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Carroll Outdoors: Capping off a unique fishing year

I used a Swimmin' Super Fluke to take this Canadian smallmouth; we caught dozens in the 2 to 4-pound range during this most unique fishing year.
I used a Swimmin' Super Fluke to take this Canadian smallmouth; we caught dozens in the 2 to 4-pound range during this most unique fishing year. (Bill May photo , Carroll County Times)

I would not have believed it if someone told me I would not fish the Deer Creek/Susquehanna complex for shad (low water), the Upper Potomac River for smallmouth bass (water too high for wading most of the summer and fall), Chesapeake Bay in late summer through winter for bluefish and stripers (poor reports and family health issues), nor the Green River or other renowned Utah/Idaho trout waters despite spending a month in Utah (chores of my daughter's family moving).

But that's what happened.

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Furthermore I never got around to fishing Piney Run nor such fine local trout waters as Morgan Run, the Gunpowder, Beaver Creek or any of the great Western Maryland trout streams.

On the other hand, 2012 provided new experiences with the return to Canada after 10 years to catch smallmouth bass, pike and walleye; catching largemouth bass and snakeheads in the Mattawoman section of the Lower Potomac; taking hickory shad at historic Fletcher's Boathouse on the Potomac in D.C.; and catching largemouth bass and bowfin in the Piankatank River in Virginia and getting cut off by a series of unseen, really large fish at Gwynn's Island.

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Most of my regular spots I hit fished as expected but with few trophies: A spring trip to Susquehanna Flats with Harry Pippin and guide, Gary Neitze, produced one trophy striper in the 20-pound range, a bunch in the 20-inch range, and a bonus largemouth bass over 5-pounds, all on surface lures. Spring and fall trips with Harry Pippin to Loch Raven and Prettyboy Reservoirs delivered good numbers of largemouth and smallmouth bass, pickerel (Loch Raven) and panfish.

Joe Bruce and I fished the shallows of Crisfield and Smith Island with guides, Dan Harrison and Kevin Josenhans, to take stripers and beautiful speckled trout in the 20-inch range so typical of these waters. Spring and fall trips to the Patapsco River yielded easy limits of stocked brown and rainbow trout. In my nearly annual redfish trip to the waters near Houma, La., fishing with Joe Bruce and guide Marty Authement, we took decent numbers of redfish in the 5- to 9-pound range but only four double-digit fish, with our top redfish weighing 18 pounds and two more at 17 pounds.

Good fishing for largemouth bass, pickerel and panfish continued at the Delmarva ponds. Joe Bruce and I explored some new ponds in 2012, and all of them were good.

In 2012 I employed some fairly new techniques, lures and flies and rediscovered some older ones. With conventional tackle Zoom soft plastic lures were my new favorites. Zoom Horny Toad Frogs, reverse-rigged on 5/0 or 6/0 wide-gap hooks were the choice for working spatterdock, lily pads and weed mats. Pause one beat after the strike to feel the fish, then strike, and you have a high percentage of hookups. Super Flukes and Swimmin' Super Flukes, Texas-rigged, unweighted in regular and Junior sizes were the only lures needed many days in Canada, Mattawoman, the reservoirs in spring, the Delmarva ponds and Louisiana. Is there any species these lures won't catch?

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When we hit situations calling for a quick, targeted, short vertical drop, I went back to an old favorite, an unweighted, Texas-rigged Senko to take my first bowfin and my best largemouth of the year plus many other bass in the Piankatank.

The Tiny Torpedo and Zara Spook continued to produce. The original Zara Spook was particularly good to Harry Pippin, taking Stripers and a trophy largemouth on Susquehanna Flats and big pickerel in Loch Raven. Fished in shallow, rippled water, the Spook is also a good redfish and sea trout lure. Likewise, Rapalas, inline spinners, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and Power Pulse Worms proved they deserved places in my tackle boxes.

I continued to catch bass and panfish on dropshot rigs. I tend to use them in deeper waters, but experts use them at any depth.

Perhaps my rediscovery of the year was the Johnson Silver Minnow. This is a great lure for searching large, weedy-water areas. The Silver Minnow in gold (Trust me, that makes sense.) saved my day taking Louisiana redfish under tough conditions, and it works for a lot of fresh water and saltwater species.

With flyfishing, a black, size 10, beadhead wooly bugger continues to be as effective for panfish, bass and pickerel as it is for trout. My "go-to" trout flies of size 12-to-16 soft hackles and beadhead nymphs continue to earn their "first option" status. Joe Bruce's Bullethead Darters produced panfish, bass, trout and pickerel in shallow, still waters.

My first rediscovered fly was the weedless hair frog. Joe Bruce and I used them to take two dozen largemouths in a 1 ½-hour evening period in Mattawoman, and I added these frogs and Dahlberg Deceivers to my standard pond box.

The second rediscovered fly was Joe's Crab-colored Clouser, tied with 1/36-ounce eyes on 2/0 Stainless steel hooks. This fly is the standard for nearly all fresh and saltwater species when fished on sinking or intermediate lines with fairly short leaders.

It is equally effective fished in shallow water with a floating line - if you use the right leader, a thick butt, fast-taper model.

I like Joe' Bruce's formula: two feet of 50-pound test, then one foot of 40-pound test, then six inches of 30-pound test, all tied with Berkley monofilament. The tippet is four feet of 20-pound test fluorocarbon. This leader gives accuracy, positive turnover of the weighted fly at the end of the cast and a great swimming action to the fly when it is attached via a 100 percent Loop Knot.

Next Column: A plan for an ideal, mid-Atlantic fishing year.

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