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On the Trail: Fishing season is upon us


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

In the old days, anglers would have been gearing up this week for the traditional April 15 opening day of trout-fishing season, which this year falls on Saturday. It would have been a big day for fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandsons, fishing buddies or just plain secretive, solitary anglers fishing from a boat or canoe or trout-hunting in hip boots and vest along some rattling, wooded, gravel-bed stream heading, eventually, for the Connecticut River.

“Yeah,” said an old buddy who just happened to call as I sat to compose this narrative Wednesday morning, “I remember opening day being a big deal when I was a kid. My father, my uncles, my neighbors, we all looked forward to fishing the brooks.”

Apparently, they weren’t alone. The Greenfield Recorder-Gazette obviously thought opening day was important, too, given its front-page coverage I bumped into a few years ago when researching a mid- or late-1950s death. The local paper sent a reporter and photographer Chuck Blake out touring the country roads talking to trout fishermen they ran into along the way. Quoted were people I knew from Whately and people or families I’d heard of in Bernardston, Shelburne and Charlemont. It was interesting that the article told the tale of how many trout these men had caught and how big they were; maybe even what bait they were using.

Nowadays, there’s no opening day, just year around fishing. Yes, the thrill is gone.

Myself, I can’t say for sure where my love of fishing was spawned. My dad didn’t fish, but my mother’s father, aunt, brothers and Nova Scotia relatives sure did. Perhaps that first pre-school trip to Cape Cod with Grandpa Keane planted the seed. Or maybe it was that trip a year later, to Nova Scotia, where my mother’s maternal Comeau family living in Comeauville on the upper Bay of Fundy had a long history in commercial fishing and other maritime enterprises. All that’s left of those long-ago vacations are a black and white photo of smiling 4-year-old me holding a stringer of Cape Cod “punkinseeds” and faded memories salt-cod-filets hanging to dry on wooden racks on a dock in the hot summer sun.

I must have been atracted to that subtle, tap-tap-tap nibble followed by a furious struggle after the hook was set, because I sure chased stream fishing with passion well into my 30s, typically arriving at the water’s edge before the first bird sang.

As difficult as it is to believe, it is a fact that I have not fished regularly for nearly 30 years. Which doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how to softly deliver bait with a spinning rod and open-faced reel or hit the spot fly fishing with a roll-cast or double-haul. And I haven’t forgotten how to shoot line or play the loops when casting into tough winds. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m sure it would take a few minutes to get it down after the long layoff. But I’m sure I could and someday will be back to the stream when I find more leisure time, be it teaching my grandsons or just enjoying a rainy summer day astream. My equipment, likely in need of a little TLC, is stored away and waiting, including all the bamboo rods I snagged over the years in my auction, flea-market and yard-sale travels. I always kept my antennae alert for fishing equipment, particularly locally made bamboo rods. Oftentimes such items were peripheral discoveries while hunting down Griswold cast-iron cookware, Whately stoneware, decoys, paintings, Americana and you name it. In the process, I was fortunate enough to find a few collectible cane rods that I still cherish. Someday, if the heavens continue to smile upon me, I’ll introduce these classic bamboo rods to my grandsons, teach them to use and protect them with special attention and care. A few of them are truly local art forms by the likes of Marc Aroner and Sewell N. Dunton, the former a world-class Tonkin-cane rodmaker from Greenfield.

To teach kids to fish, it’s wise to start with spin-casting lessons in the yard. Hula-hoops are a great target to throw out on the grass. Teach the beginners to long-cast overhead, medium-cast sidearm and pinpoint pendulum-casts to hit delicate, protected stream locations with finesse, where overhanging hemlock roots or branches and submerged driftwood roots and tangles lurk along with big, hungry trout. Then take them where the fishing is easy, starting with simple ponds that hold many “pumpkinseeds.” There is not a better way to learn the basics of casting, detecting a nibble, setting the hook and playing the retrieve.

Never ever even think of beginning with fly-casting. That more sophisticated skill can and should wait until after spin-casting is no longer a challenge. Get a kid started on 6-pound test, No. 8 bait-holder hooks and nightcrawlers cut in half and threaded up the hook shaft with just one loop for realistic presentation. Hooked like that, a crawler is able to contract and expand in the water and entice trout into striking. Start on small brook-trout streams where 8-inchers are big before moving to larger brooks, of which there are many locally, especially in the hilltowns. Once that becomes old hat and little challenge, a young angler will move on to something bigger, like the Sawmill or North rivers, then the Deerfield or Millers, where the stream is much wider and deeper, but the dynamics remain identical — same pools, same runs, same riffles, same eddies, same methods of fishing. Just a larger playing field. Not much different than moving to the 90-foot baseball diamond from Little League.

Then, of course, there’s always an introduction to lakes and ponds, where boats come in handy but are not necessary if you know what you’re doing. We used to nail nice trout from shore at places like Cranberry Pond and others I won’t name for a variety of reasons, using lures such as spoons and spinners. Later, thanks to old “Indian Al” Niemiec, a Chicopee commercial fly-tier, I was introduced to the bobber-and-fly method, which gets the shore-caster’s streamers out more than twice as far as you can cast even a heavy a lure. The reason is the added weight of a bobber filled or partially filled with water, according to the depth of the water you’re fishing. It works.

The best experience I recall with Indian Al was fishing from shore for landlocked salmon at ice-out on the Quabbin. We’d follow a feeder stream in and fish the outflow, where hungry salmon and lake trout were feeding in open water on smelts, and we’d nail one beautiful salmon after another in total, nirvanic privacy, the action heavenly indeed. Again, it took skill to determine the perfect depth at which the fish were feeding and manipulate enticing action on colorful streamers. Our favorite and most productive were “Al’s Magic” and “Mickey Fins,” attractor streamers colored bright red and gold. We also had luck with dull, drab “Joe’s Smelt” and “Muddlers.” I can’t imagine that these popular streamers have today disappeared from local bait-and-tackle shops.

Another pursuit young, developing local anglers chase as they increase their fishing expertise and grow bored with repetition is shad fishing. Again, I credit old friend “Indian Al” for turning me on to shad. I had tried fishing for the anadromous fish a few times with spinning gear and shad darts, which just didn’t float my boat, so to speak. Then Niemiec taught me how to catch them with fly tackle, sink-tip line and willow-leaf blades soldered to large brass hooks. What a freakin’ blast, catching three- to 10-pound migratory fish hand over fist on a 8- or 9-foot graphite rod. Nope, can’t say I did ever once fished for shad with one of my treasured bamboo rods. Too nervous about nicking the finsh while casting hardware into a crosswind. Tonkin cane rods are not made for shad fishing. Graphite works just fine, thank you.

Well, that’s about all I’ve got this week. As for what’s next, one never knows. But I must say that I have an idea my fishing days are not yet over. All I need is leisure time, which, hopefully, ain’t far down the road.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gsand53@outlook.com.