North Fork Outdoors: In March, we’re itching for some fishing

Early March is a restless time for anglers in the northeast. On sunny days when temperatures rise and winds drop, it almost feels like spring. The expression that an old German mentor used to use: “Mir juckt es in den Fingern!” (My fingers start to itch!) captures the mood perfectly.

Memories of March trips from years back provide cautionary tales, however. I remember the long haul to Montauk to grab a rail spot on a cod trip out to Block Island, and the winds that came roaring out of the west around mid-morning, putting a damper on an early bite. I recall trying to bait tiny hooks for white perch while fishing the Connetquot below the park and feeling my fingers curl before getting the gloves back on. And my very first March lesson on brown trout with the mentor I mentioned above started well with a couple of fish but concluded with a nasty walk back to the car in a snow squall.

Nowadays one is tempted to fish all winter thanks to better apparel and lots of angler information about winter fishing. Still, the opportunities for an outstanding trip are not the very best. March is a windy month with changeable conditions, as pointed out above, and, for all the wisdom proclaimed by local forecasters today, wind speeds are seldom accurately predicted. This is precisely why many old-timers line up trips in relatively sheltered waters like small lakes or ponds with productive shorelines offering windscreens. But what exactly are you going to fish for in March? Some folks seem to like the catch-and-release seasons for fresh water bass (stripers, too), but we’re sort of old school in this regard. Although largemouth and smallmouth aren’t spawning for another month, the pre-spawn females are heavy with eggs so you always wonder about the effects on any given fish you release.

Many years ago, as a juvenile fisher feeling my way, I found I could fish pre-spawn bass by going “low and slow” with small spoons dressed with pork rind strips and “stinger” hooks wired into the tip of the strips. I caught a number of nice fish without difficulty, but there was a troubling afternoon when I brought a big 23-inch hen fish (she probably weighed over seven pounds!) to the net and noted the stinger well back in her mouth. Fortunately, the hook wasn’t in her throat and it came out really easily, but it certainly made me think hard about accidently killing a fish that had to be released.

When I go freshwater fishing now before the June seasons open (or before the pickerel season opens in May) I try to focus on panfish or trout with small lures or flies that should have more of an appeal to perch or bluegills or cruising trout. You never know, of course, (I had a three-pound largemouth take a size 8 streamer a couple of years back) but at least the odds are in favor of legal game.

The only early season fishing I can’t appreciate anymore is the season-opener on crowded waters. Why would someone go to a crowded river for the trout opener in preference to an off-the beaten-path pond? Obviously it’s the tradition and perhaps the chance to share stories after a long winter off.

Probably the safest bet for the restless angler is a visit to a boat show or sports show, or an afternoon spent with an online or mail-order catalog. For the first five years of my fishing life, I would get together with a couple of older anglers every winter and go through the current catalogs from the American companies that dominated the field: Pfleuger, South Bend, Shakespeare, Creek Chub and, of course, Heddon from Dowagiac, Mich. We always made a point of ordering a few items, mostly lures, and went through the sizes and color patterns with extreme care. Perch finish or pike finish? Black with silver-scale, or pearl finish? How about a natural silver shiner or golden shiner pattern? Interestingly, the old tried and true lures in finishes we hadn’t used before often turned out to be the most effective. Still, we always threw in a couple of dollars for some new concept, e.g., lures that were supposed to behave like frogs, lures that oscillated vertically instead of horizontally. The hope was always that one of those lures would have magical results during the upcoming season. Of course they never did, but they were still less disappointing than my Brooklyn Dodgers.

Last weekend upstate we found ourselves shoveling wind-driven snow in plummeting temperatures. The ground was covered to about a foot after a virtually snow-less February. In fact the roar of snowmobiles was heard for the first time all winter! But the buds don’t lie, and neither does the angle of the noonday sun. I’m going to work on some tackle tonight!