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Rod, Gun & Game: Fishing opens on April Fool’s Monday

Collin Voss, age 11, with one of four nice brown trout taken on a recent opening day of trout season (April 1) in Cazenovia Creek between Holland and East Aurora. (Photo by Forrest Fisher)
April Fool’s Day is just ahead — that means opening day for the New York State inland trout season. Official state fishing regulations for brown, brook, rainbow trout and hybrids of these species, including Splake, are five fish per day, no minimum size, with the season running from April 1 through Sept. 15.

When I was a kid, school classes saw slim-picken populations of kid attendance when April 1 did not fall on a weekend. Everybody went trout fishing! No matter the choice of gear, everyone spent some incredibly good quality time with family and friends where the secrets of sharing the best knot, the way to sharpen a hook, add a split shot or choose the best fly was well understood.

My father also made us start the fire with Boy Scout training – a flint stone and some steel wool or dry leaf matter, so we would know what to do in case we got lost and got cold. He was sure all of us kids were armed with the right choice of steel wool and he showed us how to prepare the wax-coated wooden matches that he placed with the steel wool in an old smoking pipe tobacco tin that seemed to be made to fit into our jean pockets for a day.

Next came the fishing gear, which in my younger days meant getting some red worms, hooks, small sinkers and a few small bobbers ready the night before. All the fishing gear we owned fit nicely into a metal Heddon tackle box that had a single, flip-style metal latch to open and close. It had one big tray that folded back with the opening action of the top and a bigger storage area down below for an extra spool of cat-gut (the early name for monofilament line) and other gear.

Actually, I still have my two original fishing rods and reels from the 1950s that I used as a youngster during these early season, fun-filled April Fool’s fishing day trips.

My dad taught all of us how to fish, one by one. Yep, the first trip every year was a lesson in what to do, where to fish, how to tell if we had a bite, what to change if it didn’t work — just in case we forgot, and all that. Among the biggest lessons to learn was patience, since I would change to option two if I didn’t catch a fish on the first cast, and we only had two choices! Boys will be boys.

Our options after those first two choices were pretty simple — colored sinkers that we made with mom’s nail polish, and colored hooks, too. Red was the only color made back then, and actually worked very well. You just had to be sure to sharpen the hook after painting it because it wouldn’t catch much with the point painted over. If you notice in stores today, they sell red hooks made by factory processes and according to published research papers, the red hooks outfish the regular dark-color plated hooks two to one. Just thinking back, we could have been millionaires!

Additional options included how to hook the bait, a half or a full worm, through the middle or through from one end and wriggling, and going through the hook once, twice, or more than three times so the big fish couldn’t steel the worm so easily. All of these options are still viable today, so don’t dismiss them too easily. The most effective way to hook a worm to actually catch a fish was only once through the middle so it could wiggle and attract a hungry trout, and it did. We also caught horned dace chubs, suckers and the occasional bluegill or rock bass.

Once I figured the “where to hook the worm secret,” my brother and sister were always outfished by yours truly — I just told them I was lucky. I never did share the secret. Since that was nearly 60 years ago now, maybe I better share that tidbit with ‘em some day ahead?

We usually went home with four or five trout for the day, and my mom was waiting for us each time we came through the door. “Where are the fish?” she would say, followed with a giant smile and open arms to hug each one of us and tell us that she missed us all day. She could really cook trout!

The sound and smell of gently sizzling onions and garlic in a 12-inch pan was pretty common in our house, and the fish were sautéed in tub butter — back then, no one really had ever heard of the word “cholesterol.” The focus was placed on great taste, sort of like going to a great restaurant today. Fishing was ingrained into the roots of our tender, young souls because of these April Fool fishing days. The memories are still unforgettable for me.

