Trout season opened warm, clear and bright; a real bluebird morning. Boats of all shapes, sizes and materials ground their way down ramps all over South County. Stocked ponds were packed to the gills for the first few hours and the Occupy Barber Pond movement was its usual strong force, with more than a few hundred licensed fishermen and on-lookers, all under the watchful eyes of RIDEM Officer Mike Schipritt. Polite and thorough, he ensured fishermen were safe and licensed. The Saugatucket’s small dock leaned with the weight of happy kids casting, jumping up and down at the first sight of fins. No sound fills a heart like that of a laughing child reeling with a tight fist or swinging a fish up from the bottom. Even for those seeking silence, it is something to be heard from across a pond.
Driving dark roads to your pond, you probably didn’t notice pickups parked where usually there are none. With engines long gone cold, these drivers are those in the know, who followed a path you never noticed to where there will be no crowds. Under a canopy of easy morning breezes, they had no need to check their watches; respect for tradition trumps regulation. Silent moments waiting for the right light are as important this morning as the trout for which they search. At days end, any reports will be limited, about colors and patterns, not numbers. Those trucks will be gone when you drive home with your windows down.
In the quiet, bare light of false dawn, my young son and I sat motionless amongst tree frog conversations, watching swirls from hungry trout surround our small canoe. The morning commute was heavy, with a drifting cross section of anglers waiting for the clock to strike six. We have started our season here long enough to recognize boats and captains returning to the same spots each year, anchoring up in honey holes and hot spots.
When man had a smaller footprint and Nature still balanced the books, strong numbers of native brook trout inhabited coastal streams, moving down into salt waters during spring and early summer months. The numbers of anadramous brookies has declined in recent years as they face a myriad of natural and human impediments. Whether you are a fan of hatchery produced fish or a traditionalist who feels they stain local gene pools, our state does an admirable job raising trout to repopulate the waters.
On April 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. you can visit the Lafayette Trout Hatchery for their Open House. Well timed for school vacation, you and the kids can feed the fish while learning lots about spawning, rearing through several growth stages and their release. RIDEM also holds a free fishing weekend on May 3 and 4, so you won’t need a license to fish for these two days.
Down in Galilee, construction of the new, very accessible boat ramp is underway. Andres Aveledo at RIDEM hopes to see work completed by the end of May, which given what a rough winter we just plowed through, is a very fair estimate. Quick drive-bys will not appreciate the work being accomplished off-site, where materials are assembled, as are the rails, concrete slabs and two sections of dock. Steve Medeiros, president of the RI Salt Water Anglers Association, noted that moving the parking lot near the fisherman memorial will add approximately eight more spaces.
Tautog fishing opened on April 15 with a max of three fish per day and a 16 inch minimum. You can chase them until May 31. On April 28, season one of the winter flounder season begins, running through May 27. Squid strips, minnows and even slivers of bluefish, if our waters ever warm enough to entice them, will be reliable baits in addition to new-fangled artificials like the Gulp line of scented plastics, rigged on jig heads. The second season opens on Sept. 29.
May 9 is the Family Fishing Derby sponsored by the South Kingstown Parks and Recreation Department. Kids from ages 3 to 14 can fish from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and there will be prizes. Last year’s low catch may have been due to ospreys ignoring the start times but this year there should be plenty of fish for our next generation.
Last Sunday, 24,242 buckies were lifted over the Main Street dam. Uber-coordinator Bill McWha orchestrated the lift at the Palisades Mill, with the help of URI Professor Bill Gordon and his students, which put another 6,270 over the wall. With thousands of feet of stream having been cleared of obstructions, natural and man-made, alewives have their best chance in years of spawning in local ponds, a natural rite of passage far predating man’s arrival and disturbance. A tip of the camo hat goes to Peace Dale’s own Burt Strom, for letting volunteers access his land to help clear the passage to Rocky Brook Reservoir.
Sadly, we have lost a great writer, Peter Matthiessen, who gave us “Men's Lives: The Surfmen and Baymen of the South Fork.” Detailing our very recent fishing heritage along with the ample harvests we once enjoyed, comingled with voices and faces of real fishing families, this is a wonderful depiction of people so reliant on land and water. Men and boys launched dories in all conditions to tend nets by hand, from the beach saw swordfish sunning and ran twenty foot open boats with one-lungers to Block Island, fishing without the comfort of winches or net reels. As he wrote, “They also ate beef-like pieces of red meat from the heads of big sturgeon that were caught in the spring.” An April 9 research tow in Narragansett Bay dragged up a deceased sturgeon, once plentiful in our local rivers, now largely absent. With fish being lifted and stocked, we have some new hope for lots more bluebird mornings, maybe looking for sturgeon, fishing for wild brookies or just laughing at the sounds of a child laughing across a big pond.