Following a week of record-setting temperatures, spring has sprung onto the scene. The season's rapid arrival was accelerated by the combination of soaring temperatures, brilliant sunshine and a severely deficient snowpack.
Ice-out happened as the recent heat wave cleared the ice from area lakes and ponds.
I've often joked that April Fools' Day is a most appropriate date for the opening day of trout season, particularly in the Adirondacks where the waters usually remain covered with ice until early May.
Jay “Goofy” McGrath of Burlington, Vt. shows off a brook trout he caught while fishing in a boat. Opening day of trout season is Sunday.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
Only a fool would expect to be able to fish the open waters of an Adirondack pond on April 1. However, when opening day of trout season arrives on Sunday, I'll undoubtedly be trolling for brook trout on the ice free waters of a local trout pond.
It will be my second opening day on the ponds in a 50-year angling career. Surprisingly, it will also be the second such opportunity in less than four years. Regrettably, I expect we'll see more of this pattern, and it appears the joke's on me.
On average, Adirondack anglers often have to wait until the second or third week of April to access the ponds. Many years, it's well into the month of May before ponds shed the ice.
Historically, a guide's season began with ice-out in early May. For many guides, the opportunity to be on the water for opening day offers the potential of an additional month's employment.
Although the long range ramifications of such early ice-out dates has yet to be realized in terms of biological effects on the ecosystem, the opportunity to be on the water a full month earlier than usual may prove to be a boon for both anglers and the guides who serve them.
Increasingly, there is evidence to indicate a majority of Adirondack lakes are now freezing over later - and losing the ice cover earlier - than at any point since these records have been kept. Some of the ice-out records for Rich Lake in Huntington Forest date back to 1873.
Researchers at the Huntington Wildlife Forest in Newcomb have recently studied the records of five lakes on the property in order to determine if the changes indicate any adverse effects to the lake's biodiversity and species composition.
According to researchers, all five of the lakes in the study currently have a significantly shorter period of ice cover than they did in 1975. On average, the duration of ice cover has decreased the most on the larger lakes, which have lost nearly two to three weeks of ice.
According to the study, an examination of lake sediments indicates "evidence that algae populations are changing in a way that is consistent with warmer lake water. Brook trout and other native fish might become stressed by lower oxygen concentrations caused by the warming of lake water, which could also encourage invasion of warm-water fish species."
Although prospects of increasingly earlier ice-out dates would certainly prove to be a bonus in the professional sense, it wouldn't be a fair trade when considering the biological impacts of warmer, oxygen-deficient waters.
Personally, I'd never trade the opportunity to fish brook trout for all the bass in the world. However, as local waters continue to warm, it has become increasingly obvious that I may eventually have to.
Return to the ponds and streams
For many outdoor enthusiasts, the early spring season is little more than a slow segue that must be endured while awaiting the arrival of summer.
The paddling is too cold, the trails are too wet and muddy, there's not enough snow left to ski. And then, there are those damn flies.
However, for brook trout fanatics, spring signals the conclusion of a long period of waiting, wondering and researching a whole realm of possibilities for a new season of adventures.
Despite the recent return of snow and cold weather, I fully expect most ponds and the majority of area lakes will be ice free by April 1. Most local rivers and streams are currently flowing at near the normal mid-summer levels (for now).
It appears the season's meager snowpack isn't likely to provide the usual spring thaw and floods. However, water temperatures will be extremely cold and neoprene waders are advisable.
Wading anglers should take breaks often to warm up, as cold water can rapidly reduce body temperature and severely affect balance.
On the streams, nymphs and streamers fished slow and deep with sinking or sink tip lines will be the order of the day. Action will likely be slow until water temperatures creep into the upper 40s and low 50s.
Early on, anglers using natural bait will have the most success, although artificial lures and flies will produce. Early season offerings on the ponds should include salamander and leech imitations, as well as flashy minnow type streamers or lures such as Phoebes, Panther Martins and Castmasters.
All travelers should be aware of the changing face of many local streams and rivers that are a result of last year's floods.
In many cases, deep holes and familiar pools have been filled with debris, riverbanks have been undercut and strainers were created by dangerous logjams.
Paddlers especially, should take the time to adequately scout in advance of taking a trip. Upper sections of the Boquet River remain choked by numerous logjams from New Russia all the way to Elizabethtown.
As always, there are a number of necessary cautions to consider, with cold water topping the list. Warm wool clothes, combined with a windproof/ waterproof cover, should be considered essential items. I'd also include warm gloves and a wool cap.
A secured life jacket is not only common sense, it's now the law. While on New York state waters, all boaters in watercraft less than 21 feet in length, must wear a personal flotation device (PFD) from Nov. 1 to May 1.
While attempting to locate fish on the ponds in the early season, anglers should seek the windward shore, where prevailing winds push warm surface water.
Shorelines with southern exposure and littered with structure will likely have warmer waters, active bait fish and the most insect activity. As a result, larger fish will also concentrate in these locations seeking food.
Lakes such as Lake Clear, Upper Saranac and Tupper Lake will have foraging lake trout and salmon chasing smelt as they move into the inlets and small streams to spawn. Expect to find smelt running the streams following April's full moon, which occurs on April 6.
Evidence of birds such as loons, eagles, osprey and gulls gathering at the mouth of lake tributaries are indicators that the smelt are running.
Take the time to replace your line
The single-most important adjustment anglers can make to improve their fishing success is to regularly replace their fishing line. Regardless of the cost and quality, monofilament line rots easily through the process of ultraviolet degradation.
Sunlight weakens line, so does the age of the line. Monofilament line always comes packaged with an expiration date. Wise anglers always check for an expiration date before leaving the store.
Wiser anglers take the time to check their line for nicks, cuts and other abrasions, especially the first 15 to 20 feet of line on the reel.
Casting jigs or other lures into the brush or along rocky shorelines will often damage monofilament line. Check line often for rough spots, abrasions and especially knots. A single knot in a line, leader or a tippet will reduce the strength of the line by half.