Things change fast this time of season. Ten days ago the Moosehead Lake Region was frozen solid and you needed your snowmobile to get around the backcountry. During those ten days we’ve had a nice shift in the weather pattern. Things warmed up, stayed mild and we had a couple of major rain events. As a result our substantial snowpack cut loose and water started running from everywhere. This time of season when snowpack is densest two inches of warm rain can product ten inches of water. Lakes went from low to near full, open water began to show around shorelines and especially at the mouth of tributaries. This all spells – iceout isn’t that far away. With 3 days of upper 70 degree weather moving in tomorrow the remaining ice should vaporize by the weekend. It can’t take bright sun and near 80 degree temperatures.
Here’s a link to the web cam on Blair Hill. You’ll have a bird’s eye view of the process. http://mooseheadwebcams.com/index.php/blairhill
The added bonus from this warmer than normal weather is smelt runs will begin as soon as the warmer weather moves in. Fishing spring smelt runs is the very first “Window of Opportunity” of our fishing season and everyone’s chomping at the bit.
Hitting this window of opportunity can be a grap-shoot but you can increase your odds by doing a little home work. There is a bit of science behind spawning runs. Smelt are no different than other cold water fish that go upstream to lay their eggs. Water temperature is the main driving forced. This time of year smelt begin to gather around the mouth of a stream or river where it enters a body of water, be it a small pond or a big lake. For example, Moosehead smelt stage in deep water just off the mouth of the Moose River waiting for a signal that tells them to enter the river and begin spawning. That signal is above 40 degree water entering the lake. In order for that to happen snow has to be gone from the woods and run-off nearly over before stream or river water can rise above 40 degrees F. Small streams with head waters in the hills run first. High sun and 60-70 degree daytime temperature warms the earth which warms the stream water.
Smaller rivers like the Roach River warm next. Thirty-four degree water leaves First Roach Pond then flows six miles before entering Spencer Bay. Once snow is pretty much gone and air temps rise to the mid-60’s or higher the high sun warms the water as it makes that six mile journey to the lake. We have checked the water temperature at the dam on First Roach then again at the mouth of the river and discovered there can be a ten degree rise in water temperature from First Roach to Moosehead. That figure will very depending on water flow. The lower the flow the easier it warms on a nice warm, sunny day in late April. If the flow is high it will not warm as quickly. It’s like boiling water, put a cup of water in a pot, hang it over a fire and it doesn’t take long to bring it to a boil. Put a gallon of water in the same pot over the same fire and it takes much longer.
So larger rivers like the East Outlet, warms much later because Moosehead Lake has to warm first. The same goes for the Moose River, which is only a couple miles below Brassua. Instead of flows being in the hundreds of cubic feet per second (cfs) like the Roach, they are measured in thousands of cubic feet per second.
If you do some homework you can come up with a game plan that allows you to successfully chase smelt runs for a couple weeks. Just keep in mind smaller streams, whose headwaters are the surrounding hills, warm and run first then small to medium rivers where water has to flow a good distance between two bodies of water, and finally ending with larger rivers fed by another lake not far upstream.
Each presents a window of opportunity. Smelt runs in our region of Maine may be as much as two weeks apart. Runs in Downeast and southern Maine are probably already winding down by now.
Generally speaking, we rarely see the first of the smelt runs in our area before April 25th or at the mouth of larger rivers like the Moose River or East Outlet before the 10th May. Individual smelt runs last as long as a week so when you hit one the fun will last a while. Once they are over both smelt and game fish leave and start dispersing back into the lake or pond and we fishermen move on to the next “Window of Opportunity”.
I hope this helps. Unless you live close by and can keep a eye on a run it’s like trying to make your best call as to when a particular hatch is going to begin. That’s where we come in. We always have our finger on the pulse of this neighborhood.
Just remember water temperature is the major component that triggers smelt runs. A long time ago we started packing a stream thermometer and if the stream water entering the pond or lake is under 40 degrees your probably going to go home empty handed because no-one’s around just yet.