Chesapeake Outdoors

On the Water in Late January

by C.D. Dollar

Friday rainwater roared past, sweeping leaf litter, oil, trash and anything else in its path downstream. Given the ferocious downpour, this was to be expected - say at river's edge along the Potomac or some local waterway. The view, however, was from my kitchen window, and the street out front showed no signs of asphalt. My plan to fish a power plant on Super Bowl Sunday for catch-and-release rockfish was in jeopardy.

By Sunday, the weather cleared, the sun was out, and though the temperatures ashore were decent, a west wind blowing near 20mph produced a wind-chill in the lower 20s. Wind and muddled water color changed our plans. John Page Williams, whose writing talents skillfully cover nature, fishing and boating, was kind enough to let me tag along as he sea-trialed a new generation Suzuki four-stroke outboard engine bolted to the stern of a 17-foot center-console Key West.

Four-stroke engines are a relatively new breed, spurred on by EPA mandates requiring strict new emissions standards that have forced engine manufacturers into fierce competition to get their engines to the marketplace. These environmentally friendly engines are quieter, burn less fuel and put significantly less pollution in the air and water. The trade-off is they are somewhat bulkier and more expensive - but you've got to pay to play.

When we splashed the boat, John Page told me to fire up the engine. It purred smoke-free, and he jokingly said to try and start it again. I nearly did, it was that quiet.

Our plan was to run the boat in the Severn River to see how the boat and engine handled these conditions. We throttled out of Chase Creek, the wind stinging my face, and after a short run sought out a small creek in the lee.

Aside from running the boat, we wanted to go after chain pickerel, which, from what I have been told, have been keeping anglers busy during the mild winter. Pickerel are aggressive gamefish that continue to bite until the water temperature falls below 40 degrees, by then hunting primarily killifish. They hide among fallen trees and prowl along drop-offs, ambushing their prey. An elongated fish that grows at a good clip, some can reach over 30 inches if they survive about a decade.

I had brought my six-weight fly rod, some homemade Clousers (yellow over white) tied on a number #1 hook and a spinning rod. JP had a satchel of soft plastics, jig heads and spinner blades to work in a variety of combinations with bull minnows if needed. For a couple hours we tried nearly every conceivable retrieve and lure, but the closest we got to a hook-up was a dozen bumps John Page worked in Rays Pond. The tea-stained water and leaf litter on the bottom made for tough fishing; the fish were definitely off the feed. To my amazement, we did pull in some horned pondweed and milfoil, two grasses that were a good counter to an algae bloom brought on by the recent run-off.

A little frustrated by our lack of fish, we packed it in and headed back to the ramp. The small boat ran nicely in a following sea, and soon we had the boat loaded on the trailer, ready for its trip south to Miami Boat Show. Lucky boat.

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VolumeVI Number 4
January 29 - February 4, 1998
New Bay Times

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