It is a narrow window into the fast ice-out fishing that a few antsy anglers relish on some of our rivers and streams. To catch it right you almost have to stare constantly through that window because it is generally over in a week or less.
April first, the first day of the season on the stream I most like to fish just as the ice is going out, or just after, was a total bust, simply because the ice had not budged yet. There followed too many ugly days of howling winds, so it was two weeks before we got out there again. My heart sank when I first saw the creek at the first bridge, with the suspicion I was too late, that the ice-out bonanza fishing had passed on and passed me by.
Obviously those high winds had helped in raising and breaking up the ice and hustling the floes on downstream. There is no mountain runoff anywhere yet, and this stream is not affected by mountain runoff anyway. It is affected greatly by surface runoff and rains, but we haven’t had any of either this spring. The result is that the water looked to me to be as low and clear as it was before the untimely early freeze-up early last October, and that was as low as many old-timers can remember ever seeing the creek.
Like many of my readers, I yearn to get at the fishing, which generally means getting skunked the first few times, exactly what most of them were admitting. Some success was being reported by east country anglers from Blood Indian Reservoir north of Jenner. That brought back memories of my fishing the place years ago, just after the ice had gone out.
So I vowed to do some fishing this mid-April day on my favourite ice-out creek, but first we were going to see if, finally, we would be able to drive all the way into the Stump Ranch for the first time since the annual Christmas tree harvesting trip early last December. But that was no challenge at all. In our two week absence, most of the snow in the woods had disappeared, and the road in had gone from iffy to easy.
At high noon it was still freezing in the cabin, so Herself and I lunched in the sunshine on the creek side deck, serenaded by the gabbling and honking and of Canada geese up and down the creek. Ten or 15 years ago you’d hear and see Canada geese in the spring and in the fall as they staged on nearby Cow Lake on their way to or from more northerly nesting grounds. But this is something new around here: the geese we were hearing are here to stay, nest and raise their goslings along the creek.
There were unusual numbers of one of our earliest signs of spring: Mourning Cloak butterflies doing their characteristic flit and glide in the spring sunshine, seeking sap oozing from sapsucker holes on aspen boles. This is a large butterfly, upper wing a rich brown, almost purple, the ragged wing edged with a wide yellow band and iridescent blue spots.
These butterflies would have emerged from hibernation as adults from the year before. They will mate, larva will hatch, feed and pupate, and then the new generation of adults will emerge in mid- to late-summer, themselves to hibernate when winter hits. I have occasionally seen Mourning Cloaks flitting around out here on unseasonably fine days in February.
For the fishing, I chose the Night Hole, my second favourite spot on this creek for ice-out fishing. On the short stroll in, a scant few red ants could be seen patrolling their big hill beside the trail. In the next month a hungry bear will tear up the hill and lick the spicy insects from its paws.
Obviously I was late: almost gone were the bankside ice ledges under which photophobic brown trout like to shelter in the shade from the suddenly bright spring sunshine. The sunshine was too bright and the water too low and clear to promise much angling hope.
But before I got rigged up, what was clearly a big brown trout rose just below me. I did not have a fly rod with me, not that it would have mattered much, because there was no insect activity on the water.
The fish did not rise again and I could not tempt it or any other trout in the hole with anything in my box of stream hardware.
A week or 10 days earlier, in the first ice out feeding frenzy, there would have been hits and flashes to every cast.
A friend was fly fishing long and hard a few miles upstream. He reports seeing some aquatic insect activity, but he did not see a fish.
So I am ahead of the game: a cast at last and proof positive that the miracle of rising trout goes on, if only one, and once.
Bob Scammell is an outdoors writer.