How to Survive Opening Day By Randy Castello

How to Survive Opening Day By Randy Castello

April is unofficially the start of spring and often linked to mythical tales of rebirth, resurrection, and fertility.  Throughout history, spring has been celebrated via a diverse lineup of traditions. It is a time of rebirth that can be tracked back for centuries. Where many of the ancient festivals can be directly linked to some sort of bloodshed and brutality, fortunately for the Western Washington angler, we see April as opening day of lowland lakes season. 

Where hopefully our participation does not result in bloodshed, opening day can either be a bodacious good time or a stressful one. As a small child I remember anticipating opening day for months, any given year it was probably the highlight of the year for me. My opening day experiences have always been memorable. To this day, fishing or not, I eagerly await opening day each year. In a sense, opening day marks my renaissance each year. Unfortunately, not everybody feels the same way, and opening day can be an overwhelming source of frustration.

So, how does one survive opening day crowds? 

Opening day frustrations come in many forms and we all have different tolerances for things that are generally out of our control. Your mindset should be that most things associated with opening day will be out of your control. The list is long, but some things to think about are tackle/gear availability, where to go, gear failure, and crowds.

Planning and preparation will go a long way in smoothing over any pre-opening day jitters. Don’t go to your local tackle shop on the Friday before opening day and expect to find your favorite lure, a kiddie setup, a jar of Ball-O-Fire eggs, or buy your license. Even well stocked tackle stops can run low in the days leading up to opening day. Shop early and remember that in our post pandemic world, the tackle shops are dealing with supply chain issues. 

If they don’t have something it’s likely not their fault, and they are doing everything they can to anticipate your needs. Locally, Kevin Johns with Holiday Sports is a both the tackle buyer and lifelong local fishing expert. They are well stocked for opening day. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, look up Kevin and he will steer you in the right direction. SportCo/Outdoor Emporium, Johns Sporting Goods, Yeager’s, and even some local hardware stores have a fishing expert. As a hidden gem, the fishing department manager at Ace Hardware in Anacortes knows her stuff and is very devout in her pursuit of our local fisheries. 

Before opening day take the time to go through your gear and, if you’re using them, your boat and trailer. Did the battery survive the winter, trailer lights work, and are your winch and/or tiedown straps functional? Check the line on your reels, replace as required. Check your rods for damage and cracked guides. How does your tackle bag or box look, are they adequately stocked? Make sure you have serviceable PFDs for everyone that may be on your boat, and it’s a good idea to have life vests for any children and non-swimmers when fishing from shore. 

As part of your planning activities, maybe visit the area you plan to fish ahead of time. Check ramp conditions, look at the boat trailer parking options, shoreline access points, and hazards. Make sure there are not any surprise road or access closures. Over the winter, some of our access points may have been updated, and parking or access could be different. 

Hopefully your upfront planning and preparation will help to soothe and your opening day anxiety, but you’re not out of the woods just yet. You still have to survive opening day! 

I kind of look at opening day as maybe attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans. All the individual components and food may be a little odd or even uncomfortable, but the combined experience is an absolute hoot. A big thing to remember about opening day is that it is typically a family event. Strive to make it a positive experience for everyone involved. 

Children are very perceptive and are constantly learning from our behavior. If they get tangled with your prize stocked rainbow or one of the grandkids hooks your favorite fishing hat when casting just laugh it off.  In the event of a tangle or other calamity, no matter who is at fault don’t be afraid to say that you are sorry to your fellow angler. Use the time to teach good sportsmanship and etiquette. 

You will have no control of the crowds and know that going in. That said, you can do a few things going in to improve the experience. First and foremost is to arrive early. Not just early but hours early. Your favorite spot at the corner of the dock or bulrushes is more likely to be available, and if you’re boating, you may find trailer parking within a reasonable distance to the ramp. On that note; if fishing from the shore, don’t impede the boat ramp access. Boaters need room to maneuver their rig, a place to beach their boat, and a line free path to and from the boat ramp while on the water. 

