If you live in an area where your water is hard in the winter, I’m betting you can relate to what I call “tweener” fishing. For me March is that “tweener” month when things are starting to happen, but no fishery is really going off the hook just yet. It’s not trout season, rumor of one or two stripers circulate on the Internet, and though the lakes may be thawed, the water is still frigid, keeping bass and crappie in their cold-season patterns. But if there is one fish I can always count on this time of year, it’s chain pickerel.
One of my favorite places to hunt “picks” has got to be the cedar bogs, rivers, and ponds in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. As soon as the ice melts, the dark water and dark bottom trap lots of heat, and the fish move onto the flats. They are hungry, aggressive, and you can sight-fish for them. It’s ice-out shallow-water pike or muskie fishing on a mini-scale. Sometimes it feels a hair like bonefishing, too.
This March I devoted time to chasing them on the fly. Line slap caused some fish to spook, debris collected on the flies, but when a cast came together and ran clean, “V” wakes tracked, the surface bulged, and Zonkers got inhaled. No, these fish are not big, but that’s why they make three-weight fly rods. Click here or on the photo to check out a gallery and video of a pickerel fly trip I took just last week with Online Editor Nate Matthews.
Pickerel are one of my favorite fish, but chasing them in the cedar shallows ends as soon as the water gets low and underbrush fills out. Frankly, once the trout start rising and the tuna start blitzing, I kind of forget about picks for the rest of the season. But thank heaven for this March game that saves me every year just when I think I’ll go nuts if I don’t get on the water. So what fish saves your sanity this time of year? – JC