Itís always darkest before the dawn, at least thatís the way it seems as a new stillwater season approaches. Anxious fly fishers scour the web, local tackle shops, close and distant friends for any signs of ice off. The gossip this frenzy creates rivals that of Hollywood at times, or so it appears. Some years the anxiety seems a little worse than others. Mother Nature often refuses to release her winter grip and reports of sizeable snowfalls and dense ice abound, Tunkwa Lake for instance at the time of writing still had over twenty inches of ice. Some seasons I have been fortunate to get onto an interior lake early and feel the charge of the first Rainbow of the season. We still have to contend with shoreline ice but the effort is well worth it. Five pound fish hooked in less than five feet of water are excitable and tough to manage. Fly fishers yearn for these types of problems!
|Immediately after ice off offers some exciting shallow water opportunities.|
Immediately after ice off the water temperature hovers in the low forties and is generally too cold to instigate any hatches. Trapped by winter stratification trout are prisoners of the shallows making them an ideal quarry for the fly fisher. Often sluggish from their winter sojourn pre turnover trout often need to be shaken into biting. It is during these times anglers should prey upon a troutís naturally aggressive disposition. Patterns should be a bit on the glitzy side and animated through material choice and presentation.
|When water temperature is low try suspending leech patterns under an indicator. |
Two of the primary food sources available to trout at this time are leeches and water boatman.
Leeches are year round food source most fly fishers are familiar with but water boatman are not always considered an early spring option.
Water boatman are one of the few active food sources and coupled with their air breathing lifestyle are prisoners of the shallows too. A combination pre turnover trout find hard to resist. Early season water boatman are in the latter stages of their one-year life cycle. Mating in the previous fall the females have laid their eggs and will soon be replaced by their prodigy.
When it comes to material selection for water boatmen and leeches the focus should be on the brighter side of the dial. Crystal Chenille is an excellent material for both. Maroon, peacock, brown and olive are great colors for leech and boatman designs.
Try twisting different colors together to create further distinctive looks. Peacock and maroon is a great leech combination while a blend of silver and pearlescent simulates the trapped air bubble water boatman carry around on their sub surface jaunts. Another interesting option is the use of Krystal Flash dubbing loops. A body created through a combination of Krystal Flash and dubbing appears to have an inner glow offering a subtle but attractive appeal. The trick to this method is controlling the Krystal Flash while creating the dubbing loop. Use the left hand (for right handed tiers) to separate the strands; typically two of differing colors, until the loop is formed and a dubbing hook or twister is inserted. At the risk of self-promotion take a look at my new book, Fly Patterns for Stillwaters for further explanation. My version of the popular Dazzle Leech and Krystal Boatman utilize this tying technique.
|The Black Beaver and Tan is a great early season pattern.|
Other materials worthy of consideration include Super Floss, rubber hackle and Sili Legs. These materials have a life of their own and provide a saucy wiggle to many flies including dragon nymphs, water boatman, generic nymphs and yes, even leeches. Large Girdle Bugs, Yuk Bugs and other rubber legged river offerings have often worked wonders on early season trout. Donít forget the value of gold, silver and copper beads either. The flash and action they provide to flies year round pays big dividends and practically no leech pattern should be without them. Natural materials to include in this synthetic concoction include soft hackles such as pheasant rump, grouse and guinea along with everyoneís stillwater favorite, marabou. Rabbit and fox arenít bad choices either. Try sprinkling a touch of Angel Hair in the tail for further attractive shimmer.
The pre turnover season is brief, typically less than 2 weeks. Once the ice has left the lake the waters soon warm to the same level and turnover occurs. Chironomids and other emergences begin with somewhat predictable regularity. The loud and obnoxious patterns take a back seat to more suggestive and subtle designs. But by planning for this brief intro to a new season we can maximize the beginning we have all been yearning for.