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A Ton of Fun for Their Size

Overlooked by anglers obsessed with size, herring stocks make good catching and good eating

Casting my small, sparkling streamer out across the broad creek, I let it swing down with the current. My fly rod — a light, soft, seven-footer — flexed with the force of the water on the line. As the line straightened below me in the stream’s flow the strike came, putting a real curve in my feathery stick.

A small, silver torpedo shot through the water then leapt into the air, somersaulting across the rippled shallows. It jumped again, then again, flashing in the sun, stressing my flimsy rod and putting a broad smile on my face. I let the fish speed downstream as it pulled the line through my loosely tensed fingers.

When at last I could see that it had tired, I eased it back in. Cradling the fish in one hand, I loosened my small fly from the corner of the fish’s mouth and turned the creature loose in the clear, cold water. It swam away unconcerned, its mind already on other things.

Fish Are Biting

The yellow perch run has peaked and is tapering off, though there will still be some good catches made as late-running fish appear. White perch are making their presence known, and good catches will be made throughout April. Big pickerel and bass are staging in the upper reaches of the tributaries, but all tidal-zone pickerel must be released until the end of April. News from the Susquahanna Flats is scarce, but catch-and-release anglers are doing well on large rockfish in the mid-Bay area, boding well for the opener April 19. The temperatures may still be chilly but the fishing is finally getting hot.

Although that buck herring was scarcely 12 inches long, matched with my three-weight rod, the tough little fish had really put on a show. And well it should have. River herring, both alewives and bluebacks, travel thousands of miles in their seasonal ocean wanderings, usually fleeing some predator or another. The herring’s very existence depends on speed and tenacity.

My next cast brought another immediate strike, again just as the line straightened. But this fish was a fat hen, noticeably bigger than the buck. Heavy with roe, it did not jump as much as the smaller fish, but its runs were longer and even more exciting. Bringing it to hand, I unhooked the rascal and took it straight to shore, easing it into a small cooler bag filled with ice. I consider herring roe a special, springtime treat.

Herring do not eat during their spring spawning runs up the Bay and into the tributary headwaters, but they will strike a small, bright lure with abandon. Before evening approached, I had lost count of the number of fish I had fought and released.

The Bonus on the Table

Overlooked by most anglers in favor of their larger and more glamorous cousins, the hickory and white shad, the herring can be a ton of fun to anglers not obsessed with size. The bonus, of course, is on the table. Herring stocks are still healthy enough to allow fish to be taken for consumption.

Later that evening, I removed the roe sacks from the half-dozen fat hen fish I had kept, reserving the fish themselves for later use. I gently rinsed the sacks, then stripped the eggs from the enclosing membrane, collecting them in a small bowl.

Scrambling three eggs (the poultry egg to roe volume ratio should be roughly one to one) thoroughly in another glass bowl, I then gently mixed in the loose roe along with a teaspoon of white Worcestershire sauce and a pinch of salt.

I melted a quarter stick of butter in a medium-sized cast iron pan set on medium heat. Just as it began to earnestly sputter but before it could brown, I poured in the egg/roe mixture. Smoothly and constantly stirring, I waited for the mixture to thicken. As soon as the eggs set, but before they got firm, I removed the skillet from the heat and took it directly to our table. Still in the hot cast iron and with a dusting of paprika, I placed it in the center within easy reach of the eaters.

Spooning the thick, rich, roe custard onto wedges of lightly toasted, country bread, we saluted the delicious event with a chilled white wine. Except for a briefly spoken thanksgiving for this gift from our Tidewater, there were no other words heard at the table until the pan had been scraped clean.

Blue Crab Alert

Even though the blue crab harvest was the second worst in Maryland history and the population of breeding-size females is dangerously low, Maryland Department of Natural Resources is apparently proposing only modest changes to harvest regulations. Aside from prohibiting recreational catches of female crabs, little else appears to be aimed at making any major adjustment to the overall harvest. See and comment on the proposed restrictions at

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