Mother Nature provides plenty of signs that spring is approaching and some are particularly special. Yet I’ve found that humanity will sometimes offer subtle clues you can also watch for. Considering them both can make you altogether anxious for the season ahead.
For instance, I was standing in Humility Creek the last week of February. I had thrown on an extra layer of clothes as the thermometer at the cabin said 48 degrees. Upon wading in and checking the water temperature, it was a chilly 45 degrees. It still felt like winter was hesitant to let go.
As lunchtime approached, I noticed bugs in the air. Not many, but definitely mayflies. Most appeared to be blue quills and some of them looked like March browns. Just having the month of March in its name seemed to predict the onset of spring.
The occasional fish made a splashy rise now and then, so I switched over to a dry fly, greased my leader, and was about to make my first cast when I noticed another fisherman downstream. He was fishing nymphs while he stood knee-deep in the stream. That was when I noticed he wasn’t wearing waders.
Seeing someone fishing in shorts in 45-degree water prompted a question that might reveal something of my age and upbringing, namely, “Where is that boy’s momma?” I felt a shiver run up my spine and fished on.
Wildflowers also signal spring as do blossoms on trees. Dogwood blooms always reminded me that I should go crappie fishing. Other flowering plants arrive earlier than the leaves on the trees. Occasionally, so do some people.
One spring I was standing in a tailrace bouncing nymphs on the bottom as the water was chilly and nothing was happening on top. I had been fishing mostly alone during the morning and had gone into a trance that left me focusing on nothing but my line. At least, that’s my excuse because when I looked up, two inner tubes were upon me.
Apparently, the tubers were novices as they had no ability to steer. All their paddling accomplished was to speed up their rate of spinning. They were drifting wherever the current took them, and in this case, that was directly at me. I was already waist-deep in moving water and my own ability to move out of their way was limited. So, when the first tube struck, I simply grabbed on, drifted until my feet touched bottom, and sent them on their merry way.
When I fish streams with a bit more current, I find that kayakers replace the tubers. Kayakers are the Velociraptors of the paddling world, as they are nimble, communicate, and travel in packs. Rarely do I encounter just one kayaker, or as Justin Wilson used to say about ducks, “one traveling in a bunch all by himself.”
Kayakers do show good stream etiquette for fishermen as a rule, so I don’t mind them so much. Usually, they paddle behind me and move through rather quickly.
But once the tubers and kayakers begin to show up, warmer weather can only be days away. If anything, they save me the trouble of wearing a watch, since hordes of floating paddlers indicate it’s time to go home.
One of my favorite signs of spring is spotting a hellbender. These giant salamanders are most active in spring and generally found only in cold, clean water. When I spot one, I usually stop fishing and simply watch. They look prehistoric crawling across the bottom of a creek with their round heads and toes that feel their way.
About the same time of year, I begin to see people emerge to enjoy the sun in much the way that hellbenders seem to emerge.
On one trip to a state park, I stood in a current about two feet deep and had been catching a few fish. Every few minutes a hiker behind me called out to ask if I was having any luck. My standard response was that I was catching a few. The reason behind that answer was that if I was getting skunked I would be ashamed to tell them, but if I was catching a bunch I didn’t want them telling anyone else.
As I was about to make another cast, I caught a motion to my right within casting range. So, I stopped midcast to keep from hooking it. The motion turned out to be a couple young ladies wading through the riffle to get across the river. They greeted me by saying, “We’re not going to mess up your fishing; we’re just going to the other side.”
The fact that they were in casting range and already messing up my fishing seemed not to occur to them. Once across the stream, they found a large flat rock in the sun and began shedding clothes. They finally stopped when they were down to swimsuits with just enough material to make a good handkerchief.
That I proceeded to fish, spending more time thinking about them spooking fish than their sunbathing, probably gives away my age. I would have been considerably less perturbed had they offered me a ham biscuit on their way across.
Once the sunbathers make it to your favorite trout stream, not only is spring in full bloom, it is almost time to switch to terrestrials.
Clues from nature and humanity will tip you off on spring’s approach. I just wish some of those clues would stay out of my fishing hole or at least pack me a lunch. ~~~~~
Jim Mize admits that his age influences his perception of spring. You can purchase Jim’s new book, The Jon Boat Years, at https://uscpress.com/The-Jon-Boat-Years or buy autographed copies at www.acreektricklesthroughit.com.