(c) Jack Ballard
The mountains of southern Vermont are pocked with ponds. Many of these are natural tarns that collect water in dips and depressions in the terrain. Others are confined or enhanced by human-created impoundments, while a third category is solely constructed and maintained by yet another contingent of landscape architects: local beavers whose naked paws and gnawing jaws create dams that sometimes persist a decade after the engineers have departed. Some ponds require a hike of several miles to reach, others are accessed directly from the backroads. Whether seeking a secluded place to nap among the maples, a bird-watching excursion, a cool spot of a midsummer swim or a sublimely relaxing place to fish, the ponds offer rewards on many levels.
One such puddle with ample appeal is Branch Pond. But pardon me, at 35 acres it’s more than a puddle or a pond. Branch Pond is a small, lovely lake in the Green Mountain National Forest, fed by springs and small streams. A short (quarter-mile) hike is all it takes to reach the pond from the access road, though the best fishing from shoreline is found on the opposite side of the lake. From there, it’s possible to wade out among the large and sometimes slippery boulders on the pond’s bottom to cast for the brightly-colored brook trout who make this lake their home. However, an even better way to fish is from a canoe or kayak, crafts that can be easily transported over the short shuttle to the lake.
For shore-bound anglers, shortly after ice-out and once the water cools in autumn are the best times to target the brookies. In midsummer, the trout retreat to spring-fed holes near the middle of the lake. Here the brookies will bite, but it takes some sort of watercraft to reach them. Mike Quartararo, a product development guy with Orvis and local angler, notes the best way to find the big, cool, spring-hole favored by the brook trout in midsummer is to “take a swim in the area northwest of the pond’s island. When you feel the water cool, that’s where the trout hang out.” Short of a dip, look for rising trout in the evening. They’re likely nipping caddis, tan and sometimes black, that frequently hatch on the pond.
The Forest Service allows primitive camping on the perimeter of Branch Pond. Local inquiry with the Manchester Ranger District (802-362-2307) is the best way to ascertain locations of viable camping spots and regulations. Whether you think of it as a puddle, pond or lake, whether the brookies are biting or not, Branch Pond is a New England classic, well worth a visit.
To reach Branch Pond, head west from the village of Stratton (not the resort) toward Arlington on the Arlington-West Wardsboro Road, also called the Kelley Stand Road. The trailhead for Branch Pond is on the right about 4.0 miles from Stratton and about a mile beyond the entrance for Grout Pond.