| It’s hard to beat this time of year even if you’re a turkey hunter who feels compelled to rise at 4 a.m. (or earlier) in order to be in the woods and on hand when the birds leave the roost at or near sunrise. The spring woods remind me of those last few days in October when the air is crisp and cool and there are no bugs to bother. It’s quite pleasant out there in the pre-dawn darkness, listening to the first chirps and warbles of songbirds and then the cry of loons on the lake and geese sailing by overhead. Peace and quiet are rarities these days, and I relish the hours spent where civilization hasn’t ruined everything yet!
The turkey season in my neighborhood got off with a “bang” (literally) when a friend showed up to hunt around 4 a.m. We had the obligatory cup of coffee, told some lies, made a few jokes and then he headed out to his moment of glory.
Legal shooting time was 4:58 on opening day, and my buddy was already headed for home at 5: 30 a.m., a nice, fat tom turkey over his shoulder. The birds had roosted in the hardwoods on the hill and were making their way down the wooded slope to the open fields when they ran into a little resistance from a camo-clad shotgunner who happened to know their routine as well as they did. I expected to hear a shot and yet I jumped when the gun went off those turkey loads are loud!
We had more coffee as we waited for good photo light (still an hour away), and I got to hear the story of the hunt oh, 10 more times at least, before it was time to head to the tagging station and the taxidermist. It’s not often that any hunt goes off as pristinely as that one, but I noticed that the hunter seemed a little sad because, after so much anticipation, his season was over. He could buy a second spring tag (only $20!) and try for a second gobbler, but he had other obsessions to address he not only enjoys spring turkey hunting but he’s also a big fan of trout and bass fishing, not to mention striper fishing. Like October, May can be a busy month for the hook-and-bullet crowd!
He’s not the only one. Other than turkey hunting, I enjoy plying small trout streams for the little native brook trout that are tailor-made for a miniature frying pan with just enough room for a few potatoes, onions and fiddleheads. I enjoy fishing and the places where fish come from, so it’s no stretch for me to catch enough trout for a streamside lunch and then sit there for a while (hours?) and just watch the babbling brook. Nothing’s more soothing to the soul than a woodland stream in spring, and with a belly full of trout and a second cup of tea in hand the feeling of satisfaction is second to none. No amount of money or prestige can replace the pleasure of being “out there” on a sunny May morning. I’ve had a few lucrative moments in my life but they pale in comparison. Sit me by the brook in the morning sun and I’m as rich as I could ever be. I’ve been around the world a time or two and I still prefer the mossy rocks surrounding a tiny trout stream in Maine.
A very close second is drifting along the shore of a secluded pond in my old Grumman canoe. I was an avid bass fisherman long before there was a “tournament trail” to follow, and to be honest I stay off that trail as much as possible bass fishing is a sport for me, not a competition. Any smallmouth I catch is a prize-winner for any number of reasons, but mostly because landing one makes me so glad I wasn’t born a minnow, frog or crayfish. When a 6-inch bass takes a 3-inch lure you have to wonder if these fish have any limits, and I have seen enough 3-pound bass with another 3-pound bass in their throats to answer that question. While a 6-inch trout is a delicate little morsel of wild beauty, a 3-pound smallmouth is a cage-fighter without the cage.
If you want to catch a fish that has every intention of throwing YOU back, you need to try bass fishing. Years ago I fished Nokomis Pond in Newport regularly in early spring out of a small rubber raft that was impossible to handle in the wind but perfect for drifting along shore on a calm May morning. The pond was full of bass and in May it was possible to catch one on literally every cast. On every 10th cast or so I’d hook a fish that was big and bad enough to drag me around the pond. One exceptionally big fish took me from the pump station all the way across the pond to Libby Hill Road. I never kept any of the bass I caught in Nokomis Pond nor did anyone else I met there, but it was fun to challenge them during the spring spawning period when they’d hit anything and everything I threw at them.
Bass have the same attitude no matter where you find them including lakes, rivers or ponds, and when there’s a chance to launch a canoe and paddle slowly along shore I’m there it’s easy and productive fishing, you don’t have to keep them if you don’t want to and if you can’t catch 100 fish a day you’re probably not trying very hard. Although bass in the 12-inch class make good chowders and salads, I let most of my fish go so that I’ll have reason to go again tomorrow. While trout and salmon often succumb to minor hook wounds, I’ve caught bass weeks later that still had my spinner or spoon still stuck in their jaws. Now that is an aggressive fish!
Some people choose to spend their May days doing chores or yard work, but when there’s a choice to be made, I’m going fishing!