Opening Day of trout season 2015 was cold. In 2016, there was a warm rain; in 2017, there was high water; in 2018, it was windy; and, in 2019, it snowed.Opening Day 2020 was a question mark: the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) said it was “OK” to fish, but was fishing “essential”?
In answer, more fishermen than usual gathered around Salmon Creek’s big pool underneath the Dug Road Bridge. They came to fish, if only to come to fish this particular year.
Sid Greene from Cortland came and caught a medium-sized rainbow trout first thing in the morning.
“It’s a drop-back, meaning that it’s already spawned and is on the way back to the lake,” Greene explained as he eased the silver-red fish back into the water. “This is my fourth year fishing here. I pay attention to the news, but I have to fish.”
Just upstream, Jeff Dende of Lansing defended the decision all attendees made to come to the creek.
“My rod tip is nine feet away, so we’re all more than six feet apart,” he said.
Robert Hutchings of Groton reeled in his second trout of the day.
“I’m here because I like to fish,” he said. “It’s one of the few true pleasures in life.”
Mike Van Winkle, of Cortland, watched his son, Mike Jr. of Groton, cast his line and lure upstream.
“I’ve been so tied up in the house, but we’re practicing social distancing,” he said.
“Social distancing with about a hundred of our closest friends,” Mike Jr. added.
The fishing quieted down, and visitors could hear the click of the reels, the screech of the drag and the shushing waters hurtling by.
“I think they’ve figured us out,” Mike Sr. said with a grin.
The Lawrence family unpacked and geared up in the Mill Street parking lot by the water level monitoring gage.
“We’ve been locked down for weeks,” Jason said, smiling as he squinted to align the line guides on his rod.
His father Gary warned him, “You stay away from me – I’ll hit you with my rod if you don’t.”
“I think that a lot of people are fishing because a lot of people are out of work,” Gary said. He added that he “heard that there were three guys standing under the (Dug Road) bridge at 3:30 this morning waiting for sunrise.”
Daughter Ayla, son Max, Gary and Jason set out to find a lonely bankside to fish from. It wasn’t easy; isolation and an increased population of fishermen pushed people to fish in the rapids at the bottom of the pool – a rare sight on Opening Day.
There were no crowds at the Opening Day breakfast at the Salmon Creek Rod and Gun Club – the coronavirus shut down their griddle and coffeemakers.
In the lower parking lot, near where Ludlowville Road bridges the creek, Gary Argetsinger was trudging through the mud back to his truck – he was empty-handed but cheerful.
“I am out here because I am bored,” he said. “It’s good to get out.”
Downstream, Lyn Odell of Aurora and his father-in-law, Leonard Beers, were training Lyn’s grandson Nick Pinckney in the ways of the trout.
“Nick, fish that other side of that rock,” Lyn said.
“The fish get their noses in there so they don’t have to work so hard,” Leonard said.
Nick tried the new tactic while Lyn showed off pictures of large lake trout they’d taken from the lake shore last week.
“We used stick baits and just laid them out there,” he said.
And in the long pool marked by a ridge of flat rocks down the middle, Morgan Post was fishing right where Michael Crowley caught his trout last year.
Morgan is two years older than Michael; she is an eighth-grader at Dryden Middle School, and she was taking a lot of grief from her father Charlie and his friend Joey Guernsey for her pink fishing reel and worms.
“You know I wanted to paint my room in camouflage,” Morgan said, laughing at the friendly teasing.
She hunts and fishes and caught her first brown trout at the age of 18 months. (Charlie backed up his daughter’s claims while allowing that she “had a little help” bringing the fish in.)
“I like to spend time outdoors. I like to get away from the craziness,” Morgan said, and then her rod tip jerked sharply toward the bottom of the pool.
The rainbow trout boiled up from the water just enough to show off its broad silver flanks and then laid down on the bottom like it was tied to the creekbed. Morgan leaned back, reeling when it made sense and hanging on with her rod tip high the rest of the time.
The fish moved like a bulldozer toward the slabs of stone in the middle of the stream, and Charlie warned his daughter about heading the fish off before it could bring her line to bear on the rocks’ sharp edges.
Morgan brought the fish back to the sluggish, muddy side of the pool, gently, firmly, keeping the pressure on until the trout rolled on its side and slid to the stream bank.
“I’m shaking,” she said as she tried to lift the slippery, heavy fish.
Joey brought a tape measure.
“At least 28 inches,” he said. “Probably eight or 10 pounds.”
And then Joey high-fived Morgan.
There was a silence as they realized that Joey had broken the rules of the day.
“Well,” he said. “If I go, I can think of worse ways to do it.”
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