By all indications, area anglers will soon be enjoying the earliest 'ice out' in recent memory. Currently, ponds in the Saranac Lake area are on the cusp of opening up, while numerous waters to the south and west have already shed winter's white cap.
Many local ponds are already sporting the telltale 'spider webs' which indicate their ice is soon to go. The shorelines of most ponds are also beginning to open up, which will provide productive angling opportunities around trees, brush, outlets and inlets.
Areas around inlets will provide some of the best early season opportunities especially on waters with smelt populations, as the annual run of the slim, silvery swimmers typically begins soon after the full Sap Moon, which passed on March 30th.
Over the course of my first 20 years of guiding, I rarely provided a fishing trip on the ponds prior to the first weekend in May. In fact, there were several years when the ice cover prevented access to the ponds until Mothers Day weekend.
However, for the past dozen years, I've usually had a boat on the ponds during the month of April, but rarely as early as the season opener.
Boater's Seat Belt Law
Anglers planning to jumpstart the trout season with an early visit to the ponds, should be aware of Section 40, Subdivision 1 of the NYS Navigation Law which requires "each person on board pleasure vessels less than twenty-one feet, including rowboats, canoes, and kayaks must wear a securely fastened United States Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of an appropriate size when such vessel is underway between November first and May first."
Failure to wear a lifejacket is a violation of the Navigation Law and is punishable by a fine of not less than $25 nor more than $100, applicable to either the operator and/or the owner of the vessel.
The new, 'Cold Water Boating' regulation is similar to NY state's mandatory seatbelt law and affects all boaters in vessels under 21 feet in length during the months when emersion in cold water poses the greatest danger to boaters. A seat cushion doesn't count; a PFD must be worn.
A long road in the Adirondacks
Last weekend I journeyed to Hamilton, NY for the 29th annual Rendezvous of the NYS Outdoor Guides Association. The gathering was well attended and the seminars provided participants with a wealth of outdoor knowledge.
The featured speaker was Jerry Jenkins, a well-known botanist, naturalist and the author of The Adirondack Atlas, as well as the soon to be released book, Climate Change in the Adirondacks: The Path to Sustainability.
Jenkins' address, which focused primarily on the affects of climate change on the Adirondacks, was an eye-opener for many of the assembled outdoorsmen and women.
He illustrated the presentation with a combination of charts and graphs, which provided insights into the effects that can be expected as temperatures continue to rise over the next century.
Predictions included a diminishing number of winter days with snow cover, a later freezing over of lakes and ponds and earlier ice outs. Seasons will no longer be as distinctive as the length of winter diminishes.
Summers will be hotter and drier and the boreal forest will gradually disappear, along with many common species of birds and wildlife. Weather extremes will become more common, with heavier rains, hotter days and even greater snowfalls.
The most notable change will be cultural, as the region's long history of winter sports will become increasingly vulnerable to the warming climate. As Jenkins sadly noted, "The ski, the snowshoe and the snowmobile are as much Adirondack symbols as the guideboat or the paddle."
After traveling south through the Adirondack communities of Long Lake, Raquette Lake and Old Forge, which were all nearly snowless, I found Jenkins' presentation especially disturbing.
On the return trip north, I traveled Route 8 from Ohio to Morehouse to Speculator, and finally from Wells to Schroon Lake. Along the route, I found scant evidence of a hard winter. A few lakes were already open and there were no towering snowbanks along the roadside; rivers weren't roaring with high water and only a few riverbanks were cluttered with blocks of ice.
Following a hunting season that offered just a single day of actual tracking snow, the growing evidence of global warming is difficult to deny.
In concept, as Jenkins explained, climate change can be arrested, however the process will require a worldwide effort of concerned citizens and others with the political will to make a difference. The process will require major sacrifices and new forms of energy consumption and development.
Unfortunately, the longer we forestall implementation of such measures, the sooner we will suffer the consequences. The saddest irony of the whole equation is that our parents toiled through the Great Depression, and then saved the world in World War II. They were the "Greatest Generation."
They lived to see a man on the moon, and gave birth to a generation that wanted to give back to the earth. However, at some point along the route, the 70's environmentalists became more concerned with a big house on the hill and two SUV's in the yard.
Greenbacks replaced green stripes as an overtly consumptive tenor overtook a generation that had promised to make a difference. At our current rate of consumption, I often wonder about the world our children will inherit. Will it look anything like it did when we were given the responsibility for it? Will we become the "Damnedest Generation"?
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.