There's always something fishy going on in the U.P. and tomorrow is one of the fishiest. It's Opening Day of trout season and I'm giddy with excitement. Whether you call them brookies or speckies, Salvelinus fontinalis are things of beauty and so are the places they live. I caught my first one about age 10 and have been hooked ever since, my favorite lifelong addiction.
I have been in sync with opening days and in tune with the natural rhythms of rivers and brookie cricks since I was a kid. I feel a certain familiar twitching when the fish are moving and it's not arthritis; more like witching water. If your casting arm is itchy, now's the time to scratch it.
Riverine environments are their own reward. The sound of running water and birdcalls alone is therapeutic, music to my ears, even if it's a PO'd kingfisher squawking and flapping at me from a branch overhead. I don't understand kingfisher, but he made it perfectly clear that these are his fish and I'm trespassing on his crick.
Where Opening Day has traditionally been iffy with cold and snow, Yooper anglers are being treated to warmer, more favorable conditions this spring.
"After an unusually mild winter and early ice-out, the snow has long since melted down and the run-off ran off with it," said WW&W chief fishing correspondent Ed Wetelainen. "The ground is warm, the streams are low and clear, and we're seeing early hatches of insects this year."
Low, clear water calls for stealth fishing, sneaking up on the crick so the fish don't see or feel you coming. Let them see your shadow on the water and it's all over. You know how most brookie cricks are guarded by impenetrable tag alder you have to bushwhack through to get a line in the water? Not Woodtick Crick; brown ferns and blonde hay streamside hummocks are still panked down from the winter's snow. The tag alder is festooned with Finnish moss and azaleas, the wisteria is in bloom and adorning the red osier. Screaming yellow forsythia, Scottish broom and marsh marigolds line the banks.
I love to wade streams and walk banks, reading the water, looking for brookie hiding places. What choice do I have? They're not gonna come looking for me. I look for likely lies and feeding lanes-deep, dark holes and shadowy undercut banks.
"You'll know fishy-looking water when you see it," said Wetalainen, "Look for current breaks along submerged logs, pocket water behind boulders, aerated, bubbly plunge pools below rapids, cascades and waterfalls."
"Foam-covered pools give good cover from avian fish assassins like kingfishers," he added. "Otter and mink also have a taste for brookies. We're the least of their worries." Yooper brookies must be 7 inches to keep, 8 inches in the lower peninsula. For creel limits and regs, check your 2010 Michigan Fishing Guide or visit www.michigan.gov/dnrfishing.
Brookies eat worms, crustaceans, minnows, bugs and whatever the river brings them. They usually can't resist a juicy hunka crawler and fall for the flash of a tiny Swedish Pimple or small Mepps or Panther Martin spinner. Or try Powerbait or Gulp mini-minnows and leeches. After 50 years, I still like to worm 'em, dig my own garden hackles and pick my own nightcrawlers, or pick some up at Tina's in downtown Laurium or Harter's.
Everything you need to catch a brookie you can carry in one pocket. Rig an Ultralight rod and reel with gossamer 2 to 4-pound test line and a splitshot about eight inches north of a small No. 8 or 10 hook. Impale your bait of choice and drift, dip and dabble it in root wads, under overhanging brush or cedar, beneath the foam cover on pools, in all the above-aforementioned habitats, and wait for the big yank.
No matter what I fish, I've gotten pretty good at yanking it away from them at the last second, but I usually manage to catch a couple on Opening Day. Even a blind pig finds a truffle once in awhile.
WW&W Spring Outdoor Calendar
Saturday, Maple Leaf 3rd Annual Bobber Race, Sawmill Crick, Bootjack. $5 per bobber, call Dale Lanouette, 296-9125.
April 30, Luigi's 13th Annual Spring Splake Tournament, Copper Harbor, 337-3903
May 7-23, 5th Annual Keweenaw International Migratory Bird Festival, Copper Harbor, call Hannah Rooks, 289-4813, copperharborbirding.org.
May 15, Opening Day, Walleye Season.
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at firstname.lastname@example.org.