Catch Pickerel on Spinnerbaits
Pickerel are typically caught in the fall, especially through the ice by using shiner baited tip-ups. However, during the warmer half of spring into early summer amazing catches are had. Aquatic vegetation is returning to full mass, but not yet so thick. Forage fish relate to the weeds, and pickerel and other gamefish feed on them with water temperature in the optimal range for activity and growth.
Unlike largemouth bass, which don’t spawn until water temperatures reach 62-66 degree afternoon temperatures, pickerel spawn rather shortly after ice-out, in 47-52 degree water temperatures. While bass are preparing for their procreative act in water reaching into the 60s, pickerel have long before transitioned and live to feed. With water temperatures in the 60s and low to middle 70s from May through June, the environment is optimal for pickerel. In July temperatures exceed optimal range; pickerel feed to fuel that high metabolic rate (cold blooded), but they typically feed aggressively early and late in the day. Excessively warm summer water makes pickerel and other gamefish move less during the day to conserve calories rather than burn them by activity.
In May and June fast action is frequent in direct sunlight with a breeze on the water. Rough water surface scatters light and sets a shallow, clear water environment in motion. A clear aquatic environment about ten feet deep or fewer simply absorbs direct light through a calm surface, and is not conducive to much action. So long as the water is at least fairly clear and choppy under a sunny sky, these toothy aggressors seem to have a very hard time distinguishing a silvery blade from a nutritious shiner.
The blade, or blades, of a spinnerbait have slightly more light reflecting action when the rays coming through the surface are scattered. These reflections are slightly variable, rather than the blade’s steadily reflecting a direct flow of light through a calm surface. With the environment itself in motion, baitfish move, and in scattered ways, as if slightly excited—pickerel are right behind them. Whatever subtleties exist otherwise under the surface, I don’t catch so many pickerel on spinnerbaits under a calm, directly lit water surface, and those I do catch don’t strike so dramatically.
It makes a difference which sort of blade you choose, and whether you use a standard skirt or remove it to put a grub or other plastic bait on the hook. Having favorites may hinder interesting experimentation, but it also makes the fishing experience comfortable, secure, familiar, and efficacious. However, the pulsing vibrations of a rubber skirt, the rapid turns of a twister tail grub, the shake of a plastic worm trailer and other combinations are all actions that work. Likewise, there are many different colors to choose among, sizes and styles of blades to choose, as well as head weights. The larger the blade and less the head weight, the shallower the spinnerbait will run. For some fishermen subtle experimentation is a sort of technical passion and many real, objective results may be gained on the basis of trial and error.
Close to the surface more blade action is appropriate. But don’t use double or triple blades, which actually tend to cancel each other out. This explains why you don’t find double Colorado blades of the same size and shape on a spinnerbait. A single, large, silvery Colorado blade is effective closer to the surface. Fishing it three feet down is fine, whether among the tops of growing weeds over a flat or right next to a weedline.
In deeper shallows of six to ten feet, a willow leaf blade, or a tandem Colorado and willow, may be more effective since this imitates the quieter action of the environment at that level beneath surface chop. Willow leaf blades produce quieter vibrations than do Colorado blades. What a pickerel will hear, and pick up by its sensory lateral line, is different according to what blade, or blades, are chosen. Sometimes the largest pickerel are in the deepest weeds and have a subtler feeding response, a seasoned response.
Always look for pickerel associated with aquatic vegetation—lily pads combined with milfoil are especially good, and if fallen timber or brush is available with weeds, perhaps even better.
Pickerel are fierce, native gamefish in New Jersey and other states where largemouth and smallmouth bass are not native. I might argue that bass migrated conveniently and that the distinction between native and wild re-established is more historical than truly ecological. Nevertheless, places exist where pickerel thrive and have so for thousands of years with no bass present even today. In New Jersey anglers speak of Pine Barrens tannic acid levels making bass survival impossible. But I caught a bass last summer in Mirror Lake, Brown’s Mills, New Jersey deep in the pines with water so tannic visibility was about six inches or fewer. So I can only suppose PH in tannic waters does not correlate directly with how stained the water is.