Unexpected Glow

There is an unexpected glow in the corner of my window this morning, as the sun has come forth! The forecast wasn’t exciting, clouds for the duration, but I am beginning to reconsider!

There is snow on the way this week, with one local forecast calling for better than seven inches on Wednesday, with midweek highs in the twenties. That makes this morning’s unexpected sunshine even more welcome; and it has me thinking hard about rigging up a certain bamboo fly rod. River temperatures actually rose overnight, so I cannot help but feel the pull of bright water.

I wonder if it will remain until lunchtime, that specter of warmth and possibilities, for even as I write this another bank of heavy gray clouds has obscured much of it’s light. Perhaps this is only a flirtation.

I tend to be a bit preoccupied with sunshine for winter fishing. That attitude grew out of many winters experience on the Cumberland valley spring creeks. Operating a fly shop left me mornings and evenings to fish, at least for the warmer portions of the year, but winter brought darkness before closing time. I stalked the Falling Spring most mornings during the winter, expecting some activity as the water rarely got below fifty degrees. I learned over time that temperature wasn’t enough, sunshine was vital for finding active trout on an early winter morning. I realized that sunlight started oxygen production by the aquatic plants that remained through the winter and jump started the food chain.

One frosty January morning brought this into very clear focus. I had received a new demo rod, one of the very first Orvis Tridents, an eight and a half foot four weight, and I was anxious to try it out despite the twenty degree temperatures at dawn. When the sun hit the water there was vapor rising from the stream, adding an air of mystery. I tested that rod with my largest Falling Spring rainbow, a gorgeous, iridescent fish weighing five pounds! That trout was out feeding at eight o’clock on one of the coldest mornings we had that winter, because the food was active.

On my Catskill Rivers, my need for sunshine seems to be more about the mood and comfort of the fisherman, though I do take note of any areas with late season aquatic vegetation. It will take time to learn whether the same phenomena occurs here in our much colder rivers. Weed growth has been on the increase in the West Branch the past couple of seasons. If enough of it survives through the winter months, then sunlight will allow photosynthesis and oxygenation. Nymphs living in those isolated weed beds should respond with some increase in activity. The question is: will the trout take notice?

A heavy winter limestone rainbow from a Cumberland valley spring creek.

I certainly don’t go forth expecting a lot of activity when our rivers flow in the mid-thirties. I am there mostly to enjoy the time on the water, to add pages to the book of my life as an angler. If we are open to it, each day on a river will teach us something. I try to keep my mind open to possibilities. If we operate based solely on our past experience we limit the opportunities to learn something new.

Science tells us that a cold blooded fish doesn’t have to feed very often when the water it inhabits is closer to freezing than to its normal activity range, but it does feed a bit every so often. There is always some luck in fishing. Science has also shown that fish in artificially cold water, like big dam tailwaters, can acclimate to the cold water regime and remain active in a wider range of water temperatures. Knowing that helps me concentrate on every cast on a frigid Catskill river.

Maybe that little pool I have fished a dozen times without a strike has only one trout hanging out in the winter, a big old boy that keeps the smaller fish away. If I keep fishing that pool regardless, there is a chance I might be swinging a streamer down along the bottom on the one or two days a month that that brown goes hunting, thanks to a couple of degrees rise in the river temperature on a cold but sunny day!

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