Monday, May 11, 2015

Spinnerbaiting Pickerel for Optimal Springtime Catches

Here's one published in The Fisherman long ago.
Spinnerbaiting for Savage Strikes—Pickerel!

Now is the time to provoke New Jersey’s most pugnacious native predator to the hardest hits they muster. With water temperatures remaining in the upper limits of optimal into June, pickerel feed throughout the day to feed the need of a metabolism functioning at its best to promote growth and longevity. Nothing beats a combination of growing aquatic vegetation and a spinnerbait to imitate the forage taking warm water residence in the greenery.

Direct sunlight with a breeze on the water is best. A surface chop scatters light in clear water and sets the shallows in motion. The blade of a spinnerbait has slightly more light reflecting action when sun rays are chaotic. Imagine calm, clear, weedy water 10 feet deep and compare this to the same with a rough surface. The former simply absorbs direct light and has none of the action of the wind imparting life to an aquatic environment. A water column stirred by a breeze influence seems to slightly excite baitfish, and pickerel are interested to say the least.

Blade choice makes a difference. Larger blades with smaller lead heads mean a shallower running spinnerbait, and a Colorado blade of the same surface area as a willowleaf runs shallower by displacing more water. Double bladed spinnerbaits always seem to have a Colorado coupled with a willowleaf, or if two willowleafs, they are different sizes. Tandem or triple blades of the same type and size cancel each other.

I find a large, silvery Colorado blade is most effective close to the surface. My magic depth is three feet over tops of weeds five to eight feet deep, or next to a weedline or pad conglomeration. For working six to 10 feet deep—over a weedy flat 14 feet deep perhaps, or along the outside edge of a weedline—a willow leaf blade, or tandem Colorado/willowleaf, may be more effective since the action imitates quieter environmental action well below surface chop.

What a pickerel hears and senses by the lateral line is different according to what blade or blades are used. Often the largest pickerel are deepest and have a subtler feeding response, a seasoned discrimination, so quieter willow leaf blades may tease a strike, and with less water displacement the spinnerbait runs deeper. Always find pickerel related to weeds—but milfoil combined with pads is better, and fallen brush or timber added is best.

Conventional skirts, plastic grubs, frogs, or even small plastic worms can make a difference too, as well as color. Lots of opportunity exists for experimentation as well as playing favorites, which at least I tend to do.

I like twister tail grubs especially. When I stop a retrieve beside pads, not only the slow blade action on the drop may attract a strike—so does that fluttering tail. A twister tail is fully activated when a spinnerbait falls. A hit on the drop will not be so fierce as when a pickerel lunges at a full 20 mph upon a moderate retrieve, and turns almost as suddenly, but this method of luring reluctant fish out of shadowy recesses is very effective.

Especially these less willing fish may follow a spinnerbait to the boat. Rather than get frantic trying to coax a strike by a figure 8 pattern, have a second rod rigged with a Senko (and a 15-pound test fluorocarbon leader) rigged Wacky to simply drop in front of the stalker, which typically will hang motionless in full sight. Yes! Very often a quick lunge results.

New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania—pick almost anywhere in our region to catch these speedsters. The Pine Barrens are world renowned for pickerel. Jersey Highland lakes such as Lake Hopatcong, Lake Musconetcong, the Swartswoods, Split Rock Reservoir, Shepherd Lake, and Greenwood Lake are loaded with them averaging two pounds. Eastern New York is just as good. A number of lakes in Harriman State Park, Pepacton Reservoir, New Croton Reservoir are some destinations, including waters on Long Island. Delaware has some attractions: Becks Pond and Lums Pond are good ones. Eutrophic lakes are best, some of these are actually impoundments with fishing that rivals any place else. A herring forage base can result in a lake holding some enormous pickerel, such as the nine-pounder from Shepherd Lake. But Lake Musconetcong, for example, is much too shallow for herring, yet abundant silver shiners produce very good sized fish on average, although perhaps none over seven pounds have been caught.

If you think topwater plugging pickerel is the ultimate, you may be right, although pickerel don’t always explode at the surface. Try spinnerbaiting this time of year when water hasn’t slowed them down yet, and you might feel how hard they can jolt a quick paced lure.    

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