Sunday, February 12, 2023

One-Day Season

Last weekend's short-lived arctic blast produced just enough ice in Connecticut for one memorable day of hardwater fishing. Knowing this was essentially a one-day season, we got an early start and had lines in the water before first light. The little ice we had was strong and crystal clear. The first spud into it sent a loud reverberation across the waterbody. By mid-morning the ice was turning grey with air bubbles. By early afternoon, there was more water on top than there was ice below. It was time to go home. 

Those hours in between though were glorious. It was a scalding hot bite at times; the type of action you dream about when a lake or pond first freezes over. There was a point when I had three of my allotted six lines out of the water at once because I was unhooking fish and rebaiting tip-ups. Four of us fished together and we all caught our target species of northern pike, with a few good ones in the mix. A highlight for me was catching three of them by rod and reel. Something I have been exploring more of and recently wrote an article about.

It's not lost on me how lucky I was to get in a few hours of ice time this winter. The stars and moon aligned with the conditions, timing and location. For how crappy this winter has been in terms of local hardwater opportunities, this was an outing I will never forget. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

Taste of Summer

An 11:30 a.m. low tide and 50-degree air temp helped form my decision. The plan was to rake local quahogs for a Sunday feast of stuffed clams and clams casino. After having success at this particular spot in September, confidence was high that I would find hard shells where I left them. That morning I layered up like it was a winter steelhead trip and waded into the 41-degree Long Island Sound. 

The tool for this is a long-handled rake with steel tines protruding from a wire basket on its business end. When the tines come in contact a clam, there is a distinct feel and sound that helps differentiate between a quahog and say a rock or empty shell. Let me cut to the chase and admit that I didn't hear any good sounds while raking that morning. I tried out deep, in shallow, and even on an exposed flat at dead low tide. For more than an hour, I moved all over the place and used muscles I didn't know I had, yet never zeroed in on where the bivalves were burrowed. 

One thing I learned is that I still have a lot to learn when it comes to clamming. Perhaps they were in water deeper than I could wade. Or maybe the clams were buried deeper in the sand and mud than the rake could reach. This is not a heavily pressured area, so I know it hasn't been picked over. Wherever they were, it wasn't where they were just a few months ago.

On to plan B. 

There was just enough time to call an audible. My wife and daughters were coming to meet me and friends at the beach for lunch. I reached them before they left the house and requested another tool for a different kind of clamming. Soft shells, affectionately known by many as "steamers", are also found in this general vicinity, but in a precise area buried under a specific substrate. 

While the quahogs here live in soft sand and mud in open water, the steamers prefer life under a rocky bar that extends perpendicular to the beach. Getting at them requires a short-handled tool, like a garden claw or trowel. Instead of wading and raking in water, this method consists of kneeling and digging on dry land during the low tide window. My tactic is to throw a heavy rock on the bar to see where the soft shells spit sea water from their siphons. In the summer, one toss of a softball-sized rock could unleash several clues on where to pinpoint digging efforts. On this day, nothing. Zip. Nada. 

Instead of calling it quits, I dug a trench where they'd normally be and, sure enough, I found one about six inches down. It was a slow slog, but I kept at it and they came in small bunches of two or three every couple minutes. It was hard work for an appetizer, but I was pot committed (pun intended). The take home count was around 50 steamers, which is a perfect quantity for our family of four. Everyone was happy for a taste of summer; broth, butter and all. 

While I didn't come home empty handed, I did strike out on my original plan. Winter clamming for quahogs is something I'd really like to focus on. It goes to show, no matter how much time we spend on the water, there will always be so much more to learn.