Now is the time — weather permitting — to fish the ponds, rivers and spillways of Delaware and Maryland (the Delmarva Peninsula).
Pickerel are the prime species, with specimens of over four pounds being taken in ponds, but largemouth bass, crappies, yellow perch, channel catfish, bullheads, bluegills/sunfish, carp and other species can be caught. In the rivers and spillways white perch, shad, herring, stripers and more may be added to the mix.
With slightly more southern locations and generally shallow waters, these areas spring to life first for fishermen. (Local reservoirs may be a couple of weeks behind, although deep water experts are likely already taking some trophy bass and panfish.)
Computer searches of “Delaware Pond Booklet” and “Freshwater Fishing Hotspots — Maryland” are gold mines of information on ponds and worth careful study for anglers and boaters. Both books give details of species and launch ramps. The Delaware “book” has topographic pond maps whereas the Maryland site provides more information in text and lists some rivers. The “Maryland Delaware Atlas and Gazetteer” published by Delorme Mapping, and widely available online, at Walmart and many convenience stores is another major asset in taking you to these waters.
Jim Gronaw’s “Eastern Shore Spillway Savvy” published by this paper three years ago and available on our website gives good information on where and how to fish spillways. I would add the Portsville Pond spillway in Delaware to Jim’s list. Spillways offer good shore fishing opportunities, but “combat fishing” conditions are found at times at some popular locations.
The above-mentioned publications give restrictions on these waters. Cartop boats, canoes and kayaks are generally the choices with oars, paddles and electric motors the best propulsion. Stability, safety and stealth are the major considerations, which makes kayaks the best choice for most waters.
With early year cold waters and the hazard of stump fields in many Delaware ponds, moving cautiously and wearing some form of PFD is advisable. Electronics aren’t needed in most of the smaller ponds but some kind of temperature gauge is helpful as fish migrate to warmer flats, shallows and weed and pad fields.
Tackle and lures
Medium spinning tackle is best. I like 6 ½ to 7-foot rods with 15 to 20-pound braided line. A “bite leader” helps prevent cutoffs from toothy pickerel, and veteran anglers take different approaches. I usually use a 2 to 3-foot section of 20-pound fluorocarbon attached to the braid either with an Albright knot of pair of Uni knots. I attach lures via a 100% loop knot, but at times, as discussed below, I may use a 30-pound clip to attach lures.
My favorite lures are 3 to 4-inch flukes Texas-rigged on 3/0 to 4/0 hooks with the barbs slightly offset for better hooking. Natural colors like panfish shades usually work best but white or chartreuse can be the choice some days. These lures can be worked through all kinds of cover and will take bass and even yellow perch and crappies.
Two open water favorites are a 4-inch Rapalas and a 1/8-ounce jighead mounted on a clip-on offset spinner and dressed with a 2 to 3-inch curlytail grub in the above colors. The latter is extremely versatile and takes all kinds of panfish in addition to bass and pickerel. I often troll one of these two lures in exploring water when moving from point to point in open water. This is an effective way to find and catch fish and find structure.
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Many of the Delmarva waters are loaded with quality panfish. Some flats and sunken trees have been proven hotspots year after year. Panfish often signal their presence by a series of strikes and missed hookups on flukes and other lures or by taking the spinner-jig and grub. There are several approaches to catching panfish.
A size 8 or 10 black wooly bugger fished on a 5-weight fly rod with a floating line and 3X or 4X leader is a favorite approach. Or light or ultralight spinning tackle with 4 to 6-pound monofilament and tiny black or chartreuse jigs or 1 to 2-inch curlytail tails grubs can be fished.
With the space limitations of a small boat or kayak, two to three rods is usually the maximum. So here’s a trick I use when I encounter panfish. Using the medium spinning tackle above, I cut off the bigger lure and tie on a 30-pound clip. The fine wire of the clip fits through the eye of a beadhead size 8 or 10 black wooly bugger. I add a clear, clip-on float for casting weight and, if necessary, a split shot a foot above the fly.
This “MacGyver” approach has produced countless bluegill/sunfish and crappies over the years in ponds and reservoirs and more than a few incidental bass and pickerel, since the 20-pound leader holds up to the pickerel’s teeth. When I’m done playing with the panfish I can quickly remove the float, shot, fly and, maybe, the clip and return to the larger lures.
I’ve covered a lot of material here, but there’s a great deal I couldn’t in the space of one column, e.g. different approaches to leaders with braided lines, more fly and lure choices.
In addition to the websites and Gronaw’s column above I recommend visiting joebruceflyfishing.wordpress.com for blogs on fly and light tackle fishing with an emphasis on kayak and shallow water fishing. You may even see some tips from me on this site beginning in the next few months. (See joebruce.net for flies and publications.)
Lefty Kreh, world famous angler and author and great friend, passed away on March 14. See my column of Feb. 4, 2017, “Gifts from A Legendary Fisherman,” for my tribute.