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Conventional “wisdom” says it’s still too early to go trout fishing, but sometimes those conventional wise guys fail to inform the trout! It’s true that our streams and rivers may be too high, too cold or too murky for great trout fishing right now, but there is only one place the fish can be and they don’t have much choice about it!
Fishing can certainly be challenging in early April, especially if we get rain, cold temperatures or excess runoff. I think it was back in 1987 that we had an interesting spate of spring rains that pretty much washed half the county away! The Piscataquis River overflowed its banks and flooded the main street in Dover-Foxcroft, and I recall seeing truck-sized cakes of ice sitting in the farm fields along the river in Milo, where Route 11 meets Route 16. Fishing wasn’t so hot that spring till much later than usual!
Should conditions be normal this spring, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a place to fish for at least a few hours each day. I discovered the secret to fishing in early April years ago when, on the last day of the annual rabbit-hunting season (March 31), I stopped for a lunch break along Alder Stream in Bradford. I usually stayed in the woods all day on that final day of the Maine hunting season (this was before the spring turkey season was even a dream!), so I would use my small gas stove to cook up some diced potatoes, bacon and beans and have a ceremonial cup of tea in some quiet place in the woods.
It just happened that I paused for a break at a deep bend in the stream where the sun shone through the hemlocks and the e sweeping evergreen limbs blocked the wind. It was very comfortable in the woods that day, so I stayed long enough for a second cup of tea. I sat and watched the water rushing past, pondering the likelihood of catching a trout there the next morning. I had just scoured out my cooking pan (an old, tin Sierra Club cup) and was settling in to enjoy my tea when I noticed the crumbs of bacon, potatoes and beans rolling across the bottom of the stream. I could clearly see the small bits of food in the bright sunlight, and apparently so could the trout, because the next thing I knew a lethargic, 10-inch fish inched out from under a sunken log and began picking up the dregs of my lunch. A second trout moved slowly out from under the bank, and in a few minutes there were three nice fish clustered in one sunny spot, all feeding on leftovers.
I watched till the food was gone, but the trout remained in the current seam until the patch of sun slowly moved away, putting the stream back in shadow again.
Apparently the dip in temperature was too much for the fish, which quickly went back into their dark hiding spots.
It shouldn’t take much thought to guess where I ended up, trout rod in hand, around the same time on opening day. I waited till the sun worked its way down through the hemlocks, and then rolled a fat earthworm on a bare hook into the pool from above. A couple of split shot held the bait to the bottom, and in no time the first fish swam slowly over and engulfed my offering.
The fight was anti-climactic, just a quick pull and then some half-hearted wiggling that barely telegraphed up my pole. A second trout fell just as easily — the third trout never came out, but I was more than satisfied with my catch. My frying pan was just large enough to hold them and a few fiddleheads I’d frozen and saved from last year.
The trick with this spring trouting, I discovered, was in finding just the right stretch of water. It has to be shallow and clear enough to see the bottom, with enough cover to hide a few trout, and exposed so that the midday sun can reach it and warm the water the precious few degrees that make the difference. Fortunately, nearly every trout stream in central Maine has a dozen of these “sunshine pools” on them. You may need to walk 100 yards or more between hotspots to find one that has all the necessary elements, but the effort is well worth it.
This is still trout fishing; don’t forget, so avoid bulling your way up to the stream’s edge and plunking an outrageously large night crawler into the middle of the pool. Instead, circle the pool to the upstream side and then slowly feed a small garden worm down to the sunniest part of the pool in as natural a drift as possible. Watch the pool as you go and pause your bait often, keeping an eye out for slowly moving trout that will swim slowly up to the bait from down stream. Be patient, because these fish seem to be working more by scent than by sight, and may take a while to sniff their way to your offering.
In years past I used small, gold spinners as an extra enticement, but I have found that trout are just as likely to hit a small worm on a bare hook if you can keep it deep enough. If necessary, add a split shot or two to keep your bait close to the bottom, but only enough to get the job done. Too much drag may spook the fish, or make them suspicious and lose interest.
This may be the best time of year to use a fly rod rigged for bait fishing. The longer rod length will allow you to reach out and over small, sunlit pools where a trout may be holding, a good technique when the fish can’t be reached any other way. In this case, a small, dark nymph danced through the water column will attract fish. In either case, be patient, fish slowly and avoid spooking trout with a fast, clumsy approach.
The hardest part of spring fishing for me is not the cold, snow or deep water, it’s deciding if I want potatoes, beans or fiddleheads with my trout!
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