Fishing on the Chesapeake this time of year can mean hooking into big, beautiful rockfish full of vigor and fight. But to do so you’re also at the mercy of ever-changing weather, which as we’ve seen this past week can be brutally cold and blowing a gale one day, and flat-out gorgeous the next.
This is also the time of year when chain pickerel become more willing to hit a lure or bait. And because they inhabit many of the Bay’s sheltered tidal rivers and creeks, as well as reservoirs and lakes, you can avoid the biting wind while still bending a rod. A somewhat ferocious-looking, almost prehistoric fish, its maw is crammed with sharp, craggy teeth not unlike a seasick crocodile’s smile. Its body, however, is a mesmerizing chainmail mosaic of greens and bronze.
If admiring nature’s fish art takes a back seat to peeling line, fret not because pickerel fight hard and ask for, nor give, an inch. I’ve cackled aloud after watching what I thought was a fickle pike, following my lure only to snub it at the last minute, suddenly decide it’d seen enough and launch its elongated body into a ferocious strike. They’re that kind of game fish.
Pickerel will pounce on a variety of artificial offerings, from spinners and spoons to jerkbaits and flies. But in my opinion, lures cast on light spinning gear (6-8 pounds) or flies (Clousers or Deceivers on #2 to 1/0 long-shank hooks) delivered via on six-weight outfit is about as fun as it gets. If you pressed me to just two lures, I guess I’d pick 1/4-ounce Woody’s (deep red head, white and chartreuse feathers) or a Mepps Black Fury (sizes 1-3). Soft plastics such as Zoom’s Super Fluke Jr. (split or paddle tails) in Baby Bass, Baitfish or Smokin’ Shad catch, too.
But we all know that nothing beats a live minnow. You can pin it on a painted jig head (1/8 to 3/16-ounce) dressed with marabou or similar hair. Pickerel hunter Lee Haile, who owns the Maryland state record with an 8-pounder he caught back in 2015 on an Eastern Shore pond, told me as the other day that he swears by marabou haired jig head in chartreuse with the “fattest” bull minnow he can find, adding, “the bull minnow does all work; I just go along for the ride.”
Some anglers might eat pickerel but not me; I don’t consider them to be even fair table fare. Besides, they’re too good as a gamefish, and because localized populations have historically experienced swings in abundance, why not let them swim away? To help them do so more easily, snip off or bend back extra tines on treble hooks, go barbless or mash it down. Thin, extra long needle-nosed pliers or hemostats aid in a safe release, as does a shallow, rubber landing net.
In recent years, the upper Eastern Shore ponds and creeks have given up the better grade of pickerel than local waters. I’d like to tell you shoreline and creeks in the Severn River, my old stomping grounds, are good places to fish for pickerel, but that bite has been way off for at least a few years now. Still, if you don’t want to travel across the bridge, waters like Ray’s Pond, Saltpeter, Brewer’s and Hopkins Creeks may be worth a shot as well. Years back, I’ve also spent a fair amount of time casting to shoreline structure in the Magothy River. Friends have suggested Glebe and Beards creeks in the South River though I’ve never fished either.
Lastly, pick your days. Current water temps are not to be taken tightly so let caution be your guide since even the most tranquil pond still poses a risk of hypothermia. If you paddle or use a johnboat, a life vest could save your life. If you’re stalking the shoreline, neoprene chest waders are more buoyant and retain heat better than breathable waders and finally, let family or a friend know your fishing plan.
JUNIOR HUNTER CERTIFICATE PROGRAM: These days here’s something you never hear someone say: “I wish I had a camera.” That’s because everyone has one, built directly into their phone. Even in the digital age, however, there still is something special about having a framed photo or even getting a certificate from a wildlife or fishery agency or group recognizing your
The Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Heritage Service wants to help you commemorate your young hunter’s first deer, turkey, or bear (As of now, the program does not include waterfowl; perhaps in the future they might consider adding) by issuing youngsters an official “Hunter Certificate.”
“Providing junior hunter certificates is a great way for youth to commemorate their hunt, whether it’s their first harvest or a special hunt with a friend or relative,” says Nancy Doran, Information & Education Program Manager for the Wildlife and Heritage Service. “Photos can also be included on the Certificate and the quality of the artwork makes it definitely worth framing.” Photographs may also be published on the DNR website in Maryland’s Junior Hunter Photo Gallery. To apply for a Maryland Junior Hunter Certificate, go online or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
DEER ARCHERY HUNTING: Starting Dec. 3, archery hunters will have chance to bag a deer at the Queen Anne Bridge Road Co-op Wildlife Management Area in Bowie during the open firearms deer hunting season, which runs through Dec. 8. If interested, archery hunters must contact the Myrtle Grove Wildlife Management Area (301) 743-5161 for information on gate access and the assigned parking area. Hunters also must possess a seasonal permit and make daily reservations, again via the Myrtle Grove Wildlife Management Area office. Hunting will take place Monday to Friday during regulated hunting hours.
Dec. 4: Public hearing on draft amendment considers adding Atlantic chub mackerel as a “stock in the fishery” in the Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan. Berlin, MD. 6 p.m.-7:30 pm. Worcester County Library, Ocean Pines Branch. 11107 Cathell Road, Berlin.
Dec. 10: Pasadena Sportfishing Group meeting. Capt. Tom Hughes will be guest speaker. Doors open at 6 p.m., meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Mr. & Mrs. Santa Clause will be on hand with candy canes and season joy! Robert Christy will recite PSG’s famous “Nite before Christmas” and there’ll be a drawing for a Spring Fishing Trip' with Capt. George W. Bentz on the Drizzle Bar. Free to the public. Earleigh Heights VFC, 161 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park.
Dec. 11-Jan. 26: Duck Season, third split. Check DNR website for regulations.
Dec. 14-Feb. 2: AP Canada Goose season, third split. Check DNR website for regulations.
Dec. 18-Jan. 12, 2019: Dove Season, third split. Check DNR website for regulations.
Jan. 12: Frederick Saltwater Anglers’ 10th annual “Fishing Expo.” 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Vendors, seminars, food. Frederick County (MD) Fairgrounds.
Jan. 19: Heroes on the Water Fishing Expo, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. All proceeds benefit the Maryland Chapter of Heroes of the Water. Odenton Volunteer Fire Hall, 1425 Annapolis Road, Odenton, 21113.
Jan. 24-27: Progressive “Baltimore Boat Show.” Baltimore Convention Center. Tickets and additional information at baltimoreboatshow.com.
Feb. 9: Tri-State Marine Fishing Show, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Free Admission! Table space is $60. Call Dawn Yoder, Tri-State’s Tackle Shop manager at (410) 867-2398.
Feb. 23: MSSA Annapolis chapter’s “Saltwater Fishing Expo.” Elks Club, Annapolis.
Feb. 23-24: Lefty Kreh’s Tiefest. Times and new location to be announced soon on their Facebook page.
Chris Dollar writes about the outdoors for The Capital. Contact him with items for his column or the outdoors calendar at email@example.com