Fishing: Is it too soon for June?
It was T.S. Eliot that said April is the cruelest month. Was he trying to let us down easily by ignoring the despair of a dreary May? At least in April we know it's going to be miserable. I'll leave it to the weather folk to offer why we are in this eternal cruelty. Instead, I will do my best to offer a few suggestions how to find success in the face of what has been one long, frustrating stretch of spring.
In my view the biggest impediment to success is not the conditions on our rivers but the lack of flexibility that exists between our ears. Too often we have a preconceived impression as to what to expect on the stream based on the calendar and when the conditions do not meet those expectations we become lost and don't know what to do to rectify the situation. I know that I have fallen into that category more than once.
For the last few weeks we fly anglers have been waiting with baited breathe for the word that the Hendrickson hatch has started. And sure enough the flies have been emerging despite the less than ideal conditions. But most anglers have had few ideas about how to find success in the face of high and cold water. But some have.
Local guide and outdoorsman Brew Moscarello is one of those folks. Brew has had an amazingly successful run of success during this Hendrickson season and it been all by design. While Brew puts more time on the water than most, what Brew really does is put in meaningful time in observation. For every hour that he spends casting over rising trout he spends two observing.
The fact is that all of our local rivers have offered surprisingly good fishing to surprisingly large fish for the past couple of weeks — not just to bait and spin anglers who take advantage of the high, dirty water but to fly anglers willing to toss aside conventional wisdom and think their way through the circumstances. There are several approaches one can employee to find fish willing to play the games we are seeking. During this extended period of cool weather one of the biggest problems has been finding water warm enough with trout actively feeding on emerging insects. Though it can be generally assumed that water warms more quickly the lower one gets in a watershed that is not an absolute rule. There is also the issue of water volume. The lower one gets in a watershed the more tributaries there are that have added their contribution to a river. Some of these tribs will be quite chilly and as a result water temps may actually be colder lower in a river than in other areas further upstream. Most rivers have water temperatures that vary throughout the watershed and there can be pockets of warm water surprisingly high up in a river system.
To find warmer water take a look at a map and see where the major tributaries are. Avoid the water immediately downstream from these sources of cold water. Also look to see if there are areas that are exposed to the sun. With a lack of foliage waters will warm surprisingly quickly. It takes just a couple of degrees of increased water temperatures to trigger insect activity as well as feeding fish. My friend Brew employed this strategy well. He spent time on several of the major rivers in our area and haunted those spots that were well exposed to what limited sun and warmth we have had. Brew was looking for what he calls happy fish; those fish rising comfortably to flies. And found them he did. Another approach that I have used with success is to look for beaver ponds in the upper areas of tributaries. Beaver ponds don't always provide great fishing but when they are newly formed numerous trout can be found in these impoundments. They are also places that will warm much more quickly than other areas of a stream, sometimes to the order of several degrees.
This trick put me on rising trout a number of years ago when our valley streams were high, muddy, and cold due to snow melt. The tributary in question tends to warm up faster than its sister stream because of its genesis in a swampy meadow rather than running off the steep, snow filled hillsides. Add a couple of fresh beaver ponds and the recipe for success was ready made. The fish were not big but that hardly mattered. Finally, one may have to abandon the hopes of finding rising fish but that does not mean that there are no opportunities available. There are many spin casting anglers that are more than happy with these conditions and one of the great advantages of fly angling is that the flexible angler can catch fish not just by imitating insects but by mimicking much larger protein. If one is lucky these high water conditions offer a great opportunity to float our local rivers and cover a lot of water. I'm not a big fan of seeing drift boats when our streams are at a wading level but this has been a spring made for those with the ability to float and fish. By covering a lot of water an angler will fish water that no anglers has the hope to see.
While Eliot famously opined about the cruelty of April allow me to close with this simple question; is it too soon for June?
Doug Lyons is a long-time angler who splits his time between greater Boston and fishing, hiking and relaxing in Southwestern Vermont. Doug maintains a camp in Shushan, N.Y., along with his wife, Deanna and dog Maya.
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