MERIDEN — Thomas Leffingwell got a chance to give his brand new kayak a test run Wednesday morning.
The 20-year-old Wallingford resident brought it up to Black Pond on the Meriden/Middlefield town line.
And he brought along a couple of fishing rods, too.
Thanks to an executive order signed Tuesday by Gov. Ned Lamont, Connecticut’s 2020 fishing season officially opened 2½ weeks ahead of schedule. Starting Wednesday, lakes, ponds, rivers and streams could be fished statewide.
Lamont’s decree was prompted by the ongoing fight against the coronavirus. It’s a two-pronged strategy:
■Eliminate the large crowds that typically turn out on the traditional Opening Day on the second Saturday in April;■Encourage the more inherent solitary/family nature of fishing at a time of state-mandated social distancing.
“Anglers should maintain a distance of at least six feet from others, practice good personal hygiene, stay home and away from others if they feel sick, and avoid areas where anglers or others congregate,” Mike Beauchene, Supervising Fisheries Biologist with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, remarked in an emailed statement.
With the waters of Connecticut thus thrown open, Black Pond was buzzing with activity Wednesday and so was Fishin Factory on Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike in Southington, where a steady flow of fishermen were coming in to pick up their 2020 license.
Vennie Mangiaracina, who has owned Fishin Factory for about 35 years, said people want some normalcy amid the upheaval of COVID-19.
“Absolutely. Nobody likes what is going on with the doom and gloom; they want to get out and fish,” Mangiaracina said. “We are busy. We are always busy and that’s a good thing.”
Morgan Morenz of Meriden was in the shop to pick up his license and then planning to make a prompt beeline to Red Bridge to fish the Quinnipiac River in South Meriden.
“It’s going to be good to be outside,” Morenz said. “I’m going to go as soon as I get my license. I’m going to get my pole and I will be going as soon as I can.”
On the east side of Meriden, Ed Girling was happily (and patiently) casting using worms and marshmellows for bait.
“I’ve been fishing here 30-something years,” the 72-year-old city resident said. “I just found out this morning that DEEP moved up opening day and I had to out of the house.”
Black Pond is close to Girling’s home. After a couple of hours pondside Wednesday morning he had yet to catch anything. He did have a 19-inch catch last year and, in his most successful single-session haul, reeled in eight.
“I love fishing,” Girling said. “I don’t keep them. I just let them all go unless someone wants it and I give it away.”
Paul Field, 64 and also of Meriden, is another fisherman who practices catch-and-release.
“It’s nice they opened early, especially with everyone not being able to go to work anymore,” Field said. “It’s good to still get out and do things. I’ve always enjoyed Opening Day ever since I was a kid.”
Select spots are open to fishing prior to Opening Day. Field, for instance, has been fishing the last few weeks at Mill River.
“It’s quiet and there’s wildlife around,” he said. “You have to enjoy all of that. That’s what it’s about.”
Further down Black Pond, 41-year-old Erik Gonzalez of Meriden was fishing with a heavy heart. His fishing buddy, Doug Fuschino of Meriden, died on March 14 at age 59.
“He was up here all of the time and was a pretty good fisherman,” Gonzalez said. “I left his funeral procession tag here and, when I caught my trout today, I thought of him. He’s still here with us.”
Gonzalez also usually fishes with his 11-year-old son Brandon. On Wednesday, however, Brandon had school commitments to attend to at home.
Gonzalez did have something to bring back to the house. Of the two trout he caught Wednesday, one was an 11-inch keeper he was planning to cook for dinner.
Gonzalez is familiar with Black Pond. He’s been fishing there since he was an 8-year-old kid.
“I got up early today and said, ‘What the hell, why don’t I go out and fish?’”
Leffingwell, meanwhile, was making his first excursion on Black Pond. The former football and lacrosse player at Sheehan High School learned to fish from his father.
“I’ve been fishing the last couple of weeks at different ponds, but today I can fish some trout out on the water,” Leffingwell said, preparing his kayak. “I would be happy with one fish today.”