Despite an abbreviated return of winter, spring has finally sprung across the entire spectrum, and green has again become the most dominant color on the landscape. It is a particularly exciting time to be in the woods or on the waters as the new season rapidly unfolds. It is a time when a breeze can be both bracing and refreshing, and scents can become so sharp and sweet that it is almost possible to taste them in the air.
It is a season that is defined by blooming wildflowers, a bevy of birds and brook trout on the backwoods ponds, among a host of other outdoor pleasures.
It appears a number of the traditional spring season annoyances have been bypassed in the rush toward summer. However, there have been few complaints regarding the lack of high water, muddy trails, flying pests or even the brief return of snow.
The season for northern pike, like the one pictured, opens Saturday, May 5. The walleye and tiger muskellunge seasons open the same day.
Although I have yet to experience the bite of a blackfly or even a mosquito, I'm sure the occasion will be forthcoming as soon as the weather warms.
Already, many of the classic natural signs have aligned to indicate the looming peak of the spring brook trout season. Trout lilies and trilliums now grace the forest floor, and the annual smelt run has come and gone. Water temperatures are already in the high 40s and low 50s, while the leaves of the witchhobble are now far larger than a mouse's ear.
Last week, I spent an afternoon with an old friend in search of lake trout on Lake Placid, and another day on Mirror Lake trolling for rainbows. Fortunately, both of the lakes produced the required specimens but in very limited quantity.
We were shadowed by osprey while fishing on Mirror Lake, and nearly blown off Lake Placid by the stiff west winds. As a result, I retreated to the headwaters of a small mountain stream, where the brookies were as active as the resident beaver.
The fishing was productive, and while the quantity of fish certainly trumped their quality, there was no finer place to be on a sunny spring day in the Adirondacks.
Open season for water wolves
Although anglers seeking northern pike are not considered to be in the same class as trout fishermen, their species of choice certainly provide a similar spring delight.
However, pike anglers and trout fishermen are surely birds of a different feather. Pike are a warm water species, while trout are found only in a cold-water environment.
Most trout anglers utilize a wispy flyrod, and attach their small flies with a fine, delicate piece of monofilament line called a tippet. Tippet material is very thin and nearly invisible to the eye, so as not to spook the notoriously finicky trout. Trout anglers seek to deceive their prey by offering up a wide variety of artificial contrivances that are intended to mimic flies, minnows and nymphs.
When the new season for walleye, northern pike, pickerel and tiger muskellunge arrives on Saturday, May 5, fishermen will be tossing out a variety of offerings to entice their toothy prey to strike. And these anglers will not be using delicate tippets, wimpy rods or artificial look-a-like flies.
They will be using strong lines with names like Spider Wire and Fire Line to toss large spoons and plugs or offerings, such as live perch or suckers. Their rods will have the approximate flexibility of a broomstick. Rather than using a flimsy tippet, their lines will be tipped with a wire leader that is more like a steel cable than a fishing line. The leaders are not meant to be delicate or invisible, they are intended to be strong - up to 30 pounds or more - and capable of handling large, strong and toothy fish.
In fact, the current state record northern pike was taken in the southern Adirondacks, way back in 1940 by Peter Dubuc on the Great Sacandaga Lake. His record of 46 pounds, 2 ounces still stands.
However, records were made to be broken and there are plenty of local waters with the potential to top it. Some of the best local bets would have to include Lake Champlain, where a 22 1/2-pound northern pike was taken just this winter.
In addition to the toothy northern pike, Saturday's opener also includes walleye pike, pickerel and tiger muskellunge. Walleye, aka "Poor Man's Salmon," are a very popular target species for many local anglers, due to their fine-tasting, light and flaky meat. Walleye can be found in Tupper Lake, the Raquette River and increasingly along the Saranac rivershed.
Pickerel, which are often derogatorily referred to as snakes, are a smaller, slimmer and very bony cousin of the pike family. Consumptive anglers do not often target them.
The new season opener also includes tiger muskellunge, a hybrid of a true muskellunge and northern pike, which can be found in a number of local waters including Lincoln Pond, Horseshoe Lake and the Fulton Chain of Lakes. Tigers are sterile, and they can grow to great size on a steady diet of yellow perch, sunfish and similar pan fish. The current state record tiger muskellunge stands at 35 pounds, 8 ounces.
Bits and pieces
As anglers return to familiar old haunts, and boaters begin to venture out for their first trip "up the lake" to begin the new season, it is always interesting to discover the newest trends in boat names.
Pleasure boats that are documented with the US Coast Guard are required to display a vessel name on the transom. Names cannot exceed 33 letters, cannot sound like any word or words used to call for assistance at sea, may not contain or be phonetically identical to obscene, indecent or profane language or to racial or ethnic epithets.
Although boats registered through the state are not required to display a vessel name, many boat owners like to provide their boat with a proper name. According to an annual survey conducted by BoatUS, the most popular boat names for 2011 were as follows:
2. Happy Ours
3. Feelin' Nauti
4. Family Time
6. Black Pearl
7. Andiamo (Let's Go)
8. Knot On Call
9. High Maintenance
10. Just Chillin'