It’s that time of year again, folks. The stream and river residing trout are coming out of their winter daze, and they’re looking to eat! But hungry trout doesn’t mean stupid trout. Area rivers and streams are hovering around 40 degree water temperatures; that’s still only eight degrees beyond freezing ice-water. The only way for trout to escape these water temps is to leave the river, but they can’t. So they’ll do the next best thing: hang in slow deep water so they can save energy to stay warm.
If you were stranded in a cold, snowy forest in freezing temps where would you wait for help and food? Out in the open of a windy meadow, or in a low gully behind some trees? For the trout, fighting currents is the same as that windy meadow for you. This isn’t rocket science, but I’m surprised at how many stream fishermen either don’t know this, or they choose to forget it….. year after year!
I guided a man/wife team on the Big Horn last week. They were very accomplished fly fishers who’d fished the river dozens of times over the past 20 years, but never in April. After we’d launched and caught a few from the boat, the husband began asking me about fishing all his favorite spots from prior years. I told him I didn’t expect to stop and fish any of them. The river is unusually high right now, even with the spring runoff period having already begun. I pulled the boat into a back eddy where the currents swung in a big slow circle back into a cove where there’s actually no water during the summer months; but that spot is about 5 feet deep today. Mr. Client asked me what we were doing, “Making a bathroom stop?” “No”, I said, “We’ll go way back into the cove where we can anchor and get out of the boat. Then we’ll walk back along the bank to where we can slide in off the bank up to our rib cage and start fishing!”
The couple gave me a quizzical look that was replaced by annoyance when they got in the water and I told them to wait five minutes before fishing. “These fish are all hanging right next to where we’re standing: in slow, deep water where they can gather food being swept in from the main river without having to fight the river’s currents. We spooked them all away when we entered the water, but they should all be back nearby in about five minutes.” Of course, once I let them start fishing, they both stood in one place and caught one trout after another for the next hour; and all hooked within about 10 feet from where we were standing.
I know I’ve written about this subject before, and I’ll try to wait a few years before I feel compelled to raise it again. Check the attached photo. The sand bar shown next to the “winter/spring” section is now itself under about 2 to 3 feet of water. Stand on this bar up to your waist and fish only far enough out from show to where the water begins to move slowly. The fish will be there; piled up on top one another waiting to eat your fly!
GORDON ROSE works as a commercial fly tier and operates Sheridan WYO Healing Waters, part of a national nonprofit organization which teaches disabled military veterans fly fishing, fly tying and fly rod-building as part of their therapy.