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Oh, Beautiful Day

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The irony of this report/outing is that the weather was definitely not beautiful, but, boy, did the fishing turn out gorgeous! With only mid-range winds predicted from the northwest, up to 15 knot gusts, I sensed this Saturday afternoon (Feb. 25th) would be a beautiful day to scratch my itch to catch some fish. The forecast for this day was the kind that either turns an angler totally on or completely off. Me…I absolutely loved the 100 percent cloud cover and chance of mixed precipitation. Cloud cover equals an extended bite, especially for sight-feeding predators like pickerel, which were the day’s target. Make no bones about it, I wanted to hook into some fiesty fish. Period. And the conditions, with a high tide ebbing for the afternoon hours, had me excited. So, would the fish cooperate? (I may have already answered this question.)

Fairly simple and straightforward approach to fishing, which was two-fold. I took the jon boat into an upper Severn River creekshed, known to hold decent numbers of pickerel. With the surface water temp reaching upwards of 45–46F and the water level sitting normal-to-high, I shot straight to the creek’s headwaters for the first of two potential patterns. I’ve had success in the shallows where 5–7′ deep water transitions to 2–3′ mud flats that abut an undeveloped forest. The shoreline is riddled with laydowns.

For this situation, I employed a 6′ St. Croix Triumph light spinning rod, with a medium stout, 5′ leader of 12# test Seaguar flourocarbon (Blue label) attached to the 10# test braided mainline. An 1/8oz jighead tipped with a Moondog Bait Company 2″ slim shad was the lure choice—great action on this little bait that perfectly mimicks the minnows of the creek. This is a very easy setup to make casts 360-degrees throughout the shallows or for pinpoint casts around the abundant cover. I worked the lure everywhere the water was wet. Unfortunately, no fish showed up to play at this location. In fact, I probably spent more time plying the shallows that I should have, given what would come next.

To the docks I went, to work the mid-depth pattern of fishing the edges of docks and pilings that stretched from 5′ depths into 10–12′. To fish the drop from shallow to slightly deeper water, I decided to work a jerkbait. And for pickerel, it’s hard to pass up an erratically twitched Rapala XR08 in perch color/pattern. The X-Rap minnow series is especially versatile for dialing in the desired depth and working the bait in a variety of presentations—either traditionally as a jerkbait worked with subtle twitches and restful pauses or a more aggressive, swimming retrieve. Both entice reaction bites from fish lurking beneath the strike zone. Pickerel will often hover at lower depths, eyeballing all that moves above them. Couple this with the cover that docks provide and you have a recipe that often produces. Today was no exception.

This fat 19″ pickerel (look at that girth) hit the Rapala XR08; first fish of the day.

I use a 6’6″ medium light spinning rod, same braid and leader tests, to work the 3-and-1/8″, quarter-ounce lure. I can zip the little minnow with precision around and, even, under the docks. Once my arms adjusted to this new setup, I hit my stride and the casts were feeling very on point. I worked a row of docks that usually produce a bite or two, but didn’t see any fish following what I was throwing. A little frustration set in, but I kept going down the line, working the next dock, and the next. Finally, a fat 19″ pickerel thumped the lure. The hit came within the 5′ zone of an 8–10′ depth. Next dock in line, same thing. A 21″ fish hit in the same zone and depth. At this point, I reached the end of what I consider the productive stretch of docks. Those next in line start dipping into 14–17′ depths, which is a bit too deep for reaching any pickerel that may be lurking, with my chosen presentation.

Almost all fish were lip hooked, which cements the importance of swapping stock treble hooks with inline single hooks, as shown here.

So, I made haste into the next creek over and to a similar run of piers at the ideal depth. At this point, the water was into it’s ebb cycle and beginning to drop to a level that’s less than ideal for the pickerel bite in and around cover. Nevertheless, and in quick time, I managed to catch four more pickerel on the XR08, all in similar fashion to the first two fish (slightly deeper water around the ends of docks or between them). In fact, I never picked up another setup the rest of the day, choosing to stick with the jerkbait. Work, work, work is the order of the day when zeroing in on a pattern. Fortunately, it paid off and made a severely overcast day with spits of rain and snow one of the brightest fishing outings of this February. See y’all on the water again, real soon!

The winning lure of the day, a Rapala XR08 in perch pattern.