It was September of 2010. I was driving home from a trout outing and saw him. He was hopping over a barbed wire fence out in the middle of nowhere. The area he came out of was buck brush central. It was so tight in there I bet he had to walk backwards in some places to get through.
I slowed down to see if everything was alright. I rolled down the window and asked him if everything was ok? He flashed a huge smile at me and said: “Better than alright.” He bent over and picked up his Zebco 404 with one hand and his stringer with the other. The stringer had two massive brown trout hanging on it. I let out an audible “WOW!” when I saw the stringer. The kid gave me the short version of his exploits. He told me he recognized me from me doing a trout presentation at his school the year prior. The young trout master introduced himself as Michael. Michael was way out in the sticks and there was no farm anywhere near so I offered him a ride home. He accepted the ride because he was way tired.
On the way to his house he told me that he only went on this stretch three or four times a year and always did well. I told him I had fished today also and my results were nowhere near as good as his.
The trip went by quickly and we pulled in to Michael’s driveway. Michael wanted me to come meet his dad. He had told his dad about me after I spoke at Michael’s school. Two hours later and about 30 trout stories swapped between us I drove away. Michael had invited me to fish with him and we had set the date for two days later. Michael’s family owned the three farm stretch and I received permission to fish it anytime I wanted.
Michael’s dad dropped us off at the starting point of our fish and I parked at the top or ending place. Dad drove away and wished us luck.
Four hours later and only one fish in my creel we got to the truck. Michael had caught three really nice browns. The smallest was eighteen inches. Michael and I talked on the way back to his house. He told me his grandpa had taught him all the good places on the stretch and that was why I did so poorly because he had 'home field advantage.' Those were his words. I had paid attention on where Michael had caught the trout but not really close attention. The weeds and brush were really thick on three-quarters of the stretch and it was a long and tiring outing.
Michael and I went out two more times before the end of the year to fish. Each time out Michael kicked trout tail and caught two or three monsters and I caught maybe one each time out. I was not a quitter so I fished the stretch five more times before the end of September and season closed. I got skunked all five times. The stretch of water was unclassified water. The nearest classified trout water was four miles upstream.
March came and I wanted to go fishing with Michael again.
Michael said he did not go fishing during catch and release season because his grandpa had taught him that injuring trout for sport alone was unethical. I went on my own and was skunked again. I stopped by at Michael’s house and told him of my lack of success. He told me to come back the next day and he would go along with no pole and give me some pointers. I smiled inside when he said that and thought, “What the heck, there might be something I am missing on stream. Maybe he can give me a pointer or two.”
I picked him up the next morning and off we went.
I had brought an extra pole along to try to talk him in to fishing. He was adamant about his stance on injuring trout for sport and declined the offer to use my extra rod. Four hours later and me releasing a dozen trout over 17 inches, we were finished. He had pointed out every place to cast. I asked him on each specific place why there? I wanted to get some insight on the reasons. Each time Michael told me that is where grandpa had told him to cast. Michael did not know the rhyme or reason for the areas to cast. He just remembers that was where his grandpa had told him to cast. Grandpa was fishing in heaven so I couldn’t ask him.
It was March and the weeds were all down. The stream looked much different than it did in September. Each place I caught a decent fish had a common theme. There were swamps or small springs in the area. The swamps didn’t empty in to the waterway so I was a little puzzled. I took the water temperatures downstream of the swamps and there was a dramatic difference in temps. These swamps leeched in to the stream by being in close proximity through the ground. There was no obvious entry point in to the waterway. The springs emptying in were obvious now because the weeds were down and I could see them entering.
The mystery was solved!
Trout are very temperature dependent. The outside weather directly affects the stream temperatures. In the middle of summer there can be four to eight degrees temperature difference in the water due to a swamps or springs leeching in to the water.
Most swamps are caused by springs. Ground water comes out at about 42 degrees. That swamp leeching in the stream can have a dramatic effect on fishing. Warmer water holds less dissolved oxygen. Those swamps and small trickles that you can only see when the weeds are down are the keys.
The same goes for cold weather conditions. A March day the water temps can be near the freezing point. Those thermals 'swamps and small springs' can raise the water temps four to eight degrees and that raise in temps can turn on a lethargic trout that is unwilling to move due to cold water.
One time about 15 years ago I was a member of a shocking crew.
They went out on a July day when the outdoor temps were in the low 90s. Most of the stream temps were in the middle 70s and dangerous for the fish to be caught in. The shocking crew leader showed me the 'thermal' effects. He got excited about 100 yards before each. He told me the trout would literally stick their noses in to the banks where swamps leeched in and at the tiny springs that fed in to the waterway. That marginal water you drive by or scoff at as frog water might have thermals. Bigger trout can tolerate warmer water. Most of these places are quality water, not quantity.
Keep your eyes open the next time you are fishing. Look for thermals. A decent thermometer is needed. Every so often take a temp where you caught a fish and you will be amazed at the difference. The area might have an underwater spring feeding in. Most of all keep an open mind and let a nine-year-old trout master help if he offers.
Read more from Len Harris.
Len Harris blogs from the "Heart" of Wisconsin's Driftless Area. Len's passion is small stream trout fishing with every legal means possible. When trout season is closed he writes and takes photos. He even dabbles in a little cooking. Read more of Len’s writing on his blog at http://lenharris.blogspot.com/.