of the Icy Waters - By: Bob Gooch
- Feb. 2004
tossed my minnow-rigged lure out
into the icy winter waters, watched
red and white float settle on the
surface, and quickly stuck my hands
back into the warm pockets of my
wool jacket. Watching anxiously
as the float
came to life and began to dance
on the surface, I grunted with satisfaction
and settled back to wait. The rented
boat rocked gently on a high tide.
not for long!
Suddenly the action of the float
began to pick up tempo, and then
disappeared into the brackish winter
water! Fish on! Cold hands temporarily
forgotten, I reeled in a bit of
the slack line and tried to exercise
Give the fish time. Don't jerk the
minnow out of its mouth. Let it
swallow it and then strike.
What kind of fish was I doing business
with? A big yellow perch--or a fat
chain pickerel? I was sure it was
one of the two, but which? Hopefully
a big chain pickerel, though I wouldn't
be disappointed if I was onto a
scrappy yellow perch. Either fish
would give a good account of itself
in the cold waters.
Finally I raised the rod tip and
struck. Hard. Good fish! Even as
I shifted into
position for a good battle, the
fish suddenly cracked the surface
on its tail out there in the cold
Maryland waters. Big one! I was
or six pounds as it shook its head
and splashed back into a cold spray
And just as suddenly it was gone!
Had I failed to set the hook firmly?
Probably so. The chain pickerel
bony mouth lined with sharp teeth.
Sometimes hard to drive a hook in
firm set. And even if I had, those
sharp teeth could quickly sever
pound test monofilament line.
Disappointed, but thrilled, I quickly
rebaited and stuck my now freezing
hands back into my pocket for another
That bit of winter fishing drama
added sparkle to a cold morning
Maryland's South River just south
of Annapolis a good half a century
it's a fond memory that lingers
in my mind-along with dozens of
across America. I haven't fished
the South River for years, but I
from a fellow angler who lives in
the area that pickerel fishing is
now a thing
of the past.
That particular pickerel fishing
may now be a part of angling history,
the chain pickerel remains a good
winter fish throughout much of Maryland
and Virginia. I've caught some good
ones in the popular Chickahominy
the equally as popular Chickahominy
River. I've also caught many in
Creek that flows near my Fluvanna
County home. The chain pickerel
is a good
winter fish wherever you find it.
In fact I believe the winter fishing
more productive than the warm weather
In recent years my pickerel fishing
has been pretty much limited to
waters of eastern Virginia. You
can find them far up tiny headwaters
streams that flow eventually into
our major eastern rivers such as
James and Rappahannock. I enjoy
no fishing more than pulling on
a pair of hip
boots, and wading, and casting to
pickerel in small streams, many
have no names. I choose ultra-light
spinning tackle and generally small
surface lures. I fish upstream so
as to remain inconspicuous as possible.
Stream fish generally lay with their
heads into the current awaiting
drifts downstream. Approaching from
downstream you are less conspicuous.
The chain pickerel is king of the
waters, particularly in small streams.
will take up residence in a good
pool in the stream and rule the
any other fish to venture into its
domain. Such a fish can be a sucker
carefully presented surface lure
dropped lightly in its lair. "He's
one fisheries biologist once told
me. "If something invades its
wants to get it out of there".
That zeal can be the fish's undoing.
the most explosive strikes I have
ever experienced have come in the
sparkling clear pools of tiny streams.
These chain pickerel are not big
but they don't lack in courage nor
the desire to rid their mouths of
lure. I love that kind of fishing.
The pickerel's explosive strike
is probably the most exciting part
unique fishing experience. It hits
with reckless abandon, and for that
prefer surface lures such as the
age-old Hula Popper or Jitterbug.
lures usually hook the fish in the
corner of its mouth where it is
likely to pull free. Over the years
I have also taken a number of good
underwater lures such as spoons,
the red and white Daredevil being
choice. You miss the exciting surface
strike, of course, but there are
when topwater lures won't work.
I mentioned live bait in the opening
paragraphs, and lively minnows hooked
through both lips will survive for
a long time in the cold water, and
can bundle up and keep his hands
warm while the minnow does his fishing
him. The sight of a float suddenly
disappearing beneath the surface
thrilled many anglers through the
ages. "The prettiest sight
in fishing is the
ripple on the water where the cork
was," noted one aging angler.
I rarely use
live bait anymore, but I don't hesitate
to do so if the occasion arises.
The Virginia Department of Game
and Inland Fisheries does little
the chain pickerel. There is no
closed season nor size limit on
the fish, but
the daily creel limit is five. The
fish doesn't ask for much. Give
it some clean
clear water and some rich aquatic
vegetation and it will continue
some of the most exciting freshwater
And go for him during the cold months
when the fireside will feel welcome
after a few hours on the chilly
waters of winter. Many are taken
fishermen in the northern part of
Virginia and in Maryland. Deep Creek
in western Maryland is a popular
ice fishing lake.
That's winter fishing for chain