Gronaw: Toothy critters, and more, at Deep Creek

Gronaw: Toothy critters, and more, at Deep Creek
We release almost all of our chain pickerel although a few "catch and cook" experiments have proven them to be delicious. (Jim Gronaw photo)

Over the past few decades I have always tried to find time to fish Garrett County’s Deep Creek Lake in the extreme western panhandle of Maryland.

Some trips have left a little bit to be desired as this sprawling 3,900-acre mountain-top lake can be challenging. As a summer tourist attraction, DCL allows unlimited horsepower boating, skiing, personal water craft, pontoons, bass boats, tubing, rentals galore and even a shot at peaceful canoeing and kayaking … if you choose your times wisely.


My son Matt and I have fished there several times in the late fall period in October and early November, and always managed to catch a variety of species with both chain pickerel and northern pike, toothy critters, running high on the list as the dominant catch.

While targeting these fish, we sometimes encountered other species such as bass, yellow perch, and bluegill.

I’ll be the first to say that the summer gig at DCL can be discouraging to many anglers simply due to the boating traffic and water-born activities that can create an all-day froth of the lakes surface. Traditionally, outside of ice-fishing, I have observed the lake as an “early and late” water body, both in terms of daily prime times and seasonal.

In other words, hit the lake before Memorial Day and after Labor Day, and concentrate angling efforts early and late in the day.

Our family vacation this past August at DCL had that exact script for fishing success. Although still deep in the gut of the summer crowd, cloudy, rainy weather kept recreational boating to a noticeable minimum.

Hence, fishing opportunities prevailed, especially for the “TCs”, or toothy critters.

We stayed at a cabin in the North Glade region of the lake and had good access to the water for boating or kayaking. Despite the good access, we caught all our fish from the shore, wading early and late in the day.

My son Matt and his daughters Elena and Abby show off their recent largemouth bass catch at Deep Creek Lake.
My son Matt and his daughters Elena and Abby show off their recent largemouth bass catch at Deep Creek Lake. (Jim Gronaw photo)

Pike and pickerel have long been a standard here as bass anglers often catch them in pursuit of largemouths and smallmouths.

In recent years several local contacts have assured me that the northern pike are becoming more abundant with a high percentage of the fish running from 22 to just under the 30-inch minimum size limit.

Chain pickerel average about 18 to 20-inches with a good shot at a citation-sized fish that requires a 24-inch length for the award, with much larger fish caught each year.

The current state record pike at 24 pounds and 12 ounces was a DCL inhabitant and pickerel have topped out at near 30 inches.

With no boating traffic early and late in the day Matt and I concentrated on the first, and last 90 minutes of each day to toss Mepps spinners in and around docks and shallow weed beds during these low-light conditions.

The action was not fast and furious, but we did manage several fish each outing. We used light action spinning gear with 10-pound braids with 15-pound test monofilament leaders, plenty enough gear to handle the majority of these fish.

I managed to land a "personal best" chain pickerel while chucking a #4 Mepps spinner between the docks during our stay at DCL
I managed to land a "personal best" chain pickerel while chucking a #4 Mepps spinner between the docks during our stay at DCL (Jim Gronaw photo)

Some may question the use of a mono leader and no steel leader for the TC’s, but when you consider the size of these fish, combined with #4 and #5 spinners, 95 percent of the fish are hooked on the back treble hook and bite-offs are not a concern.


I like lighter outfits for these energetic, acrobatic fish and have only had one bite-off in many years of fishing this way.

On a couple mornings Matt ran out and fished with live minnows below bobbers to get my granddaughters, Elena and Abby, onto some feisty smallmouth bass at the state park facility.

With a combination of weeds and rock on the bottom it was here where Matt found out that jigging a 1/8th ounce Road Runner, tipped with a minnow, would score bass and pickerel as he caught, and lost, several of each.

Meanwhile, the girls played tug-o-war with 10 to 14-inch smallmouth bass and missed a bunch of fish. Later, they would find great joy in playing with the remainder of the minnows that didn’t make it to the hook! Cool enough!

Although it was cooler than normal and overcast much of the time, fish remained relatively active and water temperatures were at a comfortable 72 degrees. As time marches on and fall progresses the waters will cool very quickly at DCL.

However, fishing for the toothy critters will hold up well into early November. Boating traffic will be minimal and the lake level will be lowered several feet to assist in dock removal before the ice season sets in. There are many weed types in this lake and as some weeds die off there will be openings in shallow weeds in the 5- to 12-foot depths that will allow the use of spinners and spoons for pike and pickerel.

Anticipate a by-catch of largemouth bass, big yellow perch and perhaps some walleyes in deeper, rocky areas. Suspending jerk baits are also an option at this time.

In all the times I have fished at DCL over the years this is the first time that I have caught more northern pike than pickerel. In the mix, I managed to land a new personal best chain pickerel at 26 ¼ -inches and one nice largemouth at 3 ½ pounds. Matt had a near-citation pickerel and the girls just giggled and laughed while playing with the minnows. To get a better picture of our trip check out my YouTube channel “Fishin’ with Jim Gronaw” and the episode “Toothy Critter Beatdown at Deep Creek Lake.”

Yes, despite the crowds and boating traffic, Deep Creek Lake has a lot to offer once the summer crowds are gone and school is back in session.

Variety rules, but the toothy critters may just steal the show.