Thankfully my friend came to plow the foot or so of snow out of my driveway during that mid March blizzard that turned the region into a winter horror show for a few days. This is the time period when forces of winter and summer clash constantly, causing some of the most severe and rapidly changing weather conditions of the entire year. Great for kids who love “snow days” and school delays but not so great for people who have to shovel the stuff off steps and out of drive ways.
I’ve already completed my third or fourth “tackle inventory and inspection” for the winter and for the first time in at least half a century I am not waiting for an order of lures or a new reel to arrive. Though I do need the handle for a ultra light Pinnacle DUL20 reel that must have come loose and bounced into a bilge, a corner of the trunk or under a car mat some where, but that’s about it. Now its a matter of snow and Ice melting and the run off it creates warming to the point that the regions fish become active for the spring and summer seasons.
That reel handle must have bounced off during last years exploratory perch fishing trip which was a failure, the place we traveled to more for an inspection than anything was still mostly covered with ice, I was in my buddy’s rattle trap of a van and if its in there some where there isn’t the chance of a snow ball in hell of finding it.
We’ve been talking about doing an early season trip to the Housatonic River for school striped bass or possibly explore the coves of the Connecticut for some early season chain pickerel and pan fishing. Yellow perch spawn around ice out and sunfish, which are in a kind of winter cold induced stupor begin waking up so to speak once water temperatures reach the fifties.
By now everyone is enjoying the longer days, with late afternoon sun blinding us as we drive around doing our daily duties and early morning rays peering through the shades and disturbing that last few moments of shut eye in the morning. I did the math once and that change is almost imperceptible from day to day but noticeable over a period of a week or so, as our days get longer by a minute and eighteen seconds, which is about half a minute and a few seconds in the morning and evening. This continues without fail through June 21, which is the longest day of the year at which point the whole thing reverses at about the same rate and things darken progressively until the shortest day of the year, December 21, shortly before Christmas.
Last year about this time I took a trip with my buddy Eric to fish the over wintering school stripers in the Housatonic River. The once huge population in the Thames River which is a short ride, while the Housey is a couple hours mostly through miserable traffic. Eric is enough of a fishing nut he doesn’t mind the drive and like me is not a fan of ice fishing for some reason. We both enjoy the activity of working lures that are cast, trolled or jigged, things we’ve discussed in detail many times over the years during some of our epic ten to twelve hour trips north to fish for muskellunge during the late summer and early fall.
If those toothy critters were found closer to Connecticut in good numbers of quality fish, neither of us would have ever been able to hold down a full time job. Mother nature spared us that struggle, so our musky trips are an annual, or sometimes semi annual event we look forward to making while temperatures are just starting to cool down in southern Ontario Province, Canada where we’ve been going for a couple of decades. That is another story, actually a book that is much too long for this space.
I made the trip to the Housatonic with Eric last year after he’d had a few back to back highly successful trips, that naturally I was booked and couldn’t join him. When we did go, it was marginal conditions at best according to my observations over the years. Snow was gone and we’d had a couple of hard rains that always turn the waters in large rivers the color of my morning coffee, which has a splash of cream so its a dirty dark brown.
Even though fish navigate and find prey using their lateral lines and sense of smell, zero visibility can not help the odds of a fish spotting and grabbing what ever we are using as bait or artificial lure.
We went to the zones where he’d marked large schools of fish. The stripers were there but the size of the schools had been pared down as they always are when rivers run fast and dirty. Using the fish finder we were on top of good sized schools of stripers for hours, feeling our jigs bump bodies and being slapped by tails as the line touches a fish causing it to react with a swish of their tail as they shoot away from what ever disturbed them.
Naturally the weather turned,winds rose temperatures dropped and the fish became more difficult to find as the tide bottomed out. Now wanting to wait for it to come in sufficiently to rebuild the schools in the vulnerable places where they were initially located, Eric thankfully opted to head home, rather than to another place, which typically would have been a ten mile, cold bumpy ride to another area devoid of life.
The guy is a highly knowledgeable and skilled angler without an ounce of quit in him, which can at times be a detriment. There is a point where common sense, like we ‘ve not had a bite in six hours, its dark and a blizzard is blowing in from the north lets get going is answered by “lets take one more drift”. Words that have echoed in my mind for about thirty years after the first time I heard them, one cold winters day while fishing the then huge over wintering schools of striped bass on the Thames River. Less than a half hour drive from either of our homes.
The day was one of those clear cold, winter bluebird days, with the pressure high and rising, temperatures low and dropping and winds howling like a group of banshees from the northwest.
It was an odd day in that Norwich Harbor was devoid of anglers other than us two idiots. The fish were stacked like we’ve only seen them a few times, literally thirty to forty foot thick schools in the deepest part of the harbor which was about 45 feet at the top of the high tide when we arrived.
Eric had a new depth finder from Christmas (this trip was early January) that he’d hooked up but began tapping the screen with a confused look saying: “Either this machine is messed up of we have forty feet of fish under us. I looked over the side and literally cold see a shimmering mass of densely packed school stripers that I could have poked with my six foot long rod.
We maneuvered for our first drift, I dropped a small jig with a twister tail over the side, felt a couple of body bumps as fish touched and slapped the line as it passed through the school and tap, tap, a hit. A short while later I had a small maybe sixteen or eighteen inch striper in a lip lock and quickly put back in the water to join its buddies.
The rest of that afternoon stunk! Neither of us had a bona fide strike, only body bumps and tail slaps from all the fish our sinking jigs and lines spooked. We covered that huge mass of fish, which as was typical began to shrink in size as the tide dropped until it got to be around four thirty or five and the last of the suns rays were on the western horizon.
I had that single deskunkking schoolie for my effort and Eric had yet to land a single fish.
The old one more drift echoed into my ears as it had so many times over the years, but rather than put my rig away I dropped that dam jig one more time and “tap,, tap” ------ I didn’t set the hook but rather gave the fish some slack,hoping it would spit the jig, knowing if I had a fish we’d be there for another hour. Water was freezing in the guides of our rods, my fingers were so numb I could have cut them off with scissors and not felt it and they probably wouldn’t have bled either, but no that voracious little fish did not spit the jig so I reeled it in.
Eric looked up and I could have spoken for him when he saw that fish.
“They are turning on, lets stay for another half hour.”
You must understand that as much as I like this guy and after all the thousands of hours we’ve spent fishing and traveling to distant destinations to catch hard to catch species I know its like the old Star Trek Next Generation Episode when they first met the “collective of the Borg” and their contact said to Captain Piccard “Resistance is futile” in that echoing booming voice of the collective.
I didn’t even beg for mercy, we did leave after only one more drift as darkness settled in and his cold fingers had to be aching like mine. That week in my fishing column for the local paper I did make a comment about the trip noting how “fishing with Eric Covino is like being kidnapped without a ransom note.” It still is and will always be as long as we have the energy and desire to keep casting for what ever the species of the day or trip happens to be.