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Spring is in the air, under the water and on the ground

April 17, 2010
By Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

Following another full week of spectacular spring weather, I'm firmly locked in the grasp of the trout season, and I won't let go.Each evening, the frogs holler from the bogs. In the morning, the trout whisper to me from the streams. At this rate, it looks like it's going to be a very long season and I intend to enjoy every moment of it.

We'll surely suffer a few more miserable days and be revisited by a vagrant snowstorm or two, but it appears that spring is actually here to stay. It's in the air, under the water and on the ground, heralded by the return of a million living things.

The oddball weather patterns will surely accelerate the mayfly hatches and bump the prime angling dates forward by at least a week.

Instead of Mother's Day weekend delivering the peak of spring angling on the ponds, the peak will likely arrive on the first weekend of May. In the Catskills, fly fishermen have already been reporting hatches of Hendrickson mayflies, almost three weeks earlier than normal.

Father's Day weekend, which arrives the third week in June, has long been considered the peak weekend for fly fishing the local streams. The timeframe usually produces a variety of mayfly hatches, highlighted by clouds of green drakes along the fabled Ausable.

If weather patterns hold true, the green drake hatch may over before Father's Day arrives.

The Fishing Report

Despite low water temperatures, the new season has already produced some fine specimens, especially from the ponds.

As water temperatures on the lakes struggle to get into the upper 30s, the shallow shoreline waters of the ponds have been warming rapidly.

On April 8, while fishing a small pond, I recorded a surface water temperature of 54 degrees. Many other local ponds have waters that are already in the 40-degree range.

Soaring temperatures in the early season do not bode well for the water's oxygen content, which is regulated by temperature.As water warms up, the oxygen content diminishes and fish inhabiting these waters become oxygen depleted and sluggish.

Water temperatures are also dependent on the availability of cold, fresh water that is provided from springs or tributary inlets.

Another important factor related to water temperature is a pond's flush rate, a gauge of how quickly its waters are replenished.

Currently, the local ponds appear to be in great shape, but I have to wonder what water temperatures will be like by mid-summer?

The streams and rivers have returned to normal levels following the spring runoff and water clarity is excellent. Along the Ausable, water temperatures remain in the low 40s and a good supply of holdover trout await the patient angler.

There are two upcoming dates that avid anglers should note.One arrives on Saturday, May 22, when the 11th annual Two Fly Challenge returns to the West Branch of the Ausable in Wilmington. Contact the Whiteface Mountain Regional Visitors Bureau at 946-2255 for more information and registration.

On Saturday, May 1, The Wild Center in Tupper Lake will host its annual Free Community Day.This year's event will be a collaborative effort of organizations, agencies and individuals dedicated to reconnecting children with nature. The event will provide families with the tools and confidence necessary to take their children fishing.

The event will include equipment demonstrations, casting contests, a display of small portable boats, as well as opportunities to win free equipment and tackle.

The sporting dilemma

A recent national survey indicates that two-thirds of all Americans or approximately 134 million people participated in at least one of 14 human-powered recreational pursuits over the past year. Of this total, roughly half the participants were female.

Studies show that 66 percent of families with incomes in excess of $50,000 took vacations that included some element of outdoor recreation.

Over the past decade, many outdoor adventure activities have experienced tremendous growth in participation levels. Boating and paddle sports have grown by an estimated 17 to 20 percent. In the same timeframe, hiking, backpacking and camping are up 93 percent, 72 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

Unfortunately, the traditional sporting pursuits of hunting and angling have not kept pace with the other outdoor pursuits. Although fishing license sales rose by nearly 4.7 percent last year nationwide (the largest percentage increase in over 30 years), industry reports indicate an estimated decline ranging from 13.9 to 36 percent has occurred over the last decade.

Today, an estimated 30 million Americans remain avid anglers, yet 20 years ago there were three times as many anglers as there are today, by percentage.

Within the same timeframe, the number of hunting enthusiasts has been on a steady decline nationwide as rural America continues to condense and the population gravitates to urban areas. There are an estimated 12.5 million hunters.

Attempts to boost participation in traditional sports have included the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation's highly successful Take Me Fishing marketing program, as well as Families Afield, a similar effort funded by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Despite numerous industry initiatives, which have been combined with a national trend to lower the minimum age for hunters, the future of traditional sports remains bleak.

It is not a growth industry. Unfortunately for fish and wildlife, these sporting pursuits also represent the major funding source for the nation's conservation industry.

Although the typical angler only spends about $176 annually on fishing tackle, they contribute over $40 annually to conservation via license dollars and excise taxes on equipment.

Ultimately, anglers and other sportsmen and women, are the most significant funding source for conservation in the United States.

In 2008, $720 million of excise taxes were distributed for fisheries management and recreational boating enhancement. In addition, fishing and hunting license sales generated nearly $900 million in revenue for state fish and wildlife agencies and habitat protection.

Get the kids out

Spring is an ideal season to instill an appreciation for the sporting life in the next generation of hunters and anglers. It is a time when the woods come alive, trout are on the take and turkeys begin to strut. It is an exciting time to be outdoors.

New York State's Youth Spring Turkey Hunt arrives the weekend of April 24-25. It offers an opportunity for hunters ages 12-15 to take to the field with an adult mentor, before the regular season begins on May 1. Youth hunters are permitted to take one bearded bird.

Similarly, the new trout fishing season provides adults with another excellent venue for introducing newcomers to the sport. Surveys reveal that adults consistently rank angling adventures as the most memorable outdoor experiences of their youth.

Angling is an ideal activity to introduce kids to the outdoors.It can be exciting and entertaining and it is one of the few activities where adults and children participate on equal footing.When fish are biting, they don't know or care who is connected to the other end of the line.

Most children don't simply wake up one morning and decide they want to become an outdoorsmen or women.It's a process that typically requires the assistance of a parent, friend or relative.

Although most outings require only a small effort on the part of an adult, the experience can have a lifelong impact on a child. Kids quickly forget their first toy, but they'll never forget their first fish.



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