It was with great satisfaction that I put my roof rake and snow shovel away for another year. I got plenty of use out of both and kept up with winter quite well overall, but enough is enough. In the last week the snow pack in my yard has melted, the grass is heavily tinged with green and buds are showing up everywhere. My daffodils bloomed for the first time a week ago and the fruit tree and strawberry leaves are visible from inside the house.
In anticipation of this year’s brook fishing I went out to the garden with my trusty pitchfork to look for garden worms. Most years it would take a half-dozen tries to come up with the first trout bait, but this time I found a dozen fat wigglers on the first attempt. Rather than disturb the still-dormant critters any more than necessary I just pulled the fork and went on to other things. I’ll have plenty of bait for stream fishing this spring and that’s all I need to know about that.
My favorite birds are back in business now, although they are as quirky as ever. The phoebes (also known as flycatchers) arrived last week and have been singing up a storm ever since. I have several wood bird houses scattered around the property and most of them are already in use, but for some reason the phoebes don’t want to nest inside the boxes, they are building on top of them. This seems a bit odd to me but maybe some other species (swallows, chickadees or wrens) will move into the boxes later. All of these have made their presence known but have not quite gotten into the nesting phase.
I leave a partial bale of fine hay in the yard so the birds can pick away at it while building their nests but so far only robins and goldfinches have bothered with it. Things are sure to pick up in the nesting category very soon, I’m sure.
One noticeable absence this spring has been the non-arrival of woodcock. This is the first March-April in over half a century when I have not seen or heard the first timberdoodle in the yard. Last year there are at least five different males that set up shop in the open woods around the house but this year there’s been no activity, which is shocking to say the least.
The spring peepers are already voicing their opinions (night and day) and I’ve seen ospreys and loons as well, but no woodcock. I wonder if there has been a decline in woodcock numbers or perhaps some affliction has raised havoc with the population. When Rachel Carson wrote about a “Silent Spring” I wonder if this is what she meant. Not hearing woodcock twittering through the springtime sky at twilight is noticeable, alarming and troublesome, at least to those of us who depend on such things as seasonal markers. Come to think of it, I did not see a single woodcock all fall, although I did see a few flutter by while on a late September moose hunt near Patten. Considering all that has been done specifically for woodcock over the last 40 years (habitat improvement, reduced seasons and bag limits) one would think that there would be more of them extant, not less.
I spent several days mulching trees and garden plants and soon found another sign of spring, one that is not so welcome. Already the chipmunks have started stealing sunflower seeds and burying them in the newly-strewn mulch. I have seen only one live chipmunk thus far but he’s obviously been busy. I’ll be pulling out clumps of sunflower sprouts all summer, which is not the worst that the pesky little rodents do. What irks me most is that they like to chew the heads off of my daffodils, marigolds and other flowering plants. Some mornings I’ll go for my first-cup walkabout and find a dozen blooms wilting in the morning sun. Not all signs of spring are good ones!
At this point it’s too early to begin planting flowers or vegetables, but while I’m waiting to begin farming I can always go back to the garden and dig up enough worms for a day of fishing. Brook trout will begin biting in earnest in a few more days, making them easy marks for a worm-and-spinner rig fished in the deep holes and pockets where these colorful little beauties like to hide.
I’m more than satisfied to catch a limit of 6-inch brookies, which fit nicely in my portable frying pan along with some canned potatoes, fiddleheads or baked beans. I usually bring my backpacking stove for cooking but if conditions are right I’ll build a small fire and do the cooking streamside. I only keep enough trout for one meal and never fish the same stream twice, so I don’t feel as if I’m decimating the trout population.
They say that the Eastern brook trout is in a state of decline but if you know where to look for them you’ll find plenty. Any small, free-flowing stream will have its resident population of brookies, but because 90 percent of those waters are all but unfishable from shore, most of the trout are likely to survive. I often skip over a dozen potential hotspots simply because I can’t get to them with my short spinning rod, which means all those trout have nothing to fear from me. I don’t go fishing with the expectation of catching them all; I just want enough for a shore lunch.
Brook fishing in late April and May is often very productive, but as summer looms trout can be hard to find. Once things begin to heat up I’ll go out early in the morning and target bridge crossings, culverts and other secluded places where the water temperature is stable (55 degrees is ideal).
Sitting along a bubbling brook with a sizzling pan full of fresh-caught brook trout is about as good as it gets. One thing is for certain, it definitely beats yard work!