Our Wintertime Wonderland

     Winter weather can be hard on anglers. It’s discouraging to think of fishing when the early morning light is reflecting off of your iced-up car in the drive.

     For many other sportspeople, winter is opportunity knocking. A duck hunter can become elated over an incoming cold front accompanied by some occasional sleet, snow and stiff winds. That’s what brings the birds down from up north to fill our skies and careen among our decoys.

     An especially cold, crisp day also energizes both deer and upland game lovers. For some reason, the birds fly stronger and faster. Deer, grouse, woodcock, quail and pheasant move about much more freely seeking the warmth of sunny exposures and extra food. The chilly air also aids bird dogs with good scenting conditions and keeps them from overheating.

     Bird-watching is an excellent cold-weather activity as dropping temperatures send migratory populations of raptors — including eagles, hawks, falcons and owls — plus many songbirds we don’t normally see during the temperate months cruising through the Bay on their way south, often all the way to South America.

     You’ll never get a better opportunity to see Canada geese, snow geese, swans, brant, bluebills, ruddy ducks, buffleheads, oystercatchers, northern shore birds and that most handsome of ducks, the canvasback. Over 140 species of avians pass through our great estuary this time of year. Good binoculars are the aid you need for accurate identification.

     Winter is not optimum for anglers — exept us optimists who greet each day wondering if it will stay cold enough to freeze the line in our rod guides. If the temperatures wander a fair bit above 32 degrees and stay there, then it’s not too cold to go fishing. And there’s always something biting somewhere.

     My table favorites this time of year are fish you’ll have to travel to the Atlantic to encounter: the tautog, sometimes called a blackfish, and the black sea bass. Both are fantastic eating, powerful adversaries plus a good reason to visit Ocean City, when you have Maryland’s main oceanside connection and picturesque beaches almost all to yourself, with bargain rates for lodging.

    With the new year, yellow perch season commences. The earliest fish to begin its spawning runs up the Chesapeake tributaries is also one of the better fish for the palate. Some gourmands even rate it higher than the mighty white perch.

     Pickerel must be included in both fresh and brackish water. Long and toothy, they are energized by the cold and accompany the early spring spawning runs of both yellow and white perch. They will strike at any lure that looks remotely edible. 

     Chesapeake winters are not exactly front-page attractions for tourism brochures. But with a change of clothing, we can be comfortable under the most demanding conditions. For today’s technically advanced clothing and gear, we have to thank the crazies who climb freezing mountains or insist on skiing down them and still others who embrace winter sailing and cruising the Southern Ocean.

     Compared to places like that, Chesapeake Country is a winter wonderland.