Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Those that follow this column may have recognized that I carry an affinity for the chain pickerel.  The reasons are numerous.  They can be a very aggressive ambush predator capable of athletic battles thanks to a muscular, snake-like build.  They rarely turn their noses up at a well-presented meal; and they can be found conniving in lazy, weedy waters within a short drive of most anglers in the Commonwealth. 

    However, the pickerel’s reputation as a cold-water species is, in my mind, the fish’s winning trait.  Pickerel prefer water temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees, which can be found in Virginia from early fall through late-spring.

    As the weather warms and water temperatures break the 50-degree mark, pickerel move from their peripheral, mid-depth winter haunts into shallow areas marked by woody or weedy cover.  There they broadcast tens of thousands of adhesive eggs onto cover and then take up position along the weed edge. 

    In some instances, pickerel become inspired by currents and migrate into lakes via spillways or into smaller tributaries from larger rivers.  All in all, if you locate a body of water with a relatively slow or still flow with some amount of woody or weedy cover, odds are good pickerel can be found marauding its shallows.

Small fish, big fight

    It was mid-spring in my eleventh year when I stumbled upon a large creek that brushed the boundary of the subdivision I once roamed.  While bluegill fishing in a small impoundment overlooked by the last cul-de-sac, I found myself staring off into the woods at the sharp topography that the pond’s outflow penetrated.  An upbringing featuring plenty of aimless driving and fish scouting hinted to my trained eye that the ridges were worth exploring. 

    After beating my way one hundred yards through brier bushes and thick successional growth, the woods began to mature, and nature’s background track grew into a profound roar.

    My eyes first saw it as a wide, deep elbow pool.  Perhaps 15 feet across and three and a half feet deep at the widest point, the creek was far superior to the modest trickle that navigated the edge of our lot.  No, that water was a discovery worth more investigation.  I returned home wide-eyed, to return again.

    The next weekend the sun was bright and the trees glowed with the green of newly-sprouted spring leaves.  Middle school was winding down; and my cares, with it.

    I toted my weapon of choice—a weathered Shakespeare ultra-light spinning rod—shouldering a daypack filled with snacks, water, spinners, and a camera.  I didn’t know quite yet what my newfound haunt held fish-wise, but I had all day, and I was going to get to the bottom of it. 

    My bike fell in a heap at the edge of the woods and I followed my beaten path through the woods to the crest of the hill that provided me my first glance at the water.  It was more glamorous then to a boy in the sixth grade allowed to explore the woods and waters near home all by himself than anything else I could have wished for.  It was all mine. 

    My first cast was in the tail of the long elbow pool that I met initially.  Deep undercuts commanded by complex, old oak roots claimed both banks.  My Joe’s Fly first met the left bank, past the oak.  

    Working the lure slowly, finessing it through the currents just fast enough to manipulate the small gold spinner blade, I slid the faux meal into the dark tannic waters under the bank.

    When at last the glint of pulsating gold slipped out of perception and into possibility, the sensitive tip of my ultra-light jarred, and I swept the rod into the weight of a fish.

    After the initial surge, my nerves were no less shattered when the fish refused to relent.  Rod tip high, fingers poised cautiously on the reel handle, I was forced to allow my adversary to convulse and strain out of sight.  At last, I gained favor, and turned the fish’s head towards the tail of the pool. 

    In a last-ditch effort to escape, it unleashed a frenzied head-shake as its toothy jaws broke water.  
    Relieved, and drawing the fish ever closer, I collected the fish’s lengthy form in a cupped hand to behold 12 inches of small stream pickerel.

Virginia State Parks camping season changes

    In order to better serve campers, Virginia State Parks will open campgrounds on the first Friday in March—this year, March 6—instead of the historical March 1. 

    Exceptions include Lake Anna, Staunton River, Pocahontas, and Smith Mountain Lake State Parks where camping will open March 1.

    Because of its high-elevation location, Grayson Highlands State Park will be open to primitive camping March 6 and full-service camping May 1.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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