Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 11
March 16-22, 2000
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Spring Fishin’
Many Fish Bite — If You’ll Brave the Ides of March

Beware the Ides of March.
—William Shakespeare

Overconfident Julius Caesar didn’t heed that advice, and we all know what happened to him. Well, the Ides of March are on us, but if we’re interested in fishing, perhaps things aren’t so bad. Though there are a few problems.

One could be that yellow perch appear oblivious to tradition, which holds that March 15, the actual Ides of March, is supposed to be the peak of the yellow perch run. Webster, in his dictionary, tells us the Ides also includes to a lesser degree, the week before that date. But even that is beyond the scope of perch’n this year.

Much of the runs were over before then. Many yellow ‘neds’ headed to fresh waters to drop their long ribbons of eggs a week or two before the Ides arrived.

So, now it’s the white perch’s turn; they follow the yellows by a week or two, and they show signs of spawning interest in streams where waters are warming a bit more and eggs will hatch.

Many Fish Bite

’Tis the time of spring, which officially arrives March 21, six days after the Ides of March. Shakespeare, in another of his works, Much Ado About Nothing, promises us “Bait the hook well; the fish will bite.”

Methinks there are many fish to bite as spring comes — even when March winds blow. This is crappie time, but not a crappy time for fish’n. The crappie — also known as the calico bass, papermouth and bachelor perch — is one of the most popular fishes across this nation, though pretty much ignored hereabouts.

The fight of a crappie is not spectacular. It doesn’t grow big, though the Fishing In Maryland record is 20 inches, 41&Mac218;2 pounds, for a fish caught in a Harford County farm pond in March of ’78.

March — and perhaps April — are the best times to chase crappies, though more glamorous fishes are also available. You might say it’s a conflict of interest.

In addition to yellow and white perch, herring are swimming up the Chesapeake to spawn in freshwaters. Hickory shad are also headed north from the ocean, and — though they can’t be kept because of a moratorium of long standing — there is much interest for them among catch-and-release fishermen.

The top-water antics of a hickory shad are worth more to the eyes of a spring fisherman than its tasty roe (which are better even than that of the bigger white shad).

The winter has been long, though with the exception of the big snowstorm it has not been severe. But, alas, many anglers fish by the calendar these days. Back when God made real fishermen, they fished any day they thought fish would bite. Their activity wasn’t dictated by comfort on the water.

The Fishing’s Fine

But anglers have become as soft as the mouth of a crappie. So soft is the crappie’s mouth it can be compared with the thickness and texture of the newspaper you are now reading. That’s why calicos are frequently referred to as papermouths.

This is also a time for bass, especially the largemouth variety. But again, the largemouth and its smallmouth counterpart have become catch-and-release species this time of year. Those caught in fresh water can’t be kept from 15 days before the Ides of March to June 16 — though in tidal waters keeping fish 15 inches or more is allowed.

Unfortunately, with the possible exception of fall on some waters, these are the best days for bass’n as this species also gets wrapped up in the spawning ritual. Ferociously, bass guard the nests they fan in the soft bottom with their tails. And they don’t take kindly to any artificial lure that comes by.

This is the time for big bass, and the bigger they are the more belligerent, thus the more vulnerable to the hook. Yet far fewer anglers are willing to challenge them than back before fisheries managers decided they should be protected.

The fight of a largemouth — like the hickory shad — makes the trip worthwhile. Like the crappie, the white and firm flesh of the bass is rather bland when compared with the perches, hardheads, rockfish, sea and freshwater trout and many other species.

But You Must Not Eat the Fish

What’s the tastiest fish in Maryland? That honor just might go to the walleye, whose flesh is as delectable as that of an Atlantic salmon.

But at Deep Creek Lake, where the hunt for walleyes is most productive, again fisheries managers have decreed they must be protected during spawning. Thus few are the fishermen who seek them at this time of year. They’re just not sure they’ll have the willpower to return a hooked walleye.

This time of year is also associated with pickerel, which is the freshwater counterpart of the briney bluefish. It’s toothy, vicious, feeds on other fishes as well as about anything else with flesh that moves, fights well when full grown and — unlike the blue — has sparkling white, sweet flesh well worth the difficulty in separating it from its bony frame.

But in tidal waters, pickerel go off limits on the very day of the Ides of March, not to become legal again until May 1, when the spawning run is over. In sweet waters, there is no season close. But, with the possible exception of Loch Raven Reservoir, no waters turn out pickerel like the Magothy, Severn, South, upper Choptank, upper Nanticoke, the Pocomoke and other tidal tributaries from the Pocomoke to the Northeast River.

In the Chesapeake, the rockfish are stirring. Many are biggies, mature cow stripers heading to spawn in the upper Bay, the Potomac, Nanticoke or Choptank — all officially designated spawning areas and currently closed to even catch-and-release rockfishing. Closed for keepers, too, are the Patuxent, Patapsco and Chester, which have shown signs of becoming new spawning sites though they are not yet shut down for catching and putting back this time of year.

Then there’s the Bay itself, where along channel edges big rockfish are heading to spawning grounds. Some are willing to take a bait, especially near the surface on bright, warm days. Try big trolling baits in waters of 40- to 60-foot depths with baits in the upper third of the water column. But be prepared to release the catch until the season officially opens April 25. Keep a striper out of season and it could cost you your boat and tackle as well as a hefty fine.

In the ocean, the Boston mackerel — it’s said there are many of them this year — are heading to waters off Ocean City. But it could be another week or two before they arrive. Yet have heart: There is no closed season on these fish so delicious when smoked, pickled or cooked up in butter.

Beware the Ides of March

That’s where we are on this Ides of March. With the more tasty fish, it’s predominately back into the drink. In the old days, fishermen would sneak out of the backyard, skipping out on beating rugs during spring cleaning to catch a fresh fish for an appetizing departure from the usual fare of crisply fried salt pork and gravy with mashed potatoes.

Along came the vacuum cleaner to make rug beating obsolete. But the men of the house can no longer keep for the table the fish they once sought at this time of year. In this age, Shakespeare was right. Beware the Ides of March.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly