Weatherwise, opening day for trout could not have been more perfect.
Nevertheless, I am not a fan of opening days for anything but spring gobbler and deer. In my opinion, trout fishing gets better in May. Crowds have thinned out and a fisherman can make his or her way up a stream, especially on a weekday, and not run into an angler at every hole or riffle. And such trout as are left after the first flurry have calmed and will be open to a drift of a worm or salted minnow or whatever, that appears lifelike and natural.
Natural is the keyword for good live-bait fishing. I love getting my spinning gear out and filling my bait-box with freshly dug worms and having at it. Not to mention eating a couple of the freshly-caught trout too.
By this time, however, trout that have survived the early week madness are leery of worms and minnows plunked around on a 6- and 8-pound test line. Switching to ultra-light spinning gear with a 4-pound test monofilament will allow you to make softer, more natural looking casts. Using lighter sinkers, or BB shot will help too.
I always switch to lighter, more natural baits. No more huge nightcrawlers gobbed around a hook for stream trout. Now I use one garden or red worm, impaled on a set of gang hooks. One small No. 14 hook is used at the head and the second hook down along the body.
Used with a 4-pound line and a small BB shot allows you to cast to the head of a ripple or hole and the bait then sinks or drifts naturally. Casting so the bait hits the water quietly, and then drifts naturally with the current, is what will now attract a trout to dash out and grab it.
My really favorite bait fishing from the second week until mid summer involves heading up a trout stream taking no bait or flies with me, having to find whatever I can along the way to use as bait. Sometimes I do carry a bait box of garden worms with me as a backup; I simply enjoy scouring the rocks, tree bark, or fields for crickets and grasshoppers, then impaling one on a No. 12 or 14 snelled hook, fastening a small bobber on a dropped line 18 inches above the bait and casting it out into the current. This rig lets the hopper float; the small bobber gives enough weight to get it cast out where you want it. In fact, you can use bait casting rod and reel, even fly casting gear to get worms, grasshoppers, beetles etc. onto the water.
Once you start deliberately looking it is amazing the variety of worms, beetles, grubs and snails you can unearth from under logs, rocks and tree bark.
Of course, once in awhile you'll unearth a snake or two so you have to be alert for that. Don't stick your hand under stuff you haven't checked out carefully. Sometimes finding creatures to use for bait can be harder than catching the fish.
One year every tree along the stream I was fishing was alive with some kind of black beetle crawling up and down the trunks. I had no idea what they were, and I still don't, but the trout sure loved them. I caught a couple in my hands and tossed them onto the current and just watched.
Trout swirled to the surface and inhaled them and they did the same when I impaled them on a No. 16 hook. Whenever I am fishing and trout are ignoring whatever I am offering, I start trying to figure out what is dropping into the water naturally that they are feeding on. If you can discern that and gather some of whatever it is and use it for bait, you'll have a bonanza.
Presentation is as vital to the success of natural bait fishing as it is to fly-fishing. Trout lie facing upstream at their feeding stations watching for food. Anything washed into or floating in the water or just under the surface will attract a trout's attention. But a bug or worm, weighed down with too-heavy sinkers or a BB shot, that plunks into the water seldom attracts a trout. It's just not natural.
Whatever natural bait you use take time to learn how it really behaves when it drops into the water. Even salmon eggs, when free-floating drift differently then they do when they are hooked. When you approach one of those long, flat holes where you can see trout lying and you cast your eggs or worm into the hole and the trout let them float by without moving, try this: toss an egg or two into the water and watch how they float.
Watch how the trout go after them. Now adjust your sinkers and slack line to make your eggs or worm behave in the water as much like free-floating as possible.
Too heavy equipment is a big detriment to the natural float of small natural baits. I've seen anglers using rigs on small trout streams that should be reserved for Lake Erie salmon. A 14-pound test line and No. 4 hooks are simply not needed to catch trout on most streams, especially in low to medium water levels.
If you want to have some real fun in the next couple of weeks on any area trout stream, just venture upstream with no bait and use only what you pick up along the way. It will test your mettle as an angler.
And remember, keep your ears open for gobbling turkeys. This can reveal a new place to hunt for the birds. And remember also that ticks are everywhere . Purchase a good repellent and use according to directions and you will save yourself a lot of grief.