Mother Nature is an occasional snag in early spring fishing plans

OUTDOORS

March 21, 1993|By GARY DIAMOND

It seems as if every time I think about starting fishing season a bit earlier than usual, Mother Nature breaks into hysterical laughter and dumps 12 inches of partly cloudy on my favorite stream.

This frequently triggers a chain of events that causes a relapse of cabin fever, a dreaded disease that strikes avid fishermen shortly after the onset of winter.

The only cure for this horrible malady is to go fishing, an activity that seems nearly impossible given the current conditions of most bodies of water in Harford County.

Huge piles of melting snow block streamside parking spaces and access to the shores of Deer Creek and the Little Gunpowder River.

Even if you are lucky enough to find a place to park, you're still facedwith the prospect of catching nothing more than a cold. All the major streams and rivers are high, muddy and ice cold,

conditions not conducive to any type of fishing.

Fortunately, smaller streams, such as Winters Run and Long Branch, are not plagued with prolonged high-water circumstances that cause fish to develop a severe case of

lockjaw.

These tiny rivulets are not among the designated trout streams stocked with thousands of hefty rainbows, but they do hold large numbers of tough fighting fish -- suckers.

Suckers inhabit small streams, cold-water lakes and fast-flowing rivers throughout the mid-Atlantic region. During late February and early March, they usually can be found foraging for tiny worms in deep pools

or clearing a small area with their tails in preparation for spawning.

When the water temperature hits 45 degrees, the fish seem preoccupied with spawning. The females deposits millions of tiny eggs in the course gravel nest while the aggressive male continuously circles, spraying milt to insure fertilization. Depending on water temperature and flow, a small number of the eggs usually will hatch in 10 to 14 days.

Shortly after completion of the spawning ritual, the larger females go on a feeding binge, consuming grubs, worms and aquatic insect larvae, creatures hibernating under rocks and between layers of decaying leaves on the stream's bottom. Suckers are well adapted to this type of feeding activity with their short, blunt noses and turned-down mouths that continuously vacuum the sediment in search of an easy meal.

Reaching a maximum length of 25 inches, suckers are a relatively large fish to be found in such small bodies of water. They put up a tough battle on light tackle, especially when found in cold, clear water. Unfortunately, they're not easy to catch.

Suckers are not an aggressive species and at times can be quite finicky about when and what they'll eat. Successful sucker anglers, such as Joppa resident Norm Bartlett, use every trick in the book to entice these wary fish into taking the bait.

"I use the smallest hooks possible," said Bartlett. "Anything larger than a size 10 is out of the question, and I prefer a size 12 hook when the water's clear."

Bartlett said he baits his hook with a small piece of garden worm and places a tiny split shot approximately 12 inches above the hook.

If you're lucky, you'll catch a couple dozen big suckers in the course of a day. At this point, you have two options -- releasing the fish or keeping a few for supper.

Unless you're a skilled surgeon with a fillet knife, release the suckers to fight another day. Although sucker meat is delicate, ,, flaky and quite tasty, anatomically, they're a maze of bones separated by two narrow strips of meat.

After a few days of sucker fishing, there's an even chance Deer Creek and the Little Gunpowder River will have cleared sufficiently to chase rainbow trout. If they're still muddy, I guess I'll be joining Bartlett, sitting on the bank of a small stream watching for the telltale strike of a big sucker.

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