With many of the major trout streams still frozen over and others that are open being colored-up from run-off, it's pretty hard for the dyed-in-the-wool trout stream angler to find conditions that are favorable to good fishing. But the old-timers that know that persistence and patience are keys to finding some fish will usually put enough in their creel to make a nice meal, even though it might take a mile or so of extra stream walking.
Those people that have been brought up in the culture of stream fishing for trout, almost universally brook trout here in New Hampshire, know that if the water temperatures are warm enough and the water clear enough, the fish will probably be feeding, as they need to rebuild their bodies after a cold winter.
Most major watersheds are made up of small feeder streams branching off from the main stream and even those feeder streams will mostly have smaller streams that flow into the larger ones. So it's kind of like an animal's circulation system. When it comes to freshwater streams, as runoff enters the system it usually carries with it some kind of silt or a bit of color. And as these small streams add their flows to the main streams, the color of the water will darken and often actually be muddy.
Some color in the water is not a bad thing, as this water will warm up faster because the sun will warm those tiny particles of silt. But many have found that fishing the upper ends of these stream systems, instead of being the coldest, can have warmer temperatures if they are spring-fed. Water coming from springs is cold in the summer, or it at least feels cold. But in actuality, in the winter spring fed water can be just enough warmer than the water from snow melt-off that fish will be actively feeding in the spring-fed areas and not in the more downstream portions of the stream or brook.
This condition can even be found in some of the smaller ponds that have ice free areas because of being fed by springs. In the summer, these areas are sanctuaries for coldwater fish to find cooler water and higher oxygen concentrations and in the winter the same applies but it's warmer water that is drawing the fish.
Unless there's been a couple of really warm days, fishing with bait - usually earthworms - seems to be the universally accepted method of catching early season trout. But if you find clear water with a couple of degrees increase in the water temperature, tiny, in-line spinners can turn the trick for you, baited or not baited.
Either way you need to be stealthy and fish slow and deep, and pay special attention to places that break up the currents where fish can feed without fighting the mainstream currents. Even though these fish may be sluggish because of the cold water, they haven't given up being wary as predators such as mink and otter as well as winged predators do prey on these fish. So being very stealthy in your movements and approach to the stream bank is very important. In our locations, many of these trout are wild fish and have learned to survive by being very aware of movement. Even stocked fish that have survived a season or two have done that because of living scared.
If you are fishing larger bodies of water, major streams or rivers, fish are apt to congregate at the mouths of streams or any water flowing into the river as that water can tend to be warmer and also will carry food to the fish at the junction. Fish these places with patience and very thoroughly before giving up on them.
This time of year, limits of wild brook trout are uncommon and not necessarily the sign of an experienced trout angler. These fish are precious and should be treated as such. Take what you need, but that doesn't have to mean a limit. And it's also not a good idea to do bait fishing and catch and release when the fish are really hitting. More and more science has found that hooking mortality of just about any species of fish has an adverse effect on their ability to survive, and if they do survive their growth can be set back as much as a year or more.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.