KLAMATH FALLS — The nice days in March are the worst. After enduring months of high desert misery, the sky warms before the water, thanks to this dumb concept you learned about in chemistry called thermal inertia.
Basically, air temperature can fluctuate more quickly than water temperature, so as the spring thaw occurs, it takes longer for the water to react to the no-longer-frigid air temps.
The weather is warm, and as the Oregon suns revitalizes the thawing earth below, every part of you will scream “Get outside” even if you know the fishing is, at best, hit or miss. Some will swear by the “ice out,” but I don’t, and here’s why.
Newly fallen snow can be absolutely gorgeous, but many fail to realize it’s basically a fluffy white pollutant sponge.
I ate a lot of snow as a kid, and that explains a lot.
As it falls through the atmosphere, it collects dirt, pollen, chemicals and other airborne garbage faster than Bravo can put garbage on the air.
When this snow falls over hard water, it joins the icy buildup. Wind blows dirt, birds release their bowels and the the ice begins to collect an assortment of filth ordinarily found only inside boys’ rest area bathrooms just before the next regularly scheduled cleaning.
Once the ice melts, all of this is released into the water.
It’s gross, sure, but it is rich in nutrient load. All of those nutrients are released into the water and spur the growth of algae and zooplankton, inducing a feeding frenzy for the small creatures that feed on them once water starts warming up.
The only problem?
Rapid ice melt causes terrible visibility. Even assuming the water warms up at an above average rate, you’re still left with all the floating detritus that makes water murky — not ideal conditions for anglers relying on a fish’s eyesight.
Though I mentioned thermal inertia, I’ll hammer on it again. Water takes longer to heat up than air. So while the air might hit 60 or 70 degrees in March and April, the water certainly won’t.
Most fish — excluding tunas and a few other species — are cold-blooded. That means cold water will limit their activity.
Trout most actively feed in that ideal window of 55- to 65-degree water. Bass like it in the 60- to 80-degree window. Panfish like it 65-80 degrees.
Those are all rough guidelines, and fish will show different behaviors locally, but they mean that early season fishing efforts should target shallower water bodies, which will warm more quickly than deeper ones — just as those shallow waterways are the first to freeze.
Though trout will feed in colder water, bass and panfish anglers are better served waiting for warmer water or driving to find it. Too cold is too cold.
Temperature will temper your success, so temper your expectations accordingly.
Given the realities of early spring fishing, consider these tips to find the best success:
• It’s not glamorous, but bait will entice slow-moving fish to bite. It is also scented and will help fish find their way to it in murky water.
• If you opt for lures, consider adding scent. It’s legal in Oregon waters, and it will help fish find your lure in cloudy water.
• Look at a map. Now find the water with exposure to the eastern sky. The sun rises in the east and will warm eastern-facing waters first — a huge boon when one or two degrees’ difference can make or break a trip.
• Don’t get up at the crack of dawn. The water warms slowly, and when it’s in the thirties or forties at night, there’s no sense being out there early. Wait until mid-morning or noon and then get out there for best results.
• Experiment. The fishing is slow this time of year, so consider trying something you haven’t yet.
You’re obviously not missing out on phenomenal fishing, or you wouldn’t be looking for advice.
I’ve been out several times this year, despite inclement weather. My last two trips out on Klamath Lake, I was joined by eight other boats. No other boat I talked to has boated a fish, even those “fishing since daybreak.”
I was there at around 10 and landed two fish by the time everyone else was heading home the first day and landed five the second.
Winter fishing just hits different.