Updated: Jun 1, 2022
Does it ever seem that some days, or specific parts of a day, are better than others for fishing for trout? If you do, than you aren't alone. Read some of the selected reasons, among many, about the of "windows of opportunity" which may lead to better than average days on the river!
A few types of fisherman:
A.) The weekend warrior
B.) The I work from home/make my own schedule and fish when I want
C.) The retired and on the water often
D.) The I fit it in wherever I can and pray for an opportunity (I find myself here!)
E.) The Fair Weather Fisherman
All of the fisherman above share one thing, a desire to be on the water more than they are. However, some of the above have better chances to hunt specific windows. For those that can chase specific conditions, the time on the water can be magical.
In this article, there are five different situations and angler can hunt for to increase their overall likelihood at finding a prime window to improve success. Granted, a few of the people above can't hunt windows and will take what they can get. However, if one could, here are some suggestions to look for during your next trip!
Window #1 - High Water Event
The fair weather fisherman may miss this window of opportunity. This type of angler prefer to fish on days when fishing is better for the angler, than it is for the trout. Fish are going to be wet regardless of the outside conditions, so why not take a chance and fish in a slightly adverse situation? Not to mention, you should have the river to yourself! For example, the Gunpowder River, which I guide on relatively frequently. runs at around 30 CFS-100 CFS regularly year round. Some of this is dependent upon where you are in the river system. However, I have found that I much prefer fishing the river system at 100-250 CFS, and in some cases even higher. Yes, the river is more difficult to wade and the water can be harder to read. In turn, what this means for the fish is there is more room to spread out. While fishing higher than average flows, the fish are dispersed more readily, as opposed to in low water only being able to target them in the deep buckets and pools. Finally, if you are really fishing truly high water then the banks become the likely holding locations. As a result, the chocolate milk stream can be fished without ever getting in the water, and with flies/streamers presented right by the bank.
Do you see what I see? Windows of opportunity! The 23rd, 24th, 27th, and 28th, all provide some level of difference and a chance at catching the fish off guard. Depending the conditions, this can be a great time to nymph or streamer fish more successfully. Always watch your gauges and know what they do to your local river system.
Window #2 - Prime Water Temperature
Trout and their metabolism are fairly predictable. Much of their diet is naturally below the water's surface. Therefore, when bug life is at its peak, fish and their appetite must coincide. The optimal water temperature for trout varies in many peoples view point. I have seen ranges from 50-60 degrees, and occasionally some making arguments for just below and above. Based on this information, approximately 55 degrees would be a relatively ideal temperature to fish. An angler might see midges in the morning, mayflies in the afternoon and evening, and a great spinner fall at dusk. A good bet would be to nymph to start your day, use an emerger or dry dropper rig through the middle of the day, and end your day casting a dry to selective fish that give themselves away as the daylight fades with the most subtle dimple on the water. Most streams, that aren't tailwaters and spring creeks, reach their optimum temperate in May. Therefore, take advantage of the window and fish hard in the late spring!
Window #3 - Overcast/Cloudy
When fishing alone the last thing you want to see is someone else. Little do we know, we are our own worst enemy. What do I mean by this? Our shadow! While fishing, we as anglers need to be mindful of the shadow we cast on the water. There is no worse time for this than during high sun. A fish spooks/darts away from our movement, not so much noise or color. Trout are programmed to stay alive, and a shadow on the water is an instant bolt of lightning up the pool. Here are some reasons why fishing in overcast/cloudy conditions are beneficial:
No shadows on the water created by angler
Fish are less likely to be seen by other predators
Less glare on water for the angler and fish to see
All of the above equate to better than average opportunities for anger's to succeed!
After a rain event, the flows were up, the cloud cover was present, and we had ideal conditions for small stream fishing. The main river was still a bit too high to fish. However, we took advantage of low light/cloudy conditions and were able to catch around a dozen browns on a small stream where fish can be quite skittish, especially if your shadow is on the water!
Window #4 - First and Last Light
The early bird gets the worm, right? Recently I took a trip on the Gunpowder River with a guest. We started at 7 AM and wrapped up our day at 1 PM. We made a conscious choice to be there early due to heat expected that day and high sun by mid afternoon. The day started with full cloud cover and cool but stable temps. When we started the day it was 55 degrees, by the time we left it was in the mid 70's and expected to get to 85 degrees! Had we started our day at 10 AM, or 11 AM, only to finish our day at 3 PM, or 4 PM, our success would have been drastically different.
There is a caveat to this concept! It is somewhat seasonally dependent. I will be the first to admit, in the dead of winter I may opt to go our on the stream closer to 9 or 10 AM. My goal is to let the water warm to the point that fish activity increases. You would be amazed the different a 1 degree or more water temperature increase will do to improve fishing in the winter. The opposing school of thought is needed during the summer. As opposed to going out mid day, typically I am on the water by 5:30-6:00 AM. I am anticipating that the stream temps will soar and fish will start to become sluggish in the heat. If you aren't comfortable, neither are the fish!
Window #5 - Change in Weather Pattern
It is good to break up the monotony of a heat wave or cold streak. Typically, the first day of the change is not the best fishing. I have found, especially in winter, that when the outside temperatures start to increase, it may take a day or two for the stream and fish to respond. Just because a random day of 50 degrees feels great to you, doesn't mean the water has had the time to absorb the warmth of the sun and the bugs and fish to adapt. It often takes a day or two of the heat to make an impact.
One of my favorite times to fish is during low pressure situations. Did you know that fish have swim bladders that are directly effected by the change in outside pressure? During high pressure fish will often be less active because their swim bladder is strained while this phenomenon is occurring. Conversely, during low pressure a feeding frenzy may occur and fishing may be better than anticipated, regardless of outside weather factors.
A low pressure system had just pushed through. The water was up, the fish were spread out, and the flows were perfect. As a result, streamer fishing was ideal and the fish eagerly played along. This nice brown was pulled from on overhanging tree over the water and brought to hand on an articulated streamer.
Get your boots wet and chase down a window of opportunity!
I hope this article, with tips included, helps you the next time you head out to the Gunpowder River, or your home stream. Be sure to head over to my Youtube Channel and see the latest adventure, head over to the store for euro nymphs for your next outing, and consider booking a trip for the summer through the website.