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Sunny times ahead as springtime arrives

After a long, cold winter, the prospect of getting out to the region’s many hot spots is enticing

It’s nice to hear the weatherman say spring arrived on the calendar …

That first 60 - to 70-degree day is a gift from the gods.

followed by the last wet, heavy snow of the year, then followed in turn by too many cold, raw, rainy weekends. But, nevertheless, we are heading to warmer times when fishing tackle is back in service and boats back at their summer homes.

I’ll bet a buck on my next senior coffee that many of your peers wait until the Wednesday prior to the first fishy Saturday to cart the gear from the basement over to the local tackle shop for rehab, only to hear the owner is snowed under with similar requests. The result? It won’t be finished for two more weeks.

Use your head and drop it off in time. And while you’re there, ask the owner questions on this rainy April Wednesday that he will not have time to answer on a 70-degree weekend in May. The fellow behind the counter can show you how to tie up a rig, recommend a spot to fish or maybe offer alternatives if the family fishing reel is around the bend.

Don’t forget the trailer as well as the boat. Years back, two of us were stopped at a traffic light on our way to flounder fishing in Boston Harbor when one of the wheels off the trailer rolled past. It was so rusted it had broken off from the hub. Luckily, the owner had a spare and we were soon on our way.

Flounder fishing is a traditional New England starter, but unfortunately poor fishery management has reduced the stocks to low levels. Because of this, you must check state regulations for openings and closings of the season, either at your local tackle store or online at the states’ fishery Web sites.

Not every bay, river or tidal pond offers flounder as it used to. Today, we find pockets of fair-to-decent fishing up and down the coast, those spots often highlighted in newspaper accounts, fishing Web sites or over the counter at the tackle shops.

For instance in Connecticut, Norwalk seems to offer a better-than-average chance of getting enough for supper. Bring plenty of chum along with the bait and your chances improve in this time of reduced flounder opportunities.

Small bucktail or plastic lure is ideal for river bass on that first trip of a new year.

Schoolie stripers are high on the wish list, those available in some areas right after the ice leaves, those fish wintering over, others moving into spots from points to the west where they spent the winter, or so the conventional wisdom goes. In 2008 spring-run bass showed up April 24 in the Pawcatuck River and my friend Del Barber was there to greet them with a light spinning rod and small homemade plug.

Four days later we got the first news of new arrivals in the nearby salt ponds from people up early on a cold April sunrise catching them in canoes, or one gent wading the reaches of one pond on a very chilly day with fog and southeast wind. Prior to that timetable, fishing in the ponds was very poor despite numerous anglers shaking off the winter cobwebs and trying hard.

A cold spring might hamper the start of steady schoolie fishing in some spots because of cooler water temperatures. If that’s the case, try fishing the last hour of daylight, after the sun has set until full dark. That period sparks whatever bass are in residence to feed, hitting lures like a small bucktail with plastic twister tail retrieved slowly. Remember: The fish’s metabolism works slower in colder water.

As April gives way to May the catches increase, often hitting double digits along with the first keepers of the year. That 60- to 70-degree weekday temperature is a gift from the gods: the river or bay quiet, the fish eager to hit small lures tossed their way. As May moves along, look for bunkers to move into some of our Southern New England rivers to spawn, often drawing some larger bass with them. There might also be early bluefish hitting after dark, maybe a week or so before the majority of anglers know they are around.

People with bigger boats look for the first push of bass into The Race off New London, Conn., around the middle of the month. For that fishing, bring along a diamond jig or three-way bucktail. Fishing through a tide, it’s not uncommon to catch 20 or more bass — some 25 pounds or bigger. The fishery might be going strong before some marinas on tidal rivers have their gas docks ready to go.

Cod and pollock were often springtime stables, people eagerly heading to Montauk or Block Island for that opener. Unfortunately, those fisheries, too, have been mismanaged to the point where most anglers in the Northeast that wanted cod last season headed up to spots around, or north of, Cape Cod.

Hopefully, in time, this may change and our fishing will return to prior levels. When I returned from a year’s service in Vietnam in 1967, I boarded a party boat in Atlantic City for a day of wreck fishing for cod and large white hake. Using jigs and calm baits, we caught several nice fish, some patrons filling a burlap bag with their catch. I still have an old black-and-white photo of that day that keeps me hoping the fishery will be restored to some semblance of prior abundance.

This winter we did have a nice run of cod on the Block Island grounds, so maybe an upturn is in the works. Please keep in mind the Rhode Island cod fishery used to be year-round, the fish so plentiful it supported several party boats that did nothing but fish for cod.

Our offshore waters in May are still on the chilly side, so take extra clothes if you book a cod trip or trailer your boat to Massachusetts. First check on current regulations, making sure the fishery is open again after winter closures. Some areas do this in a belated attempt to conserve what is left after 30-plus years of poor management.

The air outside your home might be warm and comfy, but the water temperature is probably only in the mid-to-high 40s, so your summer Topsiders won’t do. Be sure to dress properly for the conditions.

The clock is ticking away and time is on our side. The last traces of winter might cling for another couple weeks, but it will pass. And it will leave great, sunny times — the first of many for another fishing and boating season ahead of us.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue.