Spring’s Freshwater Fighter
You won’t have to battle crowds to hook the toothy pickerel
My small Tony spoon with a lip-hooked bull minnow sailed out and landed alongside one of the many fallen trees angling out from the impoundment’s shoreline. I let my lure sink next to the tangle of branches for a moment, then lifted the rod tip of my small spin rod and began teasing the bait back.
My line twitched as the minnow resisted. Then, within three or four cranks of my reel handle, I encountered a sudden resistance and set the hook, hard. Water erupted, and an iridescent green flank flashed in the sunlight as a nice chain pickerel threw a conniption fit at the deception it found stuck firmly in its jaw.
The drag on my ultra-light reel zinged out a lively tune as the toothy rascal made its way out to deeper water, the force of its run against my rod actually swinging around the stern of our small dingy. My partner in the bow, Maurice Klein, grabbed our net and kept a sharp eye on the battle. Pickerel are not the sort of fish you can lip-lift into the boat.
Opening day of trophy rockfish season was excellent for many anglers. The winds and rain came late in the day, allowing enough time for most anglers to score some very nice fish.
Spring Turkey Season: thru May 9, half-hour before sunrise to noon; May 10-23, half-hour before sunrise to sunset
The fish broached, sounded, ran again and pulled all sorts of grass pike tricks including heading back toward the tangle of trees where it first got in all this trouble. But it didn’t have quite enough gas left to make the trees. After another half-hearted run, it was thrashing about in Moe’s net.
Easing the spoon out of the corner of its long, sinister smile, I estimated it at over 18 inches and lowered it back into the chilly water to go about its business. And I breathed a sigh of relief. This was a nice way to start our day in spite of the weather.
We had been hoping for another nice warm spring day to explore one of our favorite Eastern Shore impoundments for some large mouth-bass or perhaps even some early season bluegill. But a cold snap the night before had thrown the success of the trip into doubt. It was quite possible that the sudden onset of the low temps had sent all the residents of this small lake into deep hiding.
But of course pickerel aren’t like that. They are energized by cold weather, and today they were happy to provide the kind of attention we were looking for. Continuing to work the shoreline, Mo and I picked off the chain-patterned pirates one after another.
Pickerel has a firm, sweet white flesh, but not many people are willingto put up with the plentitude of tiny bones that network through its flanks. Since few anglers keep the fish, there are usually plenty of the scrappy, freshwater barracudas hanging about just about any structure that affords them an ambush advantage.
A few minutes later Maurice got a smashing hit on his favorite lure, a Pcola Nitty Spoon, and nearly had the rod torn from his hands. A good-sized pike had followed the lure almost back to the boat before it struck. Then it had come up through the surface and threw another water tantrum right next to us.
Many anglers overlook these battling, slim, long-bodied predators. But if you’re wanting for action from December all the way up to the summer months, these guys are generally around and eager to give you a scrap.
A live minnow under a bobber is the traditional way to attract their attention, but they will also strike a lure. Small- to medium-sized crank baits in the livelier colors do well on these fish, as do small, flashy spoons. The Mepps Spinner is a particularly deadly pickerel bait, especially if dressed with squirrel tail.
If you’ve a yen to try these fish on the table, despite their bony reputation, there is a unique cleaning technique that manages to avoid most of what makes boning them a chore. Find it on YouTube by searching Northern Pike fillet videos.
The Northern Pike is identical in body and skeletal structure to the pickerel. You will also find numerous videos for filleting pickerel. But this name is used widely in our more northern states to identify the walleye pike, which has a completely different body style, and those instructions will only confuse the issue.