Yesterday I went to a limestone influenced stream where I've had a lot of success. That area had received a heavy rain over the weekend. The water level drops very quickly on that stream and it was a little lower than I would have liked, but still at a pretty good level. I've had several 100 trout days there in the past under similar conditions so I was very hopeful of another big day.
I fished three different stretches of that stream plus a tiny tributary. I only fished the tributary for 15 minutes, which yielded one 14-inch wild brown. I had two other hits. I only fished the second section of the main stream for an hour and the third stretch for 1/2 hour.
I caught a total of 60 wild browns. I had 7 or 8 hit and throw the lure. The biggest trout of the day was a surprise 16 1/2 incher. It's unusual for me to catch a big trout there. Generally, the biggest trout I catch there is 12-14 inches with the occasional 15 incher.
The biggest surprise was the number of sub-legal browns I caught. I only caught two browns that were under 7 inches. I had some follow and hit, but it was a fraction of the number of small browns I normally see/catch on that stream.
I also noticed that the trout I caught that were 12 inches or larger were fatter than usual. I've noticed that on several streams I've fished this year, on limestoners and freestoners alike.
I decided to look at how the percentages of sub-legal trout caught so far this year compare to other years (2011-2016).
For that time period, I first looked at the stream I fished yesterday. From 2011-2016, a staggering 22.6% of the trout I caught there were sub-legals.
This year, while I've only been there twice (and the first trip there was very brief), only 3.2% of the trout I caught were sub-legals.
I looked at another freestone stream that I've fished twice recently. That is a large freestone stream with a class A wild brown trout population. I normally catch a fair number of sub-legals there, though nowhere near the number I catch on the stream I fished yesterday.
From 2011-2015 (I didn't fish it last year due to the drought), 7.9% of the trout I caught were sub-legals. This year, only 1 of 48 trout (2%) is less than 7 inches. Like yesterday, I also saw very few trout of that size. And like the stream I fished yesterday, the larger trout were much fatter than normal.
Overall, 16.2% of my trout caught from 2011-2016 were less than 7 inches. So far this year, only 9.0% of the trout I've caught have been that size. While stream selection so far this year could play a part in the number of small trout caught,I believe that last year's drought had a big effect on the wild trout populations. In the streams that went dry, the trout were forced to migrate or die and the warm water temperatures undoubtedly killed a lot of trout, and not just small trout. But the smallest trout were likely forced into sharing pools with bigger trout and paid a substantial price for it. I believe the reason that the larger trout I've caught are heavier than normal is that they ate many of the small trout.
May and June or normally months when I fish a number of freestoners and catch a substantial number of small trout. I will look at how my catch numbers break down and do more comparisons to see if anything changes.
I've attached some pictures from yesterday.
A 12-inch wild brown with large red spots, which I caught on my first cast.
Two pictures of my largest trout of the day