Two weekends ago, I photographed a male song sparrow singing his heart out at the Conesus Inlet Fish and Wildlife Management Area in central Livingston County. Since then I’ve heard cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, robins and other male songbirds voice their annual territorial claims as well and I witnessed the return of my own resident pair of phoebes, which have been nesting in my woodshed for the past several years. To me, these are all sure signs of spring.
But the surest sign of spring is the annual rainbow trout spawning migration that takes place in many Finger Lakes tributaries shortly after the ice on the lakes goes out. Not every Finger Lake freezes over during the winter but as springtime runoff water temperatures rise, it triggers the urge for rainbow trout in the lakes to run upstream to reproduce.
Rainbows are not even native to the Finger Lakes. They are a Pacific Coast species that was experimentally introduced into New York waters in the 1870s. But those introductions were successful and today, due to carefully-managed fish stocking programs, many Finger Lakes tributaries have annual rainbow trout spawning runs including Grout Brook, Owasco Inlet, Cayuga Inlet, Catharine Creek, Cold Brook, Naples Creek and Springwater Creek. And April 1 is the first day of the year that anglers can fish in these tributary streams for this exciting exotic species.
Without a doubt, the most popular trout stream on opening day is Naples Creek in southern Ontario County, where the annual rainbow trout migration draws thousands of anglers who are not only tempted by the prospect of catching a trophy but also by the hope of winning one in the Naples Creek Rainbow Trout Derby. This year was its 55th, and the contest turned the quiet little village of Naples into a festive hub of activity on the first day of April.
Whether you measure the arrival of spring by territorial birdsong or spawning trout migrations, it’s a sure bet that spring is finally here. Last winter let us off relatively easy. I only had to plow my driveway once. But the song sparrow at Conesus Inlet last weekend told me—even if it may snow a little bit more—that indeed, spring is really here. His cheerful melody was truly inspiring. Now it’s time to dust off the fly rod.