Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pickerel Hunt

After my first attempt at catching pickerel this year I learned a few things. I was going to have to find a solution for stopping the fish from cutting the leader. The wire wasn't working. It seemed to turn the fish off and the fly would work right in the water. I searched online for other solutions. I wanted a cheap fix and I came across this on Sierra Trading Post for $1.50.
I figured if it works for big steelhead it should be fine for pickerel. The weather lined up right and we had 3 days close to 60 degrees with overnight lows of above 40. I felt this would raise the water temperature considerably and the fish would be more apt to eat. I decided to invite my mother along to get more practice with the fly rod and get experience with some new water. Even with recent rains the water was very clear.
The tough part about this creek is the decent pickerel spots are far apart from one another. There's some good hiking involved. The water was still pretty cold and if I didn't spook a few pickerel while wading I would have been concerned. I'm not really sure if pickerel discriminate towards fly patterns. Last year I caught them on a Red Eyed Bass Bandit. The last trip I had a few go after clousers. There is a section I call pickerel alley where I have seen the most fish. I looked in a location where I've seen fish holding before and sure enough there was a good size pickerel there. These fish are either really brave or not used to being prey. They don't behave like other types of fish. This fish held under a log while my mother and I talked right above it. The fish didn't move a fin. I was expecting it to bolt at any time. I flicked my clouser a few feet in front of its nose and the fish started to move. My heart skipped a beat. This was the biggest pickerel I have had the chance of catching. As it came closer I could tell by the pickerel's body language it was in curiosity mode. I gave the fly a little flick and the fish turned on predator mode and slashed at the fly. It was swimming away from me so all I saw was the mouth open and I could see the white from the fishes gill plates indicating it swallowed something. I set the hook and at first the fish was lethargic at first. I wasn't sure if it was from the cold water or it wasn't sure that it was in danger. Once it noticed pressure was coming from the bank the fish decided to fight. It made a nice jump and gave a few runs but the fight overall was pretty short. Now came the fun part of landing it. This is where the 35lb tipped came in. I grabbed the tipped and pulled the fish up the bank without worrying about the line breaking. Once the fish was on land it really started to flop around. I regretted leaving my net in the car. I subdued the fish and made sure I kept clear of the toothy end. In the water the fish looked gray but out of the water you could see the fish was really green with iridescent yellow spots.
It was a nice fish for sure and seemed to be healthy. After taking another pic I let the fish go and watched as it slinked under some debris. It went back to being motionless, blending in with the submerged logs and tree branches around it. We continued to fish pickerel alley and I hooked a couple more fish but I couldn't land them. My mother had a few chances too. The key was fishing near rip rap and having the right retrieve of the fly. If you just dragged the fly through the water you wouldn't even get a follow. If you did a certain retrieve with the right 2-4inch strips you'd usually get a follow. The fish would hit right after a strip while the fly was falling or it would just stare at the fly. It would sometimes follow it all the way to the ground and just keep looking at it. I tried leaving the fly there for a minute then twitching it. The fish still just stared at it. I think pickerel are smart enough to tell the fly is not food if they get a close enough look. The trick seems to really be stripping it a certain way so the fly looks alive and the fish doesn't have enough time to really inspect it. These fish are really fun to catch but the location they inhabit is challenging. There were plenty of places we looked at where we knew for 100% certainty there had to be fish there. The bad part is all the debris and if you caught a fish the bigger challenge would be navigating it threw all the stuff in the water. A lot of the casting is roll type casting and these fish will give you a couple chances but not much after that. It creates a pretty good challenge of working on accurate casts. It is really fun fishing and I plan on doing it more this year. I'd like to catch a monster pickerel. There are stories of 24inch fish in this creek. I haven't seen one that big yet but I might get lucky on my next pickerel hunt.


  1. Kev
    Great story, you had me right from the first sentence to the last. I know the feeling when you are anticipating the hit---that is what makes fishing such a blast for me. The Pickerel is an awesome fish and the fight is something else. What wt. rod are you using? I checked out the fly link in your post on Bass Bandits, those black bugs with the steel wrap are killers---what are those bugs called?? Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kev...nice fish. I was there yesterday from about 10 to 2 and only managed a couple of small pickerel. Glad you got a nice one.

  3. Bill, I was using a 5wt rod. Most of the pickerel I have caught were around 12inches. Ones this size aren't that common. The bug with the steel wraps is a nymph my friend ties who is from Washington. He's used to fishing big streams that need heavy flies to get down deep. That was his solution. I haven't used the flies at all but I have no doubt they will work. He says they are a pain in the ass to tie. He'll only tie some if he is going to sell them. I'm not sure if they have a specific name. I'll ask.

    Terry, thanks for the comment. I'm glad you got to get out yesterday it was beautiful.

  4. Now pickerel hunting on a fly rod sounds like a lot of fun. Good job.

  5. I don't think I have pickerel in Illinois, but it sure is a beautiful fish. We have gar and I have caught them on a fly made from nylon rope. The teeth get tangled up in the rope. No need for a hook.

  6. Cool story!

    Good to see people fly fishing for fish OTT (other than trout). Especially stockers. We have Pike in Idaho, they are an invasive species and after trying to rid the part of the state where they exist long ago it was decided to manage them as a game fish. Pickerel are a cool little pike, but them or pike don't exist in my part of the state. I will never forget an article by Bill Tapply in American Angler about a 2' pickerel staring at his dangling toes as he fished for bullheads in a pond in Massachusetts as a very young fisherman. He I remember caught many on top using his father's iconic "Taps Bug." Little early for surface activity of course.


  7. Nice fish Kevin. One thing to subdue the fish, I've heard that if you put a rag or towel over their head then they will calm down pretty quickly.

  8. Nice Pickerel Kevin. I've caught all of mine by accident and I've never been able to spot one in the water. I'm sure they are tough to land on the flyrod. In warmer water they are even more fiesty.