Fish Focus

Last Leg of a L-o-n-g Steam….

If you live to fish, March is about as close to death—or at the very least, a coma—as you’ll get. Sure, it was rough going in January and Febru- ary, but there was better cod fishing then, and to be blunt, if you fish, you learn not to expect a whole lot of the first two calendar months. It’s winter. Winter sucks. You deal with it. I submit that March—all 31 days of it—is evidence that Mother Nature has a real sadistic streak to her. The weather is still, for the most part, as rancid as it was in, say, February. The problem is that we’ve already done February—and that was after more-of-same January, which was after more-of-same (albeit quite a bit warmer) December. It’s around the 60-day mark that winter goes beyond a mere climatic inconvenience to grounds for legitimate despair.

In March, I can barely remember what it felt like to lean on a fish. I knew I’d be hard-pressed to stop before she parted off my 100-pound leader like so much dental floss. My shoulders and wrists hurt most of the time, but not because I spent 10 hours ticking little lanes of cobble- stone bottom with Spro jigs—spirits all jingled up on the idea that, at literally any second, that jig, or the smaller model dangling slightly above it, might stop dead in its tracks as its hook found solid footing in the outsized maw or a 13-pound wel- come mat of a fluke. No, in March, my shoulders and wrists hurt be- cause I’ve been dividing my waking hours between winging driveway snow over the neighbor’s fence by the fish-hold shovel-full, and trying to break up the permafrost on my street so I might trudge all the way up to my mailbox without falling, as my Granddad would have said it, “ass over tea kettle”—whatever that means. In March, the last remnant of cuteness has drained out of winter; the drudgery of insufficient weather- stripping around the doorframes, of five-knot winds through my living room walls, of 50-degree daytime temps replaced, once the sun has crept back over the rim of the South County tundra, by a single-digit wind-chill index—it’s all zapped my will to trudge toward the faint and distant light of spring.

Nevertheless, I, we, you will plod forward, running on vapors through this last leg of a frozen journey from last season to next. We can’t fight city hall. That doesn’t mean we can’t fight back. In fact, with Mike’s and Lisa’s encouragement, I am hereby declar- ing that it is now fishing season. Unwilling to attempt some manipula- tion of fishing reality whereby what’s likely going to be a month of slim pickings on the Island cod grounds becomes a fishery full of unknown hope, we are, from this moment forward, going to assume that it’s May. The foot-long loligo squid are showing in the fish traps off Sakonnet and the Point, with the first waves of fluke better than 5 pounds and prob- ably closer to 15 pounds hot on their tails—err, tentacles. Block Island’s North Rip must surely be chock-a- block full of sand eels and herring and…duh…some heavyweight bass. Lest anyone take this little flight of fancy literally, the bottom line is that we here at the Rhode Island edition refuse to kowtow to March, to sit in our respective basements wallowing in self-loathing and trembling with the intensifying fish withdrawals. Hell, no. From now on—at least for the next two months–what you can expect is a steady dose of May- or June-appropriate content, or more evergreen how-to stuff, and quite likely a few in-depth examinations of our state’s most productive early- season grounds. It will be another short season. They all are. What we aim to do is stretch that envelope by priming our own minds, and hope- fully yours, to the extent that when the actual season launches, we’ll all have been in gear since the cruelest month. As is my tradition, I’ll still don my crash helmet through the Ides of March—the only stretch of calendar over which I carry serious and well-founded fear. Barring that
brief period, it’s all fishing from here on out.

It’s by all means worth a cod trip or two in Month Three—I’ve actu- ally caught some of my biggest Island cod during that otherwise worthless period. My sources, most of whom hate being asked to predict fishing reality under the best of circum- stances, are in perfect agreement that I’m a jerk for even having asked them for their thoughts about March Cod Futures. More specifically, they agree that, while it’s generally futile to turn a crystal ball on the Island’s codfish, it’s especially so this month. Some years, there’s bait and the cod are thick. Some years, there’s no real amount of forage on south-of-the- Island grounds, but the cod persist in their winter chewing. Other years, no bait, no cod—or all manner of bait and nary a codfish within 50 miles.

It has been my observation—and not necessarily a credible one—that the cod fishing tends to be hard one direction or the other. It’s quite good or it’s abysmal, but it’s seldom just fair. One good possibility, really from here through April, is hitting some of the wrecks, ridges and rockpiles a bit further afield—or even some lesser-known hangs not so far away from the site of the rest of our winter fishing. March is known to turn up some steakers, fish from 25 pounds north, for the guys willing to push the boundaries as weather allows, and perhaps blow some dust off the bindings of older logbooks. At this uncertain point, I guess it’s really just about doing whatever fishing, real, imagined or otherwise, that we can, doing whatever we have to do to bridge this interminable
gap between the Dark Months and the first arrivals of our seasonal migrants. One thing that will most assuredly help is joining us at the RISAA Show (better known as the Tenth Annual New England Saltwater Fishing Show). There, if nothing else, you will find plenty of good company—throngs of folks who’d just as soon eat a whole bed of glowing coals as go another month without putting a significant bend in a rod. Grab some extra copies of this fine publication and pass them along to your friends. We’ve got this thing up and running now, and it will be with your feedback that we can take things to the next level. If you’d like to weigh in on any subject, you can raise me by e-mail at zhfished@