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The Torrents of Spring

 

For many long months western anglers – especially the rod and reel kind – are held prisoner by the climate we live in. Sure there are some opportunities to cast a horizontal line during the deep freeze months. Tailwater below bottom-draw dams, reservoirs kept ice-free from thermal power stations, spring creeks and rivers warmed by mountain Chinook winds all afford a respite from angler hibernation. Still it’s an ordeal. Then suddenly the days lengthen, the Canada geese return and the torrents of spring are on us again – in more ways than one. It’s a time when anglers experience a fundamental change in attitude from famine to feast, scarcity to abundance, so many choices so little time. The Long May Weekend is generally recognized as the opening days of spring and summer angling. Although there a myriad of openings and closures as fisheries become more and more micro-managed to maximize angling potential and conserve fish populations. Even though chances are good that a trip to the foothills at this time of year will result in snow on the camper roof, the first extended trip of the year is often the best. Mainly because angling in spring has so much to offer. Here are some rewarding options for anglers, and especially flyrodders, to choose from.


A Red Deer River super-sized brown trout.

Prairie Potholes

The prairie pothole concept of trout management was honed in Alberta but has since spread to other western provinces – most notably the Narrow Hills complex of north central Saskatchewan and the Parkland Region of Manitoba. Here rainbow trout and other salmonid species stocked in previously-fishless, nutrient-rich waters exhibit tremendous growth rates and fighting ability. In Alberta two classifications have developed. The first is the five-fish-no-size-limit pothole attractive to the entry-level anglers. Unfortunately when subjected to fishing pressure, the number of hold-over trout in these waters is quickly diminished and catch sizes plummet. A new class of trout fishery is emerging in the province largely from angler pressure called a Quality Trout Fishery. Here the harvest is “delayed” until the trout reach 50 cm. – allowing anglers to catch and release consistently larger fish than on the standard catch-and-keep ponds. QTF’s like Bullshead, Beaver, Ironside, Muir and Police Outpost are already gaining international recognition. One of the great early season events on Alberta’s lower altitude trout ponds is the water boatman fall. Activity by these little bugs that propel themselves through the water with oar-like legs cranks up the trout action shortly after ice out. And can turn a glorious spring day into an action-filled afternoon when the hungry rainbows hammer boatman imitations. I had one such memorable day on Hasse Lake west of Edmonton one fine May afternoon when the trout were stacked against the eastern shore pounding the little bugs. The action was non-stop until I broke off my last boatman imitation in a large trout and returned to the boat launch with a big smile on my face. Sadly Hasse, like several other Alberta trout lakes, has since been withdrawn from the stocking list after invasive yellow perch and pike were illegally introduced. Other effective spring patterns are chironomids, damsels and scuds which all become effective after the lakes “turn-over”. A natural seasonal phenomenon on ice-covered prairie stillwaters where the water column reverses itself from warm on the bottom and cold on top to warm on top and colder the deeper it gets. Alberta stocked trout lakes generally have no closed seasons but the quality lakes have winter closures with various opening dates and bait bans. So always check the regs closely. Non-QTFs where large trout are still abundant are Dolberg, Swan, Lees and East Pit.


Alberta's prairie pothole trout ponds provide excellent spring angling action.

Post-Spawn Pike

Alberta’s Long May Weekend rule is clearly most applicable to the warm water species whose spring spawning runs are protected by the April 1 to May 21 closure – a comprehensive strategy brought in a few years back by Sustainable Resource Development biologists to conserve pike and walleye populations and restrict harvest to three-spawn fish. While the opening of pike season occurs a couple weeks earlier on many southern prairie parkland lakes and reservoirs – or has recently been scrapped entirely on several smaller water bodies – early season pike action on a flyrod can be described in one word. Great! Cool water temperatures keep the big predators close to the surface or in shallow bays on the prowl for bait fish. Casting a large streamer fly on a sinking line, then bringing it back with a quick jerk-jerk-pause retrieve can trigger savage strikes and epic battles. On a rare calm day the action can be enhanced with a floating line and a surface lure made from spun deer hair. Witnessing a big pike surge up behind a Popper or Dahlberg Diver-style surface fly and mug it is truly a heart-stopping event. I’ve found that the effective fly colours are basically the same as spin-cast lures designed for pike. Red and white, yellow and red, and green and black being the most popular. While bunny strip flies have a wonderful action in the water, trying to punch a six inch-long piece of water-soaked rabbit skin into a stiff spring breeze is similar to casting a wet dish rag. Flies tied with artificial hair that absorbs little water will quickly turn your day from frustration to fun. Two other vital pieces of equipment to store in your vest are a pair of jaw spreaders and needle-nosed pliers or other hook extractor. Not only do they make releases easier for the fish it sure cuts down the wear and tear on your flesh. It goes without saying that a pike leader set up should always include a shock tippet of coated wire. Either that or be prepared to have an empty fly box at the end of the day. Pike tend to be sedentary fish, preferring to lie in wait for their prey so it’s best to take the action to the fish.Casting in a fan-like pattern while cruising a back bay or along a weed line can be an effective way of covering the water for spring pike action.
Pike prowl the shallows of following their spring spawn.

