May: The Greatest Month to be an Angler

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A pair of late-May bluefish were blitzing the beach on Fire Island in 2011.

Now, undoubtedly this is going to be a controversial topic, and largely a location-dependent argument (and I’ll stipulate that I’m only discussing the Northeast here), but since the internet was born to, above all other things, spark, fuel and then fan the flames of debate, I’ll go ahead and strike this argumentative match by claiming that May is the greatest month to be an angler. Now at this point you’re either thinking: “Yep, he’s right… for once…” or, “Hold on there buddy!” For those of you in the latter crowd, allow me to make my argument, and keep in mind this is coming from a guy who has spent 28 of his 30 years living in either Massachusetts, New Jersey or Upstate New York. Without further ado, May is the best month because…:

Striped Bass: Yes, it’s true, some stripers arrive to the Northeast in April. Holdover fish become more active in the rivers, and in the latter parts of the month states like New Jersey, where I lived for almost two years, will begin seeing what anglers call “fresh fish,” or migratory fish that, being smarter than the anglers chasing them, spent the winter off the coast of Virginia or North Carolina. But I’d be surprised if any serious striper fisherman considered April a “striper month.” May, however, is a different story. It’s in May that we begin to see those first full-on blitzes off the beach where schools of fish are crashing sand eels or bunker. If you were at a bar discussing the month’s exploits with a bunch of striper guys in the Northeast, and admitted you hadn’t hit the water in April, you might get some cross looks from anglers questioning your commitment. If, however, you said the same thing at the end of May, you’d immediately be shown the door.

Bluefish: Go ahead and curse them all you want, and I won’t even touch on their taste when grilled, but if you can tell me that you’re above bailing bluefish on the beach when they’re blitzing at your feet, then you’re far too good for my social circle. Legend has it that the bluefish show up on Cape Cod on Mother’s Day, and while they’re not always punctual, that’s usually a pretty accurate prediction. I’ve caught a few stripers in the surf, but by far my favorite surf memories are of days when you couldn’t get a plug back to the beach without a bluefish stuck to it.

Largemouth Bass: Here, we have a fish that anglers might not consider a “May” fish, because they’re typically in the Northeast considered more of a summer species. But for all intents and purposes, we’re just seeing the final ice come off the water in April, and May offers the first real shot at spending a comfortable day on the water in pursuit of bass. And show me an angler who doesn’t like largemouth fishing and I’ll show you a liar.

Trout: Here again, April is the month when anglers celebrate this fish, but May is the month we have the best shot at catching them. Don’t get me wrong, April 1 in my native Upstate New York is like a fisherman’s Christmas. The popular trout streams and rivers are as crowded as they’ll ever be. But, if you subjected anyone to a Northeast winter, and especially an Upstate New York one, for as long as we usually get them, it doesn’t take much to get us excited just at the prospect of being outside. When I was about 15, I had an opening day of trout season that might echo the sentiments a lot of my fellow Upstate New Yorkers have about the season’s first weeks. I was wading Nine Mile Creek with two cousins when I took a wrong step, and, in hip waders, took a spill into water that had only recently become something liquid, instead of solid. Drenched and shivering, I sat in a friend’s old station wagon, which couldn’t run too long without overheating, and blasted the heat for 10-minute intervals before killing the engine for as long as I could stand. Whether or not my cousins fished longer than they otherwise might have just to make me tough it out, I’ll never know. But your optimism about the opening of trout season leaves your body a lot faster when your body heat is also escaping through soaked skin, I can tell you that much. In late May, however, I’d wade similar creeks by my house in sandals and a bathing suit, and even be upset when the sun finally sank and I had to retreat home.

So, while every 24 hours we get through after that first snow flies is a blessing bringing us closer to another warm-weather fishing season, it’s May 1 that I really celebrate the season’s beginning. And no matter the excitement that June, July and August might bring, we can’t help but thinking that we’re slowly getting closer to snow with each passing day. May, however, we can steal, savor and soak in. I intend to, and I hope you do too.

 

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