Autumn On The EB

Autumn On The EB

Friday, April 2, 2010

Remembering Days Past - Opening Day

If you are under 30 years old you will not remember this. If you are 40 years old you may have heard the stories. If you are over 50 years old then you just may have been part of a ritual that has long since disappeared and it is a benefit to you that it is gone. I'm talking about OPENING DAY OF FISHING IN MASSACHUSETTS!!!

It's February 28, any year before 1978, and as the sun sets on the last of the ice fishermen, the fishing season ENDS. Trout, perch, bass, horned pout, it doesn't matter. It's over!! And it will not resume until the third Saturday in April. Most of us fly fishers will not cry too much. It's WINTER, the streams and rivers have been chocked with snow and ice for months and our thoughts are somewhere else, not to be ignited with January fly fishing shows (they didn't exist back then) or internet forums (they didn't exist back then) or by a mailbox stuffed with fly fishing magazines (only Flyfisherman Magazine). We were ok, content to slumber the dark months away UNTIL that first WARM DAY in February!! Then it happens! It's a genetic predisposition. The days seemed warmer then they actually were, the streams, buried in late Winter snow and ice, actually begin to seem FISHABLE!! We begin to start sorting through fly rods and reels and lines and start tying flies, flies, flies!! And we then do the hardest thing - we check the calendar and count the days - to OPENING DAY!! It's two months away!!

It's the worst time of the year. Lunches are spent with brown bag trips to ANY tackle shop that has ANY fly fishing gear. We may actually go to a TU meeting for a quick fix and to be among the suffering. We devour Orvis catalogs and fill out orders for everything that we will never use. We make phone calls (no internet, remember) to buddies about stream conditions, hot flies, where they will stock and everything else. And then, just when all hope seems lost and that we will be victim to an early death or a transfer to Alabama, IT'S THE NIGHT BEFORE FISHING!

THE NIGHT BEFORE FISHING was a special time. It was handled in two different ways. The first way was to have a full nights sleep, wake at 5:30am, leisurely load the car with gear, meet your buddy at some fisherman's breakfast in some church basement and then hit the river around 8:00 am. These people do not deserve to fish, period! There is only one way to approach Opening Day and that is the SECOND WAY!! The second way resembled the Normandy Invasion. All gear was vehicle stored by 7:oo pm the night before against an inventory check off list! Lunch (peanut butter sandwich) was pre made and ready! Coffee makers with timers didn't exist back then. Instant coffee had to do. Breakfast was a hard boiled egg and a leftover donut. The alarm was set for 3:30am and you did not oversleep because you have been lying there half awake for hours like a loaded trigger. You ARE to be on the river at 5:am.

There were two weather conditions that you could count on for Opening Day. The first condition was that four or five days before the blessed event the temperatures would hit the 60's and the rivers would BE GREAT CONDITION! The second condition was that a front would roll through fortyeight hours before with two inches of rain (and snow) and the rivers would be blown out. 4:00am would find a cold rain or if you were lucky a cold drizzle. It didn't matter. It was Opening Day! A third condition was that you would be up to your shins in snow that had refused to melt.

You drove like a madman through the predawn darkness knowing that every set of headlights that you saw was driven by a madman with the same intentions: to get to the river before anyone else. You flew down the country roads with a silent prayer - please let me the first to get to the head of my favorite pool on my favorite river to cast my favorite fly to release the demons that have tortured me for two months.


You are met with bundled warriors, packed shoulder to shoulder, slinging crawlers, mepps spinners, daredevils (yes, it's true), shiners and the occasional fly. Some of these warriors will be taking that one extra step that will put them over their waders. Some of these warriors will be 1/3 of the way to a brutal hangover. Your line will be tangled up with the above warrior's contraptions on many occasions BUT it will all seem to fall into a cosmic order when you feel the HIT.! Some shop worn rainbow will come to your net while a dozen flings by the unlucky are made to where you had just cast. All will seem worthwhile, some how.

Massachusetts put and end to this cruelty except for places like Quabbin and Wachusett. Those folk carry on the tradition under far less trying conditions. They can have it.


