Pickerel fishing is quite different from trout fishing. There are several distinct kinds of fish called the Pickerel, different sorts having the same name in different countries. In Canada, for instance, the Pickerel is a short, chunked, weasel-eyed, yellow fish; in this country it is a long, slim, spotted, flat-headed fish, and a regular fish eater, closely allied to the muscalonge; in fact, some persons cannot distinguish between them. They are fished for in the same way, and their habits, so far as I know, are exactly alike. As soon as the ice goes off1, in the spring, the Pickerel and muscalonge go to their spawning places near the banks of the streams, among bogs, and where the bottom is muddy.
They frequently get into the drowned lands where the high water of spring has flowed, and you may see them lying, two and two, sometimes with their back fins out of water, and many are caught by shooting and spearing. The best way is to go on to these spawning places in the night in a boat, with a good, bright light, and to pick them up with a spear, which is fine sport indeed. Farther along in the season, you may catch them with a hook and line. A small frog or a small fish makes a good bait, but you can do just as well, and it is more convenient, to have a spoon hook, such aa you can buy at any store where they sell fishing tackle. Your line should be about sixty feet long.
When you have everything prepared, put out in your boat, throw out your hook and trolling line, and go ahead just fast enough to keep the bait dancing or skipping along the surface of the water. Keep near to the shore, on the shoals, especially if the river or lake is skirted with bulrushes. If there are any pickerel or muscalonge about, you will soon have business, especially if your bait is taken by a fellow weighing twenty pounds or so.
The best time in the day for this sort of fishing is from seven to eleven in the morning, and from two to five in the afternoon.
It is about useless to go fishing for Pickerel in midsummer, as they bite slowly then, and are, withal, poor and soft, and unfit for food. But during the winter they are excellent, and are easily caught in the following manner:
Make a box six feet square and six feet deep, and turn it upside down on the ice cut a hole about twenty inches across. Have a door in the side of the box through which you can go in and out. You may also have a bench and a stove inside, to keep yourself snug and warm. When you are in, close the door so that it will be quite dark; then you can see for some distance in the water, but it is best to be where it is only about two feet deep. Bait your line with a little wooden fish, weighted with lead, and with tin fins. Keep this playing about in the water, and the pickerel, which are always on the lookout for prey, will come after it, and you can coax them up near to the surface and then strike them with a short bearded spear.
Another way to fish through ice is to set a lot of lines about thirty feet long with a cork float to keep the hook off the bottom, baiting it with a small live fish. The rest of the line may lie coiled up near the hole so that it will pay out easily, and the other end of it may be fastened to a little bush stuck up in the ice. When the pickerel takes the bait, he runs away with it as he swallows it, and the long line is needed to give him a chance to do this. The shaking of the bush will show when you have a bite, and you can attend to twenty lines at once, and have more sport.
Thrasher, Halsey. The Hunter and Trapper. New York: Orange Judd and Company, 1808.
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