March Madness

When it comes to Alberta trout streams the torrents of spring are just that. A time when many mountain born rivers become raging sluices of snow melt and remain blown out for several weeks. But not all rivers and a torrent of another kind occurs in spring which makes for some pretty exciting angling. The window of opportunity between ice out and when the mountain run-off hits creates an exciting window of opportunity for trout and Arctic grayling anglers thanks to a proliferation of early season insect hatches that turn on the fish in lower altitude rivers and creeks. One interesting insect to key on is the March Brown mayfly – even though it hatches in mid to late May in Alberta. The March Brown hatches on the Red Deer River tailwater below the Dickson dam and other central Alberta brown trout creeks are prolific and rewarding. I recall one fine May day casting to super-sized browns with RDR guide Garry Pierce. The fish were stacked in the feeding lanes gulping emerging March Browns. The fishing was tough and technical with the trout continually changing position but paid off handsomely with a 26-inch bruiser. It took me into the backing twice before submitting to Garry’s net. Blue-winged Olive mayflies and Skwala stoneflies are also important hatches which can turn spring angling choices into a torrent. And when they are over, the Green and Brown Drakes, Golden Stoneflies and Salmon Flies are on deck. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up.


Previous Fishing Articles

(1) In The Walleye Zone

(2) Zoo Trout

(3) Fly Selection for Beginners

(4) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(5) New Waters

(6) Big Bad Burbot

(7) Looking Back

(8) Out of Africa

(9) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

(10) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish

(11) The Browns of Autumn

(12) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(13) Walleye Town

(14) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(15) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(16) Going With The Flow

(17) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(18) Swinging The Fences

(19) A View From The Aerie

(20) Dixieland Delight

(21) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(22) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(23) Montana's Cool Missouri

(24) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(25) Toothy Critters

(26) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(27) Top Ten Flies

(28) Northern Exposure

(29) Home Water Lessons

(30) Chicken Of The Sea

(31) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(32) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(33) Keep It Up!

(34) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(35) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(36) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(37) Hawg Holes

(38) Saltwater Salmon

(39) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(40) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(41) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(42) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(43) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(44) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(45) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(46) Fall Walleye

(47) Wet Flies

(48) Versatility the Key to Success

(49) Grayling of the Boreal

(50) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(51) Size Matters

(52) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(53) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(54) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(55) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(56) The Point Of It All

(57) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(58) Fall Fly Fishing

(59) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(60) Big River, Big Fish

(61) Bottom Bonanza

(62) Fishing Small Flies

(63) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(64) Four Seasons of the Bow

(65) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(66) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(67) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(68) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(69) Edge Walleye

(70) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(71) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(72) Four Corners – Four Waters

(73) Chasing Pothole Trout

(74) Springtime Stoneflies

(75) The Torrents of Spring

(76) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(77) Bust Them With Bait

(78) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(79) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(80) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(81) Terrestrials

(82) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(83) Rocky Mountain High

(84) Reading the clues

(85) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(86) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(87) Fly Fishing 101

(88) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(89) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(90) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(91) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(92) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(93) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(94) Trust Your Electronics

(95) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(96) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(97) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(98) Walleye can be Humbling

(99) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(100) Winter Flyfishing

(101) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(102) Hot Fall Pike Action

(103) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(104) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(105) Frequently Asked Questions

(106) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(107) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(108) Deep Water Perch

(109) Post Spawn Brookies

(110) A Fisher's Life

(111) The River's Last Stand

(112) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(113) Coho on the Coast

(114) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(115) Summer in the Mountains

(116) Peak Walleye Season

(117) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(118) Last Ice Rainbows

(119) The Burbot Event

(120) Tackle Matching

(121) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(122) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(123) The Lure of Brook Trout

(124) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(125) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(126) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(127) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(128) The Vesatile Plug

(129) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(130) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(131) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(132) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(133) Daily Fish Migrations

(134) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(135) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(136) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(137) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(138) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(139) The Fun in Ultra Light

(140) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(141) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(142) Never Stop Learning

(143) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(144) Jigging through the Ice

(145) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(146) Rainbows on Ice

(147) The Season of Ice Begins

(148) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(149) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(150) Facts On Cats

(151) West Coast Adventure

(152) June Walleye Frenzy

(153) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(154) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(155) "Northern Exposure"

(156) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(157) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(158) Man Overboard