Afield with Friends: Temperature affects trout

If you’re interested in fooling trout during days when the temperatures alternate from a low Fahrenheit degree reading in the 40s to a higher reading in the 50s, your hookups will improve if you target water you are going to fish that day, the dominate species available and the angle of the sun’s rays as they strike the pool’s surface.

Assuming you have survived the opening day of elbow-to-elbow fishing and now are seriously matching your fishing skills over trout that still are plentiful, it is important to spend your time wisely.

Early season fishing normally is different, not only for bait fishermen and lure advocates, but also because it brings out the best in fly-fishing anglers.

Fish respond quickly to a change in water temperature variations and it is relatively the same physical aspect in our freshwater streams as are found in our ocean tides. We have observed saltwater snook and freshwater trout species turn belly up and die when unsuitable water temperatures occurred in their environment.

During the winter of 1777-78, when thousands of George Washington’s troops were starving at Valley Forge, the entire army – and perhaps our country – was saved when the water temperature in the Schuylkill River rose from the unsuitable 30s to the 40-degree Fahrenheit range. The temperature-sensitive shad filled the river to its banks after waiting weeks at the lower portion of the river for a suitable temperature.

History tells us that Washington’s troops ate so many shad that they began to smell like fish, and that small factor could have been the turning point of the war.

So what does that have to do with improving your catch? In Pennsylvania, most of our trout streams originate in the headwaters of higher elevations and, interesting enough, this is no different than all of the streams in the Rocky Mountains. Most are fed from water tables that are in the lower 40- to 50-degree temperature range and that could vary.

As these cooler waters pass through well-shaded timber habitat, they remain at a low temperature range. When these tributaries enter into larger streams, which often are larger, broader or slower-moving, a rise in water temperature occurs, which trout and insects (trout food) prefer or thrive on.

Streams such as Pine Creek, Muncy Creek, the open farm country of White Deer Hole Creek and Spring Creek could see some insect emergence temperatures suitable to early-season insects. Fly fishermen would like that.

Choosing a limestone stream such as Penn’s Creek or Fishing Creek above Lamar could be a wise choice if you are interested in some great dry fly fishing

During the early weeks of April, if I wanted to drift a blue-wing olive nymph, a freshwater shrimp or a sow bug, I would put on my long johns stuffed inside my chest waders and – if the camp cook is waiting for fresh trout – fish from the Milesburg bridge downstream two miles.

If my good minnow angler friends were trying to make me look bad, most would be netting trophy brown trout as I struggled with artificial flies.

Over the years, I have seen early April anglers get discouraged and remark that there just were not any trout in streams such as Loyalsock, Lycoming and Kettle creeks on opening day of trout season. We know that is not true because we dumped them there.

Water temperature again is so critical to have fish respond to your choice of fishing.

That’s why the best fishing occurs, in the early season, from the hours between 10 a.m. to around 4 p.m., which is when the sun’s rays strike the slower, shallower and open habitat and trigger a slight rise in water temperature.

In the higher altitude mountainous country, water releases from bottom dams, the riparian structures along stream banks and even the amount of algae content in streams contributes to the control of water temperature. Perhaps we need to choose our early fishing streams more carefully and keep in mind that each stocked species or hold-over trout have built-in thermometers.