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Opening day tactics

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POSTED April 24, 2011 9:11 p.m.
Here it is late April and the opening day of trout season is right around the corner. There’s still a lot of snow up there in the mountains and when we get a sunny day it begins to melt. Streams can be running high and swift and your favorite fishing hole can be a raging torrent. How do you cope with such conditions? Here are a couple early season tips that I’ve discovered over the years that might help.

First, try fishing on streams that are controlled by dams. Unless the major dams are completely full and spilling, dam operators usually try to hold as much water as they can for later in the season when both water demand and power demand are higher. The really big dams are located at fairly low elevations so you might want to limit your fishing expeditions to the lower elevations below the dams. Put off your high country trips till a little later in the year when the peak of the snowmelt has passed.

Second, try fishing smaller streams that have their headwaters at lower elevations, like below 5,000 feet. I heartily recommend that you get topographic maps of your favorite fishing areas. Find your favorite stream on a topo map, and check the elevation where you intend to fish. For example if you want to fish Beaver Creek, depending upon what stretch you want to fish, the elevation is going to be about 5200 feet. Expect moderately high water, because the headwaters of Beaver are over 7,000 feet and there’s still snow on the shady slopes.

High water conditions are a little tougher to fish. If you’re a bait fisher, use night crawlers and more weight than normal. Work behind the boulders where the fish are taking shelter from the current. Avoid the center of the stream because your bait will get swept away too quickly and not get down where the fish are. Spin fishers can work the back eddies with a split shop clamped a foot above your spinner to get it down. Fly fishers should stick to weighted wet flies and big streamers. Cast up stream and let your offering get down to where the fish are holding.

Sometimes the high water can present unique fishing opportunities. A meadow that is normally a great place to camp in mid-summer might now be under a foot of water. These flooded meadows are a virtual cornucopia of food for hungry trout. There are ants, worms, beetles grasshoppers and ladybugs. Sometimes the trout go crazy stuffing themselves on the feast in the flooded meadow. Try using either live hoppers, worms or an imitation hopper fly. There’s no need to be subtle with a grasshopper fly. Whack the fly down on the water and you might just be surprised by a monster brown.

A word of caution is in order here. Remember that this is melting snow and it’s gonna be cold and swift. Be extra careful in where you wade and use a wading staff. This is serious stuff. Each year, local authorities have to drag out the bodies of guys who weren’t paying attention while wading. A couple trout aren’t worth dying over. Wade carefully and you’ll be able to come back and fish next week and next month. I can think of very few things I’d rather be doing than out there casting to trout in one of our beautiful Sierra streams. If we’re careful, we should be able to do it for a long time to come.

Until Next Week,

Tight Lines
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