Cicada time and the fishing is easy

OUTDOORS

May 16, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

Food falling from the sky. Manna from heaven. Piscatorial paradise.

Maryland's freshwater fish will feel as if they are living in a high-protein shake as Brood X cicadas begin to drop off trees and into streams and ponds.

Dr. Atkins followers, eat your low-carb hearts out.

Anglers who were around 17 years ago are dusting off flies and lures they tied or bought during the last cycle. But folks who weren't fishing then or lived outside the cicada zone are at the beginning of the learning curve.

"You don't have to have anything fancy," counsels Jay Sheppard of the Potomac-Patuxent chapter of Trout Unlimited. "You just need to make a good impression."

Joe Bruce, author and owner of the fly shop, The Fisherman's Edge in Catonsville, agrees, "You'll see a lot of exotic things out there, but that's more than you need to do. Simplicity works best."

The same holds true for spin anglers, says 2003 Bassmaster Classic champ Mike Iaconelli, who grew up and lives in New Jersey.

"You want to match the hatch," he says. "I like to pick up a dead cicada where I'm fishing and match it against what I have in my tackle box."

He takes along two styles of lure: a topwater, such as the Tiny Torpedo or Splash-It, and a weightless plastic, such as a tube or critter bait. There's also a new lure this year - the Arbogast Hocus Locust - which is a spinoff of the old topwater Jitterbug.

With the weightless plastic, Iaconelli uses a slightly oversized hook to give it a little heft on the cast. No matter what the lure, he says, target overhanging trees or isolated clumps of lily pads. The retrieve should mimic a cicada in distress: create motion, stop dead for three seconds and repeat the motion.

He also recommends "jump fishing," or targeting feeding fish boiling at the surface.

"If you can get that cast there within five seconds, it's a guaranteed fish every time," he says.

Luckily for fly boys (and girls), building a cicada doesn't take nearly as much time as Mother Nature's version.

Sheppard suggests taking a black popper about the size of the end of a finger and painting small bright orange dots on the belly with airplane model paint.

"It should be about 1 inch long. If you have a doubt about the size, go a little smaller instead of bigger," says Sheppard, a retired endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bruce, who fished the previous two cycles of cicadas, likes using natural-colored deer-hair bugs because they sit a little deeper in the water. He's not a fan of foam bugs "because they sit too high."

Veteran anglers agree that if what you throw isn't that important, neither is how you throw it. A noisy presentation isn't necessarily a bad presentation.

Says Jim Greco, who ties a bug he fished on Utah's Green River (see accompanying article), "A loud splat is good because these things hit the water like a ton of bricks, and that's what fish are looking and listening for."

"The first reaction of a trout will be `Should I flee?' The first reaction of a smallmouth will be `Can I get my mouth around it?' " says Sheppard.

"But," continues Bruce, "they'll get accustomed pretty quickly to hearing the noise. The real secret is you have to have palsy with the rod. Give it short, quick shakes. A cicada that hits the water is trying to get out."

Sheppard says you shouldn't worry about fishing directly under trees from which the bugs fall.

"They fly around, so you just have to be near some trees. Look for mature trees. Something that was a sapling 17 years ago probably won't have a lot of cicadas near it," he says.

Even impatient anglers won't have to wait long.

"These fish will start cruising," says Bruce. "They'll remind you of cutthroats in lakes. Cicadas are such high protein that the fish will be looking for them."

The Gunpowder River, the C&O Canal and adjacent Potomac River and Patapsco Valley State Park are terrific starting points. There will be some lag time between when the cicadas start emerging and the fish realize the 17-year dinner bell is ringing.

Says Sheppard, "By the end of May, the fishing ought to be great."

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