The runs of smelts, gaspereaux and shad many anglers look forward to every spring have what biologists call a seasonal calendar. Which to me means the appearance of these fish in tidal streams varies every spring according to several factors, one of them water temperature.
In other words there is no great seasonal calendar that says on given days in April or May, shad, smelts and gaspereaux make a grand entrance into our rivers. Yet when I talked with several anglers on the Annapolis River this spring, on April 30 actually, and asked if the shad were up earlier than usual, I got a surprising reply. “No,” was the consensus. “The shad run was right on schedule.”
I usually wait until mid to late May to fish for shad, figuring this is the best time to fly fish, so I have no idea when the run starts. But I didn’t think shad came up to spawn on any sort of schedule, at least not one that could be counted on.
The shad run may have started earlier this spring but I’m not sure. Nearer to home, everyone was surprised by what seemed to be an earlier than usual run of smelts and gaspereaux. On a stillwater in early April this spring I saw trout rising to what appeared to be Mayflies. And on a warm first day of the angling season, my grandson cast to a number of trout that were feeding sporadically on stoneflies in the Cornwallis River. A few days later, on April 4, I checked water conditions on two local trout brooks, finding they were more May-like than April-like.
So I guess I’m asking, was this is an early spring or what? It certainly seems like it. This spring a plum tree in my backyard blossomed at least two weeks earlier than other years. The gardener in our household keeps meticulous records and year after year, documents the appearance of various perennials and such in our yard. She tells me that everything in her garden is anywhere from 10 to 14 days earlier than last year.
And last, that annual harbinger of spring and the shad runs, the shadbush, bloomed much earlier this year. The shadbush is the first shrub to bloom in the spring; if the legend is true that its bloom heralds the shad run, then some things definitely are early this year. Perhaps the relatively mild winter, a March with a record-breaking rise in temperature, spurred the early arrival of spring-like, early summer weather.
Actually, I’m not sure what an “early spring” really is. Or what it isn’t. Notice that the short spells of fine weather in March and early April were offset by a bunch of cold days late in April? Early spring, in other words, turned into early winter.