Friday, March 7, 2014
By Ken Allen
Let's go fly-fishing in March before the spring run-off starts in earnest. The best early-spring action occurs before spring melt raises rivers and streams over the banks, which slows angling action until flows subside.
If rivers rage by the time this column comes out, let's still go fishing, but we'll concentrate on three hot spots during early-season high-water:
• Ice-free, dead-water sections of rivers.
• Tributary mouths dumping into rivers.
• Open water in ponds and lakes.
A handful of flowing waters such as the St. George, Nezinscot and Presumpscot rivers, and Cobbossee Stream have year-round, open-water fishing, but from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, anglers can hit ponds and lakes where ice has gone out, common enough in March around currents.
This time of year, folks often find open water in lakes and ponds, where tributaries rush into the still water, pushing ice away and creating fishing areas anywhere from an acre to as large as small ponds.
Please use caution, though: It's illegal and unsafe for open-water anglers to stand on ice to fish -- a sane law. Ice stays thin by open stretches.
Early in the season, fly-rodders cannot beat weighted nymphs on bottom to imitate the most prevalent, year-round forage in a river or stream. Fly-rodders in the know dead-drift dark nymphs with fuzzy-looking abdomens and/or thoraxes such as a Hare's Ear, Prince, Casual Dress, Zug Bug, Copper John, LaFontaine Deep Sparkle Pupae (gray or dark olive) and similar choices. Pheasant Tails have little fuzz but I like them anyway.
A favorite nymph for March and April looks like a caddis in a case. The pattern has black tying thread, copper or brass bead-head and cylindrical body made from stiff hair plucked from the inside of a hare's ear -- pig simple to tie. A peacock-herl body ranks as a second favorite choice.
This nymph looks like a cased caddis that the current washes off bottom and tumbles downstream, as it tries to attach its front legs to the riverbed again. Trout eat them -- case and all.
Here's a quick comment about weighted nymphs:
About 20 years ago, maybe more, research showed that lead sinkers were killing loons, the proverbial writing on the wall for me. Assuming this heavy metal would be illegal for fishing before 2000, I stopped constructing nymphs with lead wire and used a lead-substitute that companies such as L.L.Bean and Orvis were selling way back then.
I was wrong about a future law change. The year 2000 came and went, and fishing with lead is still legal. Granted, it's illegal to buy lead sinkers that weigh one-half ounce or less for fishing, but we can fish with lead. (The current law exempts artificial lures, weight line or jig heads.)
In the last 12 years, a salient point has struck home with me. My substitute choice sank well enough, so I didn't miss lead. In short, using nontoxic metal was a non-issue for me, and eventually, lead will be illegal.
Streamers and bucktails such as a Red Gray Ghost, Black Ghost, Jerry's Smelt, Red and White, Blacknose Dace, Clouser Minnows with different wings, Muddler Minnow and Wooly Bugger also draw strikes now, particularly weighted choices, and I love those Clousers.
The first four flies imitate smelts, a prevalent Maine baitfish, and the next three match sculpins, daces, chubs with dark stripes, etc. Trout also mistake a Muddler for a dragonfly nymph or crayfish, and the Bugger resembles a baby eel, big nymph like a hellgrammite -- or you name it.
Two fly presentations work in March and April, and I say "fly," because I seldom see bait anglers out now.
First, a fly-caster puts a strike indicator on the leader, casts quartering across upstream and allows the indicator and fly to float back naturally with the current without dragging -- not even a subtle drag. The highly visible indicator should float at the exact speed as a floating foam or bubble on the surface so fly-rodders know the fly is drifting naturally with the flow. When a fish strikes, the indicator telegraphs the strike to the angler.
Second, a Pheasant Tail (PT) imitates swimming nymphs such as ones in the Baetis and Acerpenna genera, a perfect fly for casting downstream at a quartering angle. Then, casters allow the PT to swing in an arc, before inching it upstream like a swimming bug by rolling the line over the fingers.
In March, the warmest time of day often occurs from 10 a.m. to early afternoon, when cold winds pick up. Those sunny, late mornings create fond memories for those of us who tromp through snow to a river, hoping our timing coincides with trout lethargically feeding in 39-degree Fahrenheit water, a common temperature now -- give or take a few degrees.
A trout on a rod feels good now and offers definite promises of what's to come in six or eight weeks, when that viridescent explosion screams "spring" and fishing action gets as good as it ever gets in Maine.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: