Some basic knowledge to get you through the early season.
Normally this time of year I would be writing about late winter tactics, but with the weather we have been having it’s more like early spring. Most of the snow melted off early in the month. Also with the lack of heavy late winter snow the streams and rivers are in real good shape for fishing. Streamside vegetation is sparse and dead. It will be a while yet before it hides our approach to the water. Trout are easily spooked this time of year so tread lightly and stay low. Use what little cover there is.
Chances are you’ll find good numbers of insects on the water through the day. For dry fly action watch for midges, stoneflies, and blue winged olives. Nymphs will work year round. Streamers will also take fish, but you may need to fish them slow. If you find water temps in the mid 40’s and above you’ll find the trout will readily chase down and slam a streamer.
In the Twin Cites area we’ll typically see black crane flies and caddis around mid to late April. Another one to watch for is the Dark Hendrickson mayfly. It’s rare that I run into these in most of the places I fish, but some areas have good numbers of them. The places I have fished good hatches of them have been south of the Cities during April. If the fair weather continues we may see an early progression to the insect hatches. Keep that in mind when deciding what to bring along on future outings. Good luck.
Freshwater shrimp mate several times a year. Their abundance makes them a rich food source for a variety of fish.
We’re going to get down and dirty when we take a look at one of my favorite fish foods. Down in the vegetation, rocks, and muck we’ll go in search of the freshwater shrimp. Often called a scud by fly fishers. These crustaceans can be found in lakes and streams around the world. There are good numbers in our area.
When your on the water bring along a small minnow net or maybe a piece of window screen to help catch them for closer inspection. I’ve seen them swimming about in very shallow water in lakes, but I’ve probably spent most of my time looking for them on the trout streams in the area. Quickly turn over a rock near the bank and you can often find them clinging to the bottom of it. You can usually grab them before they scurry off. If you have the net just downstream of the rock they can be caught when they beat it out of there. They seem to prefer the slower water near the banks around riffles and runs. That’s where I’d start looking. Put them in something that holds water and watch them swim. They scoot along pretty good compared to most of the nymphs and larva you’ll also find. If your fishing a fly that represents a shrimp you’ll often do well to give it a twitch. Fly rod nymphing techniques will get your scud pattern down to where the fish spend most of their time and give you the best chance of hooking up.
The shrimp is certainly not at the top of the food chain. It has it’s own little niche in the ecosystem where is lives and survives. It survives the larger presence and appetite of the local fish. Panfish and trout seem to really like these babies. At least they seem to really like a fly that resembles one. The fish can hang out and pick off the unlucky ones that are swept away by the current or they can hunt them down. I’ve watched fish swim back and forth through weed beds in lakes and fan the river bottom to flush out food. There’s a good chance they will flush a shrimp among other things.
When I think of shrimp I think of salt water; at least I use too. When I first learned that we have them in inland streams and lakes I was pretty amazed. Probably because I often dream of exploring salt water and the presence of freshwater shrimp tied my thoughts and everyday fishing to the salt. If you’re a hopeless fisherman like myself and see everything as fish food, then you’ll be glad you checked out the freshwater shrimp.
Small stonefly from early March
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not an entomologist. I know few Latin names for insects. What I can do is identify the different orders and life cycles. This is usually all you need to know to catch some fish. As the years go by I find specific identification less important. Some of my fly patterns have morphed together to cover stoneflies, caddis flies, and mayflies. Most important is the presentation.
The fly in the photo is an adult stonefly. It starts out as an egg, turns into a growing nymph for most of it’s life and finally emerges from the water as an egg laying adult for a short period of time before it passes. I call all the stoneflies I see this time of year Winter Stoneflies. I’ll find them from mid January to mid March. They are usually black in color and range in size from #22 to #18. The fly in the photo is a dark amber color about size 18. This is the first time I have seen them this color during this time of the year.
Stoneflies are not good swimmers or flyers. You’ll find them crawling among the rocks in faster water. If dislodged they tumble downstream until they can get hold of something. When they emerge they crawl out of the water and turn into an adult on the bank. Often they end up on the waters surface by accident or to lay eggs. You’ll often see them flapping around trying to get out of there. Easy pickings for fish at this point.
