Don't be fooled by Mother Nature

Sat, 03/19/2016 - 7:45am

The days are getting longer with the sun setting later. The air is warming, and the birds are singing a spring song. These late winter happenings have me awakened from my winter dormancy and seeking the harbingers of spring, signaling the return of the fish I so eagerly pursue with rod and reel. 

Over the course of my nearly four decades immersed in the angling arts, I have become acutely aware of how interlinked organisms are in nature. Regardless of whether an organism has fins, feathers, or chlorophyll, the behavior or presence of one often signals or corresponds with the presence or behavior of the others. I’m quite fond of the word harbinger, a signal, sign, herald, or something foretelling the future. So let’s look at the harbingers signaling not only the arrival of spring, but also the return of our migratory finned friends. 

In order to get a true read on the signs of spring, it’s necessary to filter out some false signs, anomalies given the uniqueness of Block Island. First and foremost the island has a resident population of not only robins, but also catbirds. After the few winter storms Block Island had this winter, when the sun came out so to did the small flocks of robins and catbirds. On the mainland I’ve never seen a catbird before May. Also, due to the fact that this winter was so mild, the ponds and lakes of Block Island didn’t freeze over for very long if at all, and all have a variety of fresh water fish. Because of this I have seen great blue herons every month this winter. So we must read the presence of these bird species accordingly. Also, the early shoots of lilies and crocuses have been poking through the ground since January in areas hit all day by the sun.  

With the potential false reads addressed, there are signs that spring is going to be early in her arrival. First, a week and a half ago I was awakened at about 5:30 a.m. by the sounds of robins singing their first light vocalizations. I wouldn’t expect to hear that for another week or so. Last night I heard the peepers for the first time this year. I did get reports from friends who live in other areas of the island that they heard them over a week ago. The crocuses and lilies are all poking through the ground now, too. Around the outside of the island, shore ducks are building in — in greater numbers by the day. There is a population of cormorants that didn’t migrate. In the Great Salt Pond of Block Island, I have seen spearing pods moving under the bridges both at the start of the incoming water, and again at the start of the outgoing. Red breasted mergansers are abundant in the Great Salt Pond as well off the east side of Block Island. There has been a sustained presence of spearing, in good numbers, in the Great Salt Pond all winter. They never left. Perhaps the most energizing sighting I’ve had so far was a solid, thick presence of large sand eels packed into the Coast Guard Channel on the start of flooding water. So there is food awaiting the arrival of the predators we prey upon. 

Moving forward, I check the osprey nesting tower on a daily basis, and as of this report, I have not seen them yet. Do keep in mind that they may also forage in the various lakes and ponds scattered about the inland areas of the island.  

There are two primary harbingers of the stripers’ return that will see me pounding sand and rocks, throwing plugs and flies, and they are the bloom of the shad trees and the presence of night herons. The night herons arrive with the sand eels and the shad tree blooms are the historic signal stripers have arrived to the Block Island grounds. 

Please note there is still a good seal presence. The first stripers I’ve caught of the season all have been hooked up when the seals have mostly departed from the island, or have moved out to the north end.  

We must be realistic though and keep in mind that while spring is on our radar and closing quickly, we usually get at least one good bout of weather where winter is reluctant to relinquish her grasp. A major snow fall could drop water temp and set us back. Ultimately as water people and fishers, we must be vigilant and understand that nature gives us clues and we may get ahead of the game by knowing how to put them together. 

Suffice it to say you’ll see me casting when the shad trees show their blooms! 

Catch ‘em up! — Hank Hewitt, Block Island Fishworks