Opening Day, the day which we trout fishermen in New York state have been eagerly awaiting, arrives quickly just as the last snows melt.
Usually, if truth be told, Opening Day is not the most memorable fishing due to the chilly temperatures of the water and air, the high runoff, and the sluggish mentality of the trout.
But good fish can and will be caught by the persistent angler.
The most avid of us has checked and rechecked our fishing gear, making sure it's ready to go back to work. But we also enjoy the feel of the action in the rod tip again, the smooth flip of the bale on the spinning reel, or the sound of the gears in the fly reel.
These piscatorial sounds and feelings set off our dreams and anticipation for the upcoming season.
Though trout fishing is available year round on certain designated waters throughout New York state, such as my home water, the Genesee River, there is nothing like Opening Day.
All fishermen know that other days on the water will be more productive, comfortable and more natural feeling.
Melting ice from the rod’s line guides after a cast or two gets old. But trout fishermen have a bit of the spirit of the marathon runner somewhere tucked inside. Sure, we suffer a bit on opening day. But it offers us a bit of perspective when we fish those mild early summer mornings, when we take our streamside comfort for granted.
Who can resist getting out on the stream, maybe sharing the excitement with other anglers, fellow fishermen, all being receptive to the mesmerizing effect on the psyche that the just the sound of the water has?
To have fished is the important thing on Opening Day.
Catching one is a bonus.
As I reflect back over the years, it seems that opening days are getting warmer. And when the temps hang around freezing, warmth is a relative term. But we rarely see ice in the reel as was the norm when my dad took my brother and I out on Opening Day for an hour or two in the snow by the side of the river or, if the water was too high, one of river’s more fishable tributaries.
Snow on the banks was common back then on April 1, Opening Day.
When the water is part snow-melt, trout can be a bit sluggish due to the effect of the cold water temperatures, therefore they do not feed as aggressively or fight as energetically as when the water temperatures are a little warmer. However, a big trout on a cold opening day is still a fine consolation to the cold and high water challenge.
Some lucky fishermen will hit it big on opening day. It always happens. You know, one of those lucky days astream when everything goes right to the envy of us all.
We had the same chance at the same fish. But the bait, the presentation, or the alignment of the planets was just not right when we presented our best offering.
Though March in the uplands of Western New York was cold, we did not get the snowfall we often do. Therefore the steams, though a bit high now for opening day, should soon drop down to righteously fishable levels in the next week after, depending of course on new rainfall amounts.
For most trout anglers, most of the time, the fun comes in the form of hooking up with a trout. And therefore, we have to fool them in one way or another.
Many of the trout streams and rivers have been stocked by the New York state DEC mainly with brown and rainbow trout to the delight of anglers. They wise up quickly and are still a challenge and a lot of fun, no matter which particular gear the trout angler is partial to.
For many of us the fun of fishing for trout is in the catching and tricking the wily critters into thinking what we are tossing at them is, in fact, food.
The old maxim, “limit your kill, don’t kill your limit,” emphasizes the point that our streams have a very finite number of fish, even the stocked waters.
When we release a fish we hooked and played, we educated it. And it is there for us, or another, to enjoy again. Always a pleasure when I catch a trout and see a little red spot, proof on its mouth where another fisherman had fooled it on another day, perhaps on the same pool or riffle.
But that being said, eating a few trout is a culinary delight for most of us, especially when they are caught in cold water. The fish are exceptionally good at this time of year because their flesh is firmer in the colder water. And it has been a while for most of us since we have filleted and prepared for the table, these wonderful fresh wild fish.
Opening Day is a time when most of us would agree that the real thrill and excitement is in the challenge of the sport of trout fishing itself. Toss back a few less than our limit (which is five trout per day in New York state, but check the DEC regs for your particular steam) when we are blessed with that good day on the water.
Leave a few.
Practice catch and release.
Let some swim again so younger and less experienced fishermen will have their enjoyment enhanced on Opening Day too.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.