by John Skinner
Given the brutally cold winter that we've had and extensive freezing of our waters, many anglers I've spoken with at the winter shows told me they were expecting a late start to the 2015 fishing season. Maybe that will happen, but it's far from a sure thing. It seems we have rounded the corner of intense cold and our waterways are losing ice rapidly. Saltwater freezes at around 28 degrees, so it takes only a few days in the 40s to get rid of most of it. I saw an example of that in the first week of March when I took the ferry from Port Jeff to Bridgeport. There were extensive ice flows for at least the first mile on the Long Island side of the Sound. Four days later, and after some mild weather, it was hard to find ice on the Sound when scanning the water with binoculars from atop the high bluffs in Wading River.
I'm more cautious about expecting a delayed season because of what I've read in my fishing logs. As I wrote about in my previous Blog entry, 1977 was an even colder winter than this one. I've dug into my handwritten logs from that year to see what happened when April came around. Sure enough, I noted in 1977 that the season was following what at the time was called the coldest winter in 60 years. However, as can happen, an unseasonably warm April put things right back on track. A log entry for April 13, 1977 shows that I caught 40 winter flounder in Mattituck Inlet, with 33 worth keeping. I recorded the air temperature range as 65-80 degrees for that trip. On 4/18/77 I noted the water temperature in Long Island Sound was 47 degrees, and recorded 48 degrees a week later, with Boston Mackerel in good supply at Buoy 11 off Port Jefferson. These are very typical Long Island Sound temperatures for late April and the macks were right on schedule. By the end of the month the sandeels were on the beach near my home in Miller Place with sundials underneath them, which I caught on a small Hopkins. In the first week of May I was catching mackerel off the beach, and my father dropped a nice weakfish under the boat at buoy 11 on 5/7/77, so all of that was also on schedule. On 5/12/77 my log reads "The mackerel were all over the beach chasing sandeels, just unbelievable." I caught a bunch that day and also lost a nice bass in the rocks after fighting it for a couple of minutes. The line of those days, 12-pound-test monofilament, frayed and broke easily when rubbed against growth-covered boulders.
It's nice to be able to go back to log entries of nearly 40 years ago and read what fishing was like. If you don't already keep a log, the beginning of the season is a good time to start. My logs are computer-based these days, but even if you just record your experiences in a notebook, you'll be way ahead of just trying to keep everything in your head.
This season may or may not be delayed, but I feel pretty safe in saying that I won't be seeing mackerel and sundials chasing dense schools of sandeels along the beach in any case. I haven't seen mackerel in the Sound in well over 20 years, and sundials are novelties that we catch rarely when fluke fishing. I haven't bothered to try for winter flounder in decades. On the other hand, there are many more fluke and seabass in the Sound than we had back in those days, so we gain some and we lose some. One thing is certain, I'm going to start gearing up as if everything is going to happen on time. I'm not sure what the fish will do, but I know I'd rather be early than late.