North Fork Outdoors: Planning, like weather forecasting, is tricky stuff

Planning, like weather forecasting, is tricky business

From December through April, many of us enduring a dreary Paumanok winter seek vacation destinations and book their spots months in advance. Those who gamble on northeastern ski vacations are often in for surprises and disappointments. Consider, for example, this year’s twelve days of Christmas (the period from Christmas Eve through Jan. 6). As described in doggerel of long ago which we’ve quoted a few times before:

The weather ’roun heah
A wunnerful thang ’tis.
Fust it snew
Then it thew
Now, by gar’ it’s friz!

So it was. Around the Lake Placid area, December held great promise because temperatures were low enough for resorts to make snow from early November on. Subsequently, the areas got a big boost from an early December storm that dumped anywhere from a foot to two and a half feet on the mountains. Then came a disastrous four-day Christmas thaw with enough rain to cut snow cover by 80 percent, followed by plunging temperatures (negative double digits) and howling winds upward of 40 miles per hour that set up a nasty icy crust on what remained.

Under such conditions you wanted to find a local ice rink or, better still, book an ice-fishing guide to set tipups. Then you could watch for “run-offs” with binoculars from your car with the heater turned up. In fact, we have a friend and fellow writer, Tom Schlichter of Southold, with family in Malone, N.Y., who does precisely that and catches his share of fish, too.

Thanks to a warming world, one can no longer count on seasonal weather that stays stable over two- or three-week periods. Back 50 years, for example, we could book ski vacations in Wilmington, N.Y., or Loveland, Colo., and be pretty confident about good skiing most of the days of a vacation.

Not today! The best winter sports planning is strictly short-term. If there’s a snowstorm in the forecast, make your contacts and take off, arriving either just before the storm or just after everyone has dug out.

The idea of carpe diem (i.e., “seize the day!”) is well-known to outdoors persons everywhere. When a buddy calls you (or sends a text message or leaves an email) on an October morning and tells you there’s a blitz going on off some beach within driving distance, you had better be prepared to grab your gear and head out there if you can. If you cannot make that tide, at least be there for the next one. Since runs of bass and blues depend so critically on the migration of bait schools, anglers may have a three- or four-day window, but not always. I remember a call years ago from friends who ran a livery across Long Island Sound in Stonington, Conn., that a mass of 30-to-40-pound stripers had moved into the area. We got there the next day, but the fish were gone. Although we fished two tides, all we got for our efforts were a couple of schoolies and one missed swirl on a bottle plug.

Booking charters, like booking vacations in popular areas, is particularly fraught. Good skippers and expert guides fill calendars well in advance. If you want a bass trip on the Nancy Ann, better call now for a date next fall. If you wanted a musky trip with famous guide Mike Lazarus of Montreal in the 2000s, you had to book two years in advance!

Sometimes you gamble and it works. We once had a six-pack cod charter off Block Island with Montauk’s Bud Dorman scheduled in late March. We called the day before, as we always do, and Dorman told us to come ahead. It turned out to be the most productive cod trip we’ve ever had with plenty of keepers and throwbacks and one 25-pounder. Only on the trip back to the dock did Skipper Dorman tell us the full story. We had the only good trip for three weeks.