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! 


Josenhans Fly Fishing – Guest Author

15 01 2015

Preface –

My dad taught me to fish. In fact, when I was a young boy and on through my teen years, my dad was my fishing buddy. My best friend. Still is. Truth 2014-11-30 12.24.30be told, we don’t get out much anymore. Work, distance, family, life; you know how it is. That being said, we still try to hit the Susquehanna Flats, or take short jaunts out of Crisfield when we can. Dad is 83 years young and still going strong, so I’m going to make a renewed effort this year to get him on the water more. Or maybe I’ll just go walk the trout stream with him. But I digress… A couple of years ago Dad wrote several short stories about his fishing experiences while growing up on Middle River in the upper Chesapeake Bay. While I hope to publish all of them at some point, I thought I’d start with the Fly Rodding piece as this has always been his favorite form of fishing. I hope you enjoy it.


Fly Rodding  –  by Ted Josenhans

I retrieved the lure part way to the boat and laid the rod across the seat letting the lure float a few feet behind. Taking hold of the oars I started to move the boat to a new position along the shoreline. I could see a bass finning slowly under the dead tree about 40 feet away and he was my next target.  As soon as the boat began to move there was an explosion in the water where my lure had been resting.  I grabbed the rod as it started going over the side and was on to a nice bass.

Welcome to the world of bass on a fly!  I had never even held a fly rod until this day, in my 15th year, and I hardly knew what I was doing.  Lesson learned – A lure doesn’t have to be moving rapidly to catch a bass.  Lesson 2 – If you are quiet enough you can catch a bass even though he can see you and/or the boat.  Lesson 3 – Bamboo rods were not my thing, I never did get proficient with a split bamboo rod. I broke several tips in the first couple years before getting my first True Temper hollow steel rod (they also broke after a while from interior rust and metal fatigue), thank heavens for the coming of glass. I will say that casting was much smoother with split bamboo (for me, anyhow) than any thing I have used since.

Dad Susky rock

Dad with a nice Susquehanna Flats rockfish

The spot I was fishing was in Hogpen Creek, a tributary of Middle River, Maryland. The water was crystal clear and about a foot deep along the shoreline.  For the first time in my life I was trying a fly rod, having often been told by my father about how the legendary Joe Brooks would catch any kind of fish on this long, thin stick.  This year of 1946, waters in this area were unaffected by the polluting effects of heavy boat activity and extreme sedimentation caused by boat wakes and runoff water from the many asphalt parking lots now in existence. In addition, the area was thick with the various grasses fishes need for cover and food sources. Bass, thanks to the planting efforts of clubs such as the Baltimore County Fish and Game Protective Association, were very plentiful in the Middle River area and were not heavily fished.

I was casting to the bass that I could see in the clear water because I had not yet learned that proper cover will contain many more fish than the open water where I was seeing them.  Naturally I spooked many more than I attracted and my results were slim.  But I learned.  I had no one to teach me the basics of fishing for the largemouth bass on a fly so it was all trial and error for a while.  Before long I learned to drop the popper in a hole in the grass and just wiggle it without retrieving if the hole was small, or to drop the fly at the far edge of the grass in a large hole and jerkily retrieve.  I learned to flip the lure under piers, next to pilings, under low-hanging trees or close to sunken objects such as logs.  The bass were cooperative.  I stuck mostly to a single pattern popping bug all the years I fished for bass because I had learned how to present it to the fish and how to retrieve it effectively.  No doubt I may have caught more by ‘matching the hatch’ but my results were sufficiently good that I didn’t even try.


Dad celebrates a 15-pound striper he caught at Smith Island several years ago

One incident early in my experience was exciting even though it was careless casting.  I was ‘false casting’ to get my lure between the grass and the shore line when I let my back-cast hit the water behind me.  I gave the rod a little more forward pressure to pick the line up and shoot the line towards my target.  I heard a ‘snap’ and about 18 inches of the tip of the bamboo rod broke and the line settled around my shoulders.  The culprit in this case, aside from my sloppy casting, was a 12-13 inch bass which had grabbed the fly as it hit the water behind me.

Truly, I got confident and even conceited over my ability to catch a bass.  Case in point! –  I was getting in my boat and my father said, “I’d like to have a bass fillet sandwich”.  I said ‘OK!’.  I pushed the boat away from the pier and let it drift about 50 feet back to a sunken log I knew was there.  I flipped the lure over top of the log, gave it a twitch, and bang! There he was.  Pop and I were sitting on the pier about fifteen to twenty minutes later enjoying a fillet sandwich.  The head of the 14 inch bass was still on the pier where I had cleaned him and the mouth was still opening and closing – that’s how fresh our fillets were.

I came to believe that the largemouth was really a dumb fish, a fish that would almost always give in to temptation and strike a lure if teased enough.  While fishing for bluegills with a #10 white miller I caught a small bass, about ten to eleven inches.  He gave me an idea to try something just for kicks.  In the clear, shallow water you could always see bass here and there just finning and resting.  I found that if I cast that small fly close enough I could generally get the bass to take it even if it took five or six casts.  The dumb fish wouldn’t even spook unless the heavy part of the fly line crossed his back.  One time I placed the fly right on top of one’s head and as it slid down past his nose he inhaled it while he was just breathing.  That was one surprised fish when I set the hook. (I repeated this several times over the next few years just to prove that is wasn’t an accident.)  Even with the popping bug I found that you could make several presentations to a single fish and get him to take it.  I still feel that if I can see the bass I can catch him if I am careful with my casting.  That may not be always true but I did it enough over the years to encourage that belief.

Even today, some 60 years later, the fly rod is my tool of choice when the opportunity is there.  I have never come close to the size or variety of fish that names like Lefty Kreh or the late Joe Brooks have regularly caught, but a seven or eight pound striper or a ten to twelve pound false albacore “albie” on my eight weight G.Loomis is enough to keep me coming back for more. A four weight stick and a two to three pound hickory shad in fast water give the same effect. That’s what is great about fly fishing, using the proper rod and line even a palm-sized bluegill is as exciting as fish twenty times their weight.

Varieties of fish I have caught using ‘fly’ tackle and appropriate lures  include:

      Fresh water:

Brown and Rainbow trout


Largemouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass

Black Crappie

Northern Pike

Chain Pickerel



Misc. small stream fish

      Salt and Brackish water:

Stripers (Rock)


Speckled Trout (Specs)

Gray Trout *

Flounder *

Hardhead (Croaker) *

False Albacore (Albies)

* These were mostly caught while drifting in 2 to 5 feet of water, along weed beds and using bait with only a split-shot for weight. Not typical fly-rodding but plenty of fun with such light tackle.