April is "T" time for Connecticut sportsmen, as both trout and turkey seasons open. It is full steam ahead on trout waters starting April 21, while the wild turkey hunt opens April 25.
This year, due to low rainfall, fishers and hunters will face conditions rather unusual for springtime in Connecticut. Although a rainy period is forecast for the end of the month, forest and field are tinder-dry and water in streams is low, impacting both hunting and fishing. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection urges sportsmen — as well as hikers, birders and other outdoorspeople — to be especially conscious of fire safety this season. Check the fire danger level on the DEEP website or with municipal officials before going afield. If you are camping, make sure all campfires are out before leaving to fish or hunt.
Trout fishing, particularly, has felt the consequences of the dry weather, for better as well as worse. The unusually warm weather allowed DEEP to begin stocking trout early, in February, so fish from the hatchery will be better adapted to streams and ponds by opening day, said DEEP fisheries biologist Neal Hagstrom. “There are more big fish out there than usual.”
The bad news is that low water, particularly in streams, has reduced the number of waters in which the 376,000 trout released before opening day have been placed, says Hagstrom. DEEP was unable to stock some of the small streams that usually get a share of fish. On the other hand, the surplus fish went into larger streams, ponds and lakes, concentrating fish in these spots. Some of the bigger streams that are good bets include the Natchaug, Mt. Hope and Hammonasset Rivers.
DEEP officials say the state hatchery staff has produced a top-quality crop of trout. “Connecticut’s anglers can look forward to exceptional trout fishing this spring,” DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty said.
Stocking trucks have dispersed to more than 100 lakes and ponds and more than 200 streams throughout the state three types of trout: brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout. In addition, streams with wild trout are open, some with special regulations described in DEEP’s guide for anglers.
Since time immemorial, anglers have tried all sorts of schemes to find prime spots where fish are released, some of the more desperate types even following stocking trucks. It is no longer necessary, at least for an increasing number of streams. Since last year, stream maps with stocking points noted on them have been available on the DEEP website.
The DEEP continues to add to the list of streams provided. I have used the maps and find that not only do they show stocking locations, but they also reveal access points that are unknown to many anglers.
Fishing in low water with lures requires special tactics. We asked for advice from Mike Sheldon, CEO of Mepps, maker of classic spinners and spoons.
“Early season and low water present conflicting conditions,” he noted.
Normally, a little sun warms up the cold early season water, he said, making trout more active.
“However,” he explained, if the water is low and clear, fish will stay hidden in cover even when experience tells you they should be active.”
Try early morning at the “crack of dawn” or just before sunset for the best results, Sheldon advises.
Although anglers often cuss out wind, Sheldon says that a stiff breeze that moves nearby vegetation and ripples the water can give fish a sense of cover, making them less wary.
What types of lures are best for low, clear water? Those that are muted in appearance, said Sheldon. Some of his lures he recommends are Mepps Black Furies, brown Thunder Bugs and, for most conditions, the classic Mepps Anglias.
If you are not going to fish opening day but intend to hunt turkey, you may want to take advantage of services offered to turkey hunters at DEEP’s Glastonbury Shooting Range in the Meshomasic State Forest off Toll Gate Road. On the weekend of April 21, two shooting benches will be held for hunters with valid turkey permits who want to pattern their shotguns. The range, which opened for the season April 7, is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays only.
This turkey season, which ends May 27, marks the 32nd consecutive year that the species have been hunted in Connecticut, The state has a turkey population estimated at between 35,000 and 38,000 birds and has “some of the finest turkey hunting in New England,” according to Rick Jacobson, director of DEEP’s Wildlife Division. Last year, hunters took 1,424 birds.
Safe turkey hunting requires special precautions, including care when it comes to what one wears in the woods. While most turkey hunters know that camouflage clothing is a must, novices sometimes forget that camouflage is a good idea even for items such as handkerchiefs. Items colored white, red or blue should not be carried afield as these are associated with a gobbler’s head and could be mistaken for a turkey.