Pickerel in the Spring – the Old Way

30 08 2015

by Ted Josenhans (Guest Writer)

downloadPicture a cool (cold), sunny day in early March with maybe a slight breeze. Few boats are on the water because summer’s not here yet. You are in an old wooden rowboat about 14 feet long powered by a pair of 7 foot oars. This is basic to early season pickerel fishing of years gone by and probably the most rewarding type of fishing a person can do who is looking for a sizeable fish, quiet, peaceful surroundings and a day of relaxation.IMG_2074

The early pickerel run in the Middle River area was eagerly awaited by many fishermen who by March were suffering from extreme ‘cabin fever’. Fishing for these toothy critters was very basic… 16 or 18 foot bamboo or Calcutta pole, line about two feet longer than the rod, 10 inch float, spreader, two #1 Carlisle hooks with 10 inch ‘snell’ and a pint of ‘bull’ minnows about the size of your index finger. To rig the pole and line was as follows:

– tie the line to the rod about 18 inches from the tip

– run the line to the tip and tie it again

– attach the float to the line

– attach a double end sinker below the float just heavy enough

to make the float stand up in the water, about 1/2 oz.

– put the hooks on the spreader

– hook the hooks in the end of the pole

– tie the line to the spreader with enough tension to bend the

spreader slightly and keep the hooks in the end of the rod.

The purpose of the last step is two-fold, one to make storage easy and keeps the lines from getting tangled, and second it makes the line just the right length for easy handling. If you hook a perch or some other panfish just lifting the rod will swing the fish right to you for easy unhooking.

Lefty and Dad

Lefty and Dad

Most fishermen at that time would rig their boat with the rods spread across the stern of the boat, one in the center and two to either side. With the five rods you had ten baits in the water. The floats would be moved up or down the line according to the depth of the water, I liked to keep the hooks about a foot above the bottom or bottom grasses if any. In the areas I fished the water was from three to six feet deep. Put the minnows on the hooks by passing the hook from under the mouth up through both lips. Don’t hook them too far back in the mouth or you will kill them and too far forward the lips will tear. Practice makes perfect!

After the rods are baited and positioned from the stern of the boat you then just row the boat slowly around the creek close to any structure such as logs or weed-beds and wait for the fish. When you get a bite stop rowing and give the fish time to swallow the bait. Watching the action of the float can give you an idea of what kind of fish is playing around. A pickerel attacks his prey from the side and will sometimes swim around with the minnow in his teeth for several minutes before deciding to take off so the float will just swim around in circles without bobbing very much. A perch will generally make the float dance more and then pull it under rather quickly as he takes the minnow from the head.

When you feel the fish has taken the bait firmly lift the rod to set the hook. If the fish is a pickerel don’t try to lift him out of the water with the rod butFullSizeRender-001 keep tension on the line and slide the rod behind you and pull the fish to the boat with the line. If you don’t have a net just quickly grab the spreader and lift the fish over the side and into the boat. Pickerel have very soft mouths and if you tried to lift them with the rod you would probable lose most of them. Also, most of the spring fish will be about two or more pounds and the rod may break. If the fish is a panfish such as a perch you can just lift them in by raising the rod almost vertical.

Pickerel are, in my estimation, a good-eating fish when pan fried. The reason most people do not eat them is that they are very bony. Many of the bones can be circumvented with a little examination of the fillet. It’s been such a long time since I have eaten one that I have forgotten exactly how the bones are situated in the flesh, but if you check with the tine of a fork it’s easy to see. The most troublesome bones are shaped somewhat like a wishbone, and if you run the tine of the fork lightly through the fillet you can extract almost all with one pass. It’s worth the effort, at least once, to enjoy this good game fish.

Spring pickerel fishing as described above is fishing as it should be; lazy, occasionally tense as when the bobber starts doing tricks, exciting with the hooked fish, disappointment with the lost one and elation with a successful landing. Add it all together and you have the recipe for an enjoyable memory.

Kevin’s Note: For those of you not familiar with my family history, I was born while mom and dad lived in a small house on Hogpen Creek, a tributary to Middle River on the upper Chesapeake. My grandfather and grandmother Josenhans owned a summer waterfront home not too far away in Bauernschmidt Manor, which soon became their permanent residence. We called it, simply, “the Shore.” Needless to say, I spent a good bit of my summers fishing and crabbing the waters of Middle River – “in an old wooden rowboat about 14 feet long powered by a pair of 7 foot oars.”

Happy 84th Birthday Dad! 




7 responses

30 08 2015
Bernard Dormer

Nice story. Bernie

Sent from my iPhone


30 08 2015

How lucky thou art!!

the Old Man

30 08 2015

I like your Dad’s stories. I spend a lot of time pickerel fishing during the winter in the Severn ( with my 3′ electric motor oars ). I rarely see another fisherman. I agree—very lazy type of fishing ). See you in October Kevin. Pat

1 09 2015
Josenhans Fly Fishing

Thanks for the kind comments everyone, Dad will appreciate it! See you in October Pat.

2 09 2015
Michael Avara

Great Story! It amazes me how complicated our fishing has become when in years past things were simple and just as productive, maybe more productive

2 09 2015
der Fischadler

Great article. Thanks for sharing.

2 09 2015
Josenhans Fly Fishing

Thanks guys. Glad you enjoyed it!

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