Most anglers are probably aware that trout season opens in our area next Saturday, April 14 at 8 a.m. When I wrote about the upcoming trout opener this time last year, I found it timely to offer some tips about catching trout in high, cold water, which were the stream conditions we were faced with most of last spring. What a difference a year makes.
Balmy spring weather arrived early in March this year and seemed to turn nature's calendar ahead by several weeks or so. As I reported last week, some of the early-season hatches of aquatic insects, such as the grannom caddis, started emerging about two weeks earlier than usual. Last Tuesday, I found some trout lilies blooming along Canoe Creek, also about two weeks earlier than I've seen them previously. And last Thursday while fishing the grannom hatch, I was amazed to find some wild phlox blooming along the Little Juniata River, since these wildflowers typically appear during the last few days of April or the first week of May.
With no snow accumulation on the ground last winter and infrequent rain showers so far this spring, the typical spring runoff has practically been nonexistent this year, and most streams in our region are running clear and at ideal levels with optimal water temperatures. Although many anglers find fishing easier in such stream conditions compared to high, off-color water, lower stream flows and clear water present a different set of problems and challenges.
Stocked trout tend to be exceptionally easy to catch, which is why the first day of trout season appeals to so many folks. And for the first few hours of opening day, those gullible hatchery fish bite with reckless abandon, much to the delight of anglers of all skill levels. But that grand carnival is usually short lived as a great many stocked trout quickly end up in creels, buckets or on stringers. The fish that survive all the commotion of that initial onslaught tend to become a bit more wary, especially a trout that might have slipped the hook after being caught or was given a second chance by a fisherman practicing catch and release. So as the trout get a little wiser, we anglers must also adjust our approach and presentation in order to be successful.
One of the most common mistakes I see on a trout stream is an angler standing where he should be fishing. On smaller streams the best approach is to stay out the water as much as possible. When it is necessary to wade, do so slowly and carefully and with a minimum of disturbance. In clear water, trout can easily see an approaching angler, so avoid wearing bright clothing, opting instead for shades that blend with the surroundings. Most important, keep as much distance as possible between you and the spot you are fishing. Don't spook the fish before you ever make a cast. A little stealth can do wonders for success.
Fine-tuning your presentation can also make a big difference in low, clearer water. As the season progresses, hatchery trout seem to acclimate themselves more quickly to the natural food sources in the stream when the water is clear. This is especially true in streams that have good water quality and support good numbers of aquatic insects and other invertebrates that comprise the bulk of a trout's diet. When this happens, the trout become much less likely to grab a big glob of Powerbait or a night crawler big enough to choke a largemouth bass. Most of the things real trout eat are rather small, so downsizing your baits and lures and presenting them with as much finesse as possible will bring many more bites.
Fly fishing, of course, can be the ideal method for catching trout under our current stream conditions. Most artificial flies are designed to be close replicas of the various bugs and other critters trout eat. There is a bit of a learning curve to fly casting, but with a little practice, it is possible to learn to present a fly with enough finesse and precision to catch fish well. Remember, fly-fishing is not so popular because it is so difficult but rather because it is so effective.
Long-term weather forecasts indicate the weather should be beautiful for the opener next Saturday, so whether you fish for trout with bait, lures or flies, plan to get out and enjoy the day. Better yet, take along a young person or a friend and introduce him or her to the sport of fishing.