The weather on the last Saturday in April can be fickle. You might be blessed with a glorious sunshiny day and temperatures in the 60s or more. Or it could be spitting snow or sleet with temperatures below freezing. That’s just the way April is in Michigan.
Chances are good trout are going to be in a semi-state of torpor. Water temperatures will be cold, and water levels high and off-color with snow melt. Trout are likely to have their nose buried in the gravel or tucked in where they don’t have to fight the current behind a boulder or logjam, hiding underneath an undercut bank or on the inside of a sweeping bend out of the strong current. The trout are still in survival mode for the most part, but they’re beginning to think about food as days lengthen and the sun begins to warm the water.
Where we’re at in the run-off process determines largely where you want to fish. If there’s still plenty of snow in the cedar swamps, you’ll want to target small waters. They’re the first to drop and warm, and their finned residents will be more inclined to eat.
Live bait is a logical choice wherever you fish in the spring, particularly on smaller streams and creeks. Fishing creeks and streams is a hide-and-seek affair, and live bait lends itself very well to the technique. There really isn’t much casting involved if done right. It’s mainly about positioning for the ultimate presentation and that one perfect drift. Getting to that point requires a stealthy approach accomplished by walking softly and keeping your shadow off the water. Small-stream trout are opportunistic and will zoom out from under a bank or the cover of a log to grab a bait. The biggest trout will secure the best lie. Play your cards right and you can pluck several trout from a prime run.
Worms or nightcrawlers are the most common live bait to use in the spring and with it, you’re typically matching the hatch. Worms and crawlers become active with warming temperatures and find their way into flowing water. I’ve caught lots of opening day trout with worms spilling from their mouth when I tried to remove the hook.
Micro-spawn bags are good, too. Trout are used to seeing eggs. The roe could be from fall-spawning brown trout or salmon or spring rainbows, but resident trout are tuned into seeing spawn. Tie your bags on the small size for resident trout. Spawn bags are easier to fish and deal with than worms and easier to carry, plus they catch just as many fish. In streams that get big runs of suckers don’t be afraid to try sucker spawn either.
Scent enhanced plastics are another option. Plastics come in various shapes that imitate everything from minnows and worms to insect larvae. A good selection takes up very little space in your vest and it keeps indefinitely.
A friend of mine who is a card-carrying Yooper does well on jump-across streams and creeks with spinners. A stealthy approach is mandatory along with being proficient at making an accurate pendulum cast. A pendulum cast allows the spinner to enter the water very quietly and allows you to angle casts under overhanging limbs and branches. Retrieve the spinner SLOW using an across and downswing.
Medium-sized streams and rivers can be somewhere between over the banks to low and clear depending on the spring at the end of April. It all depends on snow melt and spring rains. Trout are still likely to be hunkered down if the water levels are high. High water levels provide a plethora of food items that wash out of the banks or are dislodged from the bottom. Trout are likely to be quite active then in spite of the high water. The key is getting your offering down to the bottom and giving trout time to find it. Trout use their sense of smell as much or more than their sense of sight when waters are dark and roiled.
Clamping split shot to your line is not the best way of adding weight. With the weight directly on your mainline if you get snagged, and you will, you’ll loose the whole rig, hook, line and sinker. By adding the weight to a dropper using a barrel swivel the weight can side up and down your line and trout won’t feel the weight when they bite. By making your leader lighter than your main line when you get snagged you’ll likely just loose your hook instead of your entire rig.
Components for your rig can be tied up ahead of time facilitating an easy way to get your line back in the water. Tie up droppers ahead of time or use pencil lead for your weight. Hang the pencil lead from a cheap snap swivel. Use another black barrel swivel as a stop. Leaders and hooks can be tied ahead of time and stored in a Pip’s Leader Wheel for quick access. Use a leader that is 4 pounds lighter (10/6 or 8/4) than your main line so when you break off you only loose your leader. It’s better to use too much weight than not enough. Chances are if you’re not on the bottom you won’t get bit.
You can use a more passive technique, too. Referred to as plunking out West, you can anchor live bait with a heavy sinker and wait. Rig the sinker to slide and cast it out into a likely hole or run and wait. Chances are good that a trout will find it.
Even with many streams and rivers open to year-round fishing these days the trout opener is still a tradition many anglers still partake in. It’s an annual affair that means getting the cabin opened for the season for many. Some are more serious about the fishing than others. Get away from bridges and public access sites and you can find some unpressured trout and get the season off on the right foot.