Early Spring Struggles

You know it’s going to be a bad day of fishing when you arrive at your spot and there is only about 10 feet of open water. Despite the near-60-degree heat, the pond is still buttoned up with the final icy grip of winter. You’re sure there are fish lurking in the depths, but to reach them means either utilizing a long PVC pole and human ingenuity or risking your life.

Such was my experience last weekend during my first stocked trout fishing mission of the year. Neither of the choices sounded particularly exciting that day, so instead I stayed on the dam, practicing my fly-casting into the narrow stretch of cold water in front of me. Occasionally, small rainbows would come darting out into my view, but they had no interest in my bugger-and-egg combination, having been stocked just the day before. Discouraged, I packed up and headed back home, confused at why a mostly-frozen pond would have got stocked in the first place.

The next day, I took my kayak out to a nearby chain of ponds, where my friend and I probed every nook and cranny that looked like it would hold fish. Other than a pickerel caught on a large woolly bugger, the bite was nonexistent, and once again, we lost hope.

Over the course of the next week, I tried every spot my bike could get me to, yet to no avail. My favorite cold-water pickerel pond didn’t give up its bounty, a productive early-and-late-season bass fishery left me skunked and tired, and a second trip to the stocked trout spot (this time with no ice) had me thinking I might have forgotten how to catch fish. No one said it would be easy, but boy, I thought I could find a few fish, other than that measly pickerel.

In reality, this is how March fishing goes. I was basing my expectations off last year, where we had an ice out in late February. By mid-March, the water temperature was already in the upper 40’s in most places, and I was nailing the small bass like they were sunfish.

This year the conditions have been a little bit different, though. We had a much more traditional, albeit fairly mild, winter. Around the time I started to catch fish last year, we were just seeing the ponds and lakes transition from hard to open water this year.

In all honesty, March is my least favorite month of the year. It’s one of those transition times during which it could be 60 degrees and cloudless one day and 45 with torrential rain the next. Not only that, the fishing is usually far from spectacular as we fight cold water, flood conditions, and lethargic fish.

Despite all of this, I try to make the most of what I’m given. The other day, in between a track meet, baseball practice, and Passover seder, I snuck out to one of the larger ponds near my house that I can almost always count on to produce a fish or two. This day was no exception, and within 15 minutes, I had my first bass of the year in my hands. Like a daffodil poking through the thawing earth, it was a sure sign of spring that gave me hope for the rest of the season. It was quickly released back in the water, unharmed by the barbless hooks I made sure to use.

The setup that got the job done.

After six more of the little guys, I was ready to call it quits. Sure, March isn’t the greatest month ever; and no, the fish weren’t record breakers. Nonetheless, it brightened my day just enough to have a new perspective on this time of year and led me to the realization that one can truly enjoy this month if they know where to look.

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