When the traditional first day of open-water fishing season rolls around each April 1, Kurt Cressey plugs in the coffee pot, gives away free cups of joe to a steady stream of traveling anglers, and welcomes them back to his Pine Tree Store and the tiny town of Grand Lake Stream.
On Friday, with a major snowstorm bearing down on the Washington County village that many fishermen hold in the highest esteem, Cressey admitted that some things had changed.
The coffee pot was still warm. The stream was still flowing. But the anglers were in shorter supply than on a typical April Fool’s Day.
“[The crowd] is smaller. I attribute that mainly to the weather and the weather forecast,” Cressey said during a mid-morning phone conversation. “It’s one thing to get up here when it’s not snowing. It’s another thing if these [fishermen] stay until 4, 5, 6 o’clock, now you’re talking about some treacherous driving to get back.”
Cressey said some anglers rented space at Canalside Cabins in town and would be fishing for the entire weekend. Others did make their annual pilgrimage to one of the state’s most fabled angling towns, planning to fish for the day and then drive back home. Cressey said 10 fishermen vied for space in the Dam Pool by 6 a.m., before the snow started to fall. The Dam Pool is just below West Grand Lake and is the traditional haunt of most opening-day anglers.
But while the fishing in the Dam Pool for fish that spent the winter in its deep water is often good on April 1, this year’s action was much slower.
“As far as fishing, nobody’s catching anything,” Cressey said. “The theories [about that] can abound from a low flow to maybe when [dam owners] opened up a little bit of water this winter the fish that were up in the Dam Pool might have just got swept down to Big Lake.”
Another possible reason, Cressey said, was the fact that in some years, as many as 25 fishermen crowd the pool at any one time. This year, with fewer anglers trying their luck, it makes sense that they’d find fewer fish.
“If you’ve got more fishermen you’re apt to hear more stories about fish being caught,” he said. “This is just a sucky day for an opening day.”
Cressey said that for much of the winter, Domtar, which owns the dam, kept Grand Lake Stream’s flow low. Then, to accommodate opening-day anglers, it bumped the flow to 300 cubic feet per second a couple of days ago.
“In terms of wadeability and fishing it’s great. We just don’t have any fish there,” Cressey said.
This year’s conditions were markedly different from those that anglers enjoyed a year ago. In 2010, after weeks of mild weather melted snow and even opened some lakes and ponds by April 1, the state legislature opened fishing season on March 25.
Cressey laughed when reminded of last year’s early opener.
“I think if you’re going to go by weather when you’re going to open up your season, this year maybe they should have waited a week,” Cressey joked.
The store-owner said that for some anglers, the trip to Grand Lake Stream on April 1 has become a tradition that weather can’t interrupt.
“The hard-cores that have never missed a year, they’re always going to be here despite a northeaster,” Cressey said. “Sure, they’d like to catch a fish, but they’ve been cooped up all winter and for the most part they just want to wet their line and say, ‘I got fishing on opening day.’”
For many, fishing on April 1 is mostly a ceremonial event. Anglers know the fishing will get better in May or June. They know that they’ll catch more fish when the water warms up a bit. For Cressey and other business-owners in town, the first day of the season is harbinger of better times ahead.
Even if it’s snowing like crazy.
“Our season really does start in May and that’s when people who made a reservation last year, they’re coming. Regardless of water flows, the weather, they’re coming,” Cressey said. “I’ve been shut down for the last couple of weeks but I didn’t want to break tradition so I came up this weekend and I’m open for opening day and this weekend and I’ll probably shut it back down on Monday.”
Cressey said he thought the anglers who made day trips to Grand Lake Stream on Friday would likely decide to head home earlier than normal. It seemed the fish weren’t going to cooperate, after all. And the driving would only get worse as the day progressed.
For those who ignored the elements, fished all day, and found themselves snowbound in tiny Grand Lake Stream with night advancing and few local businesses open, Cressey had a solution.
“I’ve got two more bedrooms and a living room upstairs [in the Pine Tree Store]. I’ll be more than happy [to put them up],” Cressey joked. “For a small fee.”