Torn Between Two Loves

This time of year brings conflict for me. The Trophy Rockfish Season beckons with the promise of big fish on big water, a temptation that is almost impossible to resist. Yet there is another of nature’s sirens murmuring in my ear. This one promises even more luscious treats to be had as the sweetwater bite blossoms.

Fish Are Biting …
  The white perch run continues to please a lot of anglers on Chesapeake tributaries. But most are poised for Saturday, April 16, when the Trophy Rockfish Season opens. Anglers out on the Bay early for shakedown cruises and a bit of catch-and-release are finding few stripers to practice on in the mid-Bay. But that can change in a heartbeat as the spawning migration continues. The Susquehanna Flats is getting hot with shallow-water temps in the 50s and big staging rockfish beginning to smash surface plugs and fly rod poppers. Trout fishing is gathering steam, crappie fishing should be excellent, and pickerel will be out in force in freshwater impoundments.

    Each spring as the trees bud, the daffodils burst into bloom and shoots of grass start to weave their luscious green carpet over winter’s barren leavings, in the sweetwater, largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, pickerel and perch emerge from their deep winter lairs.
    Answering nature’s call, they are swarming to shallow, shoreline locations, sweeping out spawning sites and performing their intricate and secret dances to attract mates. They will attract anglers as well.
    This is the time of year when you can quietly slip a canoe or small skiff along the banks of a wooded shoreline and cast a spinner, bug or fly to tempting pockets of water with explosive results. Though the fish are of modest size compared to their saltier cousins, they do not lack for aggressiveness or dramatics.
    There is no more theatrical image than that of a gill-rattling, head-shaking, five-pound largemouth launching itself into the air to protest an angler’s deception. And for fierce aggressiveness, few compare to a bluegill’s willingness to smash a small, floating bug that has had the impertinence to invade its domain.
    The crappie (pronounced properly with a broad a sound) are gathered along deeper shorelines, but they are schooling and preparing to mate as well. These brilliant green, speckled beauties provide a singular challenge.
    Hard fighters and eager to take a small minnow, spinner bait or wet fly, crappie demand a delicate hand. With a large but fragile mouth structure that has earned them the alias papermouth, they can shed a fishhook easier than a tabby cat its winter coat. And their table quality is such that few anglers choose to share any information as to their whereabouts.
    Then there is the deadly U-Boat of the freshwater, the pickerel. Silently lurking in ambush behind screens of brush, downed tree limbs or just-emerging weedlines, these long, toothy, water wolves are murder incorporated. Their attack is sudden and fierce, and if you’re lucky enough to hook up with a big one, you’ll have a spectacular battle on your hands.
    All this as the sweetwater countryside awakens from winter. Turtles of all sizes and types arise from their hibernation beds in the bottom muck to ascend shorelines and even the branches of downed trees to catch the new warmth of our spring sun.
    Brilliant royal-blue kingfishers swoop shorelines to catch small, unsuspecting fish and even the throaty frogs are busy sending their songs across the emerging lily pads to prospective mates.
    Herons and egrets in beautiful climax plumage stalk the shorelines, home from their winter migrations to far-distant southern climes. Across the water, the calls of geese and ducks — even the eerie cries of a few loons that have decided Maryland is far enough north for them — echo as they establish the boundaries of their newly chosen nesting sites.
    The open water of the mighty Chesapeake does beckon strongly this time of year. But Maryland’s outdoor temptations are many and varied. After our long and miserable winter, that’s just what we all need.