Apparently three times is the most a person should use the dishwasher to clean their tackle boxes. More times than that brings only outside voices and wagging fingers. We do have some excuse for our insensitivity or general sense of distraction this week: our focus is blurred from nervous fishing energy. We are anxious. Once trout waters were closed for some rest and restocking, we raced to get lines, canoes, Thermoses, flies and Viking helmets ready for this, the most important daybreak of spring. Now die-hards, weekend warriors and badgered-into-it fathers are ready to brave the elements, searching for hungry trout and a parking space at the spectacle that is April’s second Saturday. Personally, my hope is for a safe dry day and to not have my young son out-fish me or spill hot chocolate all over my canoe, both of which have become unfortunate annual traditions.
Such is the month of April; heavy rains have stained our ponds with runoff and silt, pushed alewives back to sea, closed Potters Pond to shell fishing and stalled our pursuit of stripers. That’s why we have trout. That’s why we are anxious. Tradition and law dictates that legal fishing begins at 6am, which is not a hard rule to follow, given that you might be corralled by a hundred fishermen all watching their watches and Frances from RIDEM who will be watching hers.
Every year a few will forgo patience, quietly reeling in a poor attempt to hide the reeling or brazenly flipping off casts towards the rest of us patient traditionalists. These are the guys who will keep all their catch hanging on creepy metal stringers from low gunwales, clipping them by their fragile gills with their natural color fading, prolonging a slow demise.
Alongside the marginal shoreline and rough boat ramp of Barber Pond, a single annual campfire serves as a rustic gauntlet of smoke, giving off just enough damp pine and cigarette ash to settle into your clothes and beard. Once you have found your cold water hot spot, you will be encircled by jon boats, canoes, kayaks, pontoons and some indescribable flotsam supporting two men whose fishing is supported by more cans than lures. A few years back a cigar chewing monstrosity of a fly fisherman drifted past us like a grey Orvis smokestack, casting in all directions, the extra wide rubber donut holding him snugly as he continued his speaker phone conversation about a good walk wasted. My young son and I waited patiently for the smoke to clear before getting back to the business of catching breakfast.
On a still-water day, Barber Pond might appear as more an image of itself than of its own reality, a healthy ecosystem of fish and green plants. This day, she is jammed up tight, with the exception of a small piece of water up north, where the Chickasheen feeds her wetlands. There are quiet couples well focused on fishing, electric powered trolling machines repetitively working long lines, small nervous children stiff-necked in uncomfortable floatation, teenagers and seniors all hoping for a big fish. They swing Bennys’ specials, custom canes and the occasional fly rod the size of a utility pole.
After an hour, her surface will be freckled with fluorescent green dots of gummy baits, wind driven mini marshmallows bobbing along, sinking slowly. The air will carry hoots, hollers and even the softest “yes” as trout are landed on worms, spinners, Grandpa’s worn Mepps and possibly the worst kept secret weapon: an Al’s Goldfish.
This is also the unofficial start of the new story-telling season. Fishermen, like hunters, are great story tellers, brilliant in their stretching abilities while concurrently measurement challenged. Perhaps a conscious decision for some, for most it’s simply a bona fide affliction. A clear one hundred yard 12 gage shot was likely more of a 75 or 50 yard shot. 4 bluefish landed from a boat can increase in size and count in a matter of hours.
A decent largemouth bass, especially if caught on a solo “secret pond” type of afternoon, can increase in girth, weight and LOA up to 17 per cent with each reenactment of the catching event. Often, even water or land can self-inflate, with wind growing from a warm 15 from the west to something quickly described as “wicked” or “unbelievable”. Seas flash from 2 to 8 feet in just three repeats. Hooks become barbless, lines lose diameter, even the lengths of casts can swing either way depending on a necessary level of difficulty. “I didn’t have to toss that Rattlin’ Foam Frog far, I knew exactly where that 6 pound bass was” or “my old Coleman 9’er threw that Sluggo 150 yards like it was nothin’!”
Pre-trout season jitters can also alter what critical information gets shared. That brand new spool of 30# braid can mysteriously become last year’s old mono with backing older than Curt Gowdy. Considering the time and expense required determining which round of sabot slugs your Mossberg likes best, or where the highliners new spot is for gathering tautog bait, fishermen will stretch the bands out of a story but are not likely to give up that sweet spot or a bit of hard earned advantage. This appears to be the complete opposite with fly fishermen, who dole out information far more freely, advising strangers on specifics like tippets or pheasant versus quail hackle and how to adjust your stripping basket to look and stay cool. They will likely be at the cinder worm tying workshop on April 29 at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center in Charlestown.
When the fishing really turns on, we forget about first of the season birds nests, empty stomachs and boots in a swirl of cold hot chocolate. We forget because we have that toothy smile that answers all the questions. This one smile says we really do still have the touch, this sunrise has opened all the doors and there are so many good fishing days ahead. Later, some will christen their fillets in Kenyon’s cornmeal, others will baptize new smokers. A few will drive slowly home, smiling, anxious to share a story about a really big fish.