May 06, 2020
It had been a tough morning. The gobbler had been quiet for more than an hour, and you’d almost given up. Fifteen minutes more, you whispered to yourself. He was there in five. Full strut. Thirty yards. Somehow, you managed to get the gun off your knee and to your shoulder. The click of the safety was alarmingly loud. You breathed deep. Again. Cutt, cutt, cutt. The gobbler instantly dropped out, then snapped to attention, head high. The silver bead settled on his wattles as you touched the trigger.
An hour later, you exchanged the autoloader for an ultralight spinning outfit and a shoulder tackle bag. The second cast into the pool produced a flash below the surface as a little rainbow stopped your spinner. Only after half a minute do you realize you’re smiling as you slip the exhausted ‘bow back into the chilly water. Three minutes later, and it’s an encore presentation.
Across the Northeast, scenes like this are repeated time and again, as avid hunters and anglers head afield to test their mettle against two of their favorite springtime adversaries—wild turkeys and stream trout. Here, we’ll look at a handful of the region’s finest destinations for the year’s inaugural cast-and-blast.
Where to go
Best known, as a diehard waterfowler, Mike Bard of Jordan, New York, is a fanatic when it comes to spring gobblers and small-water trout fishing. “I wasn’t raised a turkey hunter, as I didn’t really have a mentor,” Bard says, “It was my duck hunting buddies who got me started there. At first, it was something to do after duck season that involved feathers,” he says, laughing. “Now, it’s an all-spring thing for me and my family.”
The story’s basically the same with trout. “The agency [New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation] does a great job of stocking rainbow, brook and brown trout all across he state,” he says. “There’s a lot of public access to good fishing here, locally, and it’s nice to have a lot of that right in our backyard.”
Public parcels are small in his neck of the woods, Bard says, but not lacking. “There’s quite a bit of state land between Syracuse and Rochester that’s open to the public. You’re not going to find those 15,000-acre properties right here. More like 50 to maybe 2,000 acres. And I wouldn’t recommend going the first weekend of the season. Maybe stick to the weekdays, if possible, or go toward the end of the season. But our turkey populations are really good right now.”
Bard isn’t just a homebody when it comes to finding spring gobblers. “I’ll spend time down in what they call the Southern Tier, south of Rochester and a bit west. There are definitely bigger chunks of state land down there.” Crossing the line into northwestern Pennsylvania, hunters and anglers alike will find opportunity on much larger pieces of public ground, like the 513,000-acre Allegheny National Forest or the 265,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest to the east, both of which offer exceptional turkey hunting and trout fishing.
Bard also spends time in an area known as the Tug Hill Plateau, north of Syracuse. “There’s a ton of access there,” he says. “Ridges and hills—some really good turkey hunting. It’s right along the Salmon River, a very well-known fishery. This is where you’re going to find tens of thousands of acres. And it’s a popular snowmobiling area, so there are trails cut through it for that. I often hunt along these trails in the spring.” Trout anglers, too, will find a wealth of opportunity in the Tug Hill Region. More than a dozen beautiful streams in Lewis County alone are stocked by the New York DEC, including Alder, Fish and Otter creeks, and any and all can provide fine catches of both rainbows and brookies.
Bard often makes his way to northern New Hampshire, too. “I have relatives up there,” he says, “I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to hunt their land, but there’s quite a bit of state land there, too.” Should you find yourself in the Colebrook area of Coos County, Simms Stream, a tributary of the Connecticut River, is definitely worth a cast or a dozen, while the vast country that constitutes the Simms watershed to the south and east has been known to harbor a longbeard or two.
Let’s face it. Throughout much of the East’s turkey habitat, and with the arrival of warmer weather, there’s a lot of human activity. There are hikers and mountain bikers, anglers and mushroom pickers, campers and more, all looking to shake off the cloak of cabin fever. It’s a good thing, these folks all enjoying the great outdoors, but it can make things tough for a turkey hunter—or, better said, make an already challenging task even more so.
How so? Human activity, be it hunting or non-hunting related, often impacts turkey populations by changing the birds’ normal day-to-day routine. Strut zones change. Water and food sources change. Travel routes change. Gobbling decreases, and the birds become much more skittish. In some cases, traditional roosting areas may change, all because of this increased human activity. Oh, and with very few exceptions, the birds are still there, and they’re doing what turkeys do in spring; however, they’re doing it in a bit more subtle fashion. I’d suggest you do the same. Sit a while longer. Call less and more quietly. Listen. Expect a tom to come in silent. It’s stealth mode time.
As for small-stream trout, be it anywhere from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Catskills of New York, there’s a one-word common denominator that most will agree is universal: Spinner. Put quite simply, small inline spinners like those in Mepps’ Aglia series work wonders, not only on trout, but on many different species of freshwater gamefish.
Part of the Aglia’s secret lies both in its simplicity and its versatility. It’s tough, most will agree, to fish an inline spinner incorrectly, save for retrieving the lure just a bit too quickly, particularly if the water’s still cold. But Aglias and others like them are also versatile. They can be worked slow, fast, upstream or down. For small-stream trout, I like to cast slightly upstream of my mark, to a deeper pool under a cut-bank or the calmer water just below a rock. I let the spinner tumble toward the bottom before giving it a ‘pop’ to start the blades, then work it slowly through the lie. Often a strike will come before I begin the retrieve, so it’s important to stay on your toes and on the rod. As for sizes and patterns, I’m partial to small, even tiny spinners,#0 or #00, depending on water depth and current flow.
Color? Much of it is personal preference or based on experimentation. However, I do adhere to the mantra “bright days and dilver, clouds and gold” when it comes to blade selection. That said, if I were limited to two blade patterns for stream trout, I’d opt for a black blade with yellow dots, and the other would be what Mepps calls Rainbow Trout, a mix of metallic blue, pink and silver.
From Pennsylvania to New York and on across to New England, there’s no shortage of opportunity for the intrepid outdoorsman through May. Gather up your gear and favorite road trip partner. It’s time for a spring fling.