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Eager for the Coming Season

The first fish of the year start ­moving in February

     Yes, I know temperatures have plunged into single digits lately. It’s best to consider these events as just the last freeze before the thaw. 
      The days are getting longer, and already a number of finned species are beginning to respond. February is only a week away, and that’s when yellow perch begin staging to ascend the tributaries to spawn. That’s a cause to rejoice.
      It’s not too soon to get out a light spin rod, freshen your reel spools with four- or six-pound monofilament, dig out some top/bottom rigs, arm them with No. 4 hooks and a few light sinkers and ready yourself for the new season. The yellow perch now schooling will be fat and frisky.
      A kayak, canoe or any small light craft is excellent for searching out groups of the yellow neds. If you’re skeptical about using a kayak in colder weather, recall that Eskimos developed the craft for use in the Arctic.
      Explore just outside the mouths of the upper tributaries for the deeper holes, 15 to 30 feet. An electronic fish finder will be very handy in locating the fish. But slowly drifting and bouncing a lip-hooked minnow or a grass shrimp on a small jig can also zero in on a honey hole.
     Later in February when the perch ascend the smaller creeks and streams, they can be reached from the shore. At this time you’ll want to add some bobbers and bright-colored shad darts to your tackle to target the shallower waters with the same baits.
     Yellows like temperatures in the 40s to begin their spawn. But a day of full sun can boost the shallows up 10 degrees in no time, so don’t wait for especially sultry days. The northern edges of the tributaries, getting the most sun, warm earliest.
     Males invariably arrive at the spawning sites first. The females will tarry a week or so, spawning two to three times before returning downstream. The males will leave only after the females stop showing up. The run will continue well into April.
     Minimum size for yellow perch is nine inches with a possession limit of 10 fish. A 14-incher is a citation. 
     As the yellow perch spawn starts to slow, the white perch begin to arrive. All of the same tackle and techniques do the job nicely. There is no minimum size nor possession limit.
      Later in February and into March, the crappie become active and begin gathering in schools. Crappie, which are highly regarded on the table, are most often found in fresh water. But the fresher areas of the tributaries will yield fish as well. The key to finding concentrations of these fish — also called calico bass, specs, slabs and sac-a-lait — is simple: Target anywhere there are brush or tree overhangs, laydowns or submerged growths of vegetation.
      Larger fish become more active in early morning and in the evenings. They can also be targeted with artificial lights at night. Small minnows under a bobber are perfect. Crappie have large mouths with a delicate construction, which gives them yet another alias, papermouths. Maintain a deft touch when fighting these scrappers.
      Pickerel are last on the early springtime list. A long, slender and toothy fish, the grass pike is a splendid fighter and is energized by colder weather. Taking spoons, spinner baits and crank baits with abandon, these fish are also total suckers for a lip-hooked minnow slowly trolled under a small bobber.
      Pickerel flesh is firm and white, but is so bony that most anglers return them to the water. Monofilament in the 10-pound range is more than enough to bring these fish to hand, though a net is recommended in light of their teeth.
     They are an ambush predator, so docks, piers, laydowns or any kind of submerged structure will attract and hold them. Later in March find them schooling and preparing their own spawn.
     Minimum size is 14 inches with a five fish limit in fresh water and 10 in the Bay and tributaries. A 36-incher is a citation.
Fish Finder
      Rockfish season is closed on the Chesapeake and its tributaries but remains opens seaside, where the limit is two fish 28 to 38 inches or 44 inches and over. 
Hunting Seasons
Ducks, thru Jan. 26
Sika and whitetail deer, antlered and antlerless, archery, thru Jan. 31
Canada geese, thru Feb. 2
Snow geese, thru Feb. 2
Rabbit, limit 4, thru Feb. 28
Squirrel, limit 6, thru Feb. 28