North Fork Outdoors/Martin Garrell: Fishing doesn’t have to stop just because it’s raining

As I look away from the word processor and peer out from my cubbyhole, the afternoon skies are already getting dark. Again, for the fifth day in a row, there’s rain in the forecast. Anglers all over the east have been coping with this pattern and wondering when it will clear. Maybe it won’t!

We’re pretty much neutral about weather like this, particularly when winds are light and thunderstorms aren’t in the forecast. If heavy rain AND thunderstorms are forecast, we’ll generally cancel, especially when we have no chance of beating the boomers and getting safely to port or to shore before the storms are upon us. Out in the open when you and your craft are the tallest things around and the fishing rods are graphite, you are definitely risking a Ben Franklin moment! However, rain by itself may not hurt the fishing at all if you can endure it and have the outerwear to handle it.

Predatory species often seem turned on by rainstorms. Marine scientists will tell you an infusion of oxygen in the water stirs some species up, particularly at the beginning of a rain event. Some of the fastest action we’ve ever seen on springtime mackerel came in a day of deluges off the South Shore many years ago. I wanted photos of light tackle fishing for “Bostons” and made arrangements to sail on a party boat out of the west end. The light weekday crowd was even lighter than we anticipated, thanks to the forecast, so we practically had the deck of the Ginny Mae to ourselves. The only trick was to get photographs in between the downpours because the cameras were old-fashioned, non-waterproof SLRs. We fished with tackle normally used on trout streams, reels loaded with lines down to two-pound test, and long nets to lift the fish aboard. At day’s end we had two good rolls of film and a dozen mackerel for the table. Undoubtedly, this stunt would not have worked on a smooth, sunny day.

Freshwater sharpies have similar tales, especially in summer months when waters are warm and fishing is in the doldrums. Trout seem to know when rains are about to come through, and you get an added bonus from the insects, worms, and living detritus that washes into a river. Until the stream turns to coffee, trout that you never knew existed may go on a feeding binge, including some of the lunkers that otherwise only prowl by night.

The same holds for the pikes. A decade ago when George and Cathy Grosselfinger came up from Southold and wanted to try a summer day of upstate muskie fishing, we were caught in a bad weather pattern but decided to go anyway. Was it ever wet! It was so bad we found ourselves bailing the 17-foot canoe every half-hour or so; however, the river had been pretty dry so the water discoloration progressed slowly, and the long pool we fished was absolutely alive with turned-on muskellunge. I’ve never had such intense action before or since.

Naturally, you alter fishing tactics a bit. A top freshwater guide from Montreal once told us that as long as you could see the tip of a plug rod when you plunged the rod into the water all the way to the third guide, you were O.K. Even if the water was darkened or discolored, you could still go with black lures that had a flash of loud color, preferably fluorescent orange. Larger lures gave the fish a better target, too. Fly rodders do much the same, resorting to large black nymph patterns in discolored streams. Of course, when the rivers or streams are really in spate and the color of coffee, lure fishing may become hopeless. Now you either resort to bait or head home.

Caring for gear can be problematic under truly wet conditions. It’s too easy to put your doused tackle off to one side and then pack it away for future use. Some of the top line gear we see today, especially reels that are sealed units, can handle such rough treatment, but it’s a bad habit to get into. Not all guides and wraps are completely rust proof, and older reels or photographic equipment provide nasty surprises if neglected. Ditto for boxes of lures or flies. Tedious as it may seem, the best procedure is setting all your gear out in a dry place as soon as you can and administering a shot or two of lubricant to the reels, especially one like WD-40 that displaces moisture, when they are completely dry. Dessicants for fly boxes and tackle boxes are also available when you are worried about incomplete drying and rusty hooks.

So get out the rubber boots and foul weather gear and get out on the water. Spring fishing is still pretty good even when you’re soaked!