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January on the Magothy

Who can resist the water on a mild day?

Pickerel are beginning to show up in the Bay’s tributaries, but interested anglers will have to brave winter conditions to battle these toothy predators.

January’s first Saturday afternoon was a beautiful time to be on the water. It was near 70 degrees, sunny, calm and the incoming tide was making up nicely. Drifting in my small skiff over a shell bottom at the mouth of the Magothy, I threaded a piece of worm on a size-two hook. The upper hook on my top and bottom rig already sported a small, wriggling bull minnow.


Up in the tributaries is the place to fish in the mid-Bay, with lots of pickerel and some yellow perch beginning to show up for anglers taking advantage of the weather. Minnows, shad darts, Mepps Spinners and small crank baits are getting the desired attention. White perch are schooled up somewhere in deep water out in the main stem of the Bay. But no one I know, myself included, has been able to find them. Up north near the head of the Chesapeake, the yellows are just starting to stage in the deeper channels. The males arrive first and have been small as yet, but the run will be starting soon in earnest. Our warm weather has been a boon to anglers targeting stripers around the Bay Bridge Tunnel at the mouth of the Bay. The fish have been many and enormous. It’s better there than it has been for many years.

  In Season    

Whitetail and sika deer, bow: Jan. 9-31

Woodcock: Jan. 12-28

Canada goose, migratory: thru Jan 28

Common snipe: thru Jan. 28

Light (snow) goose: thru Jan. 28

Ducks: thru Jan. 28

Sea ducks: thru Jan. 28

Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31

Bobwhite quail: thru Feb. 15

Cottontail rabbit: thru Feb. 29

Canada goose, resident; late season: thru March 3

    My partner sat in the bow with her nose into the slight breeze as she kept a sharp eye out for marauding bufflehead ducks or cormorants. Her long brown ears hung gracefully on a head just showing traces of grey around the muzzle. Her brow was furrowed. Sophie took her duties seriously.
    With an eye on my finder screen, I dropped the baited rig over the side and thumbed the spool lightly as my ounce-and-a-half sinker disappeared into the 40-foot depths. There were fish below, I judged, by the many arches showing close to the bottom. What species they were and whether they would eat or not were unresolved questions.
    We made drift after drift for the next hour or so with no results. Occasionally a sailboat would cruise past us, mainsails taut and jibs straining ahead under the light, steady breeze.
    The marks on the screen continued to tempt me. My rod tip bounced in rhythm with the contours of the oyster beds below, but the white perch I hoped to invite onboard were choosing to ignore the baits. Or they weren’t there, and what I was seeing on my sonar were menhaden. Or maybe gizzard shad, fish that wouldn’t think of eating anything I was offering.
    Occasionally a small fishing boat scooted past, and I watched, hoping they would set up nearby and assist in the search. But all were either heading elsewhere or merely out for a ride. My pup and I remained alone in the quest.
    Another hour brought no change other than a freshening breeze. The plan was to make a solid attempt for the perch. Failing success at that endeavor, I’d move upriver and explore some creeks for pickerel. It was time for Plan B.
    Making a few more drifts over a couple of still promising marks, I noted the breeze more than just freshening. It was getting downright gusty. Higher upriver, the sky was darkening. Higher still, some whitecaps showed in the distance.
    A noticeable chill descended as the first of a long series of thickening clouds obscured the sun. I rolled my sleeves down, zipped up my light vest and wondered what was happening to our beautiful day. Off in one direction and into the distance it was still sunny and pleasant, almost springtime weather. In the other direction, ominous conditions were descending.
    Setting the minnow on one hook free and discarding the remains of the worm, I put my rod back in its holder, cleared my gear and started the engine. The question was whether to try and skirt the approaching weather and work past it to get at the pickerel water or to run for home.
    In the bow Sophie was shifting nervously, eying me and the weather, obviously voting for home. Still, there was almost an hour of light left. It seemed faint-hearted to give up fishless.
    Finally, giving in to my partner’s wishes and common sense, I kicked the skiff up on plane and headed in. About 15 minutes later, back at the ramp, we had barely got the boat up on the trailer and squared away when sand particles began to sting our faces and the trees thrashed around us. We were in the midst of quite a wind squall. It was January again on the Magothy.

Conservation Alert

    Maryland Department of Natural Resources is making numerous cases against commercial fishermen who continue to savage what few oysters remain in the Chesapeake. Violations range from undersized oysters, poaching in sanctuaries and polluted areas to illegally fishing in restricted zones. In making a priority effort to curtail these illegal activities, our water police certainly have their work cut out for them.
    Meanwhile, continuing to surface are fraudulent reports by watermen on the numbers and weight of rockfish being caught. It’s alleged that by under-reporting the weight of individual fish, watermen acquired additional tags to use in exceeding their quota. Natural Resources Police are spot-checking at weighing stations and fish markets.
    Returning Natural Resources Police ranks to their 1990 levels (they’ve since been cut by 50 percent) would be a start in taking firmer control.