Any small dark colored nymph will work well to represent the winter stones. They are often in the drift with a host of other insects in various sizes, so size is not critical. For the adult I often fish the good old Griffith’s Gnat in a size 20. This fly does double duty, because it also works well for the midges that have been hatching. These hooks are tiny so using a short shank wide gap hook will increase your hook ups. Offsetting the point also helps. Experiment with the action of the fly, because the adults usually don’t sit still on the water. This is a simplistic approach to cover the small black stoneflies and that emerge this time of year.
Another insect to watch out for is what I call the Early Stonefly. I’ve seen them from early March through April. They are black and considerably larger than the Winter Stones. Usually about a size 14 or 16. I don’t think many escape the eye of a trout as they blunder across the waters surface.
Bob Nasby doing a fly casting demo at the Northwest Sportshow.
If your looking to learn about fly fishing, casting, fly tying, and much more, I have some shows for you to check out. If you need gear or professional services someone will be there to help.
Lew Jewitt/ACA Fly Casting Clinic - March 20 - 9am to 12pm
This is the show to check out for fly casting lessons. There will be three hours of demos and instruction at no charge to the public. Donations will gladly be excepted at the door. There will be instructors from the Lew Jewitt Chapter of the Federation of Fly Fishers and the St. Paul Chapter of the American Casting Association. With this knowledgeable and talented group we are able to help improve your casting whether your just starting in the sport or have been at it for a long time.
Northwest Sportshow - March 24-28
This show has a large variety of things to do and see. Just about anything related to fishing. For around a decade the show has been dedicated to helping folks learn about fly fishing. Stop by the “Discover Fly Fishing” area to watch fly casting demos and get tips from casting instructors Bob Nasby, Vic Mason, Lee Oschwald. There will be ongoing fly tying demonstrations and a host of people that can answer just about any question you have on fly fishing. I’ll be filling in wherever I’m needed on the weekend so maybe I’ll see you there.
Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo - March 26-28
This is the only fly fishing specific show in the area. It’s a good place to be to learn just about anything you want to know about the sport. Your best off looking at the website for detailed fly fishing info, because it is too much for me to list here. Unfortunately this show is often going at the same time as the Northwest Sportshow so I can’t make it. If you want to meet one of the most talented fly casters in the area stop by the St. Croix Rod booth and talk to Bob McGraw. Ask to try out some rods to get him out of the booth and hit him up for a quick casting tip. Let him know I told you to stop by. The Federation of Fly Fishers will also be there giving casting lessons throughout the show.
With the inland catch & release trout season about to open for the year, I planned on picking up the new regulations and report here on what I read. Well I forgot to get them when I was in the store today. I tried finding the new regulations on the Wisconsin DNR website, but it has not been updated. I was able to find out that there is one significant change. We are still required to use artificial lures, but they no longer need to be barbless. The following proposed regulation change was voted on and approved during the Conservation Congress spring hearings in 2009.
Question 6 – Eliminate barbless hooks restriction during early trout season
Numerous scientific studies have been conducted showing that the use of barbed versus barbless hooks has little effect on trout mortality following release. In a 1997 study published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, for flies and lures combined, the average hook related mortality was 4.5% for barbed hooks and 4.2% for barbless hooks. Because natural mortality for wild trout range from 30-65% annually, the 0.3% difference in the two hook types is irrelevant at the population level, even when fish are subjected to repeated catch and release. Most biologists agree that how deeply a fish is hooked has more to do with mortality than what type of hook is used. Despite the scientific evidence, anglers are required to use barbless hooks only during the early catch-and-release trout season. Elimination of that restriction would simplify trout fishing regulations and eliminate law enforcement issues. The use of live bait will still be prohibited during the early catch-and-release trout fishing season. If adopted, this proposal will take effect on the first day of the month following publication in the Wisconsin Administrative Register. Do you support allowing the use of barbed hooks during the early catch-and-release trout season in Wisconsin?
6. YES_______ NO_______
6. YES_______ NO_______
Besides the barbless hook changes the DNR also classified 58 more streams as trout water. Most of which will be open during the early season.
If you plan on going out in March check out my tips on fishing the winter season. The blog post from January 6th was titled “Fly Fishing the Trout of Winter”. One thing to watch out for is the rising water from the snow melt. If the air temp gets warm enough there can be a large influx of cold water. The water can become clouded and the temp can drop significantly. This will shut the fishing down pretty quickly. Usually the change is more drawn out, but I have gone from good fishing to poor fishing in about 15 minutes. A lot depends on the watershed. Keep that in mind if the snow is melting fast.