As an alternative, if early doesn’t work, sleep in. Get up, have a cup of joe or three, and maybe even breakfast before heading off the lake. There is a thought here; opening day is all about voracious, planted trout. These fish will have the feed bag on all day. Years ago, I hatched an opening day plan to fish Lake McMurry in Skagit County. We had a guest from Alaska, she was an avid angler but had never fished an opening day. 

The plan was for me to launch at o-dark thirty, then wait for them to arrive around daybreak. In accordance with the plan, I launched hours before daylight and was the second rig in the parking area. After launching I motored out, dropped the anchor, and waited for the crew. It was cold, raining and breezy, and in short order I was soaked the bone. With dawn came a renewed hope that I wasn’t going to die of hypothermia just off the Lake McMurry boat ramp, but my wait continued. There was a lot of activity, and I enjoyed watching all the happenings. My waterlogged condition was improving and almost bearable.

It was a little later, the rain had turned to mostly a mist and the sun was trying to show itself. I was eager to join the other opening day participants but somehow, I was still waiting. A few of the boats that had already launched and headed out fishing were now coming back in with easy limits. I was getting a bit anxious and at that point I had full on gold (I mean, fish) fever. 

Eventually the gang showed up, they had overslept and ended up parking somewhere way down the road. I considered expressing my displeasure with the situation, but here came one of the kids, little legs going as fast as they could, carrying a McDonald’s bag. She was over the top excited that they had stopped and gotten me breakfast and coffee. Although they were both cold, her enthusiasm was infectious and the wait was forgotten. We got loaded up and cast off on our adventure. We had an absolute blast, lots of joking around, lost fish, and full stringers. We started out just doing catch and release, and then quickly filled out our limits. I don’t know how many fish we caught that day, but it was one for the books. As applicable to opening day survival, there were a few lessons learned moments in our adventure.

Although a bit frustrated with the wait, I stayed positive and we had a great time. The kids and our guest thoroughly enjoyed our adventure and never saw my tribulations. The second lesson was in the opening day bite. Even though people were coming in with early limits, I think the bite improved as the day progressed. I believe that with the unsettled weather, the surface temperatures were lower early on. The bite really got going as the lake warmed up. I’m sure if we had waited until 1:00 or so to launch, we still would have limited and not had to worry about parking. Maybe off subject, but regarding lessons learned, always carry a big thermos of hot tea or coffee!

If you just can’t get into the opening day hocus pocus no worries, you still have options. Remember that almost everyone that owns a fishing rod will be fishing an opening day lake. What that means to you is that, for the most part, our other fisheries will be deserted. The year-round lakes will be just hitting their spring stride. We have enjoyed kokanee limits from Lake Stevens, Lake Cavanaugh, and Lake Samish on opening day. 

There are other fisheries to explore as well. You’ll want to check the WDFW regs before you hitch up your rig, but for 2023 it is likely that both halibut (MA 6-10) and spring chinook in SE Washington will be open. Both have their own crowds and challenges but are solid alternatives to our Western Washington Lowland Lake opener. You may also consider shallow water fishing in the salt. Both surf perch and bottom fish such as the Irish lord family, sanddabs, sole, flounder, and greenling are all available year round. Check the WDFW regulations and bottom fish definitions for the area you plan to fish. 

Your ability to survive opening day may be a crapshoot, but with a little advanced planning you adventure should be mostly painless with bloodshed limited to a skinned knee, sliver, or the rare hook in the finger. Again, opening day is a huge family event, so patience and understanding will be your friend. At all costs, make opening day fun for all and be a teacher. 

Assure your gear, boat, and trailer are up for the task before you head to your favorite lake. Get your tackle and licenses as early as possible. Make sure the kidlets are wearing properly fitting lifejackets and, as appropriate, bundled up for the weather. Opening day is not the time to cut back on snacks, a full tummy is a happy tummy. A little attention to details and you will not only survive opening day, but the gang will eagerly look forward to next year’s festivities.

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