Size 12s

I never stop fishing for trout. Closing day. Opening day. The season's milestones hold little meaning in a state where there is a generous open season and many options during the brief off season. Even in the depths of winter, when the fishing yields little catching, the lure of the water draws me if for no other reason that to revisit the places where rising trout slashed at bugs and came to hand with abundance when the water was warmer and the air was thick.

Early Spring Trout Fishing

Spring is late this year. There have been frosts well into April and it's almost Easter and the forsythia are not yet in full bloom. The peepers have started but their songs but are not yet at max volume. Good fishing is coming, just not fast enough.

I took the boys out on opening day when they were younger. There is a pond the next town over, too warm in the summer for trout, that the state stocks heavily in the spring. We never caught a trout on those opening day forays. My sons weren't eager enough to roll out of bed at the obscene hour required to get a good seat and, frankly, neither was I. We stopped fishing that pond the year a small boy fishing next to us hooked his brother on the inside if the mouth with a Rapala. This was not the experience I was looking to share with my children.

A Soft Spot for Holdovers

I am an unabashed wild trout snob. And I'm not alone. Many others would proclaim themselves so because, put simply, wild trout are better in every way than their stocked counterpart. Wild trout are typically stronger, faster, more wily, more feisty and are often considerably more beautiful. Stocked trout, on the other hand, so often underwhelm. As strangers to the environment they've found themselves planted in, having been raised in a tank and fed with pellets, they often behave unnaturally, rarely presenting us with challenges and teaching us little that will allow us to become better anglers. They bore us with their snubbed noses and tattered fins. And so wild trout snobs like myself seek out waters where wild trout predominate. For those of us that live in the east, this often comes often at the expense of convenience, fish size or both. But it's worth it.

Mountain Freestone Pool
Bits of snow and ice still cling to the walls that overlook this pool. Shockingly deep in its farthest reaches, the pool is essentially one giant prime lie. (photo: Chad Shmukler)

Yet, despite my disdain for stocked trout, I have a soft spot for holdovers, those ill-equipped transplants that beat the odds by leveraging instinct and likely taking advantage of more than a bit of luck to persist through the winter and cement themselves as full fledged residents of the waters they swim in.

Even in big, bug-rich tailwaters, stocked trout that make it through a full year to greet the bucket loads of their brethren that get dumped in come spring earn a measure of respect. Regardless of the plentiful food supply and abundance of good lies, these holdovers have still defied their likely fate. In unwelcoming, icy mountain freestoners like one I recently fished -- where the food supply is scarce even in the height of summer -- holdover trout inspire a significant amount of awe.

The Where is More Important Than the How

Unless you're a much luckier angler than I am, your trips to the stream won't always be graced by plentiful hatches and rising trout which reveal themselves to you through their intermittent visits to the surface. Trout spend ninety percent of their time feeding below the surface where food sources are plentiful and feeding is less risky and energy consuming. This leaves the angler with one task of primary importance: finding fish. Sometimes, trout feeding below the surface can be spotted from above. But, even the keenest of eyes will fail to detect most trout feeding subsurface. After all, the stream and the trout conspire to keep your quarry hidden. Trout seek out the places that provide them what they need while keeping them hidden from predators like otters, birds and fishermen.

Freestone Trout

Recently, I found myself on a tumbling mountain stream that I used to fish with regularity, but have not returned to in some time. Over the last few years, the northeast has been hit by a number of major storms. Streams and rivers have been repeatedly blown out by high water flows, stream beds scoured and scraped by storm surge, leaving many reshaped and reformed, sometimes bearing little resemblance to their former selves. Some pools looked virtually unchanged, save for minor changes like longer tailouts or slightly reformed shelves and drop-offs within the pools. But much of the stream was virtually unrecognizable, its new shape and form offering up not even the ability to reconstruct or imagine its creation by storm waters of the last few years.

The result was a stream that I couldn't approach in the way I had for years, hopping from pool to pool or run to run, unthinkingly plying the same spots I'd always plied -- knowing that fish almost certainly lie waiting beneath.