Spring is on its way. I can feel it in the humid morning air and hear it in the chirping spring peepers. The true sign of spring, though, is the stocking trucks beginning their seasonal journey around the state to dump their garish cargo into roadside lakes and rivers. It takes a while before the trucks reach me here in northern Massachusetts, but plenty of other fishing opportunities abound before they arrive.
The ice has finally thawed on most of the ponds around my area, and where it remains, it will be gone with the next round of warm temperatures and rain. I was finally able to get out for an open water fishing excursion over the week, opting to try a small pond on account of the short time I had.
With a spinner tied on my freshly respooled line, I plied the pond’s waters, hoping for the first bite through open water of the year. A 1/8-1/4 ounce spinner is likely my favorite early season search pattern, as it allows me to quickly cover water to find where the fish are holding. A slow retrieve is vital this time of year, especially in the frigid ice-out water. If fishing from the bank, use a lure weight and line size that allow you to cast the spinner a good distance, because most fish are still holding deep.
It took a few more casts than I assumed it might, but I finally hooked into a fish, albeit the smallest bass I’ve ever caught from the pond. Its lips were stained bright red, a characteristic I’d always associated with fish eating crawfish; the only problem was, I was quite sure that there are no crawfish in this muddy, weedy, rock-less pond. Upon further research, I learned that it is actually cold water temperatures that stimulate red bass lips, not the pigments contained in one of their favorite forages. Perhaps the theory that crawfish cause red lips is supported by the fact that crawfish become more active in cool water, though that doesn’t usually happen until mid-spring or mid-fall.
Of course, not every fishing trip this time of year can be successful. When I have time to go fishing, I almost always take advantage of it, rain or shine. Such was the case on Saturday, when a light drizzle fell upon the cool, breezy morning. I walked to a nearby pond where I can usually guarantee I’ll have some success. When I reached my spot, a location I have caught fish on a number of occasions throughout the month of March, the rain picked up a bit, pelting my already frigid hands. I fished for a while, but obviously I had underestimated the effect the cool temperatures and driving rains would have on my exposed digits. Soon, the icy numbness became unbearable, so I left without having received so much as a bite.
On Sunday, the first official day of spring, I made a pilgrimage to my favorite wild trout stream in Massachusetts. The number and size of wild trout in this brook are testament to its pristine water quality, which also makes for outstanding fly fishing.
At first, I tried a new technique to me: micro jig streamers. The water was slightly high from the recent rain and snowmelt, so a subsurface offering seemed to be the right choice to start with. The section I fished begins with a couple of nice, though small, pools, which are perfect for jigging a streamer through. Each pool yielded a solid tug and a quick glimmer of a trout’s flank, but every fish managed to slip away before making it to my net. These fish were some of the larger trout I had seen in this run and gave me confidence that there were fish around so early in the season.
When I arrived at a section of riffles and plunge pools just upstream of the slightly larger pools, I switched to my old small-stream standby, a purple haze. Unsurprisingly, the fly quickly produced two small brookies, as well as a few others that managed to wriggle away. The trout seemed to rise slower than they typically would to an attractor pattern, perhaps due in part to a few naturals accompanying my offering on the water. They sipped my bug as I have heard cutthroats do out West: painstakingly slow and methodical, but well enough to get it lodged in their beak if you have the patience to refrain from striking prematurely.
A little further upstream, I explored a new beat, where I tempted a number of squaretails to take, but was only able to touch one. I ended up losing at least triple, if not slightly more, the number of fish I actually landed. I had no issues hooking up, but the little buggers had a way of throwing my small, barbless hooks.
If the number of fish I encountered wasn’t enough to prove the incredible condition of this coldwater gem, then the results of some insect sampling I did certainly are. In just a couple of quick scoops of a seine net, I was able to collect members of each of the major trout food groups – mayfly, caddis, stonefly, and midge – as well as a number of bonuses, like annelids and even a hellgrammite. The rich biodiversity of the stream is no doubt what makes it one of the premier trout fisheries in Massachusetts, and proof that quality, pristine habitat exists in a state often considered to be too urbanized to have any.
The emerging plants, hatching insects, and migrating birds are giving me hope that warmer times are ahead, and along with it, better fishing. It will soon be that magical time of year when you can catch just about any species you set your mind to. If the nightly symphony of spring peepers isn’t enough to get you excited about the upcoming season, then consider the myriad of angling opportunities that lie ahead.