March 30, 2013

Allen Afield: April fishing is hit or miss, but the hits are worth it


During recent years in Maine's bottom half, anglers can legally fish from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 in open water on lakes and ponds, but most anglers still recognize April Fool's Day as the traditional opener, as if changing the law to year-round fishing had never happened. Because of that, they consider this Monday as the kickoff date as it had been for decades.

Years will pass before this ingrained April 1 fishing opener completely changes, even though page 16 in the "Maine Open Water & Ice Fishing" booklet covers season dates and open fishing waters in detail.

Most rivers, streams and brooks close statewide from Oct. 1 through March 31, but special regulations have opened enough rivers and streams to offer flowing-water lovers angling opportunities.

April fishing usually offers slow action early in the month, but days pass when fish do feed voraciously, creating lifetime memories. One April on the Pleasant River in Windham produced such a morning.

I was with my intrepid companion, Jolie, who for one reason or another wasn't fishing that day. I was casting an ultra-simple, size-12 caddis larva imitation upstream and drifting it back naturally with the current.

A strike indicator on the leader three feet from the fly kept the hook off bottom, but the offering was close enough to bottom-hugging trout that keyed on the fly ticking gravel and ledges on its way downstream.

It was a favorite early spring pattern simple to tie -- black thread, copper bead head and dubbed, stiff hair from the inside of an English hare's ear, wound on the shank. The fly was producing gangbusters and in about 30 minutes, a half-dozen pan-sized brown trout came to hand.

I'd like to say I had a fish on all the time, but that is an exaggeration. It did feel like "all the time," though, counting the time to target known lies, cast, drift the fly without a drag, hook a fish, play the little battler and release it -- only to cast again. I surely had a fish on more than I didn't.

I briefly mentioned this pattern in the column three weeks ago. The fly imitates a caddis in a bark-and-twig case, holding onto bottom structure with its front legs. This fly really works at times, particularly in early season.

When astute observers spot these caddises gathered together on bottom, common when these insects are getting ready to hatch, the cased bugs look like a bunch of short twigs, lying in groups on top of submerged boulders, rocks, sunken wood, gravel beds -- that sort of bottom debris.

As caddises move into position before the hatch, the current washes them off bottom. These worm-like larvae then drift downstream while trying to anchor again, and trout gobble away on the vulnerable prey -- case and all.

When anglers enjoy multiple-catch days, particularly when they shouldn't because of frigid, early-season water, they remember the outing -- often a lifetime memory. It usually occurs because of a natural foraging glut.

Fast fishing usually coincides with a moment in the outdoors when something turns trout into feeding machines. Food becomes so readily available that fish forget themselves in the headlong rush to gorge.

One recent April on the far upper reaches of the Sheepscot River, insects in the Hemiptera order were hatching near a grassy bank, where yellowish-gold swale was reflecting the sun's heat into the water.

Most country boys and girls know these long, oval, flattish insects as "backswimmers," an apt, colloquial name. Like all true insects, they have six legs, and the back two are much longer than the front four and look like oars that propel this bug through the water with a rowing motion.

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