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Trout Stream Reflections

Trout streams are bursting forth with new life welcoming fishers to their valley’s where trout eagerly chase the bugs of spring and new flowers splash their beauty along the banks. At least that has been the experience of many of us over the last weeks in Central Wisconsin.

The first significant spring hatch of bugs is well underway. It’s the time of the American Grannom, also called the Black Caddis, that typically hatch during the latter half of April into early May. These little critters are not large, in fact as shown in the picture, they are about three eighths of an inch in length. While their smallness can be misleading, it is their numbers that is at the center of their importance. If the numbers are still not enough to draw a person’s attention, then certainly it is the trout that will. Trout rise by the dozens to feed on this springtime burst of energy.

 

Trout have been living in the chill of winter and now that stream temperatures commonly reach the mid-50s Fahrenheit, trout are ready for a feast. This is the time when caddis fulfill their role in trout streams. The caddis larvae have lived in our Central Wisconsin streams over winter and have slowly reached the pupa stage of their life cycle in March. It is their internal clock sensing longer days and warmer temperatures that drive the transformation during the pupa stage to the winged adult (just like the monarch caterpillar pupates and transforms into a monarch butterfly). Caddis pupa leave their cocoon-like cases, attached to submerged logs and rocks, and rapidly swim to the stream surface, instantly pop-out of their pupa skin as a winged adult and take flight. It is during this dash to the surface that caddis are eagerly chased by trout. Trout capture them as they swim up or very commonly as caddis struggle shedding their shuck (pupal skin) on the stream surface prior to being able to escape on the wing.

To a fisher this is dramatic stuff because it is also our time to participate in the game. We spent our winters designing flies to mimic the life stages of the caddis, mainly the swimming pupa and emerging adult stages.

Now in spring, we are casting our best designs into the fray of hatching caddis and feeding trout. The preferred locations to fish are usually downstream of long riffles, either those composed of rocky runs or jumbles of logs and habitat structures. The daily start of the hatch varies from day to day, on cool days 2 p.m. is the time whereas on warm days following a warm night 11 a.m. is the start of a hatch period that will last until later afternoon. The intensity of the hatch will rise and fall through this time as will the response of feeding trout. After the caddis hatch, they swarm and crawl among the stream-side vegetation in search of partners for the purpose of mating.

When completed, the females to return to lay eggs on the stream surface or swim down to the stream bottom to lay eggs. The mating period can be frustrating to fishers seeing hundreds of caddis swarming along the streams while no trout are rising to feed. Well the fishers just need to patiently wait until the caddis complete their coupling. Fishers can resume catching as females return fluttering on the stream laying eggs and trout rise to the occasion. It is a game of patience on many levels.

It is from these endeavors that our stories emanate, while not always completely factual but mostly so. The stories start almost immediately, as we do meet (at a distance these days) fellow fishers along our streams, and we compare notes. “What fly worked for you”, “Were trout taking pupa or was it mainly adults on the surface”, “Were the big ones feeding too or just those little fellows”. These are the voiced nature of our experiences, the inquisitively asked questions and readily shared opinions that come easily toward the end of a day. Later for those that linger by the stream and take time to contemplate the last hours, that the more important features of this experience come to mind.

Perhaps it is in the notice of spring flowers, the rich fragrance of a wetland or the evening spring peepers that raise in our consciousness thoughts of why we fish for trout. It is with certainty though our thoughts touch on the past shared times with other fishers and we remember why we take care of our Central Wisconsin trout streams.