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A Taste of What’s to Come

Yellow perch are staging in our rivers

      The first signs of an active yellow perch run showed last Saturday, February 16. Returning from an action-filled rabbit hunt in Dorchester County with Charles Rodney and his six hounds, we crossed over the many small bridges that span the crisscrossing branches of the Blackwater River.
      Alongside almost every span were figures, bundled against the cold and clasping slender spin rods, poised for yellow perch. Bright bobbers with shad darts and small bull minnows hanging below bobbed along the many dark surfaces.
      As the Blackwater is at zero sea level almost throughout Dorchester, it is particularly sensitive to tidal flow — and so is the yellow perch bite. The only certainty along its length is that if there is no current there is also no perch bite. At 3pm, it looked at about high slack.
       Stopping to inquire about their luck, we heard from most anglers that they had just arrived, a common strategy among perch fanatics. If you arrive at dead water, you will then experience the whole of the ensuing tidal phases from outgoing to incoming. If the perch are favoring one particular part of the tide, you’ll be there. We wished them luck and continued on our way home.
       Yellow perch fishing is an age-old rite of early springtime, the first fishing season of the new year and a robust antidote to the stupors of winter’s climate-induced inactivity. Dragging out your light gear, cleaning off the cobwebs and dust and checking the line is also, therefore, a necessity.
        Most anglers prefer six-pound mono as best all around line for this sport. Modern six-pound mono is very thin, so it’s always a good idea to strip off the first 20 feet or so, the most worn section of line, and discard it to avoid any weak spots.
      Shad darts in sizes from 1/4- to 1/32-ounce are the best match for the perch and the small- to medium-sized minnows and grass shrimp that are the most commonly used baits. There are instances, however, when the fish prefer bloodworms or pieces of night crawler or even butter worms, a common trout bait.
      Favorite dart colors are many, with chartreuse and black, fluorescent orange and black, yellow and red and white and red most common. When fishing the deeper holes, a hi-lo rig with No. 4 hooks and one-ounce sinkers are the standard.
      As fish are prompted by individual spawning urges in their movements, their arrivals and departures are impossible to predict. But they tend to move upriver on an incoming tide, pause at the flood, then seek out the deeper holes during the falling phases. The males of all sizes arrive first, the young being the most eager. The larger, roe-bearing females arrive at the headwaters whenever they feel like it.
      The eggs are ejected by the females, then fertilized by the milt-exuding males. They are uniquely ensconced in translucent, accordion-like sacks, designed to hang up on bushes, rocks and boulders, submerged trees or shrubs. In just two or three days the fingerlings hatch. The males remain on-site until the completion of the spawn. The females depart once their roe is expended.
      The minimum keeper size for yellow perch in both fresh and tidal waters is nine inches with a limit of 10 fish per angler. Yellow perch have thick, armor-like scales, so be prepared to exert some elbow grease in the table preparation. But believe me, they are well worth the effort.
      Perch anglers are also widely known as pan or pot fishermen, which reminds me of a quote popular during my long-ago youth. Written by sporting humorist Ed Zern, it goes something like this: “People who fish for food, and not strictly sport, are called pot fishermen. The more expert ones are called crack pot fishermen. All other fishermen are called crackpot fishermen. This can be confusing.”
Fish Finder
      Rockfish season is closed on the Chesapeake and its tributaries but remains opens seaside, where the limit is two fish 28 to 38 inches or 44 inches and over. 
      Anglers at Sandy Point State Park are enjoying catch-and-release rockfish action on surf sticks. Any warm weather should give this a big jumpstart.
     Yellow perch are on the move on the Chester River, Martinak Park, the mid Choptank, Wye Mills Creek, the Blackwater River drainage and Black Walnut Creek. The Tuckahoe is currently troubled by some really high water but should settle down soon.
Hunting Seasons
Rabbit, limit 4, thru Feb. 28
Squirrel, limit 6, thru Feb. 28
Canada geese, resident, thru March 9
Snow geese, thru April 15