Pike save day when duck won't do


A couple of weeks ago, on the way home from a disappointing hunt in the opening split of duck season, the car was pulled into an ersatz parking area along Route 404 on the Eastern Shore, where the Tuckahoe River crosses beneath the highway.

A fly rod still in the car from an earlier trip was taken out, the reel loaded with a spool filled with sink-tip line and a 6-foot leader of 8-pound test monofilament. A box with a half-dozen green and yellow deceivers was slipped into a hip pocket and a bee line was made to the river bank.

Sitting at riverside, preparing to tie on a yellow deceiver, mallards broke up from an eddy and flew downstream. Reflexively, the fly rod was mounted to the shoulder, brought to a lead on a drake, and an imaginary trigger was squeezed ever so lightly.

Missed again, of course.

But while duck hunting that day has been poor, the fishing along a half-mile stretch of the Tuckahoe was, well, just ducky.

The latter targets of the day were chain pickerel, the toothy fish that some call pike and which feeds aggressively on minnows and juveniles of other species, including and perhaps even selectively on young yellow perch.

In stretches, the Tuckahoe holds good numbers of yellow perch and pike. In fact, catch a yellow perch in some areas and it might well have scars or missing scales midway up its flanks, a ragged line where the sharp teeth of a pickerel closed but failed to hold its prey.

Chain pickerel are stealthy predators that ambush their prey, lying in wait in the eddies below points, within the tangle of a blowdown or along the edges of beds of submerged vegetation or sunken logs.

And fishing for them can be delightful.

Along this stretch of the Tuckahoe, tidal influence is negligible, and that makes the locating of pickerel somewhat easier than on other stretches of the river.

Casting a fly so that it can be worked by an angler and carried by current into ambush can be problematic. So use a short leader and make it stout enough to stand up to the pike's teeth and the inevitable snags of small, floating branches, underwater plants and so on.

If you are catching pike, check your leader often and change it as soon as it begins to show wear. Monofilament is a lot cheaper to use than tapered leaders and the pike probably won't care a whit. Certainly the half-dozen taken in a couple of hours on the short stretch of river didn't.

If you have an 8- or 9-foot fly rod and a reel for 7 to 9 weight lines you use for black bass, for example, they will do for pike as well.

In general, the pike will be holding to the downstream sides of cover -- although one rapacious 14-incher took a fly while chasing minnows in midstream. The cast should be positioned so that the streamer can be brought by the current toward the potential lie of the pike and line stripping can give it quick, darting action.

Pike grow quickly, reaching the 14-inch legal minimum by the age of 4, but the Tuckahoe doesn't seem to hold great numbers of keepers. But a 10-inch pike is full enough of fight to make the experience fun.

Joe Bruce, who operates the Fisherman's Edge shop in town, is an avid pike fisherman, especially in winter because pike are active cold water fish.

Instead of a deceiver, he likes to use a yellow and white Clouser Minnow on a size 4 hook with 1/50- ounce lead eyes.

Chain pickerel are not limited to the Eastern Shore.

Closer to Baltimore, the Magothy, South and Severn Rivers as well as the West River hold some pike where there are areas of underwater grasses.

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