Will the early spring change the breeding time of wild turkeys or the spawning schedule of white perch in the bottom third of the state? Will it affect the feeding schedule of salmonids?

The answers depend on the following:

For warm-blooded animals such as mammals and birds, polarized light and length of daily sunlight influence key behavior like breeding time. For cold-blooded creatures such as fish and snakes, water or air temperature affects spawning time, seasonal migrations and feeding sprees.

Three excellent examples involve white-tailed deer breeding in fall, garter-snake migration in the first hot spell of spring and spawning time for white perch and black bass in spring.

In pod-auger days, most hunters assumed cold weather kicked off breeding, but in reality, frigid temperatures make deer move more to stay warm, so they leave lots of tracks and scrapes across the woods. In warm years, whitetails hunker down in smaller areas, making hunters think deer aren’t mating in the mild weather because of lack of tracks and other signs.

A long-term deer study from the Maritimes through the Carolinas established that most does mate in a 10-day period from mid-to-late November — despite air temperature.

Wildlife biologists determined the core date for most propagation by removing fetuses from road-killed does and precisely aging each one to the day of conception, proving that most deer bred in a narrow time frame — despite the thermometer plummeting or skyrocketing.

Water temperature determines when most fish species spawn. For instance, white perch start moving into shallows to procreate two weeks after ice-out, so this species began propagating early this spring because ice left many ponds and lakes in March. the time this column appears, perch anglers will have enjoyed many fish fries with perch from spawning grounds.

This year, black bass will also move onto spawning beds in May — much, much sooner than usual.

Water temperatures also control when insects hatch, which in turn kick off fish-feeding sprees. Expect favorite hatches to start two or so weeks early.

While bicycling in central Maine during a warm spell last month, I noted a first that involved snakes. I was pedaling in Mount Vernon and spotted a squashed garter snake on the pavement. Normally, my first sighting of this reptile occurs in late April, when temperatures rise enough to start this species migrating. Before then, I have never encountered a snake out and about in this region during March.

Spring in the mid-1970s produced an early ice-out such as this one, and two events concerning salmonid fishing made a lasting impression:

n In central Maine, we had dynamite river fishing that began in early April and ended in mid-May as soon as water temperatures reached 70 degrees. For me, a fly rodder, summer salmonid fishing proved slow unless I headed north to high-elevation waters.

n Red-quill (Ephemerella subvaria) hatches in the Sheepscot River below Sheepscot Pond in Palermo and Somerville were really strange: In every other year before and since, this emergence kicks off around May 7 when water temperature reaches 53 degrees for three days in a row. Then, each afternoon from about 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., these bugs pop through the surface film.

That year in the mid-1970s, this aquatic insect emerged in the evening instead of afternoon and didn’t erupt in its typical blizzard-like numbers. Also, the hatch lasted but a few days instead of the normal 11/2 to 2 weeks.

Unless the weather changes dramatically in mid-to-late April, I suspect that red-quill hatches in 2010 will be similar to that spring. Time will tell.

If the sun beats down and unseasonably warm weather prevails, salmonid trollers in lakes and ponds will just fish deeper as these cold-water species descend to cooler levels, and they’ll catch plenty of fish. Folks with spinning and bait-casting gear who know how to work a jig deep will also do well with trout and salmon as will the bait-dunking crowd.

Meanwhile, after a brief flurry of blistering river and stream fishing for salmonids, fly rodders may curse spring 2010 just as I complained about central Maine’s late spring and summer angling action circa 1975.

In short, this spring, we can depend on turkeys breeding pretty much as usual.

However, fish will feed voraciously earlier than normal, but in the same token, action will shut down for fly rodders sooner than later.

 

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]