This winter was not like last winter, nor like last winter. It was a winter for the ages — one to endure. In driving around NH this past weekend, along country roads seemingly tunneled through snow piled feet high, the lesson was clear: the winter is not yet over.
It also begged the question: when will the season begin?
Different New Englanders mark the beginning of the fly fishing season differently. Some take hope when Sugar Maples begin to flush their sap. Others hold out for the blossoming of specific flowers, or trees. Last weekend in NH, the sap was not running. And the trees were far from blooming.
Instead of fishing, we went skiing. Skating along a beautiful freestone trout river, we surveyed the below scene. Focusing on a few pockets of exposed river bed and flowing water was briefly transporting, before my eyes focused on the feet of ice and snow piled high around it.
Only recently have the signs changed. Yesterday and today showed some signs of hope. With a bit of sun and temps in the 50s, yesterday felt good here in Concord, MA. This week, the forecast is showing consistent temperatures in the 50s. Though the night temps are still in the 30s, that is a trend in the right direction.
While the water temperatures of the rivers may be slowly rising, the flows are rising even faster with these heavy rains. The flow charts, from NH to CT, are all showing big spikes. The Pemigewasset, the Housatonic, and the Farmington all look like they were torrents today. This could be a good thing, as it could have pushed some ice out. Others, in NH, still aren’t showing flow data because they’re registering as “Ice.”
Everyone I’ve spoken with is asking: what will this mean for the fishing season? And by season, I should clarify that we’re talking about at least two seasons here, if not more: fresh and saltwater. I’ve heard a few theories.
The general speculation, and early consensus from a completely non-scientific sampling, is that the rivers should be running cold, and strong, throughout the season. That is good news.
For saltwater fishermen, there seems to be no consensus from the conversations I’ve heard. Some speculate this winter will keep ocean temps lower later into the spring, thus delaying the start of the season. Last year, a friend of mine caught his first striper near Boston during the first week in May. As of writing, the water temperatures in Boston have been averaging in the low to mid 30s all month. This year, an early May striper seems unlikely.
But who knows? For instance, 2011 — arguably the greatest year of Atlantic salmon fishing on the Eastern seaboard of the US and Canada that from recent decades — still has people scratching their heads. Water flows and temp charts aside, there’s plenty of mystery to this as well. And that, in my opinion, is a good thing.
For now, I’m going to keep tying to fill my boxes. And I’m going to keep shopping for that next piece of gear I just have to have.
P.S. I should nod in the direction of those who don’t wait for anything to bloom, but fish all winter. I do that, from time to time, but am not as dedicated as some. This recent video of fly fishing in winter really captured it for me.