You are currently viewing Ice Cold Pickerel

Ice Cold Pickerel

On a frigid Thursday in January, I ventured into the home creeks near and dear to me—Valentine and Plum creeks, two small tribs off the main stem of the upper Severn River. The hunt was for pickerel, a species that renowned local angler and author Lenny Rudow writes about in his fantastic and detailed book Rudow’s Guide to Fishing the Chesapeake as being plentiful, specifically, in these two creeks.

Having fished these waters for more than a decade, I can attest to Rudow’s characterization of this piece of the fishery, with a healthy class of 18–23″ pickerel thriving here, especially during the coldest months of the year. If you’re looking for trophy/citation size pickerel, Valentine and Plum offer a questionable maybe. But if you’re looking for strong numbers and consistency, working the banks of these two shallow creeks will appease any angler.

I began the day working the “north/east” shoreline of Plum Creek, then around and down the other side of shoreline, hitting all laydowns and docks. Same in Valentine Creek. I split casts pretty evenly between two lures of choice—a shallow diving Rapala Shadow Rap Shad and an Old Skool Tackle Underspin Jig (1/4oz) tipped with a Zman DieZel Minnow Z in electric chicken color. Of note, for all Rapala lures and other solid plugs, I swap out the stock treble hooks with VMC Inline Single Hooks, which are safer for the angler and the fish. I’ve yet to notice a difference in hookup ratio between the two.

I primarily threw these baits using a spinning combo—a St. Croix Premier PS60MHF paired with a Penn Spinfisher VI 2500. For main line I spool Power Pro 15# and run a 3–4′ leader of Seaguar Gold Label 20# (I like Gold Label for it’s test strength to diameter ratio, the strongest yet thinnest flourocarbon on the market that I have found). I prefer a medium heavy setup for working jerkbaits and heavier tipped jigs, which allows me to work the bait and impart the action necessary to elicit strikes. Some may say this is too much “muscle” for these fish and I agree that this setup has more than enough backbone and test strength to pull in pickerel, but, again, my preference is utilitarian to work my baits of choice as I like. Your preferences may vary.

My approach was to cast the underspin closer to the docks and laydowns and the Rap more toward the shallower shoreline and open water, but also beside the docks. Quickly, I had one pickerel hit off a laydown in Plum; a section between two piers with two larger laydowns. And another hit on the opposite shoreline between a set of docks grouped together in a sort of “corner” of the creek, so to speak. Both fish were nice 20–21″ that came on the shallow diving rap shad. Water was very cold at 39F and there was a 1/4″ layer of ice covering the back coves of the creeks. I think the bite might have been in deeper water; just a hunch. For a quick outing into proven waters, bagging the first fish of 2022 felt great! See y’all on the water again, real soon!

The first pickerel of 2022! Felt good to catch fish in the depths of winter.