Contrary to common opinion, February is the longest month of the year.

For fisherman, anyway.

It's longest of all when graced by days like we had this week, when soft southern winds played over the brown earth and the first crocus shoots pushed out the earth.

Fishermen feel that breeze on their cheecks and reconized that the longest wait had begun.

Fish respond to water temperature and water responds to air temperature. But it takes time. Wretched time.

I've been looking through clippings of outdoor columns from season begins in March, and not far into March, either.

The first marine harbingers of spring in this area are two scrappy gamefish -- yellow perch and crappies.

The yellow perch will be moving up shallow tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay to their spawning grounds within a few weeks. In a warm spring they've been caught as early as late February, and this is shaping up as a warm spring.

Local yellow perch fisherman favor the headwaters of the South River along Route 450 on the way to Annapolis. They fish with minnows, tiny doll flies, small jigs or Mickey Finns along the banks of the narrow South.

Crappie fisherman can stay even closer to home. Last year crappies were bitting well during the first half of March in the Tidal Basin and in little eddies and backwaters of the Potomac from Downtown north to Chain Bridge.

Sometime during the week of March 16 the local trout fishing season will begin, when Maryland officials stock the Northwest Branch with 2,500 fish.

Northwest Branch runs from Bonifant Road in Wheaton south past Radolph and Kemp Mill roads, under Colesville Road and the Beltway, Riggs Road and University Boulevard.

There's no telling exactly when the first stocking will take place, except that it will be sometime that week depending on weather and water conditions.

A good place to try for Northwest Branch trout is at Adelphi Mill on Riggs Road near the junction with University Boulevard. Cheese balls, worms, salmon eggs, spinnerbaits and the usual asortment of trout lures work on these hatchery fish.

There's no closed season on Northwest Branch. If you see the trout truck, feel free to follow it.

Little Seneca Creek near Germantown in Montgomery County will be stocked the week before, but won't be open for fishing until March 23.

The trout season in Virginia opens at noon, April 5.

That's about when bass fishing will get hot, as largemouths move into shallow, warm water. And big rockfish will start cruising up the Chesepeake Bay to their spawning grounds.But that's April, and another story, and I'm getting carried away.

Think perch, trout and crappies for March. Think small and close to home.

Wait for a pretty day, grab some bait and go. Everything's going to be all right if we can just make it through February, the longest month.