I've spent most of the past week enjoying the incredible late season snowpack. Although the brilliant sunshine and warming temperatures eventually turned the snow density to mush by late afternoon, the backcountry ski conditions have been outstanding.
Over the course of three days, I skied across the ponds and over the seven carries of St. Regis Canoe Area. On the Opening Day of trout season, I skied along the old road from Horseshoe Lake into the upper dam on Lows Lake. We wet a line on the open waters of Hitchens Pond, to no avail.
I finished the weekend with a quick trip into Great Camp Santanoni in Newcomb, where I enjoyed a pleasant spring day with a group of old friends.
Of course, at this point in time, my main interest revolves around locating any current open water angling opportunities. It appears they are few and far between and it may be a while before winter's hardtop is finally removed.
However, ice fishermen aren't complaining. They can still be found on many local lakes, where solid ice exists.
As sap buckets begin to sprout from the maples, and geese are again in the air, anglers will continue to dream of brook trout on the backwoods ponds.
April's full moon, scheduled to arrive on the 18th of the month, will prompt the annual smelt run. Even if the ice remains in command of the lakes and ponds, anglers will find opportunities around inlets and feeder streams. As smelt and suckers return to these areas to spawn, larger predatory fish will also be found nearby.
In recent years, I've been keeping a close eye on the burgeoning fisheries of Lake Champlain. The recent addition of another invasive species, alwives, has dramatically affected the Big Lake's fish population.
Since introduction, the alewives have become a primary food source for many species, including lake trout, salmon, pike and perch.
Ice fishermen have reported catching yellow perch that tipped the scale at over two pounds this season, and the record for lake trout has steadily increased.
I expect anglers will find similar affects with many other predatory species such as walleye, bass and brown trout.
Shortly after the first significant spring thaw, which is often the result of heavy rains, anglers can expect to find salmon returning to the rivers and streams that feed Lake Champlain.
The spring run of these silvery specimens is likely to produce some outstanding angling opportunities due to the combination of successful lamprey control and the burgeoning forage base.
Opportunities will be readily available on the Saranac, Ausable and Boquet Rivers, as well as on the smaller tributaries such as the Little Ausable. Last fall, reports indicate that many of the lake's rivers experienced record numbers of salmon.
I doubt populations will ever be as prolific as they were in the 1800's, when spearing or netting could bring in more than 100 fish per boat on a good night. However, I do believe there will be far more trophy quality fish, with fewer lamprey wounds than we've seen in the past few decades.
Despite the expected boon that alewives may provide, they also offer a huge potential for bust.
When cold water species, such as salmon, lake trout and browns begin to forage primarily on a diet of alewives, the self-sustaining populations of these game fish can become severely diminished.
This is due to a thiamine deficiency that affects the spawning success of both trout and salmon. Alewives also have a tendency to experience massive die-offs which can result from sudden temperature changes or other stress factors such as spawning. These boom and bust cycles can greatly reduce the forage base for prey fish.
Although alewives are likely responsible for the significant size increase in yellow perch reported this season, the invaders have the potential to cause a crash in the population of this popular table fare.
As the population increases, alewives will eventually begin to feed on perch spawn. After several years of foraging on spawn, the Big Lake's perch population could be greatly reduced.
Despite such ominous predictions, I expect to spend the first few week's of the new season wetting a line along the lake's numerous tributaries.
Elsewhere, anglers should look for pools at the base of waterfalls on the rivers and streams. These areas often have hold over brown trout that remain in the area from the fall spawn. Rainbow trout will also be seeking similar holding pools, as they move upstream to spawn in the spring.
As water tumbles over rocks and or drops from a falls, the water temperature increases faster than it does in flat, calm water areas. Water temperatures at the base of a waterfall are typically several degrees warmer than the calm water above the falls. The more foam and froth created by falls, the more warm air entering the water.
Until the ice departs the ponds, locations such as The Flume Pool on the Ausable, Wadhams Falls on the Boquet River or Imperial Dam on the Saranac, will offer ideal conditions for early season anglers, especially on warm, sunny days.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org