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We’re about two weeks into the spring fishing season. Patches of snow still clog the woods and the chill of early spring is still in the air. Conditions are not what anglers might call “ideal” for fishing, but it’s tough for a trout to escape. They’re in the water somewhere . . . all we have to do is find them!
Most fishermen are anxious to get out for a day on the water. The most disciplined will actually wait another month for the “magic sign:” the day when the leaves on the poplars are “big as a mouse’s ear.” There is some logic to waiting – ideal conditions mean the fish will be more active, producing better fishing, but it’s like opening your Christmas presents Dec. 26 – who can wait that long?
Anticipation of the new fishing season usually forces stir-crazy anglers to go out early. High expectations are one thing, but the true key to catching trout this early in the game is . . . patience! There are (and have been) trout in your favorite brook or deadwater all winter. Even now, they hover in the slow current edges, still clutched in winter’s lethargy. Prime time for catching Maine brook trout is when the water temperature reaches the 55-degree range, and it will be a while before the majority of the water in a given pool or run is at that optimum temperature. But, trout don’t want to be dormant any longer than we do! They’ll find the warmest water as soon as possible, and this means things can change daily as water levels drop, snowmelt dwindles and the warming rays of the sun start to increase temperatures in pockets and pools throughout the day.
The secret now is to spend more time reading the water and less time tossing lures and baits into the depths. Expect to spend an hour or more fishing water that, in May or June, you could hit and bypass in a few minutes. When trout are at their peak of activity (later this spring) you couldn’t retrieve a bait or lure fast enough to keep it away from them, but if you try the full-speed approach now you’ll be pulling your offerings past the noses of otherwise interested fish that can’t (or won’t) waste energy following it.
Serious April trouting is a test of the angler’s resolve more than any show of skill or knowledge. The same worms, lures or flies that take trout in June will work now, but it’s the presentation that makes the difference. (McLane’s “final art,” and you’ll know what I mean if you’ve been fishing for 30 years or more!). It is not easy to cast a weighted worm into deep, slow, cold current and follow it slowly along the bottom. The best gear for this is a stout spinning rod, 4- or 6-pound-test line and enough weight to keep a worm drifting slowly along the bottom (or just above it) with the current flow. Spring trout streams are usually full of brush, branches (including lots of beaver-stripped poplar limbs) and various other things that can snag your hook and ruin a drift. A good trick is to tie your hook about 6 inches above the end of the line, and then tie the necessary amount of weight on a 6-inch piece of 2-pound-test leader. This way, if the weight becomes snagged, you can break off the light leader, attach new weights and get back to fishing without losing your hook or your bait.
Because the trout or so temperature-oriented in spring, and because you can’t wade into a hot-looking pool and test for water temperatures without spooking fish, the only logical strategy is to approach each stretch of water is if: a) there were trout in it and b) you have to find them. Depending on depth and current, you could easily expect to spend an hour or more at each pool. Just drifting a bait through the top few feet of water isn’t going to work. Most of the trout will be much deeper and in no mood to chase a garden worm all the way across the pool, especially if the water is high and fast. Instead, plan on dropping your bait to the head of the pool and straight to the bottom. Let it drift slowly through the pool bouncing just off the gravel because this is where most spring trout are found and they won’t stray far no matter how enticing the offering. Be patient, cast to every inch of the pool and, when you think you’ve hit it well enough, make 10 more slow, serious drifts!
Many anglers aren’t able to muster up the patience to wait long minutes for a nibble, and the majority will pick up and move on thinking there’s no trout to be had in that pool. I learned this the hard way one season when I was fishing Dead Stream in Atkinson. It wasn’t quite “mouse’s ear” time, but close enough for me. It was a warm day but the water was still quite cold, but another fishermen showed up at the bridge just as I got there so I jumped out and started fishing fast and furious. I was hoping to get to the best pools and fish them before the other guy had a chance to steal “my” fish.
Well, of course I was going too fast and not giving the trout a chance to respond to my bait. I’d fished all the best pools right down to the first big deadwater, and there I sat hoping to fool even a small trout when, about an hour later, the other angler came by with his creel over his shoulder and at least two fat trout tails sticking out of the wicker.
“Nice fish,” I said, as he paused to clean his catch in a nearby tributary.
“Thanks,” he replied. “It’s pretty slow fishing, but if you take your time you should catch a few.”
I knew what he was telling me – haste makes waste when the water’s cold. And now, I’m telling you!
Good luck!
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