My family and I recently returned from our annual camping/fishing vacation at Taghkanic Lake State Park in upstate New York. Now, anyone who knows me knows I like freshwater fishing and saltwater fishing equally, and the lake at this park is the best freshwater body I have ever fished! I’ve even fished Florida’s Lake Okeechobee twice, and it was great, but I’d still prefer Taghkanic if I had to pick a favorite. It features great largemouth bass, chain pickerel, catfish, sunfish, rock bass and supposedly smallmouth bass, even though I’ve never caught one or run into other anglers who claim to have caught them.
But for me, the real standout fish at Taghkanic is the chain pickerel. In this lake, they seem to only come in one size – huge! In fact, the locals refer to them as “our little alligators.”
I’ve always loved fishing for pickerel. They’re aggressive, strike hard, fight great, and catching them at Taghkanic is a great treat because of their size and abundance. Over the years I’ve come realize I enjoy catching them just as much as catching bass; I’ve always been surprised that they don’t get as much press and praise as the bass. Fishing hard every morning and evening from my Intex inflatable fishing kayak I was able to catch plenty of great fishing; in fact each Taghkanic session yielded approximately 10 pickerel ranging in size from 22 to 35 inches, along with four or five largemouth bass from 1 to 5 pounds each using spinnerbaits, Phoebe spoons, poppers, jerkbaits, and surface frogs.
One Sunday morning while paddling along Taghkanic Lake, something truly weird and amazing occurred that has never happened to me before. As I fish from one spot to another in this kayak, I paddle, facing forward with my fish rod between my legs and the tip of a 7-foot rod stretches out over the front of the kayak. Because I stop to cast often, I don’t typically secure the hook of my lure in any of the rod guides, but usually just let the lure just dangle on a foot or so of line coming off the rod tip.
But as I’m paddling along this particular morning – a half-ounce chartreuse spinnerbait dangling from my line above the water – I see a very large pickerel jump clear out of the water and graze my lure before falling back in the water. I thought, “wow, that was cool and different.” But then just two or three more pushes of the paddle and that same big pickerel does it again, only this time he grabbed the spinnerbait and the hook point hit its mark. The butt of my rod flew up and hit me square in the chin, the rod tip thrusting down from the weight of the fish. At this point I really couldn’t believe this was really happening, and my hands were literally trembling.
I managed to grab the rod as the reel’s drag began to scream. Pickerel are not normally jumpers like largemouth bass, but really big ones do like to jump, and boy did this one liked to. After a 6- or 7-minute battle, I managed the 5-pound brute into my landing net! With my hands still shaking and shirt soaking wet, I did manage to take a couple of pics and a weight (5 pounds, 4 ounces) before sliding the 34-incher back into Taghkanic Lake.
As I paddled on, I couldn’t help but think of the proverbial horse that follows the dangling carrot; I guess so too does an aggressive pickerel.