Sunday, February 12, 2017

Catch trout with the bugs of late winterx`

By John Hayes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When the last gusts of winter have yet to blow, and the first rays of spring sunshine are still weeks away, macroinvertabrates already are active in streams across Pennsylvania and most of the eastern United States.

Greg Hoover, an author, fly fisherman and recently retired Penn State entomologist will talk about early season fly fishing Feb. 19 at Cabin Fever, an annual fly fishing expo benefiting Penn’s Woods West Trout Unlimited at the Marriott Pittsburgh North in Cranberry.

“A lot of people I think don’t know that you can [fly fish] all year long,” he said. “To be effective, folks should be prepared with patterns imitating the various life stages of the common Big Three groups.”

It’s no surprise that mayfly, caddisfly and stonefly nymphs drifted slowly near the bottom of the deepest pools can draw winter strikes.

“I would expect some Slender Winter Stoneflies to work -- just a few millimeters wide, very narrow in body profile and a total length that may not exceed a half inch,” Hoover said. “Also try a Little Black Stonefly Nymph, size 16 or 18, fished very slowly on the bottom.”

Before the spring rains, native trout and even stocked holdovers can be tempted by well-played wet flies, he said.

“One good subsurface imitation is the Zebra Midge. It imitates a wide range of midge pupae, and size 18 or 20 can be effective,” he said. “Midges emerge 13 months of the year, but [in winter] when we have thaw days, the pupa stage swims to the surface.”

It may seem counterintuitive that in the slow-metabolism months of late winter trout would sacrifice energy to chase minnows. But Hoover said it can be a good time of year to tie on streamers.

“The bigger adult fish are coming out of a period of spawning,” he said. “They’re really aggressive. Recovering is causing them to look for big chunks of protein.”

Try 3- to 5-inch streamers with articulated shanks and long tails.

“You’re fishing them slow, not really stripping them through the water like a baitfish would move in May or June,” he said. “Before spring sets in, try fishing streamers when we get high-water events. Fish them in the eddies and along the banks.”

Soon after ice-out, trout start looking to the surface for food. A difference of even a couple of degrees can determine when and where liftoff might occur.

“Sometimes on the same river, one stretch will have nothing happening and another will have a hatch. One stretch they’ll be eating females and on another they’ll be eating males,” Hoover said. “Mayfly emergence begins with males — for fly fishermen that’s the Red Quill. When the water gets warmer you get females, imitated by the Hendrickson. Even early in the spring, be ready with both.”

People have been tying fur and feathers to “angles” in hopes of catching trout since ancient times. What actually triggers feeding and preference remains a mystery.

“It’s easier in May and June to know what the hatch will be. Earlier than that, in March and April, sometimes you have to be ready for just about anything,” Hoover said.

Don’t have what the fish want? Improvise. Even in late winter, when patterns are fished slowly and deliberately, approximations can work.

“If it’s a choice between having the right color or the right size, go with size,” he said. “Say a trout is near the bottom and when it looks up, the insect is in its window of vision. What it’s seeing is the outline of the insect — seldom is the color apparent when viewed from below.”

Cabin Fever opens 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 19 at Marriott Pittsburgh North, 100 Cranberry Woods Drive, Cranberry. 724-772-3700, Admission $10, 12 and under free.

Greg Hoover speaks on Pennsylvania entomology at 2 p.m., and presents a tying demo at 3 p.m.

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