We are in the thick of spring now. The weather changes constantly, today it snowed, last week it was almost 60 degrees, there is a bunch of wet in the forecast later this week. It’s…variable to say the least. With the recent salmon pulse we also had variable flows. All these things plus the bugs and other wildlife have an impact on trout and their environment…and the trout react accordingly.
In the spring we don’t smash fish like we do in the summer or the fall especially. Its not 30 plus fish days…its 6-10 if things are in our favor. High caliber, big, healthy, spring time trout, that fight hard and take minutes to land when you get a juicy one. That’s why you fish in the spring. Most days are filled with nymphing, and a few hours of dry fly fishing if you can stick with it. Streamers can work too, but again, fish are more inclined to chase food when warmer water temps push them to do so. Spring time floats can be slow, the days can be fish-less, and there is always that smell of skunk that can waft around the boat in the spring. I’ve learned to just roll with it. If you break the water down, and do everything in your arsenal and it still doesn’t produce…that’s just the way she goes sometimes. Lots of days fishing in the spring will teach you that. It also will teach you why you come out here and suffer through the craptastic stuff…because there is always the chance….that you’ll get that 20 incher.
Every season clients ask me how many big fish we catch a year. I tell it straight and as many know, we measure a lot of the bigger trout we land when conditions allow. I’ve got that ruler on the deck of the boat for a reason. In the past 3 seasons I have seen 4-8 actual 20 inch fish landed in my boat out of this system. Almost every single one has been caught between February and Memorial Day. Not saying we get into more but we don’t land them all. Most other guides I work and talk with agree on that number. A handful of true 20 inch fish landed and another handful missed each season. You know what days they typically show up on? …the ones when you’ve got that skunky smell wafting around you. And no…that’s not my boat you smell on my day off when you float by riverside…that is the smell of frustration, defeat, and utter disbelief …at how slow the fishing is. The spring can break your patience, I’ve got guide and angling friends that get really down on themselves not being able to produce fish in the conditions. Then get even more frustrated when there’s a good day out there and you miss it. It happens…the spring has one thing that makes it very difficult to fish and break down…lack of consistency.
Trout respond to their environment, and when they respond in a way that is less than complementary for anglers…it makes for slow days. Fish will hunker down in heavy flows, they won’t eat in colder water, they react to boats, birds, and lines going over their heads, shadows, sun, rain, wind, it all plays a role in how a fish goes about its day. So if the flows are heavy, and cold, fish may be deep, and sleepy. Harder to reach for anglers, harder to get drifts to, harder to locate, all these things make your probability of finding fish willing to eat low. As a guide I try and keep that probability high by changing the game, trying different tactics, and breaking everything down until there just isn’t anything left to try and you just have to start the whole process over again.
In the spring when we nymph, we are constantly changing depths with the type of water we fish. I add and subtract split shot and dropper flies as I read and interpret the water for anglers. We work on mends and different drift lanes, I will have anglers run two different rigs, with different flies and depths and drift different lanes in order to search out and locate where the fish are in the water column. Whether it be 3 feet or 9 feet deep…we will do everything we can to find those pesky troots in the spring.
When the dry fly game decides to pan out it typically takes two things for fish to start looking up in the spring. Enough bugs to justify making the effort to eat in the top 3rd of the water column…and slow enough water. The trout are in the slow walking speed stuff when the water is 45 or less. On days when we get closer to 50 the trout start moving into faster water and move closer to food sources. But when its still cold, especially every morning until mid May, trout are hanging in the slower stuff. So the food that goes over the top of those areas has to be abundant enough for trout to come up. If the hatch is light you will get a few light feeders, if its heavy, you get pods gorging. Pretty straight forward. And always fish the water not the fish, you may not see them eat on this river…but they are there…they just like it right the first time out here.
As we get further into spring and water temps start staying close or above 50 fish have more options for where they can hang out, and food. Every few weeks the trout get more options for food and fish start to move around in relation to that food. Some fish will key in on certain areas and food sources as they are more prevalent in that particular sections of river, while fish in another section may have different holding water, feeding water, and food options in general, and will react differently. When I get bored with one section, I try another. That’s what is great about the Yakima, every 20 miles of river it changes.
So if you have that skunky smell hanging around you on spring days…just remember…everyone has them. There are a lot of things working against the angler in the spring. But…every once and a while…you have a bitchin’ day and even if it’s just one fish…it might be that true 20 inch trout we are all after.
Hope to see ya riverside.