North Fork Outdoors: Squeezing in that last fishing trip

During the gray, gloomy days of November, outdoors persons have forebodings about the passage of time. To paraphrase the well-known philosopher in pinstripes, Lawrence Berra, “it starts to get late early these days.”

Most of our fishing seasons are rapidly coming to an end, although many of us are reluctant to admit it. The striped bass runs dwindle down along the North Shore, well in advance of the Dec. 15 season closure. Late harbor activity occurs in some years, but this is rare. Unless masses of bait materialize late and water temperatures hold in the 50s, the last bluefish vanish about the same time. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, the freshwater season for many species also ends as November draws to a close.

Anglers react in desperation to the turning pages of the calendar. We flock to South Shore beaches with hopes of intercepting one last blitz somewhere. We race the waning hours of daylight to set up one last afternoon on a favorite lake.

Most of the time our efforts are futile, but occasionally we’re surprised. Two years ago a run of bait, maybe herring, materialized along the sandy beaches west of the Fire Island National Seashore, and the week after Thanksgiving was reportedly outstanding for the hardies who never gave up. Montauk action that year kept right on going into December.

We’ve personally experienced some fine days on Long Island’s “kettle-hole lakes, getting out on afternoons when the sun had warmed the shallows and catching somewhat sluggish, but still cooperative bass. The trick is to fish very, very slowly moving lures, often near the surface, and to wait patiently for a bass to actually get the lure in its mouth before lifting the rod. You slow retrieves for the pikes as well, but they seem less lethargic as waters chill.

Some years back, I decided on a whim to spend a warm late November afternoon upstate chasing muskies although I suspected it was a fool’s errand. I had to wade because my canoe had been pulled for the season, and I had vivid memories of trying to fish the previous year, right after Thanksgiving, only to find that most of the river was already iced over. This year, however, I was in luck; only a thin rim of ice was present, so I waded into the 37-degree water and flogged some favorite pools. Just as the chill was getting to me and just before quitting, I thought I noticed a flash of color in back of the slowly retrieved swimming plug, an ancient wooden pikie minnow. As usual, I plunged the rod tip into the water before picking up the plug and made it execute a “figure eight” at my feet. The muskie nearly took off the rod tip when it struck in classic “pike” style. Indeed, this last fish on the last cast was an ideal way to end that freshwater season!

Reluctance to give up an activity is normal during an outdoor life. Back in the late 1970s, I fished a number of times with the Muellers, father and son, out of a 16-foot aluminum skiff. Bill and his father trailered the Crestliner from Mattituck out to Orient for launches on flounder or down to the bay for weakfish. In the 1980s, Bill sold me the boat and trailer, and I bought a 15-horsepower Evinrude with an extended lower unit so I could continue the tradition. Later we hauled the rig up to Lake Champlain where it did yeoman service on the bass and pike on that huge lake, too.

Now, however, my activities have shifted away from the big waters, and we’ve just cleaned up the rig, preparing to sell it in the spring. There’s one part of me that says, “hold on!” But another part knows that someone else can make better use of the sturdy, high-gunwaled skiff in coming years, especially now that it’s been sitting so many seasons, unused.

Seasons and interests in the outdoors change. Just like the beach anglers who must move on to offshore cod for the months ahead or the freshwater bass anglers who either go upstate for steelhead or (brrrr!) look at possibilities for ice fishing, I’ll reluctantly figure out ways to use a canoe in the years ahead. In the immediate future, it’s high time to sharpen up the skis and get out the dog sled upstate for the snows that will inevitably come soon. Gear changes and wardrobes change, but you have to know when the time comes to make the switch to new activities and give up, at least for the moment, on seasons past.

In the outdoors, just as in Omar Khayyam’s Rubiat, the cursor writes the script, and, having written, moves on. There are lots of good things to remember along with lots of mixed emotions, but, also, there are lots of new opportunities ahead.