Waiting for winter’s hardtop to disappear

As I peer out my small office window, there is a steady stream of water cascading from the roof. The brilliant spring sun glints off the fresh untracked snow in the side yard as a bluebird day sky reaches to the horizon in all directions.

I wince and squint while searching for animal tracks in the backyard, but it is impossible to scour the scene without the aid of polarized sunglasses.

With temperatures hovering in the high 30s, I can already see a long black line of water on Ray Brook making its first appearance of the new year.

Last year on the opening day of trout season, I fished the brook from a canoe, and it was wide open and free of ice. This year, I decided to strap on a pair of skis in order to access a few stretches of open water in which to land a cast.

Along the brook, a variety of retuning birds were flitting and fluttering among the leafless tag alders. The fresh snow offered evidence of a variety of critters, including fox, beaver and muskrat, as well as the tell-tale three-toed tracks of a single wild turkey. There was a surprising amount of signs to be found along the water’s edge, where the warm sun seemed to enliven the birds.

While skiing down a long hill to access the brook’s far banks, I was startled by a ruffed grouse that burst into the air.

My heart was still pounding as a pair of ducks took off from just upstream.

After regaining my breath, I took a few casts with a flyrod, but the only insects to be found were snow fleas that turned my ski tracks into two black lines in the fresh snow.

It appears I’ve got the luck of an Irish sportsman as game birds only come around when I’ve got my deer rifle in hand. Conversely, whitetails tend to show up I’m while I’m packing a flyrod.

There are no magic shamrocks to be found in the lining of my game bag.

Anglers should not be in such a rush to trade in their ski poles for fishing poles during this period of seasonal transition. Local rivers and streams will be running high with snowmelt and waters will remain cold. As a result, trout will remain sluggish and slow on the take.

With over two feet of snow still in the woods, and a comparable thickness of ice covering area lakes, the trout season will be on hold as anglers wait for ice-out.

However, if you feel a need to wet a line, seek out deep pools near the base of waterfalls or rapids, especially on warm, sunny days when warm air can raise water temperatures by a few degrees.

Present offerings slow and deep, on fine lines with a light touch. Live bait is safe bet, especially offerings such a small crayfish, worms or maggots.

Other likely areas to concentrate angling activity are around the inlets and outlets of local lakes and ponds, such as Bog River Falls, Buttermilk Falls, Lake Clear, Follensby Clear Pond, Upper Saranac Lake, Upper St. Regis Lake and others.

Over the next few weeks, smelt will begin massing up near the mouths of brooks to begin their annual migration into the tributaries to spawn. The smelt run provides an excellent opportunity for anglers to fish for large lake trout, browns and salmon lurking nearby to feed on the silvery baitfish.

The smelt run is triggered by the first full moon of the month, which will occur on April 15 this year. Smelt will move into the streams to spawn each evening and exit back to the lake in the early morning hours.

Tell-tale signs the smelt run has begun is to be found in trees, along the shores of the ponds and lakes, where eagles, osprey, gulls and loons will concentrate near inlet streams.

As can be expected following the recent “vintage winter,” area anglers are eager to get out after the trout during the first few weeks of the new season.

With the current cold water conditions, fish will be very slow on the take and fly hatches will be nearly non-existent. It is, however, an ideal time to scour the maps, review recent stocking records and to begin making plans for future brook trout expeditions.

It’s also a good time to check rods guides for nicks and burrs, re-spool the reels with fresh line and clean and lubricate the gears.

I also like to spend some time cleaning up my tackle boxes, sharpening and replacing hooks on lures and sorting through fly boxes for those old favorite flies that never manage to end up in the stream.

Every few years, I polish my entire collection of Lake Clear Wabblers with a light abrasive toothpaste and spray the shiny spoons with a clear lacquer.

These are just a few of the necessary preseason preparations that can help anglers remain occupied while they wait for winter’s hardtop to disappear.