The spring season was accelerated when the earliest “ice out” in recent memory occurred on April 1, as brook trout enthusiasts took to the open waters of a few backwoods ponds.
Following on the heels of nearly a full month of splendid weather, winter briefly returned and promptly vanished as the flash snowstorm’s remains quickly melted.
Now, on the first weekend of May, the hardwood trees have developed a full canopy, wildflowers are in bloom and the blackflies are already hosting their annual blood drive.
Despite runoff from the recent snowfall and rainy days, water levels in the rivers and on the ponds are nearly at mid-summer levels. Water temperatures have risen into the 50s, provoking fly hatches and providing excellent angling opportunities.
In many respects, it appears we have skipped a season and segued almost directly from winter to summer. I mention this grudgingly as I continue to avoid mowing a front lawn that is overdue for a shave.
What ever happened to mud season? It’s not that I miss the familiar muck and frost-heaved roads, but Saranac Lake has already entered into road construction season. I firmly believe that it’s far too early to have that going on. Broadway is all torn up and the hardhats are hard at work. The tourists haven’t even ventured north yet.
The weather has been just too nice, the roads too easy to navigate and the trout have been biting more readily than the blackflies. At this rate, we should all be concerned that our Adirondack visitors are likely to linger a bit too long.
Angling manners matter
Now that the fishing season is in full swing, with opportunities available for both cold-water species such as trout and salmon and warm-water species such as northern pike and walleye, anglers are bound to encounter others on their favored waters.
This is especially evident along stretches of the more popular rivers such as the West Branch of the Ausable, the Saranac and the Boquet.
Often, it may seem that “half the damn state” is frequenting your secret hole. But we must remember that these are public waters and as such they must be shared.
Last year, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced that fishing license sales increased by nearly 10 percent. This was a reversal of more than a decade-long trend of flat or decreasing sales of fishing licences and dire predictions that the recreational fishing industry was dying, not only in New York, but also across the country.
Many observers believe the modest angling renaissance is a result of the poor economy that has forced everyone to evaluate what experiences provide value.
An investment in fishing equipment provides many years of pleasure. While a family trip to Disneyland is great fun, it’s much more expensive and the only return is photographs.
Angling, in addition to the entertainment value, the camaraderie of family company and the bonds that are formed by shared adventures, offers substantial and tangible rewards. Fish on the table remains a staple in many North Country homes.
A result of increased angling activity is a tangible friction that comes with sharing the resource. Many experienced anglers have discovered that the hidden ponds, secret bays and favored fishing holes of their youth are no longer quite so secret.
Last weekend, I was disturbed when a fleet of boats appeared on a small pond I had enjoyed exclusively all morning. There was much bouncing and bumping among the boats, as they all put in. It was to be expected.
But I didn’t expect the foul language or the attitudes expressed by the assembled crew. Voices carry and even a low tone can be heard far over still waters.
Along the Ausable, I frequently see popular pools lined with anglers. Fran Betters once called them the damn “New Jersey Firing Squads.”
Unfortunately, as fishing equipment has become less expensive and more readily available to the general public, many anglers have failed to understand the etiquette involved in the sport.
Fly fishermen no longer learn the sport from mentors, as a DVD now provides the necessary instruction that a grumpy old cigar-smoking uncle once instilled.
Fly rods can be purchased at Wal-Mart and worms at the Shop and Save. Pro bass anglers now race about in sparkled super-modified ships while decked out in outfits that resemble a NASCAR driver on steroids.
Long before the advent of “modern” materials that are used to manufacture items such as graphite rods and SpiderWire, Gore-Tex and bass boats that go 75 mph, angling was a pursuit that operated at a far slower pace than today.
Bamboo rods or the old fiberglass Wonder Rods tossed a line with half the speed of their modern counterparts, but they still got the fly or lure to the water.
Angling was not a team sport. It was about relaxation and the occasional exhilaration. Today, it often seem to be about acceleration, who can get there the fastest, catch the most and be the first back to the dock to brag about their catch.
At one time, there existed a fraternity of anglers who felt they had an obligation to enjoy watching others on the waters. They offered advice and encouragement and cheered a good catch with the enthusiasm of watching a long home run ball soar over a fence.
They shared secrets and compared notes and the only competition was between an angler and a fish, not between anglers.
In hopes that a sharing of angling knowledge will help others to understand the processes and promises of the “gentleman’s game,” here are a few Rules of the Water: Remember first and foremost, safety first — PFDs and sunglasses should be mandatory equipment for all anglers.
1. When in a boat or canoe never go through good fishing water where an angler is fishing. Go around it.
2. Never fish any water within casting distance of another angler, unless invited to do so.
3. Never disturb any fishing waters more than absolutely necessary. Don’t bang boats and talk loud. Remember that other anglers are likely to take your place when you move along.
4. When done fishing on a small stream or brook, do not tramp along the banks like Bigfoot going for a banana. Remember other anglers may be following after you to enjoy the sport of fishing.
5. Courtesy, good nature, fair-mindedness and a kindly spirit should be the universal attitude between sportsmen at all times.
6. Practice conservation and take only what you will eat. Fish stay much fresher in the water than they do in the freezer.
7. Congratulate, rather than curse, a fellow angler on their take. Some of us are more fortunate than others. The only competition should be between an angler and the fish, never between fellow anglers.
8. Respect a beat, and let a pool rest. Fish respond better to less pressure. One line at a time will produce more fish that five lines in a pool.
9. Share nature’s sandbox. With over 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, and nearly 10,000 lakes and ponds, there are plenty of opportunities for everyone to enjoy.
10. Pick up after yourself. Respect the natural environment as you would your home. Don’t leave trash, especially Styrofoam worm containers which last forever.
Photo by Joe Hackett
In many locations, the forest floor has already been carpeted with blooming wild flowers, including lady slippers, aka moccasin flowers, which have appeared nearly two weeks early.