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A tale of brookies and birds

April 19, 2008
By Joe Hackett,
The recent spell of warm weather has served to accelerate the spring season and while most of the area’s lakes and ponds still retain winter’s white cap, fractures and fissures are readily evident.

It’s always a guess when ice out will occur on the ponds, but it appears that it will arrive before the end of April this year. Winds, sun and rain can expedite the process, while snow and freezing temperatures will prolong it.

I spent a recent morning on Ray Brook with a friend, angling for brook trout while snow flurries and alder pollen filled the air. The brook was swollen and the current fast as we paddled upstream over several beaver dams. We worked the pond as well, without so much as a strike.

Although the trout chose not to cooperate, the marsh was alive with birds. An osprey flew along the shorelines as a broad wing hawk soared overhead. A blue heron flushed while an American bittern stalked the shallows.

As we rounded a bend, pairs of mallards and mergansers took flight upstream. While a pileated woodpecker worked in the nearby woods a kingfisher scolded us as it dipped along the shoreline. Barks emanated high in the sky as flocks of Canada geese winged their way home. Hopefully, the geese will complete their journey all the way north.

Game birds are plentiful this season. I’ve seen plenty of woodcock, grouse and turkeys in local fields and woodlands, while numerous songbirds frequent the feeder just outside our window.

The fishing report

Although trout season officially began on April 1, it will be a while before angling opportunities begin in earnest. Now is the time to spool new line, oil reels, check rod eyes for nicks and scrapes and generally get the fishing gear in order. Ice out will come sooner rather than later.

Anglers can expect to find limited open water opportunities on most area lakes and ponds this weekend; primarily around inlets and outlets or along southern shores.

Sunday’s full moon will likely signal the beginning of the smelt run, after which the ever-increasing hours of daylight and warming waters will bring the suckers up the streams as well.

These two consecutive spring spawn runs will draw trout and salmon to begin feeding heavily near these feeder streams and tributaries. Watch for concentrations of gulls, herons or mergansers along shorelines for indications of which streams will host these spawn runs.

Some ponds will give up brookies through natural holes caused by trees, limbs or rocks, but caution is advised if venturing on the ice, which this year was a mixture of snow ice and slush. It’s far better to wait for open water than to perform an imitation of an olive in a martini.

A safe bet is to toss a wabbler/worm combination to the edge of the ice and let it drop off. It often won’t get to the bottom before a fish hits it. The Cascade Lakes and Chapel Pond provide several areas where flows create ideal opportunities for such technique.

The high melt waters will also bring salmon into the Lake Champlain tributaries. Lake trout will be in the shallows along the Big Lake’s shoreline, where they will be particularly vulnerable to dead smelt cast and left on the bottom.

Use caution when

paddling or wading

The majority of the region’s streams and rivers remain swollen with snow melt, yet the water clarity is excellent and these waters are fishable for those with patience and caution. Wading is not advisable.

Canoe excursions will present swift, and possible whitewater conditions. If considering a boating excursion, please wear a life jacket. It will only save your life if you have it on! With water temperatures hovering in the 40s, acute hypothermia will occur within minutes of immersion, along with cramping and shortness of breath. In early spring conditions with cold, swift waters, a properly fastened Personal Floatation Device (PFD) may be the only thing between you and the pearly gates.

For those who hate the bulk and inconvenience of conventional Type III PFD’s, a relatively new product, trade-named Sospenders, is now available at several local sport shops, including Jones Outfitters in Lake Placid.

Constructed of lightweight nylon surrounding internal air bladders, Sospenders are worn like a vest or suspenders and can be instantly inflated by an attached CO 2 cartridge. Despite their light weight, they provide protection comparable to a US Coast Guard Type III PFD.

They are also a wise investment for anglers who just must wade this early in the season.

Wilmington: Flyfishing Central

With the completion of Whiteface Mountain’s annual pond skimming contest, residents of Wilmington will put away their ski poles and dust off their fishing poles, as the town’s second season rapidly unfolds.

Whether a fisherman or woman, an early season visit with Fran Betters at the Adirondack Sport Shop in Wilmington has long been a ritual of spring. His advice, enthusiasm and knowledge of the sport is always encouraging and contagious.

When we last spoke, Fran was looking to pull the reins on his usual 12 hour days. He mentioned plans to sell his successful operation located at a new spot on Route 86 at the western entrance to Wilmington.

The business features a restaurant, gift shop, motel and bakery in addition to his renowned fly shop. Betters’ unique fly patterns, perfected over the course of many years fishing the river, remain some of the most effective offerings ever presented to Ausable River trout.

Fished deep and slow, Better’s patterns of orange— bodied picket fins or cone-head, black crystal wooly buggers are usually reliable offerings for hungry holdover browns. They are best where the current is slower along the bottoms of deep pools and in the eddies behind large rocks or downstream of other obstructions.

Article Photos

A contrast of seasons is most evident as the snowcapped summit of Scarface Mountain looms over the open waters of Ray Brook, where the tag alders are already flowering.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)



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