WILMINGTON - Walking down to the West Branch of the AuSable River Tuesday morning, Jeff Balles commented on the unusual early spring conditions.
"This is pretty low, especially compared to last year," said Balles, who resides in Lake Placid.
Normally, the first week of trout fishing season is a washout in the North Country. Most ponds and lakes are usually frozen and the rivers aren't worth fishing because the water's too high and cold.
Lake Placid fly fisherman Jeff Balles fishes the West Branch of the AuSable River on Tuesday, hoping to land a fish during the first week of the trout season.
Photos/Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
This year, it's a whole different story.
The water levels are at June levels, there's no snow and anglers have the option of going anywhere they want. That being said, fish are still pretty sluggish because of the cold water temperatures, so most anglers will have to work to bring home trout.
One of those people who has had success already was Wilmington fishing guide Bill Stahl. He said he was out on Sunday, April 1, which was the opening day, and landed five trout in the West Branch of the AuSable.
"It's a good year for holdovers," Stahl said.
While some people are concerned that some of the fish in the West Branch of the AuSable may have taken a hit from Tropical Storm Irene last August, Stahl said he believes that many of them were able to survive. And those that did make it through the flooding got the bonus of having a mild winter. Harsh winters, with lots of river ice, causes high fish mortalities.
Stahl also said he noticed a lot of insect life in the water, a lot more than normal for this time of the year. The fact that the insects are being seen in the water is good for the ecosystem and anglers. Another concern of some people is that the aquatic insects in the river took a hit during Irene.
Irene also changed the structure of the river. Bolders moved downstream and new channels and holes formed. Stahl noticed "a lot of the pools that I've seen have gotten bigger."
"The decks have been shuffled. It's awesome," he said.
He expects fishing to be pretty good for April and May, but said rain is needed, otherwise the water levels will get too low and that would be bad for the local waterways. The water will warm up faster and the oxygen levels will go down. Both are bad for trout.
Essex County Fish Hatcher Manager Chris LaMere agreed that the region needs some wet weather.
"If we don't get some rain, we're looking at drought conditions," LaMere said.
But the open waters so far have allowed LaMere to put fish in many waters already. He said his staff is about three weeks ahead of schedule with their stocking. Two-year-old rainbows have been put in Mirror Lake and Lake Placid, brook trout have been stocked in most waters in Keene, and the East Branch of the AuSable River in Jay has received some fish.
LaMere did note that his staff is holding some fish for later in the season to spread them out. In addition to early season stocking, the West Branch of the AuSable will get its usual dose of large rainbows just prior to Two-Fly fishing contest in the middle of May.
Chris Williamson, who runs the Jones Outfitters fly fishing shop in Lake Placid, said he thinks the early ice out could be good for anglers and the typical spring "ice-out" conditions could be extended this year if it remains cold.
"It's nice to have the opportunities," Williamson said. "The small streams are the place to be in terms of active fish."
He recommended fishing smaller streams now because they hold brook trout, which he said are more active in colder temperatures. He said "the bigger rivers haven't really warmed."
He has heard reports of people catching rainbow and lake trout in Mirror Lake and Lake Placid, which is typical in the early season. In the spring, when the water is cold like it is now, lake trout can be found anywhere in lakes, including along the shoreline. Once the temperatures warm up, the large fish return to the bottom of the lake, where it remains cold.
If the temperatures do warm up soon, that would affect insect life on the streams and rivers.
"You could have a much earlier hatch schedule," Williamson said. "Instead of mid-May being the time when things crank up, you could be looking at early May, the first of May for Hendricksons (to hatch)."
Hendricksons are Mayflies that are popular with fly fisherman on the West Branch of the AuSable.
But again, when they hatch all depends on the weather, Williamson said.