Warm winter means early spring for anglers
If you've been feeling antsy about kicking off the 2012 fishing season a little earlier than usual, you aren't alone. After the warmest winter on record for our area, freshwater and inshore water temperatures are running 5 to 7 degrees above normal and magnolia, ornamental pear trees and forsythia have bloomed ahead of schedule. Even peepers, those tiny tree frogs with a collectively big voice, already are calling out from vernal ponds. Indeed, all the precursors for an early-season bite are in place, eliciting a Pavlovian response from local Piscators that is hard to resist.
Actually, many freshwater anglers have been fishing regularly for a month or more. February and early March had warming trends that had panfish, largemouth bass and holdover trout taking both baits and lures during what should have been the coldest stretch of the year. That action has continued unabated in recent weeks with trout fishing especially productive now that most local lakes and ponds have been stocked.
How far ahead of schedule is the overall fishing action right now? At the J & J Sports Fishing Forum in Patchogue last Saturday, one angler showed me the cellphone photo of a largemouth bass he caught earlier in the week -- on a popper fished at night. I can't recall ever catching a largemouth bass in local waters on poppers after dark before late May. Additional signs that spring may have already sprung include a bluefin tuna caught off Jones Inlet, kayak anglers hammering school stripers in Jamaica Bay and reports of bass or blues busting bunker on the back side of Cupsogue Beach.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of this early season to date has been a terrific run of mackerel -- the best in decades -- that has left veteran anglers scratching their heads trying to decide if this is a continuation of a strong winter run or the beginning of a new spring mackerel migration.
Either way, nobody is complaining. Recent years have had marginally good mackerel fishing through the winter months off the west end of Long Island, but there has been little in the way of a spring run to get excited about. Right now, however, open boats sailing from Sheepshead Bay, Freeport, Point Lookout and Captree are having patrons fill coolers at a remarkable pace, lifting the little green torpedoes aboard two, three and four at a time on mackerel trees and Sabiki rigs.
Although the mackerel run looks mighty powerful at the moment, oldtimers will advise newbies -- rightfully so -- to get on these fish right away because all it takes is a couple days of strong winds blowing offshore to nudge the macks out of reach.
While mackerel schools have been the focus of attention, there is also hope that winter flounder season, which opens Sunday, might get off to a decent start. Anglers targeting white perch have been catching and releasing a fair number of the tasty blackbacks by accident in South Shore tidal creeks. Be advised, however, that winter flounder regulations remain quite stingy. Minimum size for these tasty treats is 12 inches and the creel limit is just two fish. If it is several pounds of tasty fillets you really need to bring home, an open boat trip for ling is probably your best bet.