Getting to the year 2013, the worm fishing secrets are still valid – try ‘em, and DEC has been busy with a complete crew of volunteers from local conservation clubs to assist in the stocking of many trout waters in Erie County. The East Branch Cazenovia Creek (Towns of Holland, Wales and East Aurora) was stocked earlier this week with 2,760 eight-nine inch long brown trout and 300 12 to 15 inch browns. Little Buffalo Creek (Towns of Lancaster, Elma and Marilla) was stocked with 580 eight to nine inch browns and 200 bigger fish in the 12 to 15 inch size range. Ellicott Creek in Amherst State Park will be stocked with 1,250 rainbow trout in April.

The popular Sprague Brook Park ponds (Concord) will not be stocked until April, but they will receive 200 brown trout eight to nine inches long in Pond A, Pond B and the Veteran’s pond, along with 100 each of brown trout in the 12 to 15 inch range, as will the Main Park pond in Clarence, that will receive 300 rainbow trout eight to nine inches in length.

The heaviest Erie County trout stocking takes place in Cattaraugus Creek at several sites in Sardina where 2,760 one-year-old brown’s eight to nine inches were released this week, along with 600 trout in the 12 to 15 inch range. Most of the above streams will also receive supplemental stockings of additional trout in April and/or May.

Crappie schooling under Chautauqua Ice

While many anglers are getting conventional fishing gear ready to roll for the trout opener on Monday, dozens of ice anglers are still visible on the near-shore ice at Chautauqua Lake, where the ice was still 10 to 12 inches thick in many embayments along the north shore of the lake last Saturday. Fishing with Bob Corby, a 70 years-young ice angler and still active carpenter (by profession), we hand-augured a few holes in seven to nine feet of water and dropped small ice jigs tipped with waxworms from Dave’s Bait and Tackle, off Route 5 in Derby.

While we only used one rod each — the fish were biting too fast to use two, Corby had each of his seven ice fishing rods rigged with a very lightweight tip that was essentially spot glued and held in place with tape onto the tip of each short rod. The tip added remarkable sensitivity to the rods, making it easy to detect the lightest of fish bites without the use of a slip bobber — Dave’s Bait and Tackle carries these.

Not ice fishing much these last few years due to schedule commitments, I had forgotten how much fun it is. Corby knew all the backroads to save a few miles and he also knew all the best places to find breakfast. We enjoyed a relaxing day with fine fishing conversation that started with a tasty breakfast at the Mayville Diner. We caught about 30 plump panfish, mostly perch and bluegills, to clean with the electric fillet knife upon getting back home. One youngster fishing next to us caught several big crappies — one of them was 15-and-a-quarter inches long!

If you do head out on the ice during this late season, be sure to carry ice picks on a cord around your neck and a life preserver in your sled — just in case. Take no chances. The next week or so will see shore ice melting away and that is the real danger of getting out to the “good ice” 20 feet from shore. So be cautious and fish with a buddy to be sure to stay safe.

Outdoors Calendar

March 30: 11th Annual Outdoor Show, S&S Taxidermy, see 2013 bows and crossbows side-by-side, NYS Big Buck club, 9am-5pm, 455 S. Cascade Dr (Rt 219), Springville, call 592-2404 for more information.

March 31: NYS crow, coyote seasons end.

April 1: Opening day of NYS inland trout fishing season.

April 4: Erie County Federation of Sportsmen, monthly meeting, Evan’s Rod & Gun, Cain Rd., Evans, outdoor issues, 7pm start, open to public, call Chuck Godfrey at 440-6995.

April 6: Food Plot seminar, West Falls Conservation Club, 55 Bridge St., West Falls, noon – 4pm, call Paul Cwiklinski for information at 479-2824.

April 6/7: NYS Hunter Safety Training, Erie County Conservation Society, Holland, 8am start, call 655-2328 or 807-5116 for more information.

April 11: State of Lake Erie Meeting, NYS-DEC, Sea Grant, guests, Southtowns Walleye Association Clubhouse, 5895 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg, 7-9pm.

April 13: NYS Archery Safety Course, Springville field and Stream, 7am start, home study course, register at Concord clerk’s office to obtain course materials and register.

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