Salomone: Beds and blue wings￼
Embracing the different cycles on the river as the seasons change
In a matter of a couple days, the stretch of river below my house has broken free of the confines winter imposed upon it. The heavy load of ice that hid our freestone water has begun to recede. Individuals sitting riverside can observe the activity in real time as the sounds of ice weakening carries across the awakening flow. With the change in the river occurring rapidly, a couple of key conditions are developing and anglers should take note. One is an often overlooked hazard and the other an obviously happy affair.
Spawning trout and the first major insect emergence of the year collide in a time when anglers are coming out of their snow-walled cabins to reacquaint themselves with the river. The reproductive urge drives trout toward shallow feeder streams and broken gravel to construct their beds, the area where eggs are laid and fertilized. Rainbow trout are the major players for the spring spawning session. Cutthroat trout are spawning during this time as well. The overlapping spawn does lead to cutt-bows. The hybrid can fight with the tenacity of a cutthroat trout and the brutish strength of our resilient rainbows.
Trout will work actively to clean the river rocks of debris and decaying vegetation. Fanning their tails across the rocks like a broom, trout will beat themselves up preparing a bedding area for their young. A clean, unsmothered riverbed is a clear indication of spawning activity.
Avoid wading across bedding areas as eggs are dispersed in the shallow, gravel depressions and are extremely fragile. Unobservant anglers can decimate an entire bed with a few inadvertent foot steps. Merely crossing the river upstream of a bed can dislodge enough dirt and mud to cover the innocent eggs with a suffocating film. The best place to cross when beds are encountered is downstream of the spawning area where your disturbed water can settle without covering precious trout eggs.
Take care in your approach to the water. Spawning is our chance for maintaining a healthy population of trout in our rivers naturally. Fish hatched, reared and developed in the river are a stronger representation of trout compared to hatchery-raised stocked examples. Maintaining proper etiquette around spawning activity enhances the survival of multiple fish at once where catch-and-release, a key facet of continued angling, only affects one fish at a time.
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The first mayfly to appear on our local rivers is the blue-wing olive. The minuscule mayfly poses as an intricate component in the resurgence of winter-thinned trout. With water levels increasing and days stretching longer into the evening the blue-wing olives are the sustenance needed to revive the masses of rainbows, browns and brook trout found in the river.
River levels engorged with the initial run-off we have been experiencing are ripe for blue-wing olives. The nymphs are dispersed throughout the water column creating a smorgasbord experience for the awaiting trout. The return of the blue-wing olive provides the much needed sustenance for pre-spawn trout.
Nymphing will be the most productive approach for success. The amount of insects in the larva and pupa stages dispersed within the river drives the gorging action. A minuscule Pheasant Tail mimics the natural shape and movement of the tiny nymphs. A small, size 18 nymph, like a Barr’s emerger, gives more of an emerging insect appearance. A soft hackle Pheasant Tail breathes in the water during a drift enhancing your presentation with an attraction trout find irresistible.
While the majority of action will be subsurface, dry-fly anglers will perk up at the appearance of noses in the surface film. The window for prime activity starts near the mid-day hour. The dry-fly action comes in the following hours but ends mid-afternoon when the arc of the sun dives towards the horizon. Observant anglers will capitalize on this first consistent and highly anticipated surface activity. It’s a long, sullen winter for a dry-fly angler.
Embrace the cycles on the river. The seasons we experience give a unique flavor and attraction to our valley, and there’s nowhere better to immerse yourself in the changes than on the river.
Water levels are increasing from snowmelt. The thick ice shelf that blanketed the Eagle River has broken free, opening up more river access daily. Be diligent in your wading. Inadvertent steps trample an entire class of trout. Anglers awakening from their winter hibernation need to keep an eye out for both beds and blue wings. Here comes spring.