It was windy enough that Henry Sloss could barely get the lure into the water because it kept blowing back toward him when he cast it. When it did hit the water, though, it eventually came back out along with a 24.25-inch pickerel.
That fish was the longest caught in the first month of the Coastal Conservation Association's 3rd Annual Pickerel Championship, which began December 15 and will conclude March 15.
Sloss, 72, is an English professor who fishes as a hobby and considers himself to be an amateur. He said he caught "only" six pickerel during that first month but was fortunate enough to catch a big one.
"This one big fish that arrived at the end of my line, I have to say, it really was luck, " he said. "There was nothing that I did in particular except I was there at the other end of the line."
Sloss' modest attitude toward his achievement extends to fishing in general; he believes that success in fishing depends on both luck and the amount of time spent fishing.
While fishing on the Severn River near his Sherwood Forest home, Sloss said, he uses a tackle box full of a variety of lures. He tries one and if no fish bite, he tries another one and continues that process until the sun goes down.
But even though pickerel have been as accessible during this winter as during the rest of the year because there wasn't much ice on the water during that first month, Sloss said, there are many factors, including weather and current, that are outside fishermen's control.
"It seems like, at least from what I understand, if pickerel are biting, they will take almost anything. And if they're not, they won't take anything, which is mostly my experience," he said.
The 25 competition participants are limited to Chesapeake Bay tidal waters, where pickerel are growing and are much more active in the winter than other fish said Dave Sikorski, the competition director.
Both participation and the size of fish being caught this year have risen, Sikorski said. In the first year of the competition, participants generally caught 10- to 18-inch pickerel, whereas this year, Sikorski said, the smallest pickerel submitted was 15 1/2 inches.
The fish themselves are not turned in, however; the competition rules require catch and release. Sizes are verified through a photo and measurement.
"In general, we like to run catch and release fishing because it is more sustainable and leaves more fish in the water," Sikorski said. "And pickerel aren't the best table fare, according to most people."
Thanks in part to that practice, Sikorski is confident that the stock of pickerel is thriving. With luck, pickerel will be getting bigger than Sloss' longest catch and biting more often in future years.
"It's not the lures and stuff so much as the perseverance," Sloss said. "You just have to keep going and keep trying, and sooner or later, usually later in my experience, fish will appear."