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Hot Steel Cuts the Cold

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“Whew baby, it’s blowing now!” I said to myself…out loud…probably a half dozen times during today’s venture, while trying to weave my way from the throes of windward blasts toward inklings of leeway shore. My tippy-toes had already gone numb despite two layers of socks. The buff that covered my head and beanie offered little relief from the northerly that was bearing down. Things were getting a tad hairy. But perseverance prevailed, and hot steel would heat things up.

When the forecast calls for mild and occasional gusts of 10–15 knots and the tide is predicted flood to peak, I go fishing. Today I went fishing, which started out well enough with some sunshine and gentle puffs on a crisp, cold 30-degree early-morning. But the clouds rolled in by 10 a.m. and with them, strong winds that hissed though the deciduous woodwork of the shoreline I attempted to drill.

Today’s windchill felt like the mid-20s, so on with the beanie, buff, glasses, and gloves.

I spent most of the day in the shallower creeks of the upper Severn River. If you’ve read previous reports, you likely know where I can be found. These trips are usually simple and to the point—find pickerel and yellow perch, don’t waste time in unproductive spots, check honey holes, and move on until the fish present themselves. The cold-water lures of choice today included; a 1/16oz jighead tipped with a Moondog Bait Co. 2″ slim shad (perch colors); 1/8oz jighead paired to a Mister Twister 3″ sassy grub (rootbeer gold); and an XR08 Rapala X-Rap in a very sexy color…hot steel. One light-rated spin setup and two mediums helped me sling ’em.

In and around mid-depth ends of docks and dropoffs from 3 to 7–8′, the sassy grub got the early nod, followed by the X-Rap almost exclusively (and we’ll get to that in an moment). For the super skinny water (2–4′), I primarily threw the small profile slim shad, which I’ve found to be a perfect match to the baby minnows in the creek.

Like many anglers coming off a couple hot-bite outings, my first hunch was to return to the honey hole that produced a stringer of yellows and multiple pickerel within the past six weeks. The drift along my chosen shoreline was almost identical to previous outings, but the water was a bit lower—having been blown out a touch by the northerly. Regardless, I played repeat customer, slinging the slim shad into the shallows and gently hop-swimming it back to the boat. No takers. I drifted the spot again. Nada. One more time, zero hits, a few curses (but no lost tackle, yay), and it was time to move on.

At this point the wind was chugging and pushing me steadily out of the creek’s headwaters, so I rode the drift toward a stretch of docks and whipped out the jerkbait…some very hot steel. (Hey, when I’m alone, cold, and the bite is all but dead, jokes help me maintain sanity…or maybe they don’t.) I came upon an old, dilapidated dock half-sunk in the 5′ zone. The water always looks juicy around this particular dock, even in a slight chop. Sometimes fish are there. And this moment was one of those times. I worked the X-Rap from the near-shore end of the dock parallel to it’s length and, suddenly, felt the heavy pull of a pickerel. Lip-hooked (thank you fish gods!), the 19″ fish took my skunk away (thanks again fish gods!). We might be onto something…

First fish of the morning was lurking around an old dock and hit the Rapala X-Rap in hot steel color.

But because I’m a glutton for punishment, I thought, “Okay, let’s motor around the fork in the creek to other mudflat-headwaters and see if fish are sunning up there.” If you think I’m joking about the fish “sunning,” I’m not. The water temperature read 34F where I had been fishing along shaded, blowout banks. Moving to this slightly more exposed mudflat saw a 6-degree increase to 40F. Great, right? Wrong. Despite my angling aspirations, pin-point casting, and perfect presentations (wink), the fish weren’t there. Back to the docks.

So, with the windspeed continuing to increase and drifts harder to control, I tried my best to tuck in between a few larger, longer docks, which offered a touch of protection. It was still difficult maneuvering, but I was able to get myself into one particularly fishy spot that produced a couple pickerel in February of last year and, I think, another decent specimen in late-November. Throwing the hot steel X-Rap on a dime between a T-shaped dock on the left and a sharply dropping bank (2 to 7′) on the right, got a nice hit. A healthy, unscathed 18″ fish. By the time I released her, I had drifted 25 yards downstream, so I circled back to the exact same water to make another cast.

On several pickerel fishing trips, I’ve occasioned into the odd phenomenon of these fish schooling together. Usually a solo, predatory fish, pickerel have been known to hunker together in small wolf-packs. So repeat casts made sense to me in the moment. Sure enough, the very next cast into the same location produced a thicker fish. Though only 19.5″ in length, this pickerel felt and looked heavy—girthy from feeding. Third and fourth casts to this spot came up empty, so time to move on…toward home.

This girthy pickerel also hit the hot steel X-Rap. Three’s company on the lure of the day.

“It’s really, really blowing now” is probably the nice version of what I kept saying to myself as I made haste to the boat ramp. The wind never let up. It only got worse. At one point en route in the middle of the creek’s deeper water (about 10–12′), the fish finder appeared to light up with a herd of fish. “Gotta be yellows” I muttered. But no matter how many casts I dropped down deep, nothing bit and I kept getting blown away. Might have been the fish that I caught six weeks ago, then three, at today’s starting location. Maybe they moved up and around the creek bend. Maybe they’re staging. Maybe they simply weren’t hungry. Maybe, I was seeing things. After all, the cold in my toes was starting to get to my head. Thank the fishing gods for hot steel warming things up for a spell. See y’all on the water again real soon!

The day’s winning setup: medium spinning outfit with 15# braid, 12# flouro leader, and an XR08 X-Rap in hot steel. The reel is a Pflueger President XT.