Season changes exciting times; ice will be gone soon

We have passed the official first day of spring. Appropriately, some major changes are underway. We have had a long ice fishing season. But what lies just ahead will probably be preferable to most.

By the calendar, the first day of spring was March 20, a week ago. But that is only an average. The first day of spring this year is March 20, one of two times each year that the rays of the sun are falling directly at the equator, and the lengths of day and night are very nearly equal. The Earth axis is pointed neither toward the sun nor away from the sun. The sun rises due east, sets due west.

The spring equinox can happen on three different days, March 19, 20 and 21. The last year it was March 21 was in 2007, and the next time it will happen on March 19 will be in 2102. March 20 will remain the spring equinox until 2044 when it will become March 19 for the rest of the 21st Century.

Our calendar has 365 days in a common year, or 366 days in a leap year, while the year actually has 356.242 days. This accounts for the different dates for the spring equinox.

Accepting that ice fishing is done for the year may be hard to take for the more dedicated ice fishers. However, the Northwest Region of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has recommended that ice conditions are no longer safe in the region. A few ice fishers will try to stretch the season. Some will break through the ice. Hopefully all will make it out alive.

Very soon we can be fishing open water for crappie. Some of the best crappie fishing I have enjoyed occurred on the very day ice disappeared from a lake. Crappie will follow their food into shallow, mud-bottom areas, mainly on the north side of lakes, or in bays where prevailing winds push warmer surface water. Many more areas will open to crappie as the water warms until the spawn.

One of the more humorous ice-out fishing days happened at Chautauqua Lake, in Bemus Bay. My now departed friend ‘Gif’ Gilfillan and I had located a lot of crappie in very shallow water. We were casting to within 3 feet of one of the shoreline walls, in water no more than 2 feet deep. We had quite a few in our fish baskets when three anglers walked down to the wall, then waded out as far as they could.

As they watched us catch crappie after crappie, they moved closer and closer, until one was right near the place we were casting our baited jigs under bobbers. Bobbers were necessary to keep the jigs above bottom.

Our casts were landing between that fisherman and the wall. Yet he and his two companions continued casting as far out into the lake as possible, even banging their jigs into our boat several times. It appeared that jealousy was getting the best of them. Soon they began threatening us if we ever got their jigs snagged in the boat. Just what they planned to do if we did, which of course we would never have done intentionally, I have no idea, unless they thought they could swim in their waders.

We even pointed out to them that we were catching our crappie in water shallower than where they were standing. It made no difference. Then continued casting their jigs as far as they could and caught no more than a couple crappie before they got disgusted and left.

I could not feel sorry for them. Maybe Gif did. He was more kind than I.

Then we always have trout fishing in the Allegheny River Special Regulations Area. Trout have been hitting well this month, including some large brown trout. Though they must be released immediately now, catching and releasing them is great fun. Since I release the trout I catch, as many anglers do, it makes no matter that they must be released. But fish with a partner so you can take photos of one another’s trout.

Updating the water bird kill reported in this column a week ago, Fish and Boat Commission personnel, on February 20, colleted dead ducks and a great blue Heron at Presque Isle Bay. The majority of the estimated 150 dead ducks seen were mergansers.

At about the same date, 10 coots and a red head were collected at Conneaut Lake. About 15 dead ducks were seen.

Ducks, coots and the heron shown signs that appeared to be starvation. However, a positive cause of death has not yet been determined for the dead ducks in Pennsylvania.

Ducks that died at Lake Ontario were determined to have starved.