Up from the Cold Depths
by C.D. Dollar
When it first broke the water's glassy seal, it looked incredibly reptilian, more a creature from the depths of the Amazon River than a fish from Chesapeake Country. The broad snout could turn eggs in a pinch, and its jaw was crude and held a set of jagged teeth that would do a baby gator proud. Its body was green with a bronze tint, and the distinctive chain pattern extended from the gill cover to its caudal fin.
The pickerel had fought hard against Dr. Stanley Watkins' flyrod, and when the beast was finally brought to hand, it clearly bested my earlier chain pickerel by several inches. John Page Williams, who had taken me to fish this salt pond, one of his favorite honey holes off the Severn River, applied the forceps to the Clouser fly and removed it from the pike's mouth.
For the last few winters, pickerel have more than occupied the attentions of winter anglers as they wait for trophy rockfish season to open; pike have engaged them in tough battles and filled their afternoons with excitement. And with prudence and caution foremost on our minds (see note below), chain pickerel allow some of us to fish nearly year-round.
On the Severn, South and Magothy rivers as well as several other tributaries, this relatively under-used fishery is gaining fans every year, some who have taken that word back to its roots and become fanatic pike fishermen.
"I've seen pickerel strike a lure with crazed ferocity. Other times, they take the bait real easy. I had one fish follow the lure until it was less than a few feet from me, then the pike looked up at me as docile as can be. A weird and wonderful fish," Williams said.
These "green wolves" - I think that's what Williams called them - have benefited greatly by the resurgence of Bay grasses in the Severn and other rivers. During the warmer months, many species of SAV - such as horned pondweed, common waterweed, redhead grass and Eurasian milfoil - grow wild in the tidal salt ponds of the upper Bay tributaries. These grasses provide the perfect camouflage for the solitary pickerel to lurk and ambush prey. (Now if we can just bring SAV back all over the Bay, we'd be doing something, including more pickerel fishing.)
On that afternoon, banks of fog rolled in and gave the day a surreal quality, almost like an Ansel Adams photograph. We took canoes to the small inlet, then waded the shoreline tossing flies and soft plastics like Bass Assassins into the shallow water. The fly that my first fish struck was an invention called "Igor," tied with clear monofilament on shank, dressed with chartreuse bucktail and over-sized plastic eyes glued to each side near the hook eye. Believe me, it looks like Igor; it's that ugly.
The pike didn't discriminate on looks, thankfully, and hit Igor hard. Then, as if to demonstrate its anger at being fooled, it executed a few aerial walks that would have won over the crowd at Sea World.
My first pickerel was the largest I caught that day (a little better than 20 inches) and one of five overall that ranged from about 20 inches down to 12 inches. Scott Walton also joined us that day, and combined we caught and released at least two dozen fish of varying size and fight in an afternoon. Now that is what I call a winter time activity.
Note: Winter waters can seriously injure or even kill if you are exposed too long. To reduce this risk, use extreme caution. Wear quality chest waders and fish the shallows. Fish with partners to reduce the risk.
| Issue 6 |
Volume VII Number 6
February 11-17, 1999
New Bay Times
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