March 26, 2008

"Opening Day" and other myths

Really, what exactly does "Opening Day" mean anyway? For the Sox and A's, it was a couple days ago in Tokyo. If you're talking fishing in New York, typically that means the first day of open trout season, which is currently April 1st. But what exactly does that mean?

The single question I hear most from people I know (many of whom are the rare-angler at best) is "You can fish now?" Even that question can be based on a number of deeper questions regarding current weather, time of year, time of day, designated legal "seasons", etc. I'll let you all in on a little secret...there is no "opening day" any more.

Just like professional sports, over the years fishing regulations have moved towards providing alternatives and extended seasons for anglers. Here's how it works: Seasons are species-specific, with some species being fair game year-round (I know, you can't catch them in winter...read on below); species-specific and general regulations (season, minimum size, creel limit, access, even fishing hours) vary between waters; all this information is available from our very own Department of Environmental Conservation (chances are they have something similar where you're from); just find your county (or major water body of choice if it is listed separately) in the Special Regulations links, and have at it. If you do your homework (and live in New York State), you can probably find a place near you to chase gamefish on open water any day of the year. Unfortunately, this week's wind has been holding me off the lake.

Some other observations for the record:

It's not about shadow-casting a la Brad Pitt. Fish are skittish. Fish are ruled by instinct. Fish can see, through two feet of water and a few yards of atmosphere, a size 26 fly screaming through the air about as well as I can while I'm throwing it. The goal of false-casting (to the uninitiated, the goal of fly-casting) is not to attract a fish to the surface in wait of your fly, and certainly not to make one leave the water to attack it in the air. If that were the case, the best fly-fishers would rarely even have their line on the water. The truth is, the less false-casting, the better. Trust me, I've done the math on this, and you are 8.15 x 10^(3.4billion) times more likely to scare a fish with a false-cast than to interest one. There obviously must be a reason for false casting, that just is not it. Here are a few:

-Getting the line out- the most important reason, and really the base for the whole method; there are other ways to make your fly reach a likely fish-holding-spot, but false-casting is the classic

-Drying her off- flies become waterlogged; for dry-flies, this means they no longer float and need to be dried, and to the lazy fisherperson (one who does not need to contend with panicky fish and surrounding brush and trees), the easiest way to achieve this is simply "Air dry that sh^t."

-Done ain't doin it right- some of us are filled with self doubt, some claim to prefer to take their time (self-doubters), some are trying to get it "just right" (self-doubters); the truth is, in most situations, "excessive" false casts are a mistake; in many cases...any false cast is a mistake; the goal is more time with the fly on the water, not less

-Lay-off me I'm lazy- I will walk or wade tens, even hundreds of feet, continuously false casting, just because I am faaaar too lazy to strip- or reel-in my rig and let it back out at my destination; this is lazy and stupid because I estimate my chances of dunking myself increase at least 5-fold while doing this, depending on bottom-structure and current velocity

Of course, there are still other reasons to false cast (take out that fishing "buddy" who's outscoring you 12-0.7 with a half-ounce "streamer"), just as there are additional ones not to (taking yourself out with a half-ounce "streamer").

And although dapping, which sounds like a hell of a lot of fun, involves a similar "bring the fish to the fly" principle as the so-called "shadow-casting," they are not at all alike. Also, shadow-casting is dumb. Check out some spey or "trick" casting videos if you want to see something sweet.

Fish eat below the surface of the water. Why is this one so hard to understand? Is it because of the label, fly-fishing? OK, here it is; fly-fishing has "evolved" into a method of presenting an artificial lure carried by the heft of the line. It does not connote (for most fly-fishers, at least) using only imitations of flying insects. There are a myriad of other organisms (living below, emerging from, passing through, washed into the water column) fish feed on, including other fish, that we are able to present adequate imitations of with fly fishing gear. Just because you don't see bugs flying around does not mean I cannot catch a fish on a fly.

