Fishing bounties helped by weather

As I outlined last week, May is my favorite month of the year, and as we approach the middle of it, I’ve been doing my best to make the most of this wonderful time of year.

Trout fishing has been great almost every week since the season opened last month, with water conditions being what I would consider ideal for the most part. We had a few spates of high or off-colored water here and there, but on most of the streams I’ve frequented, the flows have been just right for fly-fishing.

I’ve found dry-fly fishing has been somewhat spotty so far, however, especially during the week before last with so many bright, clear days coupled with generally clear water and not many insects hatching most of the day. Those conditions, of course, always make it tough to tempt trout to the surface.

But fishing wet flies and nymphs has proved consistently productive, especially throughout the morning hours. Several weeks ago, I wrote about my favorite all-around nymph patterns, and those flies have once again proved quite effective not just for me but for many other anglers based on the feedback I’ve received since then. And in response to the requests for copies of the Walt’s Worm pattern, Unkel Joe’s Woodshed in Altoona is now stocking that particular fly.

Smallmouth fishing on the upper Juniata River got off to a late start this year because of the lingering cold weather, but once things warmed up so did the bass fishing there. As usual, tube jigs have been the best producer overall, but suspending jerkbaits like the Rapala X-Rap have caught a bunch of bass for me this spring as well.

The average size of the fish has also been good on most outings. One day last week I caught 27 smallmouths in about five hours of fishing, 14 of which were 15 inches or longer, including five bass from 18 to 19 inches. That effort ranks as one of my best days ever on the Juniata for bigger bass, and I hope that trend continues throughout the summer.

The bounty of good fishing this spring has trumped the desire to hunt turkeys, not to mention that I find it much easier to get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. to go fishing rather than the 3:30 or 4 a.m. wakeup call required for chasing gobblers.

Of course, that situation changes tomorrow when all-day hunting commences for the remainder of the season. Being able to hunt during the afternoon or evening hours should make it easier for many of us to sync some turkey hunting into our schedules now.

Anytime I’m around a waterway, be it a tiny stream or a larger river, I always find myself looking for tracks or other animal signs in the soft mud along the shoreline. It’s a habit that started when I did some trapping for a few years as a teenager. Being able to decipher the subtle clues left behind by various animals is a necessary skill for any trapper.

Although I don’t recall catching all that much during my brief trapping career, I still enjoy reading the stories etched into the muddy patches of a stream bank.

The most obvious of those stories being told along almost any body of water is just how many raccoons we have at present. It can be difficult to find more than a few feet of soft shoreline that doesn’t show at least a few raccoon tracks. Raccoons are strictly nocturnal animals, and one coon can put down quite a few tracks as it prowls the shoreline searching for food. Along the Juniata River, many discarded crayfish shells provide additional evidence of a raccoon’s nightly foraging. Further inspection reveals that raccoons apparently prefer the meaty tail portion of those abundant crustaceans, leaving behind the head and claws.

Mink and muskrat tracks are regular sights as well, but never as prolific as raccoon prints because both these animals are good swimmers and spend as much time or more in the water than on land. Mink are also much more numerous now than when I was a kid, and it’s not uncommon to be entertained by these members of the weasel family slinking along the riverbank or hunting minnows or crayfish in a shallow riffle even during the middle of the day.

Some paleontologists theorize that modern-day birds are the descendants of dinosaurs. I’ll leave it to the scientific community to settle that speculation, but some birds certainly display some characteristics similar to those now-extinct reptiles.

The bird-dinosaur connection came to mind one day last week when I beached my kayak in a shallow cove where some Canada geese had been loafing earlier in the day. One set of goose tracks in wet mud bore a striking resemblance to some of the pictures of fossilized dinosaur footprints I’ve seen.

The next day, however, some rain raised the river level a few inches, wiping out those and any other tracks at the water’s edge. But when the water recedes again, the smooth mud will be ready to record the coming and going of all the creatures that live there for those of us who enjoy reading their stories.