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An Unexpected Twist

You don’t always get what you want …

I loaded my rods, reels and a favorite fishing partner, Sophie, my German shorthair pointer, into the pickup and headed for the Eastern Shore. Comfortably nestled in the bed of the truck was a broad 10-foot dingy with an electric motor, my small water fishing rig.

I had planned on some early season fly-rodding for bluegills, one of my favorite of all springtime activities. The Eastern Shore lake I chose had yielded fish before this time of year, and I hoped I would once again find these scrappy fish congregated on their nesting beds.

This April day, however, my hopes turned out to be premature. Two hours of patient and careful fly-casting had netted just six ’gills. The water was chilly and off-color from the recent rains, and the males I hooked were not yet displaying their bright spawning colors. I put my fly rod down reluctantly. Perhaps next week.

Fish Are Biting

White perch are still active in the headwaters, but the peak of their spawn is past. Shad were red hot last week at Deer Creek, and these leapers should be showing in other tribs as well. Don’t hesitate; the runs won’t last long. Opening day of rockfish is April 19 and should be gangbusters. There are lots of big fish in the mid-Bay.

Plan B

I then picked up an ultra-light spin outfit set up with a small gold spoon, my Plan B. If the bluegills did not work out, I was going to try to locate a school of yellow perch that had populated the small lake in past years.

Lip-hooking a small minnow, I began casting to one of the downed trees that lined the shore and settled down for what I felt would be a long, slow afternoon of exploration. Yellow perch are not easily located in these fresh-water impoundments. They take a lot of searching, and even then they aren’t a sure thing.

As I slowly retrieved my second cast, letting the spoon sink, wobble and wave its tasty minnow enticingly through the depths, I wasn’t expecting immediate success. But I was prepared to endure.

Then the lure hung. I lifted my rod tip, hoping to free it. No luck. I lifted a little harder, putting a strain on the six-pound-test line and a good bend in my fragile rod. If it was fouled on an underwater branch, perhaps the wood was rotten enough to give way.

That’s when I felt the headshake. That’s when my line took off, following a submerged rocket out toward the middle of the lake. Placing my fingertips on the turning reel spool, I increased the drag resistance. My boat’s bow swung around to follow.

The fish turned and came back. I cranked furiously. As it neared the boat it broached, and I got a glimpse of my adversary. Cutting through the surface, the variegated green side of the long, lithe predator glowed like a neon sign. Whether you call them chain pickerel, jackfish, green pike or pond barracuda, they all mean the same thing: a mouthful of teeth and a handful of trouble.

The fish turned back toward the middle of the lake, and this time it jumped almost clear of the water, showing an impressive length. Then it sounded and took off, pulling line from my reel like the drag wasn’t there. I turned the motor on and followed the fish out away from the snag-filled shoreline. I liked the idea of keeping the battle in open water.

At last I got the rascal close. It barely fit in the small net I had carried for the bluegills; in fact, the fish leaped out just as I got it aboard. I threw a small wet towel over its head as it thrashed on the deck, and it quieted. Handling the heavy fish with the same towel, I quickly unhooked and released it: too many bones for my table, but a great battler.

Getting back into action, I tossed another cast toward some brushy looking territory and was surprised to immediately hook up with another pickerel, this one even larger. I had taken these fish from time to time in the past while fishing this small lake, but had never blundered into more than one on any given trip.

This time was to prove markedly different. In the next two hours, I lost count after well over a dozen fine pickerel, half over 20 inches and one pushing 24. It seemed as though every tree or submerged bush had one of these assassins lurking in ambush.

Along the way I also bagged a half dozen fine crappie and lost a few brawlers I never saw. I ran out of minnows before I ran out of bite.

Pulling my boat and heading home, easily an hour before dark, I reflected on a truly fine day. Plan B had been wildly successful — in no way I had anticipated.

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