not realize we have these same wildlife viewing opportunities right here in Vermont.”
Steelhead can be spotted moving up the falls during warmer days in mid to late April and sometimes into early May during years with late winters. The best times to spot the fish leaping the falls are in the late morning and early afternoon as the sun is hitting the waters.
Willoughby Falls and a section of river upstream are closed to fishing until June 1 to protect the fish while they are spawning, although there are great fishing opportunities a short way downstream from the falls.
“Watching these fish move upstream is a great way for people to connect with nature,” said Kratzer. “But it’s also a powerful reminder of the importance of habitat for fish and other wildlife. Fish need places to spawn, to hide, and to feed, and they need access to these resources at the appropriate time. We’re looking to continue to conserve these resources so future generations can continue to witness this incredible fish migration each spring.”