Friday, May 25, 2012

Fly Fishing for Pickerel

My younger brother Greg does not fish.  He dabbled with fishing when we were kids but he never developed the passion like Becky and I.  So when we were catching up over beers on the camp porch last night after midnight and he said he wanted to join me at 5 am today for an early paddle to go fishing at Wolfeboro, New Hampshire’s famous Back Bay, it took me by surprise. 

Sure enough, at 4:45 AM I was awoken to the sound of a vehicle starting.  Greg was going to town to get us some coffee. Despite the lack of proper sleep I jumped up and gathered my gear to the canoe.  About the time I was ready Greg pulled back in our rocky driveway with coffee in hand.  He then stated he was paddling and I was fishing.  All he wanted to do is enjoy the morning and get some pics.  What deal for me!

The early morning weather was cool and damp.  There were plenty of thick clouds and it was evident we might see some rain.  I had Greg ease me along Wolfeboro Bay shoreline so I could fish smallies all the way to Back Bay.

The weather stabilized since last night.  Sure enough, the smallmouth were back on the hunt.  I landed at least five good ones on our trip across to Back Bay casting my popper around people’s docks.  However, although the smallies were fantastic, the fish that struck me as the best fish was this slab of a sunfish.  There are many gorgeous species of sunfish and several are difficult to tell from one another.  The redbreast sunfish and the longear are two very tough ones to separate.  After carefully studying this picture, I’m going with redbreast on this guy.  If anyone can offer assurance or explain why this is a longear I’d very much appreciate the lesson!

It wasn’t even 6 AM and Greg and I were slipping under the low little bridge that separates Wolfeboro Bay from Back Bay.  There were no other boats and the town and lake were quiet, something they won’t be by Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.  Back Bay was my favorite place to fish when I was a kid.  It was an incredibly peaceful place.  My main targeted species here were chain pickerel.  There were so many of the mini-versions of pike back then that you couldn’t go more than a few casts without a hook up. For a kid it was paradise. Sadly, over the years the shoreline of Back Bay has been developed and the pickerel habitat which consists of shallow areas of lily pads and sunken logs disappeared – thus so have the numbers of pickerel. Nonetheless, I came to NH with high hopes of scraping out one good pickerel from Back Bay this week. 

I fly fish for pickerel with a 6-weight and a floating line.  The Scientific Anglers bass taper is an excellent line choice because helps turn over a big bushy fly - favorites of pickerel.  Most any fly patterns will work.  You can toss some bright streamers or a cool frog pattern.  I like the same hard body popper I use for the smallmouth.  And although pickerel are in the pike family and have a mouthful of teeth, pickerel are much smaller and you don’t need wire tippet.  I take a tapered 9ft 0X leader and cut about three feet of the tippet off. 

I never expected to catch a pickerel right near the little bridge.  Bait fishers fish this area all day and boats whip by splashing big wakes up on the bank.  If I was to catch nice pickerel this week I expected him to come far back in the bay in one of the few lily areas left.  That’s why when I cast to the edge of the town park where one weed stuck out above the surface I wasn’t expecting anything.  But after I made one pop with my popper a push of water charged from the edge of the grassy bank and I hooked up with a sizeable pickerel. 

I forgot how hard these feisty fish fight and within a matter of seconds Greg was chasing my line through heaps of weeds with the canoe.  This scrapper had my 6-weight completely doubled over.  Finally I got him untangled and tired out and landed this perfect specimen of a chain pickerel

Greg paddled me through Back Bay for about three hours.  We hit every nook and cranny and absolutely demolished fish.  In addition to our already great day of smallies and the hearty chain pickerel, I picked up another seven smaller pickerel, a few nice sunfish (mix of species) a dozen or so rock bass and three quality largemouth including this dandy.  All caught with the popper on my 6-weightRoss RX.

I was stoked to spend a quiet morning with Greg.  Greg lives in Massachusetts, a heck of a long way from Idaho.  He has a family and we rarely get to see each other let alone do something fun together.  So the time we spent this morning was exceptional.  By the time we paddled back to camp it was around 10 AM.  We were absolutely exhausted as Greg’s two daughters, Sammy and Montana excitedly met us at the dock.  In the hands of these cute little nieces of mine were their pink kids Ross Fly Fishing Outfits that Granny and I got them for Christmas.  No rest for Uncle Jeff, it was time to teach the girls how to fly fish.

Sammy and Montana have reeled in a lot of my trout over the years when out visiting Granny and I in Idaho.  These girls love fishing with me.  Now Sammy is ten and Montana is seven.  I took up fly fishing at seven so its time they did too.  After I taught them both how to completely set up their rods without tying on a fly, I gave them the full on fly casting demonstration.  Then one at a time I had them cast without a fly.  They did surprisingly well.  Then I gave them each a barbless mini popper, something a small sunfish could fit in his mouth and helped them tie it on. 

Next to our camp is the Goodhue and Hawkins Boatyard.  As kids, whenever we needed a quick fishing fix, we fished around the boatyard docks.  There’s always fish there.  Sure enough, the second Sammy’s fly hit the water a small army of rock bass came out for a look.  Then it was time for the next step, how to hook a fish.  And after a few misses, Sammy landed her first fish on fly.

It was a little harder to get young Montana to set the hook.  But she certainly understood the game.  Although she wasn’t really casting, she was very strategically dapping her surface popper in a way that drew strikes from the fish.  Montana too landed a nice rock bass.

Today was a heck of a day.  Greg and I had an absolute treat of a time in Back Bay this morning.  And Sammy and Montana have fallen in love with tormenting the sunfish and rock bass of the boatyard with their pink rods.  I am delighted that the girls fished most of the day and in fact caught and released a heap of fish entirely on their own.

Life is good here in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire!

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