Orleans witnesses annual Steelhead trout migration, draws visitors from afar

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ORLEANS — Each spring, the Steelhead trout, a unique species of rainbow trout, leaves Lake Memphremagog and embarks on an arduous journey to its seasonal spawning grounds in the Willoughby River, attracting hundreds of locals and tourists. This year’s migration has once again turned Orleans into a popular spot for those eager to witness the trout’s dramatic leaps up the rushing falls.

Northeast Kingdom Trout Unlimited (NEKTU) has been present at the Willoughby Falls access area for the past few weekends, offering insights into the event’s rich local history and the biology of the migrating trout.

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“The migration has been a part of the Northeast Kingdom since the late 1890s when the Pacific Northwest Steelhead was first stocked in Lake Memphremagog,” explained TJ Dezotell, a local fishing guide and NEKTU board member. “The exact timing of the jump varies each year, but this year the turnout and the number of fish have been fantastic.”

The favorable spring weather contributed to a steady influx of visitors, including those from New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, some of whom traveled more than four hours.

“It’s like a gambling habit, but a healthier one,” joked Jessica Booth, another NEKTU board member. “While travelers hope to get lucky and see the jump, locals often visit several times a day to see if the fish are leaping yet.”

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The event not only offers a spectacle but also serves as a nostalgic experience for many local residents who have been attending the migration since childhood.

“When the fish crest the water, it’s like a walk down memory lane,” Booth added.

In addition to numerous fish sightings, NEKTU also welcomed many new members to their recently re-chartered chapter. The group plans to host additional community outreach events throughout the summer, focusing on the preservation of Vermont’s waterways.

Interested individuals are encouraged to follow NEKTU’s activities on social media or visit their website at www.NEKTU.org for more information on upcoming events and projects.

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