Fish don't mind getting wet. This has to be one of the classic responses to a classic question of the uninitiated. It's raining out...fish still eat in the rain? Yes, believe it or not, fish don't seem to suffer at all directly from the effects of water droplets falling from the sky onto their roof of water. 'Nor do most of their food items, which would tend to be aquatic organisms. If the fish are lucky, they might even benefit from having some additional critters washed into the drink for them. So yes, you can catch fish in the rain.

Let me rephrase that...yes, you can catch fish while it is raining. Perhaps someone has our could actually catch a fish in the rain, but that does seem like kind of a long-shot.

Fish eat year-round. Ever heard of ice-fishing? Believe it or not, most, if not all fish are incapable of true hibernation. However, most, if not all fish are dependent on environmental temperatures regulating their metabolism. What does this mean? Well, simply put, even in the dead of winter, though they may be eating less than in ideal conditions, they are still eating. If they weren't, they would be dead.

For most of our salmonids, ideal temperature conditions may range anywhere between 45 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Any individual species will have a smaller "ideal" range within those 25 degrees, but the "limits" of any of these ranges are soft. Fish don't just feed voraciously within their ideal range and then shut off completely outside of it, and there are many other factors that may perturb the temperature vs. activity level relationship. And yes, river-bugs are perfectly comfortable metabolizing in winter conditions.

Also, there are still land-bugs around in the winter. Many fewer, but they're there. We are often surprised by how much is going on whenever we just remember to pay a little more attention to our surroundings.

And....

That's all I have energy for, but there are plenty more. Penny for your thoughts?

Update: Still don't believe me about winter fly-fishing...? Check out this video (via DayTripper): http://www.fishwithra.com/web%20movies/winter_demo.mov

5 comments:

Flying Ties said...

As you know, this is my first year fly fishing. I haven't caught a fish since I was guided to a pool full of rising trout and managed to catch 2 small stocked browns.

I have fished the Hudson at least once a week with the exception of about 4 weeks that I spent ice fishing. Today I was fishing - I just use my 8wt when its windy and if its really windy I roll cast a lot.


I haven't caught anything, but some say its kind of hard to catch bass when the water temp is still in the 30's (38 today). That hasn't stopped me, I lost count of days I got skunked but it has always, always been better than sitting home and my casting has vastly improved from all of the time I've spent false casting trying to get out to that seam 50ft from shore into a headwind with a weighted fly.

Another problem with false casting can be disturbances in the surface from big strings of water dropless, but that is very debatable.

FoulHooked said...

"Another problem with false casting can be disturbances in the surface from big strings of water dropless, but that is very debatable."

I know I've spooked fish with water droplets.

Something false casting is definitely good for is strengthening your arm...especially with that 8-wt. Of course, tendinitis probably becomes an issue too.

Where are you fishing the Hudson? Stripers or black bass? Wish I was out there. Left work yesterday with a mild breeze at the office, made it to the lake in 30 minutes and was staring straight into 30 mph sustained winds. I don't have the gear or perserverance to match that.

Flying Ties said...

I'm on the Hudson just upstream of Ft. Edward all the way upstream to exit 17 (sounds odd, but exit 17 is farther upstream than exit 18 on the northway) so its black bass and before March 15, Northern Pike.

My arm has definitely gotten stronger casting the 8wt and my casting has vastly improved with the 5wt because of learning how to cast with a cheap heavy action slow 8wt.

I've tried casting into 30mph headwinds. I found myself wrapped up more than the fly was in the water.

FoulHooked said...

I know exactly where you're talking about. Spent my first 3 years in Fort Edward, after that in Lake George. Tossed topwaters for bass a few times in that section years ago. Now I drive over the Hudson in Troy at least twice a day, and every time it makes me want to try striper fishing down here.

Margaret said...

Hey, thanks, even I understood 95% of that! Had wondered about that stuff, too.