Denis Peirce: When opportunity knocks …
Cranberries are raised in a unique way. The sunken fields are surrounded by ditches and dikes.
During the growing season these low vines are on land but in the fall the fields are flooded for the harvest. The ripe cranberries are mechanically knocked off the plants and they float to the surface of the pond for harvest.
It is the water storage ponds and the canals connecting them that are the habitat for pickerel.
An opportunity presented itself recently to drive cross country to the East Coast. This drive is something I had not done since the early 1960s when our family made the trek back to see relatives.
The impetus for this year’s trip was the occasion of my daughter Lauren being transferred for work and driving her car back. She is single and this might be the last chance to spend five days just her and me.
The trip ended at the home of my cousin Peggy Maffie and her husband Tony. My reputation as “The Fishing Guy” preceded me and Tony offered to take me fishing for a day during my stay.
When the opportunity knocks you should not say no.
What was fascinating about the offer was the location and fish we were after. Tony proposed fishing for pickerel in the cranberry bogs located in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, at a place called “Whitesbog Village.” This is something unique for me and I was on board.
The Pine Barrens is an area of south central New Jersey on the coastal plain with sandy, acidic and nutrient poor soil. These soil conditions favor modest sizes pine trees and are unsuitable for conventional farming.
The acidic soil is favorable to growing blueberries and cranberries with these crops having been grown here since the 1800s. It is the water storage ponds and canals composing the cranberry bogs that are the features that support fish and provide an angling opportunity.
Tony has been fishing the area since his youth and drove us into the “Pinelands National Reserve.” In the reserve there are both active farms as well as abandoned agricultural areas.
The system of ponds and canals is reminiscent of the Orovillle Wildlife Area along the Feather River. With the numerous dirt roads that cross the area we would fish a spot for 10 minutes, put the rods in the bed of the truck and head up the road a quarter mile to the next likely hole.
The fish we were after was pickerel. I had heard the name but never caught or seen one before. Pickerel are small members of the pike family. A 16 inch one is pretty big for the species. The mouth features lots of sharp teeth which give you pause when handling them. They are aggressive feeders, readily hitting small spinners if you pull it past them.
Tony and I had a great time. We caught well over a dozen fish in and around the cranberry bogs.
On the drive home we stopped at a New Jersey farm pond owned by a friend of Tony’s and finished off the day catching bass for an hour or so.
The drive across country in the spring was beautiful. The lush green forests and fields of the east are very different from California. But driving on Highway 70 and looking at the country from inside a car does not compare to having a local take you out to experience a new place on foot.
Thanks again to Peggy and Tony for the hospitality, we reconnected after many years and will stay in touch.
It would have been easy to say that during my busiest time of the year I need to keep the business going. But the point to this story is that when opportunity knocks, whether it is a drive across the country or an offer to fish for pickerel in a bog, go for it.
Stop and smell the cranberries!
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at http://www.trollingflies.com.
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