Some people just don't know when to quit. Or how.
Dick Houghland runs fishing parties for a living. He charters out of Chesapeake Beach, Md., where his reputation for hustling to find the fish puts him in the greatest demand of all the 30-odd skippers.
Last winter he was beside himself. The ice stretched from his side of the bay clear across to Tilghman's Island. His wife was two weeks overdue with their first baby and all Houghland could do was twiddle his thumbs and wait for something to happen.
"Let's go fishing," he pleaded, predictably.
Houghland wanted to pursue pickerel, which take over as kings of the Chesapeake Bay tributaries when the rapacious summer crowd of bluefish departs. That trip never came off: Baby was born and the cold winds never subsided enough to make drilling holes through the ice sound inviting.
But pickerel hung around in the visitor's brain, and last week he and John Page Williams of Annapolis went looking for them.
"I like pickerel fishing because it's a poor man's sport," said Williams, who is recently afflicted by the bug. And he's right. Anything more than a rowboat and light freshwater tackle is excess baggage.
It's also a sport that puts you in places you wouldn't ordinarily go at times you wouldn't ordinarily appreciate. Like dusk in a tiny feeder creek off the Severn River, where immense blue heron flap out of bare trees at your approach and bright green mountain laurel spills down hillsides to cold, brown water's edge.
Pickerel reside in brackish and fresh water off the main bay. The farther north you are the fresher the water gets and the father the pickerel come downstream.
Almost everyone uses minnows to chase pickerel, with tough bull minnows generally favored. They are lip-hooked on a small No. 6 even 8 hook, often behind a tiny spinner or shad dart.
The fish rest in the shockingly shallow water, few inches of water. They lie up along a grassy shore with their snouts right in the grass," said Williams.
For that reason he applies stream tactics to this river fishing. Williams will row to a productive-looking spot, then abandon the boat and wade the shoreline, tossing minnows first against the shore, then working out in an arc until the depth reaches four or six feet.
"They like hard bottom, usually with vegetation. But I find them on flat, bare bottom, too." And they almost always stick close to or on the bottom.
Pickerel come in stunning size from time to time. Last week the visitor hung one that went 20 inches, at least. It will never be known for sure, because the thrashing beast got violent when it neared the landing net and spun off the hook.
Which brings up another point. As huge as their mouths are, pickerel won't hook themselves.Williams likes to wait a full 90-count after the first hit before he sets the hook. Boughland gives it about a five count.
But everyone agrees that a reflexive jerk at the first hit will leave you with a wounded minnow and no fish. It's a demanding practice, spilling line while a big fish runs away from you in freezing water. But that's what makes it fun.
Good bets for pickerel fishing this winter; College Creek and Weems Creek around Annapolis, Brewer's Pond and Brewer's Creek off the Severn near Sherwood Forest; any creeks or ponds around the Route 2 Bridge on the South River; anywhere inside the hook that shelters the Magothy River from the bay.
Just toss a rowboat on top of the car. Bring the kids along and set them up with any small minnows you have. They'll bring in yellow perch, which hang around wherever pickerel do, while you're chasing the big ones.