Legging Up

“Legging up” is an equestrian term used to describe the slow conditioning of a horse after a winter break. This process involves gradually increasing the horse’s exercise regimen throughout the early spring, so it can build the necessary strength and stamina to perform at its best. Similarly, preparing for the fishing season involves gradually increasing one’s fishing activities, so that they are physically and mentally ready to catch fish.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly have some rust to knock off after a long winter that seemed hellbent on creating the worst possible fishing conditions. Before the full plethora of spring angling options come into full bloom, I’ve taken to doing a little conditioning and preparation myself.

After a couple of months away from the rivers, I knew I needed an easy target to help me ease back in. Nymphing for fallfish proved to be the perfect option. There’s nothing like fallfish to help you regain your confidence. A squirmy worm with a heavy tungsten bead helped me get deep enough, while a new leader construction using 15 lb Sunset Amnesia as the main line helped me cut through the swift current to stay in contact with the fly. Twenty minutes later, I had landed five or six chubs and was feeling far more confident.

Throughout my preparations for this season, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into my tightline nymphing leaders. I have a tendency to overcomplicate every aspect of fly fishing, and leaders are no exception. Listening to Dom Swentosky and the Troutbitten crew profess the benefits of the mono rig, I decided to lengthen my monofilament butt section to around 35 feet. I went back and forth between the standard mono rig, which allows increased castability, and a micro-thin leader, which offers increased sensitivity and reduced drag. Eventually I compromised, splitting the difference with a 15 lb butt section. So far, I’m glad I did.

To further complicate what is widely considered a stress-free pastime, I’ve been obsessing over the first trout stocking in my area for months. Sure, I’ve already had some luck with wild and holdover trout, as well as warmwater species, but nothing holds nearly as much anticipation as that first spring stocking. I can’t be the only Massachusetts angler who looks forward to viewing the updated stocking report every morning like drinking a fresh cup of coffee.

All winter, I carefully consider (and frankly grossly overthink) the first flies I’ll use for those fresh-outta-the-tank ‘bows. Will it be nymphs on a tightline rig? Junk flies under an indicator? Streamers on a sinking leader? These questions may be the only things that keep me going through the dreary month of March. Right now, I’m leaning towards a Mop Fly on my Euro rod with a backup Wooly Bugger on my five weight.

No matter how much I plan, rig, and overthink, my preparation is nothing if I don’t have the stamina and wherewithal to fish through even the nastiest spring conditions. The weather this past Saturday looked to be a perfect kickoff to the spring season, with the weather app showing highs in the mid-60’s. Arriving at Quinapoxet River, however, I was greeted with 38 degrees and steady rain. Miserable, sure, but the perfect way to leg up for the long season ahead.

The rain had blown out most of the area’s rivers, but the Quinapoxet below the dam remained fairly calm and slow-moving. I hoped the smelt would be running, with the salmon and trout right behind them. I fished until water seeped through my questionably-waterproof rain jacket and my hands were frozen to the bone, yet the fish eluded my efforts. Conversations with fellow anglers yielded mixed results, with some claiming there wasn’t a fish to be found in this entire section of river, and others reporting they had fooled a couple of rainbows.

The rain had the rivers running very high.

I waited out the worst of the rain, then traveled upstream to fish a few more spots on the main river. As the rushing water quickly swept my flies downstream, I realized my attempts would be futile unless I found some smaller water.

The current in the tributaries was still considerable, but ample pocket water made fishing more feasible. Though I often explore these streams with a dry fly or dry-dropper rig, I opted to continue testing the mono rig on my 10′ 3 weight Euro nymphing rod. By now the rain had dried up, replaced by a warm breeze that brought with it the predicted warm temps.

The first stream yielded a number of wild brook trout. At first a jig Pat’s Rubber Legs proved to be the ticket, but the bigger fish were just as willing to eat a Deadly Empie Shiner streamer when I switched. I’ve done very little streamer fishing in small streams before, but I think this convinced me to try it more often. Plus, I’ll bet that Deadly Empie Shiner will be just as effective for stocked trout when the time comes.

The second, third, and fourth streams weren’t quite as fruitful. The runoff seemed to affect them more heavily, and without much pocket water or pools, spots were very limited. I spent hours and put in many miles hiking and bushwhacking in search of better water, finally accepting my lack of success. When I finally emerged from the woods, sweaty and exhausted, I estimated I had done about seven miles of hiking throughout the day. All that in my Simms Freestone waders and Orvis Pro wading boots, pushing through thick bramble and forest. Seems like a gear review might be in order.

We’ll see if all that preparation and conditioning actually gives me a leg up in the coming season. It’s somewhat amusing to think that I put in all this effort for a few pellet-stuffed tank scrubbers, but really, it’s all about the journey, not the destination.

2 thoughts on “Legging Up

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