The single-leaf iron and concrete bridge was built in 1932. It’s the focal point of the historic little town that serves as the county seat of Worcester County. It’s also the dividing line between good and great yellow perch fishing on the Eastern Shore.

I swing wide around the tight corner at the town’s only red light, checking my mirrors to make sure my 16-foot jon boat trailer doesn’t clip the curb and resolve that I will someday explore the quaint little shops, bars, and restaurants downtown. It won’t be today though, because it’s just another half-mile to the boat ramp at Byrd Park.

I arrive at the bottom of the outgoing tide. That’s good, because it means I can launch without having to put on my wading boots. When the tide is high, the water completely covers the ramps and the parking lots are submerged. I fire my 25 HP tiller-handle outboard and glance over to Goat Island to see if the resident old brown Billy is around. He is, and he gives me a gruff “baaa” as I idle on upstream toward the drawbridge.

Snow Hill Bridge

Even at low tide, the water is still too high to get under the low bridge. Expecting that, I had scheduled my openings the day before. A friend who works for the highway department tells me the bridge tenders don’t mind coming out because they’re paid a little extra for the calls. They ask for 5 hours notice, but I always call the number on the Snow Hill website the day before to tell them when I’ll be going up and coming back. I’ve learned to ask for Charlie since he keeps the schedule book. This morning, I see him getting out of his truck right on time.

I hear the clang-clanging of the bells as he lowers the red and white smashboards and watch as the bridge groans to life and raises just enough to let me under. I gun the throttle and give Charlie an appreciatory wave. If you want to avoid the bridge altogether, the Pocomoke River Canoe and Kayak Company, just beyond the bridge, rents canoes and kayaks.

Once I clear the bridge, I rarely get above idle speed because I’m watching my fish finder intently. There are some nice deep holes just above the bridge that can hold good numbers of black crappie and yellow perch. During the colder months, they’ll be below 8-feet deep. On the screen of my Lowrance Hook2 sonar, they look like small bumps on the bottom. Bigger returns closer to the surface tell me there are also blue catfish and longnose gar in the area. I tied into a big gar with my fly rod on a previous trip and landed it with my 9’ Orvis Recon 5 weight.

Although I love to fly fish, I usually start out with conventional gear. I learned how to fish the Pocomoke from recently-retired light-tackle guru Kevin Josenhans. Kevin worked as a Natural Resource Police officer before he started guiding full time and he knows that stretch of stream like the back of his hand. It can be challenging to get a fly down to the fish because the current can be strong, so I typically start out with spinning gear casting two Bustem Bait soft plastic “stingers” threaded onto 1/16th ounce jig heads. I’ll sometimes even tip those lures with a minnow when I expect fishing to be tough.

Snow Hill Perch

Today, the fishing is good. I tune into the feel of my jigs as they slow-crawl across the leaf-lined bottom and set the hook when I detect the slightest tap. It’s a solid yellow perch that’s big enough to measure and checks in at just below 13 inches. I have a self-imposed slot-limit between 10 and 13 inches, so this fish is perfect for eating. My next five casts result in three more keeper Neds splashing in my livewell. I hear a red-shouldered hawk calling for a mate above the cypress forest while two young eagles screech over a protruding branch in the tallest tree. I’ve seen enough to know I’m on a hot bite, so I put away my spinning gear and reach for my fly rod, already rigged and ready to cast. My solution to getting a fly down deep to where the fish are in the Pocomoke is to attach a 5-foot Cortland poly leader to my floating fly line. The leader is looped on both ends so it’s easy to switch quickly between a floating and sinking presentation. I use the 40-grain Cortland leader with a sink rate of 3-feet-per-second. Between the leader and the fly is a 4-foot section of 1X fluorocarbon tippet. At 12-pound-test, that may sound heavy but there are toothy gar and pickerel around and the perch don’t seem to mind the bigger line.

Sean Beck of Patuxent Signature Files ties my favorite perch flies. I like his “Dazzler” series. I believe he designed these primarily for shad fishing, but because of their bright colors, medium dumbbell eyes, and high-quality size-6 hooks, they’re perfect for panfish.

When yellow perch get ready to spawn in late February, they move up out of the deeper holes and into the shallows near the riverbanks. That’s when I switch over to a double-taper floating line and cast a float (indicator) and fly. This is my favorite panfishing technique; it’s effective for any species of panfish anywhere in the country. I really like Oros round indicators because they are light, they cast well, and are extremely visible with their bright colors.

The setup is a 6-foot section of 1X monofilament leader off the main line to the indicator, then a 3X fluorocarbon tippet to the fly. I set the fly beneath the indicator so it’s near the bottom, but not dragging, usually less than four feet. My favorite flies are “Popeye” style made with dyed chicken hackle in either 1/64 or 1/32 ounce. For more information about this float and fly technique, check out my book, How To Catch Chesapeake Panfish. I cast toward the cypress knees and lily pads and jig the indicator along steadily. At any sign of change in the action of the float, I set the hook.

Snow Hill

It gets dark early in this part of Maryland in the winter months, and my evening bridge opening is scheduled for 4:30 PM. I don’t have to look at my watch to check the time because the church bells in town ring every half hour. I’ve had a successful day, keeping a 10-fish limit of yellow perch and a dozen black crappie. I also released two chain pickerel with the biggest measuring almost 25-inches long. I’ve caught pickerel up to 27-inches in this stretch of the river, but they seemed a little slow today. I see Charlie pull up to the bridge in his truck as I idle back.

The tide is much higher now than when I started and the water is lapping up onto the lower girders of the bridge. There’s no doubt I’ll have to wade to my truck when I get to the flooded parking lot but before I get there, I turn off my engine and listen. It’s as close as it gets to rush hour in Snow Hill and there are 5 cars lined up waiting for the bridge to reopen. I listen as their tires tramline across the grates. Just like the calls of the eagles and the splashes of the fish, it’s the kind of music I don’t want to forget.

Get Ready for Your Next Fly Fishing Trip

In need of additional information on where and how to fly fish? Check out Maryland’s Fly Fishing Trail. The first state-wide trail in the nation highlights 48 sites spanning from the Atlantic Ocean to the shorelines of the Chesapeake to the mountain streams in Western Maryland.  

Before you head out, be sure to acquire your license and check out the latest regulations from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources

And if you’re up for turning your fly fishing trip into a getaway, check out Visit Maryland for places to stay, dine and things to do.