We eased the canoe quietly up to within comfortable fly-casting distance of the shaded shoreline. A sparse blanket of fallen petals and pollen covered most of the water’s surface along this wooded edge. But I hoped the bluegills holding there could tell the difference between floating foliage and a tasty beetle.
Go Eastern side if you want a chance at rockfish, the farther south the better. No one is sure quite what has driven the fish off the Western Shore, but the low salinity and the agricultural runoff from the Susquehanna drainage is surely part of it. There are rumors that the live-lining bite is starting up (with small spot as bait), but reports are sketchy and success is not widespread.
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There was no wind that morning, so we let the canoe drift as we fished. It looked to be the start of an outstanding day, and my first cast sent a small, black, bream bug plopping down a few feet off the weed-tangled bank. Two seconds later a feisty bluegill inhaled the popper, and I came tight.
Feeling the bite of the hook, my fish made a dart down the shoreline, putting a hard bend in my small rod. As I applied pressure to deny its escape route, the clever devil reversed and dove into the cover of a nearby floating weed patch.
I towed the buoyant mass slowly toward the boat, disappointed that I hadn’t managed the fish into more open water. When I lifted the sodden mess to untangle the bream, the crafty bugger slipped the hook. No matter; I intended to release it anyway.
My buddy at the stern paddle, Todd Bosley, declared it a good omen: “First cast, first fish. Can’t get a better start than that.”
“Unless it’s like grabbing the first hand of poker,” I challenged. “Then you’re luck turns cold the rest of the game.”
I’m not sure whether my comment brought on our subsequent luck or not, but my words haunted me.
From Fat to Lean
I had been fishing this body of water for well over 30 years and felt I could predict how we would fare. That day looked promising. The water was clear, the winds calm and the floating patches of weeds that usually plagued the lake this time of year were sparse enough to allow decent casting.
Todd had never fished a Maryland warm-water impoundment before, and I thought that this particular lake — a traditionally superb bass and bluegill haven — would be a great way to introduce him to some good top-water bluegill and bass action.
But when we worked over the better shorelines for almost an hour and only caught a couple of small bream, it was nothing like I expected. Changing tactics, we switched to spin and casting rods, hopping a couple of top-water Scum Frogs over big patches of good-looking lily pads in hopes of moving some bass.
It was slim pickings there as well, however, and it took us another half hour or so before Todd scored a chain pickerel, his first ever. As we continued to work the cover, it became obvious that the largemouth bass, usually the dominant residents in the lily pads this time of year, were absent.
Persistence Pays Off
Refusing to admit defeat, we redoubled our efforts. Moving toward the headwaters of the impoundment, we cast over more shoreline with our fly rods and finally discovered a gathering of good-sized bluegills. Todd hooked a 10-incher on his black Sneaky Pete and finally got to see why I was so enthused with this species of fish.
He had never caught bluegill on a fly rod before, and the big bull, bright in spawning colors, gave a good account of itself against his light four-weight. Scoring close to a dozen very nice fish along that area, we eventually wore out our welcome and had to move on. But it was a good sign.
Changing back to throwing our top-water frogs as we paddled through some extensive lily-pad fields, we were rewarded with more action, getting a number of slashing strikes and eventually landing four or five more toothy pickerel between us.
Focused on our fishing and determined to score, neither of us had noticed how hot it had gotten. In the heat of the day, temperatures had risen to over 100 degrees. We called it quits.
Along the return route we tried peppering a few more likely spots with our bream bugs and caught another bluegill or two before we finally arrived back at the ramp. As we drove down the highway, gulping Gatorade and water and recounting our hard-won successes, I apologized that the lake had not lived up to expectations.
“I loved every minute of it,” Todd replied.