Fly fishing gear

April Cold Water Fishing Tips – The County

Any seasoned spring angler in the Crown of Maine knows that April casting forays are more for the mind and soul than the fight and the frying pan.

Any seasoned spring angler in the Crown of Maine knows that April casting forays are more for the mind and soul than the fight and the frying pan. The action of cold water is usually slow and the conditions harsh, but after months of cabin fever, any exposure to open water offers rejuvenation. And the occasional trout or salmon will eventually cooperate, so let me give you some tips on how to entice frigid fish into biting a bait.

My first preparation is to rig two rods. I’m an avid fly fisherman, but I realize the worms are working better this month, so a 7 foot medium weight spinning rod comes with my 9 foot, 6 weight fly rod. Also in my fishing vest is a small plastic lure box with six or eight small colored lures that can also be used with the spinning outfit. My tried and true favorites include a goldfish from Al, a red and white Dardevle, a silver Super Duper, a spinner from Mepp with orange beads, and a little Cleo.

I carry two fly reels, one with a sinking tip line and the other a floating line, and my fly box includes a full selection of streamer flies, wet flies and nymphs in various sizes, colors and weight. To ensure any success with flies, it is essential to match the line and fly to the current and depth of a pool to allow the feathered imitation to swim deep and slowly along the bottom.

Roger Shaw of Mars Hill uses a deep and slow domed bronze Sutton spoon to tease trout to hit when the April streams are still high, cold and dull. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

It doesn’t matter if you cast flies or bait that bounces off the bottom, the water is cold. The fish are settled in feeding corridors using the current to bring them food. They won’t chase bait like they do in the summer, so getting your fly, lure or worm right next to their nose is crucial to ensure a strike. It may take a dozen seemingly identical streamer casts to land a strike, but just the right speed, depth and swing arc in the current are a must.

Flies should fly just above the bottom structure, or if it is a weighted pupa pattern, they can sometimes bump off the bottom as if jumping. Thrown in backwaters, bogans and whirlpools where the water flow is light and slow and likely to be warmer than the deeper and faster courses of the main waterway. Remember that the tender needs to swing close to their feeding course – they won’t hunt – and it may take a lot of casting to get the spring trout to hit. Pools below the island and shoreline stretch just above streams that flow into larger waterways usually catch fish this month, don’t waste casts on fast runs and series of rips so early in the season.

Selecting a fly pattern can be tricky this time of year. Worms have an attractive smell that goes with their natural appearance, but artificial bait relies solely on appearance to attract strikes. When the streams are still murky, discolored, and have debris floating everywhere, I usually opt for a brightly colored attractor pattern to get a trout’s attention. A Mickey Finn, red and white bucktail, or Sunset landlocked salmon work really well for streamer patterns on a size 8 or 10, 2X or 3X long shank hook. For wet flies I would suggest size 10 or 12 hooks dressed as Parmachene Belle, Silver doctor, hare’s ear, March brown or Light Cahill. As the water clears up, I turn to imitation baitfish like black dace, magog smelt, or black and white bucktail. About every 30-40 casts I switch to a nymph and work the same pool again. A weighted leech, matuka bugger woolly pattern in black or olive are proven trout catchers.

Robinson’s Tom Tardiff visits pools on the Prestile and a few small local ponds in mid-April to catch some early season trout. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

While the popular method of using a worm with a light sinker 6 to 8 inches above the bait and alternately raising and lowering the tip of the rod to bounce the bait along the bottom works, j like a spinner. A small-bladed silver or ivory spinner helps keep the worm close to the bottom and adds enough flash to draw a trout’s eye to approaching food, then it’s on to the live bait and its aroma. As with flies, deep, slow strokes are the keys to minimal success. Be sure to use non-toxic sinkers, lead weights are illegal, and split crimp round styles snag and snag on the lower structure less often than torpedo shapes.

If you can find a whirlpool, dead water under an island or a bogan where the river water has formed a small pool along the main flow, try a bait and bobber rig. I’ve had great luck in the creeks along the Prestile, Aroostook and Meduxnekeag with bait and wait tactics. Trout avoid the faster flow of cold water and look for creeks and eddies to navigate in search of food, away from the heavy flow of major rivers. Sooner or later a fish will find your worm if you cast a few bobber rigs and just lean the rod on a crotch stick and relax.

April fishing is a fairly sedentary sport played standing up in snow, mud or very cold water, so dress for warmth and comfort. I prefer long underwear, woolen pants, two layers of socks, and neoprene or waders. A stocking cap, gloves, and a few chemical hand warmers fight off any cold breeze blowing water and adjacent snow banks. I carry a five gallon bucket with a removable padded top for carrying extra gear and a comfortable seat.

Fishing in the Aroostook waterways is less than optimal this month, but it’s improving day by day, and travel quickly overcomes winter’s troubles.