Ice is out and the smelt are on the move

Sportsmen and women are rejoicing all across the North Country. Finally, following a prolonged and “back-to-normal” Adirondack winter, the ice is out and the smelt are back in many local waterways.

So too are the boats, ranging from little pond hoppers to the larger motorboats. It is important to note that water temperatures will remain ice cold for some time, and caution is advised.

All boaters, especially those with motors, should be aware of obstructions in the waterways and changes in the channels. The recent floods and high waters have likely taken down trees and washed other debris into previously safe waters.

I expect it will take a while before Department of Environmental Conservation crews get out to reset channel markers on the Saranacs and other local waters. Yet, I expect Encon officers will soon be out and about checking for both hunting and fishing licenses as well as lifejackets.

If you’re planning to be on the water at this time of year, you had better buckle up. It’s only common sense.

In case you’ve forgotten, Section 40, Subdivision 1 of the Navigation Law requires that, “No owner or operator of a pleasure vessel less than 21 feet, including rowboats, canoes and kayaks, shall permit its operation between Nov. 1 and May 1 unless each person on board such vessel is wearing a securely fastened United States Coast Guard-approved wearable personal flotation device of an appropriate size when such vessel is underway.

“Failure to wear a lifejacket on such vessels will be considered a violation under Section 73-c of the Navigation Law and is punishable by a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $250, applicable to either the operator and/or the owner of the vessel.”

Although some folks believe this law was enacted to increase revenue by issuing tickets, I doubt the actual intent was to generate money. Rather, the purpose was to save lives and reduce the costs of recovery.

If you strap on a PFD, and succumb to hypothermia from cold water immersion at least it will allow for a quick recovery.

Loon landing

I witnessed my first loon of the new year on Easter Sunday, and I’ve since heard them chortling from the interior ponds.

Although, ice-out has occurred on several ponds, there are still many that remain socked in. Likewise, the rivers will take a while to warm up as the water levels begin to diminish. I’ve already put in a few afternoons on the streams, which have been very slow to date.

Stream anglers are advised to fish slow and deep, especially in waters that feature tumbling pools, dams or waterfalls.

Fortunately, there’s open water on the ponds and the smelt are running in the brooks and inlets of many local lakes.

The next few weeks will be nirvana for brook trout anglers. It is a time to fish slow and hard, especially in areas that provide plenty of structure or running water.

In some of the larger ponds and many local lakes, trout and salmon will be congregated in and around the mouths of inlet streams to forage heavily on the annual smelt run.

These little, silvery bait fish attract the attention of a wide variety of anglers, including eagles, osprey, otters, gulls, heron and humans, as well as trout, salmon, pike and bass. It is fortunate to be able to fish on open water, as the smelt run is often over before the ice cap has been removed.

Following fast on the tail of the annual smelt run will be the suckers that move into the streams to spawn. The annual run of suckers also brings in lake trout, browns and salmon to forage.

The typical spring diet for brookies consists of insect larvae, leeches, minnows and salamanders, all of which can be found around downed trees, brush, shallow shoals and vegetative cover.

Following the smelt run, the next real delicacy for brookies are spotted salamanders, which travel to the ponds to breed following the first heavy rain of the new season.

The next entree on a brookies’ plate are leeches, which begin to ooze out of the mud from the bottom of the ponds. Insect life and the fly fishing action doesn’t really begin to perk up until the waters begin to warm into the 50s, about the same time bait fish populations such as grass minnows will begin to spawn.

While trolling with a Lake Clear Wabbler and a worm is the traditional technique for most anglers seeking Adirondack brook trout, there’s also a wide assortment of flies, lures and jigs that are very useful to have in your arsenal.

Directly after ice-out, brook trout tend to be deep since warmer water is denser than cold and causes it to sink. Fish are often slow to respond in extremely cold water – 33-38 degrees – which makes this is a good time to work with jigs. The smaller the jig and the slower the action, the better the bite.

I often try to bounce a jig along the bottom in an effort to fish them horizontally rather than vertically.

I also like to focus on locations with plenty of structure, rocky shoals or downed trees and debris, and in places where the waters will warm sooner such as the southeastern shores, where the sun’s rays hit all day.

Talking turkey

This weekend provides an excellent opportunity for young sportsmen and women to get out and enjoy what many enthusiasts insist is the most exciting hunting experience available: the annual Youth Wild Turkey Hunt.

The DEC schedules the annual event a week prior to the opening of the regular spring turkey hunting season, and it provides an excellent opportunity to introduce youth to the sport. Even though the past winter was a long one, it appears the local crop of turkeys fared quite well.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen the big birds scattered all across the region, from Bloomingdale to Willsboro and all points between. I’ve also enjoyed the company of a flock or two in my own backyard, on several occasions.

The regular spring turkey season begins Saturday, May 1.