With Old Man Winter out, fishing & fun just around the corner

Posted on April 20th, 2018

Out See Go
By Chris Engle, contributor

Nearly five weeks have passed since the March 15 deadline when anglers had to pull their shanties off local lakes. On any normal year, that date would signal the end of winter and start the countdown to warmer days and open water.

2018 is not a normal year.

The shacks and fishermen may be gone but the ice is still very much here. Old Man Winter has overstayed his welcome – like a party guest who can’t take a hint, he’s still swilling drinks and scavenging the snack table well after everyone else has left and you just want to go to bed. Not cool, old man. You’re stinking up the place.

That’s all about to change in the coming days when spring slams into drive. With forecast temps hitting 60 next week, our unwelcome winter guest is finally out the door.

McCoy Lake, just north of Dixon Lake, is still locked in ice. Within a week, red-winged blackbirds will be flittering among the cattails, singing and building nests. Photo by Chris Engle

I took a drive around town this week to survey some of my favorite boat launches and gauge the possibility of fishing open water during next weekend’s walleye and pike opener. The outlook is not good – public access sites at Otsego Lake are blocked with snow banks 2 or 3 feet high; other boat ramps at the ends of seasonal roads are completely inaccessible. The odds of launching next weekend are slim – even if the boat ramps open up, there’s still a good foot of ice to be dealt with during next week’s thaw.

A view from the ice shows the boat ramp at Otsego Lake State Park walled off by snow. Photo by Chris Engle

If you’re intent on fishing April 28, you’ll have to hit the rivers for trout. Even then, all that melt water dumping into the headwaters of the AuSable, Manistee, Sturgeon, Black or Jordan rivers won’t do us any favors. Water levels are bound to be very high, and fast-flowing rivers like the Sturgeon are going to be dangerous to fish. Murky water means gauging depth will be impossible, and even knee-deep water can knock you off your feet and put you in a very scary situation, so be careful.

I’d use brightly-colored spinners to attract trout in turbid waters. Fly fishermen will use streamers. Dry flies will be a waste of time until the rivers settle down.

There is a third option for fun. Small lakes, ponds and marshes will be first to thaw, and those are the places that are first to draw all kinds of wildlife. Red-winged blackbirds will be swarming stands of tinder-dry cattails to nest, and choruses of frogs and toads will grow deafening in the evenings.

A trickle of open water flows through Fowler Lake, off West Otsego Lake Drive. Photo by Chris Engle

Driving along marshy Fowler Lake to the northwest of Otsego Lake with your windows down, either by way of West Otsego Lake Drive or Fowler Lake Road, will certainly be a good way to take in these sounds of spring.

On rare occasions, a canoe or kayak can be paddled between the melting sheet of ice and shore of local lakes, offering the first glimpses of the lake bottom in almost six months. Wear a life jacket – that water is cold and sometimes deadly.

In the woods, things are going to be moving quickly with this late, fast thaw. The first patches of bare ground will green up in no time, and we’re realistically only 10 days or so from morel season. If you’re looking for easier foraging fare, wild leeks will be popping up in succulent bunches all over the area. Look for clusters of wide leaves with purple stems, and take along a small shovel and pocket knife for digging leek bulbs or cutting mushrooms. Old onion sacks are ideal carriers for either one.

Take one hard, last look at the snow. Finally – FINALLY – it’s on the way out the door!

Chris Engle is an outdoorsman, freelance writer and stay-at-home dad in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

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