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It’s April now and that means it’s officially fishing season, although looking around there’s not a whole lot of open water to test. And, even though last month’s heavy rains helped clear some of the bigger rivers and streams of ice much earlier than normal, the water is high and fast, not particularly conducive to productive angling. You can go, you can fish, but “catching” is another thing.
Unless, of course, you have a penchant for hitting the smaller places first. By “smaller” I mean the culvert crossings and tiny brooks that are flowing low and clear now. Nearly all of these are filled with native brook trout, most averaging well below 8 inches. But, if you want to catch fish and eat a few, small stream brookies should be at the top of your list.
April trouting is not much different than October road hunting for partridge. You drive and look, and when you find a culvert or bridge crossing that looks good, you get out and fish it for a few minutes. Fortunately, brook trout will not keep you waiting: If you drop them a line, they will answer. If you drop a worm-baited hook into the dark water on the upstream side of a culvert or wooden bridge and can count to 10 without a strike, most likely they are not there yet. Fish both ends of a culvert plus the large pool above and below the pipe. If you don’t get a hit after two or three casts, move on.
I’ve never kept records of how quickly a brookie will hit a bait in April, but there have been times when it seemed as if I’d cast my worm right into the mouth of a waiting fish. This happens routinely when fishing for pickerel or bass, but trout aren’t usually that aggressive, especially in April. In any case, if you are certain that your bait his hit the proper current seam and should have produced a strike – and didn’t – then you should move on to the next spot. You may find a lot of hit-or-miss fishing early this month, but as things warm up and the waters settle down, you’ll find more trout at more crossings.
If you happen to be out on a warm day and you’ve caught a few fish in the roadside pools, consider going up stream or down and try a few of the larger, deeper pools you may encounter. Move slowly and deliberately because trout can detect vibrations and will scatter and hide for 30 minutes or more. This is sneaky stuff, creeping up on unsuspecting trout, but if conditions are right you can fill a frying pan in no time.
To reduce anxiety and stress (in yourself!) don’t go out armed with your 9-foot fly rod or your 8-foot spinning rig. Most of these tiny streams are less than 6 feet across and are shrouded with alders, birches and other hook-grabbing species that make casting difficult if not unbearable. It’s one of the most frustrating moments in fishing to creep up on a pool you know is full of trout, make your cast, and have your hook grab a branch just above the water in the center of the pool. No amount of tugging, yanking or cussing will make it come loose, so your only option is to crash in there, spook all the fish and get your fly back.
Truth be told, at times the likelihood of catching a good fish in a particular pool was so high that I just cut the fly off the leader, tied on a new one and hoped for a better cast next time. I have done this three or more times in certain pools but once I made the right and proper cast I caught the fish I was after and then waded in to get my flies back.
I’m not as fussy about getting snelled hooks back in these situations but I will cut the line and try another presentation. The very best holes in a trout stream are usually the most difficult to fish, but if you are patient and don’t let the conditions frustrate you, the fishing can be well worth the trouble.
To make fishing these early-season streams easier and more productive, I use a 5-foot rod with a mini spinning reel loaded with 50 yards of 2-pound-test line. I rarely need to make a cast more than 15 feet, so there’s no need to load the reel with hundreds of yards of line. Allowing for snipping off flies or hooks, plus trimming away a foot or two of frayed line every week or so, 50 yards of line is enough to last all spring.
There is no need to gaudy it up with spinners, beads or other eye-catching terminal tackle. Small-stream trout can see a mosquito land on the water 10 feet away, so they won’t miss a fat garden worm tumbling downstream on your snelled No. 8 hook. There will be times when the line will become tangled and the bait will dangle just over or in the water. I’ve seen trout zip out from an undercut bank yards away to take such an tantalizing offering – they make their living ambushing insects, crustaceans and worms that way and won’t miss a chance to take a worm on a bare hook. Have faith in the ability of trout to feed themselves – they are experts at it!
When fishing small streams it’s common for impatient anglers to run from pool to pool and fish only the most enticing deep holes, but there are plenty of trout in the connecting sections to make it worthwhile to fish slower and with more finesse. Some undercut banks may be twice as deep (and wide) as the main stream, and this is where the lunker brookies (fish up to 10 inches!) will be found. Work both banks slowly and deliberately, covering the water on both sides as close to the bank as you can get. If the current seems to be running under the bank, make every effort to get your bait as far in there as it will go. You may lose a few hooks this way but when a big trout finally pounces on your offering, you will forget about lost hooks, I can assure you!
It’s time to forget about the signs of spring now. April is upon us and fishing season is open. The switch from winter walks to serious fishing is as quick as grabbing a rod and a can full of worms. Trout will be hitting soon and you want to be there when they do!
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