A Window For Stream Brown Trout
April 14, 2013
Frost covers the ground before day break. A history of air temperatures and the recent disappearance of snow tells the story: It hasn't started yet.
"It" is a migration. Brown trout begin migrating away from winter sites as water temperatures climb above 44°F or so. If recent air temperatures have averaged 45°F or less throughout the previous week, chances are good browns are just nosing out of wintering holes in the mother ship.
The mother ship is a bigger river, a lake, or a reservoir below the streams where they spend the summer. Browns spawn on gravel in those streams in October, November, sometimes later, then they migrate down to slower, deeper, wider pools or lakes, especially in the North. Sometimes those wintering pools are in the same stream browns spend the summer in. Sometimes not.
Big browns save energy. They don't fight a lot of current during the winter months, which are stressful and generally represent a time of stasis, or zero growth. Lakes, Great Lakes, and reservoirs offer the best strategies for growing monstrous browns.
I like it when "it" hasn't happened yet. Browns are down in areas most trout fishermen don't even think of as "trout water" It's slow. It's cloudy. Smallmouths, walleyes, and pike take turns ruling there in summer.
By the time water temperatures reach 60°F or so, browns are close to the areas where they'll spend the remainder of summer and early fall, hiding under impossible tangles of wood. So everything between 44°F and 60°F in spring tends to define a time of transition.
Most trout seasons open during early April in the North. In the past, I could count on snow-covered banks keeping water temperatures below 40°F for a week or three after the opener in Northern Michigan, meaning the biggest browns would be in slow water uncharacteristic of trout way downstream of the maddening crowds that insist trout be where they "always are."
Waxworms on a small jig under a stream float or a well-tied nymph under a strike indicator can be extremely effective for cold-water trout. I tend to use small, sensitive floats on light line with thin fluorocarbon leaders beneath them in slow water. I use an 11-foot ultralight G. Loomis float rod designed to protect 4-pound leaders. I tie jigs or hooks to a 3- to 4-foot segment of 4-pound Raven Fluorocarbon beneath the float.
Cold mornings are a good thing. And this year, we've got snow all over the banks on my favorite trout streams. Whoopee!