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I no sooner mentioned red-winged blackbirds last week than a flock showed up in the back yard. Their “red” wing chevrons were rather dull and faded, but there was no mistaking their trademark “rusty hinge” call, typical of blackbirds in the East. Several hundred joyous voices creaking and croaking in a stand of pines at the far end of the field is easy to notice after a long, silent winter.
Everything seems to be in a hurry for spring. I had a pair of bluebirds on my porch vying for their share of the suet block, and my daffodils are 6 inches high on the south side of the porch, where there was a foot of snow piled up just a week or so ago. The maples have been in various stages of budding for close to a month, and down in the swamp the pussy willows are in full bloom.
The deer are looking particularly ragged lately as their winter hair begins to fall off in thick clumps. The normally sleek, svelte does and fawns look like stuffed toys lately, with bare patches and tufts of old fur hanging off their shoulders and flanks like moss. A walk in the woods now reveals tracks in the mud, shed antlers and gobs of fur left behind by the meandering whitetails.
The turkeys have been visiting their old dusting spots in the open fields but so far it’s still muddy. They dig and scratch in hopes of finding some dry sane to roll in, but it’s a bit too soon for that.
I have noticed that all manner of critters have found certain spots where early shoots provide the first fresh greenery of the year. Deer, turkeys, squirrels and even a grouse have been poking around in the same area of the field, nipping eagerly at various new shoots while ignoring the acorns, leaves and buds that sustained them over the winter. They’re still cleaning me out of two gallons of feed and seed every day but now they stop to nibble on whatever fresh green stuff they can find.
My lakefront neighbors have told of seeing a bald eagle return to the tall pines along the shore, and someone said they’d spotted an osprey over the river alongside the Interstate. I’d think it would be too early for the fish eaters to show up but then I was recently surprised to hear several flocks of geese go by (headed north, although they could swerve east or west at any time). How these birds and animals know that it’s time to turn the page is anyone guess, but they know! I suppose eons of experience may have something to do with it, but they aren’t talking and we “educated” humans can only observe and then ponder such things.
Like most avid anglers, I had to go out on Opening Day just to say I had, and, like most opening days, all I managed to do was wet a line – the trout were having none of it. I did not expect to fill my creel, in fact I expected to feel no response at all, and that’s exactly what I got. I could have made a case for having “a bite” a few times, but I knew I was just kidding myself. Early April trout are slow, sluggish and pretty much unresponsive, especially in small streams where the water is icy cold and still affected by runoff. I checked the temperature a few times and got a couple of readings under just over 40 degrees, so I knew the fish were going to be uninterested in my fast-moving offering of a garden worm on a spinner, but it was fun to be out there anyway.
The general rule of thumb is that the trout begin to bite when the leaves on the poplars are big as a mouse’s ear, but what usually happens is that the best fishing begins when the black flies start to bite. You can go early and enjoy a day on the water but until the biting flies attack it’s all ambience and not much action.
Of course, it’s always possible to catch fish when “the rules” say otherwise. I’ve caught trout and salmon many times in early April when an early spring follows an easy winter. I recall several years when I caught some nice fish below the Sebec Lake dam in the village. One time I actually had caught a pair of 3-pound salmon when a gentleman in fly-fishing gear showed up, tested the water temperature and announced that the water was “too cold” for good fishing and that I was probably a week too early. I didn’t want to burst his bubble so I didn’t show him the two fat landlocks on a stringer at my feet. I spent that first week catching brook trout, salmon, lake trout and even smallmouth bass before word got out that the fish were biting with some regularity.
I don’t like crowds so I switched to the small ponds and streams in the area where I enjoyed more great fishing well before the experts said I should have. I was not a student of water temperatures at the time which is a perfect example of ignorance being bliss. Had I bought into the “trout at 55” theory I’d have stayed home, too, missing out on some of the best early-season fishing I’ve ever enjoyed.
These days much is made of not only temperatures but moon phases, climatic conditions, barometric pressure and whatnot, and some sportsmen will only go out on the days when the charts tell them to. I just go when I can because the real world doesn’t always abide by the Solunar Tables. Of course, a bad day afield is always better than a good day at work, so when I can find the time to dodge responsibilities and head for the woods I go, moon phases and water temperatures notwithstanding. I don’t always catch something, but I always have a great time, and that’s really what it’s all about.
Make the most of these incredible spring days. Find your way into the woods and enjoy the changing of the seasons. There’s something interesting going on every day and you don’t want to miss it!
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