Spring turkey hunters enjoyed a successful season this year, with a total harvest of 19,711 gobblers during April and May’s hunting. This is the fourth highest harvest ever, with the other three recorded during 2015, 2021 and 2020.

The result is particularly impressive considering the poor weather on opening weekend. The harvest during the first two days was down 28% from previous years, but hunters made up for it during the remaining five weeks of the season. The harvest total was just 4% lower than in 2021.

The Shenandoah Valley’s George Washington-Jefferson National Forest yielded 639 birds, showing there is good sport on public land for those who work hard at finding overlooked areas and lightly pressured birds.

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Few thrills in fishing can come close to watching a northern pike’s toothy mouth clamp down on a fly twitching across the surface of a shallow cove. With brooding, baleful eyes, a pike looks positively prehistoric when it smashes into a topwater bug.

Because of the intensity of the strike when they nail a surface popper, I always carry a few cork or balsa poppers and deer hair bugs on northern pike expeditions, even though these lean green fish are more likely to hit subsurface offerings. When the mood strikes them, pike will literally rip poppers and deer hair bugs to shreds tearing into them.

In those situations, you’ll be glad you have these surface offerings. Stock a variety of poppers, mostly elongated in shape, and a few thickly-dressed hair bugs, in sizes 2/0-2 in red/white, chartreuse, and natural deer hair. When the fish are in thin water, less than four feet deep, and the wind is calm or almost calm, pull those surface offerings out. Experiment with both subtle twitches and a faster, rhythmic retrieve. Pause briefly after the strike, then set up hard. Both large bass bugs and saltwater surface poppers work well.

Since smaller fish comprise the majority of a pike’s diet, most of the time you’ll want to cast a hefty streamer. Special pike streamers are made, but I’ve had excellent results just using flies designed for fishing in saltwater. Any of the larger patterns tied for stripers, blues and other large saltwater gamefish work well. Tarpon flies are excellent, though they don’t hold up for more than a few fish in most cases because of the northern pike’s sharp teeth. The deep-water Whistler series with bead chain eyes is a good bet in both red and white and black and orange.

Use a 7-10 foot leader for topwater offerings, 5-6 foot for streamers. In both cases, add either light wire or a 40-60 pound mono at the business end to avoid cutoffs with the pike’s sharp teeth.

Cast close to weed edges, breaks in the vegetation, points and cover such as logjams or brush piles. Strip the flies back anywhere from a few inches to several feet deep. Make it lurch and undulate like a struggling baitfish.

Keep the rod tip low over the water or even in it so there’s no slack in the line. Work the fly with sharp spurts of 6-18 inches with pauses in between. When a leg-long pike nails your fly in two feet of water, expect a raucous brawl, maybe even a drenching or two from this rambunctious fish before you twist your hook free and watch him surge back into the depths.

Virginia has several lakes with northern pike, but for the best fishing, most anglers save up and make a pilgrimage to northern Minnesota or Canada where the largest fish and most abundant populations are found. There you can battle 10 or 20 fish a day in most locations.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident

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