In addition to being Father’s Day, June 15th also marks the opening of many of the interior rivers for the first time since the spring closure at the end of March. Like many others, this “opening day” always signaled to me, the start of a new angling season and provided a perfect excuse to get out on the water again.
More often than not though, fishing during opening weekend also means fishing in water much higher and dirtier than you will be accustomed to. While spring runoff peaks at different times in different regions of the province, chances are good that you will be contending with non-typical water flows and/or colour, the loss of “structure” (log jams, cut banks, drop ledges), and the creation of new structure or river channels.
It became something of a tradition for the guides at the St. Mary Angler, to get together on opening day, and to float the river, in order to take note of all the changes from the previous year. These trips also were an excellent barometer for judging how well the river was fishing, and provided a great opportunity to develop tactics and techniques for early season angling.
- Forget about last year!
All rivers are dynamic and no river is ever the same year after year. Some elements might stay the same, but in the early season especially, there are so many variables at play that it is foolish to get “hung up” on a particular location. I have witnessed many good anglers get so frustrated that last years “honey hole” is not producing that it literally ruins their day. What we might perceive as a “subtle” change to a particular piece of structure, can have huge implications to fish.
Instead, be diligent about covering a lot of water. Seek out slower moving pieces of water, or areas with better visibility, as fish will tend to congregate in these areas. Fishing very tight to the bank can be productive in poor visibility, and side-channels and eddies that disappear later in the year can be highly successful during high water.
As the season progresses, be sure to keep checking back on your best spots from the previous year, but don’t overlook what is good water at the time.
- Go big!
I’ve never been much of a subscriber to the “big flies equal big fish” theory, but I am willing to concede that in the early part of the season “big flies generally equal more fish”. My not overly scientific rationale is this:
- Fish can’t eat what they don’t see. Although their eyesight and other senses are perfectly capable of seeking out food in dirty water, there is no doubt that it is more difficult for them to spot a size 22 BWO amongst a river full of debris than it is to see a size 6 Golden Stonefly. I apply the same rational to my nymph and streamer patterns as well.
- Fish are motivated to eat. During runoff, fish are usually expending significantly more energy than usual in order to combat the heavier current, and are less likely to leave a particular lie unless there is a significant payoff (calorie wise). Likewise, after a winter in which there is relatively less available food, fish are more inclined to feed in an opportunistic manner, than they would mid-summer, when there is an abundance of insect life.
- Anglers need to shake off the rust. This is particularly true of dry fly anglers as well. Let’s face it, come the spring time, your casting precision is likely to be a little off, and your ability to spot tiny dry flies, honed over the last summer, has probably diminished somewhat. Make things easy on yourself to begin with, and go with a shorter leader and a larger, more visible fly. As per above, you are likely to have more success going this route anyways.
- Stay back from the water!
One of the biggest mistakes I see anglers making is getting to a spot and immediately wading in up to their knees to begin fishing “out” into the river, or to the far bank. Not only are you likely now standing on top of the best angling water, you are also taking a huge risk in terms of safety.
As mentioned, during runoff, the structure of rivers is likely to change dramatically. For all you know, the bank you are standing on could be seriously undercut. Maybe the next step forward will be the end of the gravel bar you were wading on. Wading comes with inherent risks at the best of times, but in the early season, higher, dirtier, and colder water can quickly turn a quick misstep into a very serious problem.
We all fish because we enjoy it, but far too many of us (and I count myself amongst these people) take unnecessary risks in the pursuit of fish. If you feel that you need to be fishing out just a little further, then take that opportunity to work on your distance casting technique.