Between the recent cold and the snow and work demands, I've had my head down and pointed into the wind; but steelheading has a funny way of muscling it's way back into prominence...
I walked outside yesterday morning to the first real calm and sun in a while. It FELT like spring finally; there was a definate difference in the feel and smell to the air. Not only that but the first robin of the season was adding his two cents to what the cardinals have been saying for two weeks or so. Every time I hear that spring singing, all I can think of is the Far Side cartoon about what the birds are really saying to the girls, "Hey-Baby... Hey-Baby..."
Anyway - Later in the day I decided to poke around a bit and noticed that we are finally seeing signs of life on the South Shore. What you see below is a classic gage signature for early stage ice melt:
As the sun hits mid-day, even when temps are below freezing, things warm up just enough to start melting snow-pack. Usually it starts around dark objects: Trees, rocks, gravel roads, grass. That meltwater makes its way into the streams and the gage height increases. After the sun hits the trees and temps drop, the process reverses as the water freezes again and the gage drops until temps warm again the following day. Provided we don't get a late-season storm, this process will continue to accelerate as more ground becomes exposed. More meltwater means faster ice erosion on the streams.
Shallow areas with dark bottoms, and areas of fast water which remain open most of the year in the upper reaches of streams also absorb solar radiation, which in turn warms the surrounding water. This does two things: One, it helps accelerate the melt process. Two, these areas attract adult fish in systems where the fish winter over in the stream. Given the fact that these areas warm so much earlier that the lower reaches, it can actually trigger spawning activity in those over-wintering fish.
This is the primary reason why you'll sometimes catch spawned-out fish around the opener on Systems like the Brule in Wisconsin. It also leads to endless speculation about the stage of the run; which is good fun when reading all the posts lamenting about the run being over. The savy steelheader knows that things are just getting cooking.... BUT, different system, different rules.
On the Lower North Shore, all remains quiet. Well sort of. Near Shore fishing has been quietly productive for those who care to brave the elements such as MS Board Member Lisa; but I'll let her field that one.