Wildhorse Reservoir in Nevada is a favorite fall location filled with the promise of big, feisty trout with attitude. The first day of fishing did not disappoint as fish were cruising close to the shoreline actively on the bite. 48 to 50-degree water temperatures were conducive to active feeding of trout and yellow perch.
Large trout were feeding close to the shoreline on minnows and bait fish. Once a trout’s mouth becomes large enough, it will add bait fish to its diet.
This trout tried to eat a yellow perch. Unfortunately the trout underestimated the size of the perch, the perch got stuck, and the trout was slowly choking. Once the perch removed, the trout swam away to live another day. The perch was not so lucky.
Trout with a yellow perch stuck in its mouth – Photo by Dale Voeller
Yellow perch removed from trout’s mouth – Photo by Dale Voeller
Vickie’s Yellow Predator Minnow
That evening we sat blissfully contented in the glow of the campfire unaware of the cold front moving in overnight. The cold front caused a significant decline in water temperature of 3-5 degrees F.
This sudden and dramatic temperature change put the throttle in reverse for our second day of fishing, and negatively impacted the trout’s feeding behavior. Because of this abrupt and significant change in water temperature, trout went off the bite and stopped feeding close to shallow shoreline edges and instead sought refuge in deeper water.
The more rapid and sizeable the change in temperature, the longer it will take for trout to adjust and resume their normal feeding behavior.
When trout decide not to feed under these conditions, your only recourse is to cover more water using a streamer pattern and hope for ill-tempered stragglers to ambush your fly.
Caught on Vickie’s Burgundy and Black Predator Leech
The second day further presented us another challenge: sunny, flat conditions. With a high sun and little surface ripple for most of the day, wary trout were easily spooked. By the time the evening campfire was lit, we could only hope the next day’s conditions would swing more in our favor.
On the third day, a significant number of the warm water perch were floating next to the shoreline edges. I suspect they died overnight from Cold Shock:
“Cold-shock stress occurs when a fish has been acclimated to a specific water temperature or range of temperatures and is subsequently exposed to a rapid decrease in temperature, resulting in a cascade of physiological and behavioral responses and, in some cases, death.”
M.R. Donaldson, S.J. Cooke, D.A. Patterson, and J.S. Macdonald, “Cold shock and fish,” Journal of Fish Biology 73, issue 7 (2008): 1491-1530.
The 45-degree water temperature on the third day was well outside of the preferred temperature range for perch: 55 to 72 degrees. The sudden drop to this temperature unfortunately caused many perch to die.
The last day of fishing added an additional twist. After landing a few fish in the morning, a north wind moved in. A north wind will often put down the bite (a future article will explain this in more detail).
Since 30 mph gusts were predicted for the afternoon, we left Wildhorse Reservoir and exchanged a bracing cold north wind for the shelter of warm hotel rooms. Dark clouds arrived reminiscent of the black clouds over Mordor. We then started the journey back to the Pacific Northwest and eagerly anticipated our return next year.
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