Catch a Fish and All Is Well

It doesn’t matter what happens the rest of the day

Harrison Doyle with a monster carp caught on the Pocomoke River.
      It was a tense moment. After a number of postponements for high winds, hail, rain and freezing temperatures, my son Harrison and I were fishing the Pocomoke River. Bundled up in layers of foul-weather clothes, our fingers already numb from the 30-degree air, we had finally met up with the stellar Eastern Shore guide Kevin Josenhans for our first sortie of the new season.
       Comfortably ensconced in Kevin’s 20-foot Jones Brothers skiff, we worked small jigs with lip-hooked minnows as an added attractant in the 42-degree waters. Were we going to catch anything? The yellow perch bite can be a chancy thing in the spring. Often the fish just aren’t there, as the schools erratically surge up the rivers to spawn, then retreat downriver to their home waters. Other times, maddeningly, they are there but simply won’t bite.
       I felt just the slightest resistance on my line as I swim-flicked my bait near the bottom in the seven-foot depths. In reaction, I rolled my wrist into a gentle strike: Fish on! Grinning in victory with my rod tip bent down to the water, I glanced over my shoulder to gloat only to see Harrison’s rod bent into a hard arc. A double hook-up on our first cast was an excellent start.
      Minutes later into our fish box slid two exceedingly fat golden-yellow perch with bright olive vertical bands and fins the iridescent orange of their spawning hues. After that, it didn’t matter what happened the rest of the day. It could blow, rain, snow or sleet, for we had scored our first fish. Everything else would be gravy.
      We were in for a lot of gravy.
      As the sun broke through the morning overcast, we tangled with more of the stocky yellow devils. Occasionally interspersed were some sizable pickerel up to 25 inches, then some rowdy crappie. These speckled and particularly frisky panfish are also referred to as calico bass farther north. In the far south, the Cajuns call them sac-a-lait (sack of milk), and they are so esteemed on the table that they are the official Louisiana freshwater fish.
      The Pocomoke itself is a grand angler’s river. Slender and sheltered enough to be fishable in almost any weather, it springs up in Delaware’s Great Cypress Swamp, then meanders through Maryland and eventually into the Chesapeake, as the Bay’s easternmost tributary. Distinguished by dark waters because of the loblolly pine, bald cypress and red maples that throng its edges, the river is remote enough along most of its length that it traditionally harbors excellent populations of both freshwater and brackish water sport fish.
      We were reeling in plenty of sizeable perch and crappie, enough for a couple of springtime fish fries. Both species are excellent on the table, especially if they have a generous coating of panko crumbs and are crisped brown in hot peanut oil.
       Even with enough fish for our needs, the trip was not quite over.
       It’s necessary to make arrangements with the drawbridge in Snow Hill to allow boats to access the upper river above the town. Our afternoon appointment to head downriver to the boat ramp was fast approaching. Fishing toward the bridge as that time drew near, Harrison had a solid hook-up.
        The fish took line at will and made a number of determined runs. It acted like a foul-hooked submarine, taking so much line at one point that Kevin had to fire up the Yamaha in chase. It was proving quite a handful for my son’s ultra-light rod and six-pound line. Our bridge appointment drew ever nearer.
       We discussed having to cut line without even seeing the fish when it finally surfaced. After a desperate stab with the landing net we drew a still protesting 15-pound-or-so carp into the boat. After releasing it back into the water, we made a quick run to the drawbridge — reaching it at the last possible minute.
 
Fish Finder
       The yellow perch run has peaked, but the neds will still be caught from time to time the rest of the month. White perch are in full swing this week, with lovely fish being caught in all of the tributaries but especially the Tuckahoe around Hillsboro and throughout the Upper Choptank to Red Bridges, and on the Western Shore at the creeks off of Whitehall Bay and on the Upper Magothy. Hickory shad have arrived in all the usual haunts, especially the Gunpowder and sometimes at Red Bridges (Choptank) and the Patuxent. 
       In the sweetwater, crappie are coming on strong (and delicious). Live bait — minnows, worms and grass shrimp — are tops for all species, but as the water warms the fish will start hitting curly-tailed jigs and spinner baits. Pickerel remain active in all the waters and are taking anything with a minnow on it as well as spinnerbaits and small crankbaits. 
       April 21 marks the beginning of trophy rockfish season.