April: Fools for Trout

Boy, brown trout.
Shaine Kobald releases a Colorado brown trout.

Today is certainly a day to be on your guard and double-check everything you read or hear. There are enough people trying to put one over on you, so I won’t join the club. Growing up in Upstate New York, I remember April Fool’s Day a little differently.

You see, unlike some states that offer year-round trout fishing, in New York the season doesn’t officially start here until April 1.

Now if you’ve been to Upstate New York, you’re probably thinking: “That’s about mid-winter, right?” And you’re right, it is. I’ve seen it snow in May, here, and that’s not a joke or hyperbole, unfortunately.

But here’s the thing about Opening Day for trout in Upstate New York: By the time April 1 rolls around, especially if you’re between the ages of 8 and 15, you have something that is to cabin fever what a forest fire is to a candle.

In other words… you don’t need much of an excuse to get out of the house. My favorite memories of April 1 are, no matter the weather, cousins and I begging friends, relatives, neighbors or complete strangers to get us to any nearby piece of moving water so that we might throw a Phoebe Wobbler, a worm, or even a bare hook in something wet for the first time since probably October.

Once we turned 16 we had our own used vehicles that were (usually) capable of at least getting us to some water. I remember my first used Chevy Beretta (if you don’t think that’s a car, you’re just too young to remember them) and my cousin’s purple (yes, Barnie purple) F-150 the way you remember a first kiss: awkward but at the same time special in its own way.

I’d be hard-pressed to tell you about any memorable fish from those first trips of the year. More often than not it was still in the 40s, there was still snow on the ground, and the trout were somewhere between lethargic and comatose in terms of their feeding activity.

But I remember that feeling of sharp, cold air filling your lungs, being outside with a good reason for the first time in a long time, with friends and family. Someone watching from a warm house, out through a window, might certainly have considered us fools for being out there, but we could have cared less. Even if there was snow on the ground and ice on the edges of the stream… winter couldn’t hang on much longer. It was the beginning of a season, of something special and shared, and appreciated all the more considering its brevity in our home state.

Our relationship with the water and the time we spend on it might easily be compared to love. It doesn’t make “sense,” in a lot of logical ways, but it is certainly one of the things that makes life worth living. And in both cases, fools rush in.

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