Lions Club meetings begin with the awesome toast of water: “Not Above You Not Beneath You But With You”. Fantastic. Right now ospreys and blackbirds are all of those, circling above, building nests and attracting mates while bass perch and buckies are swimming below. These are just some harbingers of the fisherman’s official beginning of spring, opening day of trout season. It is the most perfect excuse to get up early, pray for a parking spot and lean back in a boat in the hopes of feeling a rod bend after such a rough winter. Spring is also a fine time to blow off that wood stove dust, get out of the house for something besides shoveling snow, grab an ultra-light rod and go for an afternoon paddle. RIDEM would just like to know if you will be floating with more than a few people and with whom you paddled.
As we mentioned last week, officials held a hearing this Monday past to review their regulation regarding how many people can use a body of water when organized as a group or club. Currently, if there are more than 6 people or 3 boats, you must have a permit, which you would have needed to obtain some 3 weeks prior. Designed to help keep state managed entry points open for lots of users and to not let waters become overwhelmed by a large fishing club outing, the idea of potentially being a law breaker when you show up with a few friends for an afternoon paddle seems absurd. To make the law even more cumbersome, you are required to report back afterwards to list who went a’paddling. This 3 year old regulation is too broad, needs review and falls into the “just leave me the hell alone” category.
Groups like the Rhode Island Canoe & Kayak Association rightly see too much room for confusion and a real rub is for enforcement officers to distinguish between a structured group and just a bunch of fishermen or boaters on any given day. The new idea is to increase the minimum number to 10 and focus more on groups who have an established structure. If you are involved in a scheduled fishing contest under the umbrella of a structured body, you will need to let DEM know you will be using a ramp and the waterway. DEM is currently reviewing the wording and will hopefully return with a solid solution. The regulation has good intent but reflects how sometimes government just gets in the way.
Local angler Scott Smith stood in the rain last weekend to bring in his first largemouth of the season from a secret road-side pond. Assuring me it was at least 8 pounds and fought for no less than 20 minutes, snapping his medium action St. Croix rod and stripping the gears from his prized sweet purple Zebco reel, his reported catch clearly has also opened the truth-stretching season. Casting from shore into a pond which was frozen just a week back, is the best feeling as spring works her way in; the marshy edges and shallows are starting to give up some very hungry fish starved for sunlight and fresh food. We know it’s all low and slow this time of year with lighter colored grubs, flashy crank baits and slow turned spinner baits drawing fish out for a strike. It’s also a great time to break out a new bottle of scent or after such a long winter, try a rattling frog to entice a bite.
It seems stripers are getting restless down in the Chesapeake. Reports are surfacing of fish starting to move out and it won’t be long before someone from New Jersey is bragging about getting the first migrating keeper. April 4 marked the official return of our beloved buckies to the Post Road fishway. A good sized school rode the incoming tide and managed to navigate their way up the ladder. Unfortunately the flying menaces known as cormorants were swimming and diving right at the dam’s edge, picking off herring who worked so hard to return to their natal ponds. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, “Double-crested cormorants are one of approximately 800 species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918” but given their efficient ability to pillage a waterbody of game and forage fish, maybe it’s time to rethink their status as a protected species.
While the area will remain a construction site for the next few months, only certain card-carrying volunteers will be allowed to once again perch themselves below that dammed wall to scoop up wayward river herring and give them passage. The quickly assembled gangplank is for permitted access only so if you are feeling some of that volunteer spirit, you would do better to show up at the Palisades Mill site if that ladder does not function as planned. Groups of volunteers are typically assembled there on weekends.
Another sure sign of better weather and fishing is the start of fishing tournaments. On The Water magazine is hosting their annual summer-long contest for the ninth year and now has a decent focus on catch and release. Entrants take a picture of their catch against a real and honest measuring tape and send it in to be given a certain number of points which are counted towards lots of prizes. It’s good to see prizes being awarded for fish not just hung from a scale. The Pabst Blue Ribbon tournament will begin on May 15th for Connecticut, RI, Massachusetts and Long Island. While they do not yet have a catch and release category, they do prohibit stripers less than 40 inches and assess a penalty “to any participant presenting a striped bass that weighs more than 8 pounds LESS than the third-place bass at the time of official weigh-in”. That’s a good start but with the recent necessary focus on sagging fish stocks and new restrictions on size and bag limits, catch and release categories should be included in all fishing contests. Best of luck to you all on opening day, for a parking space and for the best fishing of your life.
Todd Corayer is a life-long fisherman who lives not far from the Saugatucket with his wife, who supports his fishing mainly to get him out of the house and a young son who regularly catches more fish than him.