Twenty/twenty, sounds like the result of a perfect eye test which these days I’d need a pair of binoculars to pass, but it is a nice even number that is easy to say and write. What does an angler do during January, once all the rush and hub-hub around the holidays has subsided?
Check and lubricate reels, check tackle for rusty or dull hooks but such busy work only goes so far. Hard core marine anglers may be making runs for cod with friends and or charter boats to our north. For the most part, most boats are on wooden blocks in ship yards and marinas, being fixed up and stored for the upcoming season. Busy work only goes so far and eats up a bit of the dead time that comes with winter unless you ski or are an ice fisherman. I’m too old and beat up to ski these days and ice fishing is not my favorite way to catch any of the freshwater species I chase throughout the year. If some one wants to drill the holes and help schlep the gear out onto a safely frozen lake, I can occasionally be conned into spending a sunny winter day standing over a small diameter hole in the ice with a jigging rod and a container of meal worms or garden variety worms or night crawlers.
Water a few degrees above or at the freezing point is nothing to mess with and can be deadly for those who make the fatal mistake of trusting unsafe ice or venturing out on ice that has not been tested and may have a covering of snow that can hide weak spots. A smart way to approach an unknown lake is to drill a series of test holes on the way out from short to check for the thickness of ice. Everyone has their own definition of “safe ice” though I like a few inches before I feel safe walking on it. Bear in mind that often the ice is thin, even melted off right along the shore if ground is exposed because the energy of the sun is dispersed into othe adjacent water as it is absorbed by soil. (Have the gig guy put a rope around himself and take a step a couple feet from shore then begin test bores. Old timers used heavy straight bars like a spear, if it went through wait for some more cold water.
The panfish I prefer to chase when I do get out onto the ice are delicious when pulled out of a clean, clear frozen lake. Are enjoyable to catch and in the right spot, can provide enough filletable sized fish to keep you busy for a couple yours and feed a small family for a dinner or two.
I turned 70 last summer and when winter storms blow in these days, my joints and bones feel them coming long before the first clouds are seen on the horizon and the first flakes begin to reach the ground. Time flies when you are having fun especially with a fishing rod in your hands and the target species are cooperating. I simply enjoy cataching anything with appropriate tackle.
Looking back over the changes, not only physically to the coastal towns and harbors in my home corner of south eastern Connecticut, some of the changes in species and their availability are significant, but not surprising.
When my buddies and I first got our drivers licenses and access to a car, winter began earlier and hung around longer or at least that’s the way it seemed.
During the late 60’s and early 70’s a couple of us would head down to places along the coast and fish from bridges and off some of the docks and empty lots, now parking lots in places such as down town Mystic and other protected places where we find a place along the shore from which to cast. We’d catch tomcod, a cold water species most people these days have never seen, smelt where their spawning brooks flowed into larger bodies of water and winter flounder. Some have these places have been filled, drained or “developed” an equivalent word to destroyed in mother natures book.
During the early 1970’s Connecticut was experimenting with introduction of sea run brown trout, a breed of brown trout developed in Europe and stocked with varying degrees of success in a few coastal estuaries in the states during that time.
Like salmon they would head out forage in marine waters and grow like crazy during the heat of summer and head back to their “home stream” when temperatures turned chilly to cold during the fall and winter.
They prefer it cold so during the winter they could be caught in the upper portions of these places. Some of the browns were of impressive size. I’ve landed and released twenty inchers and seen a few others caught that were in the two foot range. There were never many of the fish around so I always released any I caught, the point was catching a potentially large, kind of rare and very different fish when most other fisheries, other than ice fishing was in “suspended animation” until the spring thaw. I would use one light rod baited for tomcod placed in a pail with some rocks so it wouldn’t tip and cast flies, lures or live shiners in the area for searuns. A couple hours of this tactic and I could cover one of my favorite areas in a couple hours and pretty much always have some tomcod and at times white perch to take home and maybe a searun photo as proof of an exceptional day
I was always partial to tomcod, a very small relative of the Atlantic cod which charter boats were catching on runs to Block Island or south of Montauk Point that weighed in up to fifty pounds for pool winners during those byegone days. A big tomcod would be about a foot long. In the right spot on a good day it was possible to catch enough filletable sized “Tommies” for a couple maybe three meals. Delicious little fish that for me provided an angling link between the fall striper and bluefish runs and spring when fishing was a matter of picking a species and going after it.
Waters were cooler and climate change, a term that irritates me, because the earths climate has been changing since the ocean basins filled with water, long before Homo sapiens sapiens evolved and began messing with earth’s ecosystems, became a buzz word for the media.
I began writing a fishing column for the Norwich Bulletin during April of 1972. This was in a time, long before there was the myriad of marine angling regulations we all deal with these days. Most marine anglers fished from shore or small boats in protected harbors and caught winter flounder. Once in a while some one would hook and land a bona fide Atlantic cod.
Big ones averaged between ten and twenty pounds but there was an occasional forty pound plus fish brought into the docks and some early spring anglers would target and catch cod off some of the local reefs. A friend caught a big one, one spring while prospecting for early run stripers off Black Point, Niantic Bay. (That fish was in the low fifty pound range!) Some of the local charter boats out of New London and Niantic fished around Block Island for cod and pollock with a high degree of success. The primary reason some trips were ruined was a winter storm that often blew in with high, gusting dangerous or at least uncomfortable winds.
As noted above winter cod fishing when and or if seasons are open requires a drive north, some fortitude and desire. Cod, pollock and especially haddock when they can be found and caught from the cold northern waters from the Cape to Maine are absolutely delicious.
Winter is the time of year when sportsmen's shows will be held throughout the region. A trip to one within cruising range of home is a great way to see some of the latest gear, catch a seminar from a pro, book a trip for the upcoming season or simply schmooze around with a couple of your friends or budding young anglers in your family.
Hope you had a great holiday season and santa delivered some nice new fishing related toys and tackle to play with during the upcoming fishing season.