SARANAC LAKE - Usually when the opening day of trout fishing season rolls around on April 1, most area ponds and lakes in the Adirondacks are still frozen and the real start to the fishing season is still weeks away.
Not this year.
Much of the ice disappeared last week when temperatures were consistently in the 70s. In addition, the lack of snow this past winter has led to less runoff, so the water levels are down in stream and rivers.
A trout jumps out of Lake Colby in Saranac Lake last fall toward the end of the fishing season. On Sunday the trout season opens once again, and local ponds and lakes are already free of ice.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Anglers will essentially be able to fish anywhere they want on Sunday, the opening day of the trout season. During most years, snow, ice and high waters keep them home until mid to late April.
"It's one of the best opening days that I've ever seen," said Vince Wilcox, who is president of the Tri-Lakes chapter of Trout Unlimited and owns Wiley's Flies, a fly-fishing shop in Rainbow Lake. "I think for guys that like to get out on opening day, they're pretty fortunate. Generally, the ponds aren't going to be open for weeks."
Some anglers will lament the opportunity to fish right at ice-out when the ice is receeding, but Wilcox said the fishing should still be good in the ponds and lakes. There will also be opportunities to catch lake trout, which can be found in the cold, shallow water where the water temperature is in the 40s.
"Most of the (trout) will be still be within 20 feet of the shoreline," Wilcox said. "You don't necessarily have to have a boat to have some success."
Another thing that is different about this spring is that many rivers and streams in Essex County have changed drastically because of Tropical Storm Irene and the flooding that came with the storm on Aug. 28, 2011. Some deep holes have filled in with silt and debris, while new channels have been carved out in other areas.
Keene Valley guide Brett Lawrence, who fishes the East Branch of the AuSable River and its tributaries, said he hasn't had a chance to explore the waterways much since the storm last year.
"I have no idea what the river looks like. I haven't walked it since Hurricane Irene," Lawrence said. "Some of my old favorite honey holes are probably no longer there."
In addition, Lawrence said Irene's flooding may have done some damage to the local trout population.
"A lot of my friends told me that they saw nice, big ol' - what you call breeders - just piled up down there," Lawrence said. The fish were washed out of the East Branch of the AuSable in Keene, near the intersection of state routes 73 and 9N, he said.
For those anglers who do decide to hit area streams and rivers in the next few days, state Department of Environmental Conservation fisheries biologist Rich Preall recommends staying away from fast-moving water.
"The fish will be a little slower," he said. "You should fish in slower water, not right in the rapids, but fish in eddies and that area, a little bit off current. And slow it down; get it off the bottom. A lot of guys use minnows early - something you can hang right in the fish's face. They'll eat it."
Because it's early in the season, most of this year's stocking has yet to take place, although Essex County and the state have dumped fish in some waterways already.
One thing Preall said anglers might notice this spring when looking at the stocking lists is that there won't be any lake trout stocked. That's because in the fall of 2010, the DEC's fisheries division was substantially cut during the state budget crisis, and the DEC didn't have the staff to collect eggs from Raquette Lake.
"That results in no yearlings this year to stock," Preall said.
Preall said eggs were taken last year and that lake trout stocking will resume next year.
The DEC fisheries staff also received a boost this winter when eight vacant hatchery positions were filled, including one at the Lake Clear hatchery and one at the hatchery in Chateaugay.
Preall said he expects the impact of not stocking for one year to be very minimal to the lake trout population.
"Lake trout are such a long-lived species - 10 years or more - that skipping a year is not a noticable impact to the fishery," he said. "We've taken eggs the other two years, so we're back on track with that. I don't anticipate any problems in area lakes because of that. I don't think anglers will notice it all."
Besides, they'll probably be too busy fishing to pay attention.
"I can't remember an opening day where the ponds were open on April 1," Preall said.
Anglers should remember that the waters in the region are still dangerously cold and that life jackets are required for boaters until May 1.
Contact Mike Lynch at 518-891-2600 ext. 28 or firstname.lastname@example.org.