These weeks of spring have a very special early morning light. It shines for just a few minutes for just a few weeks and then it’s different. Not better nor worse, just different. We wait so anxiously for summer and those long days but her light is fixed for months. It can really be appreciated from a silent canoe or stepping through the sucking sand of a falling tide as the sun begins to fire up the Pt. Judith lighthouse. These are good days to drive with the windows down, taking in the colors, looking for the right place to fish. And finally there are lots of fish to be caught.
Squid have made their arrival to the causeway in Newport and some piers up the Bay. Because they work well on a plate or hook and are a blast to catch, parking spots can be very tough to find in places where they are in thick. Jigs from Yo-Zuri and Yamashita are favored with some preferring models with keels or bulbous bodies or even weights. Depending on with whom you talk, colors make all the difference and your choices are broad, like green mackerel, luminous green, all shades of pinks and green or yellow chartreuse.
Numbers of our much revered alewives pushing up river has started to decline as their preferred spawning waters have crested the 50 degree mark. In company with the sturgeon shad and striped bass, legends had them arriving in such numbers that they turned our rivers silver. Last week volunteers put 10,000 fish over the Main Street dam then a few afternoons later put more than 7,000 over the Palisades Mill waterfall. When piled waist deep below the ladder, they boiled upwards in water browned from pollution and silt and have been magnificent to watch. Fish were firing upwards with the froth in a cold cauldron the color of tarnished gold, low-grade maple syrup or the cheapest of beers forced at us barely above frozen.
Stripers are here in big numbers, hitting plugs jigs and bucktails from the upper bay to our south shore and are loving those Cocahoe minnows. White is the go-to color right now on a half-ounce jig head, also painted white. These will score throughout the bay, from the West Wall to Watch Hill and most of your tidal flats. White on the underbelly of other artificials like Rapalla minnows and small wood poppers is a staple, with blacks and blues on the top. Many of these newly arrived young bass are pasted with pale green sea lice with their ragged hooked legs and taste for bright red gill tissue. Bass will also be taken on a teaser rig and your best bet is a Red Gil, in light green or chartreuse, tied ahead of a Slug-Go. White also works well on rubber worms in fresh water this time of year, often with a small drop shot ahead of it although the log book will tell that purples and green with gold flakes are sure bets.
Green is effective on lots of fish. Tautog fishing is open until the 31 and they love those green crabs. Green is also the heart of the classic mackerel pattern broken back bomber lure. Since the intensity of light decreases as the water gets deeper, certain colors fade away first. Some shades of green will remain visible for as long as there is light. Chartreuse is a magical color, penetrating the column of both fresh and salt water farther than most others and is highly effective in stained or muddy waters. It’s also excellent on small swimmers, soft plastics and on spinner bait skirts under cloudy skies for largemouth. Smallmouth will fire right out into rushing river waters to inhale it especially when guarding their babies. Chartreuse is also the mysterious and highly potent elixir guaranteed to unlock a person’s memory, revealing truths never intended to be revealed. Anyone who has spent some time at the old Beach Head on Block Island may have fallen victim of what we called Green Truth Serum. Many questions were answered there in the wee hours of the fall after surfcasting the south side or after a long few days working on the boat.
Red is a sideline color, dotted around eyes or as a sparkling highlight on plugs like danny’s or in different shades on squid jigs. It has the longest wavelengths and can be the first color to fade in clear water, often within 20 feet. Summer flounder will take a red pork rind on a bucktail jig and Red beads work on scup rigs. More often, red is a tone reserved for fishermen’s faces. That particular deep variety is produced by the skin after the ear absorbs the crack of monofilament parting, sending twenty-five dollars -worth of hard plastic and new treble hooks soaring far, far away. Those unfortunate casts beat anything even Ron Arra could throw. Red appears in a lighter tone when we pull into the lighthouse parking lot and realize our tackle bag was left on the garage floor or the canoe is packed with every item necessary for a perfect day on Beach Pond except the paddles. We have all worn that red. Often we can see red, most likely when our better halves have proven us wrong about something or when a young child uses an ultra-light Ugly Stik as a cat poker leaving us with a rod with no tip.
Colors can also change. With a decrease in intensity at greater depths, lure colors lose their brightness. It’s always good to keep a Kastmaster for nighttime trips because they reflect any available light. The spectacular markings of brook trout fade as they are exposed to life-draining air or the presence of salinity when allowed to migrate to the sea. Their color pallet is swiped with nature’s grey brush to help them blend into the muted tones of salty shorelines. While our rivers no longer run silver, they are much cleaner and better protected. The colors of sunrises and sunsets are changing as this season moves on; we have strong reports now of tautog, squid and stripers up and across south county, which hopefully means we will be using more chartreuse and seeing less red.