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When it's very cold, try Deep Creek Lake

A couple of winters back, I headed up to Deep Creek Lake in the extreme western portion of Maryland in Garrett County. Although this is a well-known summer and winter resort area, it is also an amazing fishery with the largest lake in the state at 3,900 acres.

Ice fishing is alive and well at Deep Creek, especially this winter, but sometimes you'll have to work pretty hard to catch a batch of those delicious yellow perch — the fish that we usually target and the staple of the ice angling crowd. With as much as 24 inches of ice in some areas of the lake, you'll really have to work hard. If I hadn't have had back surgery a month ago, I would be joining my friends at Deep Creek for the perch jerkin'.

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Back in the day, my buddy Ron Munshower had a bead on some concentrations of perch, and we hit the lake for a 2 1/2 day gig. I wish I could tell you that we murdered them, but the truth is, we had to work for every fish we caught. Still, I was able to come home with a bunch of fillets.

We fished several areas from the state park to the Glendale Bridge region and then beyond toward the Md. 219 bridge, a very expansive area of several hundred acres. Our first day we drilled about 150 holes through 10 to 12 inches of clear, hard ice. We caught about 85 percent of our fish in a fairly small area that ran about 20- to 22-feet deep. We used short jigging rods and Rapala Ice Raps tipped with maggots and jigged them right off the bottom. Some of our strikes were very subtle, almost non-detectable, as we would pay close attention to our wire strike indicators for the slightest of movement.

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It should be noted that the daily yellow perch limit at Deep Creek is 10 fish per angler. There used to be no limit on perch here, but the Maryland Department of Natural Resources employed an angler survey in 2010 and it was overwhelmingly approved that a creel limit should be established and that it should be at 10 perch a day. This is one of the few instances that I know of where angler input, not biological data, served as the basis for initiating a fishing regulation. I say "bravo" to all the anglers who took the time and effort to fill out the survey.

Now, back to the fishing. Bottom line: We got 57 perch and one walleye during that stint. That may seem like a lot, but we were discretionary and kept only 12-inch and up specimens. Deep Creek is one of the top lakes in the nation for producing tanker perch. Our catch included two perch of 14 1/2 inches, and both of those fish likely exceeded 2 pounds — true trophy perch by anyone's standards. This winter has seen an increase in legal-sized walleyes and many anglers are catching some along with the jumbo perch.

The perch gig should continue well into March with this extended winter, as these fish will move shallower and bunch up as the spawning season approaches. Late ice can see sensational fishing. Four inches is minimum for safe foot travel. You can check out fishdeepcreek.com or the Maryland DNR website fishing reports for the latest, as well. Some recent catches on the report show walleyes to 28 inches and perch in excess of 15 inches. However, it has been brutally cold up there recently, so be prepared for extreme weather, and the chance for some trophy class yellow perch.

Jim Gronaw is a freelance outdoor writer from Westminster. His column appears in the Advocate on the first and third Wednesday of the month.

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