Last Sunday morning my wife, and I were taking turns between watching the baby and cleaning the house. After a few hours of this chaos Alicia let out a sigh as she flung a used paper towl into the trash. “So what do you want to do today?” It was a warm-ish late winter day, the temperature barely above freezing but with a bright enough sun to thaw the puddles in our driveway. As I thought about the weather I was reminded of a similar day the April proir.
“Why don’t we take a walk down by the river?”
“Are you sure the snow isn’t too deep?”
“We’ll just stay on well worn paths…we’ll take it easy.” I pleaded.
“Okay, well can you bring your truck so Bosley can keep walking if the baby gets too cranky and we need to turn around?”
“Sure, do you mind if I throw my rod in the truck?”
“Yeah that’s fine.”
As I suited up in my fishing gear another couple walked up the path towards their car. The man took one look at me and chuckled.
“Fishing!? You just couldn’t wait any longer huh?”
“Yeah, it’s been a long winter.” I shrugged.
I’m sure he thought I was just out for some casting practice, but as I strung up my rod I looked hopefully at the river.
One of the benefits of being a full time fishing guide is that time on the water teaches you when and why fish will eat. What any good guide will tell you is that fish don’t eat all the time. Sure, on some days they certainly seem to, but by and large you need to be in the right place at the right time. For casual anglers these bite windows can seem like fleeting moments of glory. Every fisherman I meet tells me the story of this one time when “ I just couldn’t keep the fish off my line.”
I now hear many of these stories told by my own clients of trips past. They pull them out during a period of slow fishing. Turning to me as their rod sulks in impatince, “Remember last year when we caught those big fish on dry flies? My response is almost always the same. “Yes, keep fishing.”
If the fish aren’t biting a change in barametric pressure, water temperature, cloud cover, wind direction, or time of day can make them. Sometimes the bite can last for hours, other times mere minutes. I’ll give you some examples.
Last June, during the peak of the Alder fly hatch I guided my good friend Charlie on the Androscoggin. The bugs were all over the Alders but no fish rose all morning, so we fished nymphs, to no avail. After lunch we stuck with the nymph rig. As the sun bairly broke behind the trees the bite window began. Charlie landed over thirty trout, 13 of which were over 15” with two right around 20”. We did finally see some bugs bouncing on the surface, but all fish were caught on nymphs. Fly fishermen get caught up with paying attention to bugs when they are around. Even during a hatch a bite window can be triggered by something invisible.
A couple of years ago I was guiding my client Monti in early July. The day began with a warm sun breaking over the trees. Small black caddis danced about the misty surface. We managed a couple of fish on dry flies and a few on nymphs. Then the weather began to change and we stopped catching fish. low clouds rolled in, a strong west wind kicked up and the temperature dropped. I asked if Monti wanted to try a streamer. He was hesitant, trusting the nymph rig that he was comfortable with. But When his flies snagged and he pulled back and forth, the white indicator danced on the surface like a wounded baitfish, fooling a rainbow trout into attacking. We laughted as the fish thrashed then Monti freed the snag and I handed him the streamer rod. He took one cast and was tight to an 18” wild rainbow. Sometimes when you think the bite window is off the fish have just switched from appetizers to the main course, and major bite window is on.
A few years ago in late MayI was guiding my client Garry. Garry was interested in chasing large brown trout on streamers. The timing was right between streamer season and the first mayfly hatches of the year. We started with streamers and although Garry had some hits we hadn’t landed a trout by lunch time.
I explained that we had perfect conditions for brown trout fishing and that it simply wasn’t an easy game. After lunch Garry missed a few more fish on streamers before a light hatch of gray drakes came off. We found a pod of brook trout rising in an eddy and Garry stuck a couple. The skunk was off but small stocked brook trout were not our focus. Garry was eager to move down the river but I noticed the sun comming through the clouds. There was good brown trout water to come but I also knew they wouldn’t rise for dry flies in the bright sunlight. Luckly there was a large patch of clouds drifting in from the west. So we sat and waited. When the clouds shrouded the sun we pushed on. On the far side of the next pool we saw a small dimple, repeating sporadically.
“Looks like another brook trout.” Garry sighed.
“I’m not so sure, take a cast.
Garry’s cast landed perfectly, three feet above the fish. The fish ate before Garry expected it and took ten feet of fly line straight to the bottom before he could even set the hook. As we took pictures and released the fish (an 18” brown trout”) Garry noticed another fish rising downstream. As I dried the fly and prepared to move down the sun burst through the clouds. We waited for the fish to show herself but the clouds were gone, the bite window had closed.
Those are just a couple examples I’ve seen bite windows appear and disappear in interesting ways. In reality I have seen hundreds of examples. I use these experiences to inform where and when I fish, because these day s I don’t have as much time to fish for myself. Which brings me back to the other day…
Alicia had the baby and I had the dog so naturally I moved faster. When we were about half way to our destination Alicia stopped.
“Vivian isn’t going to last much longer and I want her to see you take some casts, can you rig up here?
There wouldn’t be any fish to catch in this water but the two finest catches of my life wanted to watch me fish…So I fished to no fish for all the right reasons. Eventually Alicia called me to shore.
“Can you take the dog a little longer and we’ll meet you back home?”
Now I did move fast, speedwalking in waders through thigh deep snow until I got to the right spot. I slid down the icy bank landing in the spring soft sand with a thud. I eased into the warming, but still icy waters as I tore line off the reel. Tossing my fly into the flow I began working casts across the river. Every cast I would step down a few feet, covering the river with efficiency. I was just getting into the rhythm of things when I felt it, the line suddently going oddly slack before tightening into a deep pull. It was a heavy weight with the throbs going down into the cork of my reel seet. I stumbled backwards as I stripped in line, and Bosley bounced in the snow behind me.
Once the fish was in the net I slid out my camera, took a quick fish selfie and release video. Then I sat, because this was enough, and the sun was setting anyways. I reeled up my line and walked back to the truck.