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Outdoors commentary: Spring fish awakening

Local waters are finally awakening to spring. It's happening on Susquehanna Flats, in the river below Conowingo Dam and the upper river in the Harrisburg area, in the Potomac at Fletcher's Landing and Mattawoman and other areas below D.C., in the Baltimore City reservoirs and in Eastern Shore ponds and other areas.

Joe Bruce and I headed to Delaware about 10 days ago. We picked a small pond that we mistakenly thought would not be fished in a tournament the prior weekend. We figured we'd at least get some panfish action. We got that and more.

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I'm not going to name this pond. It's small and hit hard enough as it is. But the waters we fished, the conditions encountered, and the tactics used are generic and apply to a host of ponds in the Delmarva area and beyond.

Joe fished from his 12-foot kayak, and I fished from my 12-foot cartop boat powered by an electric motor. We both used fly and spin tackle. While I was still setting up, Joe took a quick pass at a series of shoreline trees where we'd sometimes seen insect hatches and had fast panfish action.

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The area was dead - or, more accurately, dormant. So Joe headed toward the deeper end of the pond, while I launched and headed toward shallower waters. For the first couple of hours we both took a few bass and pickerel.

We both kept alternating between Joe's Bullethead Darters on the fly rod and the Junior sizes of Super and Swimmin' Flukes on spin tackle. About noon, Joe returned to the shoreline tree area and found some kind of insects hatching and crappie feasting on them. He called me over, and we began taking bluegills and crappie on nearly every cast with weighted, size 10, black, wooly buggers. After a few fish for pictures, Joe left the trees to me and headed toward the shallow end to explore further.

I worked the trees for little over an hour and took 14 crappies and 14 bluegills. The fish kept moving, but there was a distinct pattern to the fishing. I took almost all of the crappies on long, low casts to within a foot of the banks; the bluegills tended to be further out near the tips of the trees in the water. Also the crappies became less willing to take the wooly bugger as it was chewed into a soggy, black stump, while the bluegills were less discriminating.

Suffering from what appeared to be a bout of food poisoning, I decided against further exploration, returned to the primitive ramp and loaded the boat back atop the car and the rest of the gear within. Joe's comparatively long absence led me to suspect he'd found something interesting, but I'd had enough.

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Joe reported that evening: "I love my kayak. I went up to the top end of the lake where the stream comes in. I started with the bullethead, caught a couple and then I started throwing the watermelon red Super Fluke Jr. in water from a foot to 5 inches. It was just about action on every cast."

Joe estimated he caught two dozen bass, with the top three weighed on the Boga Grip at 2 ½-pounds, and more than two dozen pickerel.

"All of this action was in water that no bass boat could ever get in and not many other boats either. The water was so shallow I was shocked that I couldn't see the backs of the bass or pickerel. Did I say, 'I love my kayak?'"

The point of this account is not this pond but these conditions. Most if not all of the Delmarva ponds have similar shallow water areas with feeder streams and trees overhanging the water.

Right now panfish and game fish are responding to hatches of insects, minnows, tadpoles and frogs and are migrating to warming shallows. The same is true of rivers and reservoirs.

Many of these waters will be covered with lily pads, spatterdock, or weeds by early summer, in which case food, oxygen and cooler water are offered. So, again, these will be promising areas to fish - if you can get a boat in there.

Could my cartop have gotten in the shallows on our trip? It might, if I cocked the motor up and rowed.

As for fallen and overhead trees, they provide shade in summer.

Caterpillars and other insects will be out soon, and, in some fortunate areas, cicadas.

Susquehanna Flats striper fishing started with great fishing a few weeks ago then slumped, and now it appears to be coming on again according to guides, Kevin Josenhans (443-783-3271), Gary Neitzey (410-937-8753) and Walleye Pete Dahlberg (703-395-9955).

A walk-on fisherman with Dahlberg took a striper well over 40-pounds on a 6-inch BKD on April 16. This is always a chancy fishery as stripers chase in herring and shad and move into spawning areas.

Weather is a major factor, including surges of cold water coming down the Susquehanna River through Conowingo Dam. Catch it on the right day, and you can take a lot of stripers including some trophies of 30 and 40 pounds.

Fishermen below Conowingo Dam are having some good days and some busts with hickory shad.

Small spoons seem to be the best lures. At this writing, the shad haven't moved into Deer Creek or the Octararo. Shad fishing was good at Fletcher's Landing on the Potomac a few weeks ago, and then it stopped.

Like all early spring fishing, when the water temperatures cool, so does the fishing.

On the Susquehanna near the junction of the Juniata, Ken Penrod (240-447-2206) of Outdoors Unlimited reports outstanding smallmouth bass fishing, with some days topping 100 fish "most in the 3 - 4-pound class."

Reservoir fishing, from reports and my experience, follows the pattern of warm weather equals good fishing in the shallows.

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