Signs of Spring, March 2017

Signs of Spring, (First published March 24, 2017 in "The Union" newspaper )

Earlier this week we passed the spring equinox, we now have days longer than the nights.  For us humans, who spend a predominant amount of our time indoors, it does not seem like much of a milestone but in the natural world it is a significant event.  The faun and the flora have moved into the active season of the year.

The past two Sundays I have spent fishing Collins Lake for trout.  As is typical of most winters, the water in Collins Lake is quite muddy with visibility of a foot or so.  The fish do not have a choice and they adapt to the conditions.  Silt suspended in the water falls out slowly with the top of the lake clearing first.  I expected to find the trout at the top of the water column.

Sunday the 12th was a 70 degree day with bright sunshine.  It was at the beginning of a warm dry stretch that made you forget what winter is like.  I fished with Shaun Rainsbarger ( and we were on the water before sun up.  The water was a chilly 52 to 54 degrees which was a reflection of the cold weather the preceding week.  Early in the day our results were quite disappointing.  The trout were not in a biting mood.  Shaun mentioned that it was the full moon and as we got closer to midday the bite would improve, which it did. 

I was trolling flies on fly rods with sink tip lines, near the surface.  To get away from the engine noise I moved them out with a planer board set up.  Shaun was rigged with spoons set to run at 10’ with a down rigger..  By late morning the bite did come on.  I tried a number of different colors on the two rods I was fishing and the fish had a decided preference for bright colored flies.  An Arctic Fox #2 Chartreuse and Marabou Minnow "Mickey Finn" were the colors that worked for me.  Shaun caught more fish than I with his two spoons, a black & white  and a pink one.

This past Sunday March 19th, was quite a contrast to the week before.  The day was dark with heavy cloud cover for most of the morning.  We had brief rain showers that passed through.  The surface water temp had risen a full 10 degrees to 62.  A more significant data point was that the low 50s temperatures were a dozen feet below the surface.  The lake had stratified.  Water in lakes will “turn over” in the spring and in the fall.  During the heat of summer the warm water is in layers on the top of the lake with progressively cooler layers below.  That phenomenon began last week at Collins Lake.  The higher sun angle, longer days and the silt suspended in the water combined to heat the surface enough to produce the layering effect.  It is possible for frigid wet weather to reverse this temporarily but spring has come to Collins Lake.

The fishing last Sunday was also different.  The color preference had reversed.  I suspected that the adage “dark day dark fly, bright day bright fly” would work.  On the rods I ran hot colors, earth tones and black.  Yes, black was the one that worked.  Under dark skies and stained water there was not enough sun to light up the bright colors.  The contrast that black provides was what the trout wanted.  We put seven in the boat.

POST SCRIPT: In the week of March 20 - 24 Collins had 3 inches of rain and the warm surface layer disappeared.  The surface temps dropped back to the mid 50s.  Look for the lake to "re-layer" next week when the air temp go back up into the mid 70s.

The second spring fishing report comes from Tom Moreno’s pond in Penn Valley  It had not been fishing well this winter, which is normal.  In late February and early March a bass or two might be landed for an afternoon’s effort.  As we moved into those warm days in mid-March, the bluegill were out and active near the shoreline.  This has not been the case in previous years, it is an anomaly that Tom had no explanation for.  These sunfish usually come out of hibernation after the bass begin to show. 

Then last Wednesday the 22nd, the bass fishing on the pond exploded.  The bluegill were no longer visible along the edges and the bass had moved in.  An angler had fished for three hours in the afternoon and landed 23 bass with the largest over the five pound mark.  The fish were 50/50 male and female with the girls sporting plump bellies.  There was no sign of nest building yet but the pre-spawn bite was definitely on.  The lure that was responsible for the action was a curly tailed grub fished on a lead-head jig pulled along the bottom.

The equinox has occurred and some of the best fishing of the year is at hand.  It has been my experience that these spring weekends get booked with non-fishing related events.  Get your hands on that calendar and nail down some time on the water.  These conditions will not last that long.