Cluster said...

excellent post Ken. Sounds like I'm not missing too much. Speaking of blown out streams I saw the swift is at 1000cfs. In other news, I got desperate today and tried to pull a fish out of the Mill in your neck of the woods. I was hoping for a tug from the highly elusive and sought after creek chub, or the dace, or better yet the famed sucker. But wouldn't ya know it? not so much as a bump. The section I was fishing is almost in Haydenville and i caught a nice brookie out of there that was most likely a stocker last spring. Some of that water looks so fishy, and the mill actually gets some decent hatches. I saw a few good Hendrickson hatches there last year.

Millers River Flyfisher said...


Thank God you are young enough to have missed the misery.

I saw two rainbows between 14 and 16 inches taken from the Mill River in Leeds last JULY. I saw a good 'bow down by Look Park last August. Have I fished this river? Not really. I live right on the banks of it so this year I intend work this water. It should fit in nicely when time is short.


Anonymous said...

I remember those days. Back in New Jersey no less. Fisherman spread at arms length from each other tossing worm and marshmallows or every color imaginable. Somehow it didn't beat the love of fishing out of me. Can't wait.....

Millers River Flyfisher said...


Thank you, veteran of the great fishing wars, for your comments. Someday we will all be gone and no one will remember "the way things used to be". We fished through "Opening Day" so others could fish year round.

Cluster said...

I too live right on the banks as well (almost) but also almost on the CT river... the water is way too slow and warm down here. I know one pool that is rumored to have hold over fish that isn't pressured much but there are also trespassing issues... this is right near where i believe you're located. I've fished the brassworks right when its stocked and i've fished in a few other places but the river gets hit hard by the catch and keepers... Fishing doesn't last very long. Aside from stocked fish I've caught a very small dace on one occassion and seen suckers in the slow deep water near Smith college. I also caught a salmon parr on one occassion near NHS. There are a few long slow sections that I imagine could potentially have a fish hold over in but nothing very accessible to a fly fisherman. I've fished some of the riffled water pretty hard in the summer with not much to show for it. Which is unfortunate and where i'd expect any wild and or holdovers to be located. Obviously i'm a novice. With all that having been said, I'm looking forward to stocking.

Millers River Flyfisher said...


I live on Water St. in Leeds and the river is in my backyard. I saw rising trout there two years ago but didn't have my gear with me.

As you know, a bike path was built on the old rail bed up to Haydenville. It opens up a LOT OF ACCESS from Leeds upstream. I'll be hitting it this Spring. We should do a trip there!

Cluster said...

sounds like a plan Ken. There were a couple spots I fished this evening that I just kept thinking had to have a fish of some sort in it. I was highstick nymphing with a BHPrince and a small (#18) beaded hares ear. I mostly hit spots that were riffles into small plunge pools, some riffly mixed with pockets... where different currents were crossing. Basically places you know fish would be hanging in any well populated stream... but to no avail. Do you know when we can expect stocking on our area streams?

pickerpete said...

In case you haven't seen it, here's the state stocking page. It'll give you a pretty good idea as to what's going one as the spring unfolds.

Bob O said...

Ken, thanks for the memories. I recall opening days on the Scantic. As kids after school, we used to scope out where they had stocked the week before, and on that day try to get a jump on all those guys from Springfield who’d come out to raid 'our' water. The early morning froze ice in our guides, our breath marked our positions, and hip boots (not waders) were the fashion of the day. The weather was seldom balmy, often a frosty overcast with cold drizzle. The limit then was 12, and there were always a few that limited out. I don’t remember as many rainbows as were brookies and browns. Opening day was moved (a couple of times I think) from the fourth to the third Saturday in April. It occasionally corresponded with Easter weekend, whose breakfasts provided pancakes and warm cocoa/coffee to recharge us for the 2nd quarter. I wasn’t a fly fisher then, preferring the garden hackle and mepps spinners to feathers. But as the season progressed into May and June I recall seeing my buddy’s dad out there drawing a small nymph upstream with a slow overhand retrieve. It was one of those elders who introduced me to the possibilities of the fly. I'm still at it. Happy Easter.