With the first day of trout season looming this Wednesday, my anticipation is ratcheting way up.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced a great many first days and I have some fabulous memories to treasure. In fact, I think I’ll attempt to increase your anticipation as well as I look back over the decades.
Since our weather is unpredictable at the very best I think I’ll reminisce over several of the more extreme first day conditions I’ve experienced over the years and how fortune smiled upon me as we struggled to deal with the unusual meteorology.
Now, I say we because as far back as I can remember, except for my teenage years, I’ve always fished the opening day with Dave Ling from Randolph. I taught him to fish when he was a lad and now I open the season with Dave and his son, Dave Ling Jr., who I also taught to fish. Dave Jr. has accompanied us since he was about knee high. He was enthusiastic then and is just as enthusiastic now.
The strangest opener we ever experienced took place back in the early 70’s, I believe. March started out warm and stayed warm. By March 31st the streams were crystal clear and extremely low, as in drought low. It may as well have been the middle of August. The temperatures even reached the 70s and 80s several days.
NOW, I never start the season at midnight.
If you limit out in the dark, what’s a fisherman supposed to do the rest of April 1 once it turns daylight? I did so once when I was 16 and swore I’d never do it again, but the extremely dry conditions this year necessitated a switch in strategy.
The trout were necessarily concentrated in the few remaining deeper pools which would in turn concentrate every fisherman around these same holes. Any trout not caught the first hour would be extremely spooked the rest of the day. Dave Sr. (Junior wasn’t around then) and I agreed we’d have little choice but to start at midnight.
When we arrived at the stroke of 12 the better holes were already so crowded we couldn’t find a place to stand. Evidently we weren’t the only fishermen who thought an early start was the way to go.
There was no moon, it was extremely dark and you took your life in your hands trying to navigate the cluttered, steep and often rocky banks. Because of this I decided to fish right below the bridge. The far shore had some overhanging trees and a large, partially sunken log where the water was still fairly deep. Dave decided to fish above the bridge.
I didn’t have a flashlight or a net, pretty poor planning, I must admit, but Dave did. He made a few wisecracks about people who were unprepared and seemed hugely amused his mentor found himself in such a predicament. Can you imagine that?
EVEN MORE surprising I thought, was the fact the wardens showed up at midnight as well. That was unprecedented, but August weather in April seemingly had set the world upside down.
I gingerly felt my way down the rocky abutment and found a place to stand. I threaded a fat, juicy nightcrawler on a number 8 hook. There was a need for sinkers with so little current.
I cast very easily at first and by listening closely — I could still hear back then — determined how far across the stream my bait landed. About the fifth cast I didn’t hear it splash. Was I on the log or in the tree? I pulled gently and felt my line go slack as the crawler fell into the stream. Talk about blind luck.
I just stood there. The bait was in a perfect spot and there was little chance I’d manage a lucky cast like that again. After five minutes I lifted the rod tip and felt resistance. On the bottom? Then the weight shifted away from me. Good grief, a fish! I tightened the line, set the hook and felt a powerful fish take off. I yelled and Dave came running, or perhaps moving as quickly as possible in the dark is a better phrase. After a nice tussle with my unseen opponent Dave netted a 21-inch rainbow. Wow.
ANOTHER opening morning was not so nice. As I rose and looked outside, the thermometer needle quivered at 28 degrees. It was still pitch dark outside and small flakes of snow swirled past, the perfect touch for what promised to be a miserable morning’s fishing. Still, you can fish at 28 degrees, but just barely.
The stream was high and swift, a little discolored, but fishable. I had on long underwear, heavy pants, hip boots, heavy shirt, thick vest and my hunting coat. My heavy hat had the ear flaps down and my hood was up. It was freezing, a bone chilling cold.
The fish must have been as miserable as we were, the fishing was very slow, but we managed to land a few small browns in the 10-inch range. By 9 a.m. most fishermen had already left, only the diehards were still sticking it out.
The best hole on the stretch we were fishing emptied out so we moved into the best position. Nothing. Now Dave Jr. and I were freezing and seriously thinking about breakfast. Bored, I dug through my vest and found a small, blue backed Rapala. I tied it on and began casting. After several casts I varied the retrieve and began jerking it in, pulling it three feet, stopping for two or three seconds, then jerking it again. Suddenly, a massive rainbow shot up out of the depths and slashed at the lure. The strike was so unexpected and so vicious it startled me, but reflexes set the hook and after a spirited battle Dave netted a gorgeous 26-inch rainbow.
Suddenly, the day seemed much warmer and the sky brighter. Why, even the scattered snowflakes were beautiful; it was a wonderful day, really, what could be better?
Dave looked at me grinning all over, he’s probably the best-natured individual I know, and then shook his head. “You’re the luckiest so and so on the planet!” he remarked.
When I thought about it I had to admit he was probably right.