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On The Trail

On The Trail: Slowdown

The summer solstice has passed, gentle summer breezes are intermittently dislodging small white mock orange flower petals and dropping them to the ground by the bulkhead, the Connecticut River temperature had passed 70 degrees, and the American shad run is, for all intents and purposes, over.

Although it has been many years since I’ve been down to the water’s edge to witness the annual phenomenon, I am quite familiar with the drill. By now, the female shad have established lairs, where small schools slowly circle in the shallows, performing what appears to be an egg-laying ritual concluded with intrusive male fertilization, the dirty rascals. I vividly recall being quite frustrated trying to coax a strike out of such fish performing their spawning ritual. They were interested only in reproduction, and I have an idea that by this period of the annual shad run, ancient people who arrived at the river each spring to gather fish in advantageous locations by waterfalls and man-made weirs left the spawning fish alone to guarantee future harvests. Unlike modern man, the ancients respected nature and allowed it to function without unnecessary disruption of critical processes.

Anyway, it appears unlikely that the 2014 run will hit the 400,000 mark. With the Holyoke river temperature at 71.6 Fahrenheit Tuesday, the fish lift there transported a paltry 137 shad above the dam, bringing the annual passage at that site to 367,869 and the total-river passage to the slightly higher figure of 373,171.

What it all means is that the Connecticut River still attracts a large enough shad run to provide adequate sportfishing opportunities for local anglers. That’s the good news. The bad? Well, I recall years when more than 1.5 million shad swam upriver, now referred to by those who were there to enjoy it as “the glory years.” I suppose if you know what you’re doing and are in the right place at the right time, you may still walk away with weary arms tired from furious downstream runs and strenuous upstream retrieves. Been there, done that — great while it lasted.

Perhaps more interesting to me these days is the fact that Atlantic salmon stragglers are still returning upriver in this the second spring since the plug was pulled on the failed restoration program. No, they’re not coming like gangbusters. But when did that ever happen in historic times? Through Tuesday, a total of 32 salmon had been counted in the river system, captured and tagged by state and/or federal personnel. Anglers are reminded that if such a tagged salmon is hooked, anglers are required to release it unharmed. Officials ask that those who catch and release such tagged salmon call 413-548-9138 x 121, as indicated on the yellow tag protruding from below the dorsal fin. Researchers are interested in any information they can glean about the experiences. Plus, those who catch tagged fish are asked not to remove the tags.

A monitoring-station-by-station rundown of salmon passage shows 26 through Holyoke, one through the Leesville Dam on Connecticut’s Salmon River, three through the Rainbow Dam on Connecticut’s Farmington River, and two through the DSI Dam on the Westfield River. Above Holyoke, nine salmon have passed Turners Falls, seven have passed Vernon, Vt., and one has found its way past the fascinating petroglyphs below Bellows Falls. The falls at that site marked the annual termination point of the annual Connecticut River shad run, where Abenaki people set up shop each spring for fishing. Among the images carved into the fenced-off stones at the base of the falls there are sacred thunderbirds, an ancient symbol found in rock and cave art from coast to coast in North America.

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I finally roused my first hen turkey over the weekend at the site I daily walk not far from home. I have always found summer broods there if my memory serves me well but was surprised when Lily flushed a solitary hen from the tall hayfield Friday morning. I had already passed the flush zone when I heard the tell-tale, alarming “putt, putt, putt,” turned and saw Lily chasing it high onto a tall red oak limb. Fearing there could be a nest of little ones that were unable to fly, I whistled Lily back to me before she could return to the site and find them. I have not seen hide nor hair of a turkey since that day, which leads me to believe my dog flushed a barren hen that had one way or another lost her nest. We’ll see. The little ones and the hen may yet show up. I’m looking.

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Although I can’t say I’ve been impressed enough to dig out my gear and actually wet a line, I must say from personal daily observation that the Green River looks prime for angling. Which reminds me … on an exploratory Sunday-morning walk with anthropologist/historian Howard Clark, through the forested, terraced ridge facing the Turners Falls dam from the west, my friend handed me a printout from a 17th century narrative that referred to the Green River in a Samuel Drake footnote as “Green’s” River. I had never before seen the river called by that possessive name and, frankly, have assumed the origin of the river’s name was it’s greenish, high-water hue, not an English surname. Maybe someone can enlighten me. Or, then again, perhaps Drake just had it wrong, an innocent little 1862 mistake that’s irrelevant in the big picture.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a longtime member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gary@oldtavernfarm.com.

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