Trout opener at the mercy of the snow pack

The statewide opening day of trout season arrives a week from this Sunday, and considering the weather we've "enjoyed" since early February, anglers will need major cooperation from Mother Nature if they expect to catch many fish. Even with a couple days of thawing a week or so ago, the fresh snowfall since then offset much of the reduction and settling of the snow pack. Even if this current string of warmer temperatures continues, there's a lot of snow to melt.

Unlike many past years when periodic thawing had shrunk the snow pack for a month or so prior opening day the outlook for this year is iffy at best. February was very cold with little or no thawing occurring, and much of March hasn't been a whole lot better. So we still have a substantial amount of snow to get rid of, which will mean stream levels are probably going to be abnormally high, and extremely cold. If, indeed, that turns out to be the case, it doesn't bode well for early season trouters.

What complicates early trout fishing is the fact that the best major streams have rather extensive hilltop tributaries that feed them. It's up on those heavily wooded hills many of which have dense evergreen forests that block sunshine and keep ground temperatures cooler where most of the remaining snow lies. With temperatures suddenly rising, the snow pack in the valleys and along the main stream flows will melt first, maybe giving hope that by April 1 the stream levels will have dropped. But the higher elevation and forest shade on the hill tributaries prolong thawing and keep water flow rates high and cold for an extended period. For example, a friend and I planned to fish a good-sized deep-valley trout stream in Essex County one mid-May day years ago. It had been so warm for the past week or so that people were running around in short-sleeved shirts and shorts. When we arrived at the stream, we were surprised to see it high and milky the result of continuing snowmelt along its tribs, miles away in the high mountains and saddles surrounding the valley. We managed to catch a couple small trout, but they were so lethargic from the cold water we had to use worms that we fished on heavy sinkers on the bottom, out of the strong main currents. The most action we had was from swatting at the hoards of blackflies that surrounded our heads.

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