Let's start from the beginning...
It was supposed to be 48 degrees and partly sunny today, but that is not what happened. I did not have the highest expectations when I got out of the house and into a light sprinkle. I went to the Bell Pond mostly because I feel like fishing some bigger water this weekend (I'll be braving the wind tomorrow hunting for stripers on the Connecticut River) but also because this is a good time of year to fish for big yellow perch and there are some true giants in that pond. In fact late fall and winter are the only times of year I catch the big ones there. For this fishing, I was using my 8 wt. fly rod, a 10 foot intermediate sink tip line, and 4x tippet with weather a black or olive Bugger. I was wearing gloves and when I lost a 14 inch perch on the first cast I took off the one on my right hand so that I could feel the hits better. That meant I needed to stick my hands in my crotch every now and then to warm them up. I wasn't in public and I began catching some gorgeous perch so that was perfectly fine with me.
Yellow perch are beautiful animals. Their stripes, ther fins, their sharp operculum. They are also a worthy adversary for any fly rodder.
I was not expecting any of the really big species to be active today, with one exception: Esox niger. Pickerel are not truly a warm water species in many ways. Unlike the black basses, they seem more active in the colder months and are a good target through the ice. There are some big pickerel in this pond, some true giants. Despite their aggression and ease of capture in most places, the ones in this pond don't come easily to the fly. But sometimes one shows up and makes a mess, as a 24 incher did in June this year.
I had moved to the edge of the spillway pipe and caught one perch, and just before moving I decided to throw one more short cast next to the structure that covers the pipe. I slowly twitched the woolly bugger past the metal grate, lifted it up towards the surface, and just when it came within site, a leviathan charged out and in a ridiculous violent slash took my fly. I didn't have to set the hook, and it began ripping the fly line threw my fingers and aggressively bouncing the rod tip. It is moments like this that are almost frightening. I love it. Before I saw where the fish was hooked I was afraid it would nip through the 4x and leave me heartbroken. How could a fish that has eaten through 10 lb, chomped through 12 lb, and shred 15 lb not destroy this trout tippet? The I saw it, the black streamer hooked perfectly in the back corner of the big fishes mouth, well out of the way of its chompers. As long as I didn't change directions and let the line run through this fish's mouth I could land him. I worked it in circles, counter clockwise, and eventually it tired enough or me to grab. Woo buddy! 23 inches of gorgeous predator fish in hand.
Honestly, I have a hard time choosing a favorite when it comes to fishing. I love every species I fish for. But I've been hunting for pickerel since I was 10. They hold a special place in my heart. How can they not? They've got character.