Well, here we are, it's March, and we are still in the grips of this crazy season called winter. Ice is still thick on most of our area waters and as a result of that the long awaited trout stocking efforts have been hampered by the frozen stuff. As I sit and look out my window of heavy flurries, I wonder what my next move will be. Likely, it will be somewhere on the ice for some late winter panfish. Usually by now, I thinking of other options. But here are a few that may be in the mix once the sun comes out and the robins sing.
Yellow Perch Runs
This could be a tough, if not an impossible, call this year with Old Man Winter hanging on for a 12-round split decision. Timing the tidal yellow perch runs of the Chesapeake are tough enough on a good, consistent spring, let alone this year. Traditionally, by late February jumbos are staging, even moving shallow, for the annual spawn. This is a quick, in-and-out three to seven day process that can have either fantastic fishing or dead-pool efforts.
With many of our tidal creeks and rivers of the Upper Chesapeake iced over to varying degrees, there is a chance that perch could come and go before anglers are even able to fish for them before the thaw. Further south in Virginia's tidal flows and Tidewater Lakes ina nd around Suffolk, I am hearing reports of big fish here and there with some crappie mixed in for minnow dunkers. They are not nearly as cold as we have been in the Mason Dixon, hence, the early perch runs are somewhat on schedule.
One of my favorite early spring gigs for many years has been fishing the small but fish-filled tumble holes or spillways below the ponds of the Eastern Shore and Delaware. Crappies are often the first to show up in number as fish from the lower reaches head to spawning areas that are minimally affected by the tides. We have had some fantastic days fishing for big crappies with simple bobber/minnow combos below the turbulance of the spillway currents. Calmer, quiet pockets often yield the best fish, and various jigs and grass shrimp baited lures can do well also.
Like the yellow perch, tidal creek crappies have to abide by the flows and these fish are usually on site when the water temperatures are in the low 50's. That seems like a terribly long time from now. Late March to mid April are traditional prime times for slabs that can push or exceed 14 inches. Throw in incoming shad and white perch and it could be a smorgasborg.
Ice Out Channel Cats
I got in on some of this last March as the waters first eeked into the lower 40s, which still seemed quite cold for whiskerfish. However, I was pleasantly surprised by some big fish, up to 12 pounds, that like our cut bait offerings on a sunny, warm afternoon. As I have studied more on cold cattin', I realize that channel cats are indeed active, and quite vulnerable to angling, at the first hints of spring ... however far that might be off.
In larger lakes like nearby Marburg and Pinchot in York County, Pennsylvania, there are usually shad die-offs in the early spring and many species, including catfish, take advantage of this phenomena, chowing down big-time. It could be the best chance for a 20-pound channel cat, with creeks and shallow, wind, blown bays being potential hotspots for these bruiser. Tackle tip ... use heavy line, 15 to 20 pound test.
Put and Take trout
As said earlier, this will be a tough gig due to so much ice cover this year. Once things warm up and fish are stocked and abundant, I'll likely spend a few trips chucking small Mepps spinners and Kastmaster spoons on 2 and 4 pound test to bring home a few tasty trout. Much of this is traditional, and the opening day dates will vary from one region of our state to the other. Check the 2014 Fishing Guide to get the full scoop on this.
Don't overlook nearby Pennsylvania with it's two opening dates on trout. Some big fish are stocked and holdover in some very small community lakes and ponds. Same goes for much of Maryland, as the DNR stocked many giants last season from 5 to over10 pounds. Powerbait and hardware rule the early season crowd.
Bass in Local Ponds
This fishing usually starts up around April 1, but can be much sooner depending on the progression of spring. I have had my best success in very shallow water with either large in-line spinners like Mepps 4 or 5's or Vibrax in blade size 4. Last season, in chilly 45 degree water, I found that fast moving Rat-L-Traps would coax quality bass with soft strikes as they would swipe at them when they came near. Again, shallow water heats up quicker than deeper water, and mid-day ventures on sunny, windy days with a south or southwest breeze would be the ticket for an early season lunker.
Yes, I am dreaming about warmer weather, songbirds singing and the budding of trees throughout our region. The fishing that goes along with it is a bonus. Come quickly!