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Joe Hackett presents a speckled brook trout for review, while fellow anglers display their catches in the photos above.
 
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The trout season officially begins on April 1 across the entire state of New York. Interestingly, it is also known as April Fools’ Day.

In the Adirondacks it is no coincidence, since any angler expecting to fish for trout on April 1 would likely be thought a fool. Up north, the month of April is more conducive to skiing, sledding or shoveling snow than it is for fishing.

Historically, a deep snowpack remains intact well into the spring, and most area lakes and ponds maintain a thick ice cover until early May.

In the span of a 50-year angling career, I have never fished an open pond in the Adirondacks on the opening day of trout season. Last year, I actually wet a line on April 2, but I considered it an anomaly.

For many, Ice-Out is considered a regional holiday that is comparable to the opening day of hunting season. Bets are wagered on the exact date the ice will depart the ponds. It is an annual event that signals the true beginning of spring, the advent of mud season and the return of frost heaves.

Consistently over many years of angling, Mother’s Day weekend has proven to be one of the most productive dates of the early season.

Trout fishermen typically relinquish their angling gear in mid-October, around the same time the big game muzzleloading season commences. Grudgingly, they segue from stalking fish to stalking game, all the while dreaming of next year’s trout season.

They long to return to a particularly productive pool, a lonely stretch of river or a familiar backcountry pond. But as autumn turns to winter and spring begins to loom on the horizon, their thoughts gradually return to trout and the fish that have haunted them for months.

Primarily they dream of brook trout, the quintessential quarry of most Adirondack anglers. Also known as speckles, brookies, squaretails or natives, brook trout are a heritage species that are indigenous to local waters.

They are the preferred species of most Adirondack anglers and the official state fish of New York. Brook trout are gemstones outfitted with fins. They are also considered the canaries of freshwater, since they can only survive in clean, cold and unpolluted waters.

Pursuing brook trout on a backwoods pond is the iconic Adirondack angling experience. Although larger fish may be found in the lakes and greater quantities can be procured from local rivers, angling for brook trout on a backwoods pond remains a key component of the region’s storied angling heritage.

It is an intimate pursuit that is commonly done by just one or two anglers, utilizing a small, portable boat or canoe.

It is defined by a unique peace and solitude that is achieved only by traveling to remote areas. It is an activity that remains cloaked in mystery and shrouded by the morning’s mist. It is indicative of wild lands, wild fish and a cool, clean freshwater habitat.

There is an uncanny secrecy that continues to surround the undertaking, and the vast majority of devoted brook trout anglers remain a tight-lipped bunch.

As a rule, they rarely share information, and when they do, it is a brief description related in hushed tones. Most brook trout enthusiasts would sooner reveal the PIN number to their bank account, than the location of their favorite brook trout waters.

Although April 1 signals the opening day of trout season, the opening day of the Adirondack trout season is not officially announced by the Department of Environmental Conservation.  Rather, it arrives with the sound of a mournful tune that resonates through the deep woods and echoes off the mountainsides. The announcement is delivered on the wings of a loon.

A loon’s call signals that ponds are open and brook trout await. Loons seem to mystically appear within minutes after the ice departs a pond. When it is sounded, experienced backcountry anglers know the time has come to grab a rod, strap a canoe on the truck and toss some speckles into a packbasket.

Experience indicates that certain ponds regularly shed winter’s cover sooner than others, and it is not uncommon to find ski or snowshoe tracks leading to them. Over the years, I’ve used snowshoes to skid boats over the snowpack on numerous occasions.

When lakes and ponds first begin to shake off winter’s hard cap, look for openings along the southern shores, which are usually the first to open up.

Cast small lures such as Phoebes, Mepps spinners or similar offerings around rocks or among downed trees, floating bogs, logs and other debris. Trout will move into these areas early to feed on nymphs, leeches and salamanders.

Southeastern shores will usually experience activity earlier than other areas of a pond because the prevailing westerly winds will push the warmer surface waters in that direction. These warmer waters will often provoke early fly hatches, which in turn attract bait fish looking for food. 

Concentrations of bait fish and emerging insects are a sure bet to attract hungry brook trout that are looking for a meal.

Many area lakes and a few local ponds have tributaries and inlets that provide spawning grounds for smelt. The annual run of this silvery bait fish always serves to attract larger prey fish, including lake trout, browns, brookies and landlocked Atlantic salmon.

Generally, smelt begin their annual run shortly after the first full moon of April. Smelt will begin moving into the streams in the evening hours, and they will return to the lake before sunrise.

Anglers who concentrate efforts near the tributaries to coincide with the smelt run will vastly increase the chances of locating feeding fish.

Watch also for signs of spawning minnows and bait fish near shoals and along shallow shorelines.

Keep an eye out for gulls, kingfisher, loons, osprey, mergansers and bald eagles. If these winged anglers are concentrating efforts on a certain area of a lake or pond, wise anglers probably should as well.