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Breaking a Bad Habit

After too many winter weeks off the water, I’m fishing again

Bill Doyle and Ben Steck with one of many yellow perch.
     The first fish was a small crappie, but it generated as much enthusiasm as a state record-breaker. Our lucky angler, Ben, held it proudly aloft, his light spin rod bent over, as we all cheered his success. This diminutive fish was the first catch of the year.
      After three consecutive postponements due to freezing temperatures, we were finally on the Pocomoke River with friend and guide Kevin Josenhans. My ­middle progeny Harrison was in the bow; my brother Bill was next to him; and our long-ago adopted brother, Ben Steck, was using up all of his goodwill bragging on what a fantastic angler he was.
      The Pocomoke has become our go-to location to open the new season. Many areas nearer our homes yield fish in the early season, but for us the Pocomoke has been the most reliable. Plus it is a distant enough drive to justify an overnight stay with an angler’s celebration.
     Emerging from Maryland’s Great Cyprus Swamp, the Pocomoke is Maryland’s eastern-most river. Flowing 60 long miles to eventually pass Snow Hill, then Pocomoke City, it borders Pocomoke River State Forest and Pocomoke River State Park.
     The weather was uncharacteristically mild, mostly sunny in the mid-70s with a light breeze, and the tide was on its way to flood. It was a slow pick at first, but the fish became more and more cooperative as the day unfolded. Ben built on his success with a near-citation-sized yellow perch so hefty it had to be netted.
      Glowing golden and orange as only a yellow perch can this time of year, the big female was clearly spawned out. Thus there was not even a twinge of guilt as we deposited her in the box.
      “This one is mine. I’ve got to bring some fish home on this trip,” Ben said. “Katherine was curious about an overnight fishing trip, especially when there’s still ice on cars in the morning.”
      With that information, we warned Ben that if he didn’t stop crowing on his earlier successes, we’d call his house and ask where he was as he hadn’t shown up in Pocomoke. He stopped us mid-threat by pulling in an enormous white perch. Luck is maddeningly fickle.
      The lucky rod on our boat eventually moved from Ben to my brother Bill, who wrestled in a sizable and toothsome pickerel or two and finally brought more yellow perch to the net. Then Harrison added a series of keeper slab crappie to our growing fish box. 
     Eventually all of our rods began dipping to an electric mid-day bite that included just about every species common to the Pocomoke. 
      We were using small 1⁄16th and 1⁄8th-ounce, lead-headed, ball jigs tipped with white curly tailed plastics and trailing a lip-hooked bull minnow. Kevin demonstrated that all of these fish could be taken without live bait, but we inevitably found that our wrists were too winter dulled from inactivity to impart the necessary action consistently.
    The river had generously provided for the first fish fry of the year in what I expect to be another fantastic season.
 
Fish Finder
      Yellow perch have peaked, while white perch are running strong. Pickerel are beginning their spawn but remain legal; minimum size is 14 inches, and possession limit is five. The prime baits for all three species are bull minnows lip-hooked on jigs or shad darts fished under bobbers.
      Catch-and-release anglers at Sandy Point have reported some small rockfish and many medium channel cats. But the big migratory rockfish have been conspicuously absent. 
      Trophy rockfish season opens April 20; Limit one fish 34 inches or more.