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The Fish You Can Count On

For good sport and good eating, white perch deserve respect

The day was a success from the beginning. Son Harrison and I were on a perch outing, and the very first structure we targeted was rich with sizeable whities. Both of us were fishing six-foot light-action spin rods spooled with six-pound line and baited with one of the most productive lures in our box, spinner baits. Our tackle was constantly being strained to its limits.
    That’s not to say that a big white perch can pop six-pound test line. But fragile mouth structure makes it easy for the bigger fish to tear off if they’re reined in too tight. Plus after an hour or so of working the kind of rocky structures this bantam rooster of the bass family prefers, the thin mono usually accumulates nicks and stress fractures.
    We hadn’t fished together for some time as Harrison’s art career in Baltimore has taken much of his time for the last few years. Today, a Father’s Day promise was being made good — and making an occasion both of us will remember.
    Don’t dismiss white perch as a distant second-best after rockfish. When properly pursued, the species is both sporting and rewarding.
    The most numerous fish in the Bay, white perch are ample from the headwaters at the Susquehanna Flats almost to the ocean. The fish can reach 19 inches long, but in our waters 10 inches is usually tops, making an 11-incher a lunker, a 12 a-once-a-year occasion even for a devotee, and a fish 13 inches or over a Maryland citation and cause for extreme celebration.
    Despite its size, the white perch is also a sportfish in the best sense of the term. Its unguarded willingness to attack virtually any variation of lure and a wide variety of live baits makes it available to even the most inexperienced angler. When hooked, it gives an outsized performance in its bid for freedom. There is no minimum size or possession limit on white perch.
    The scarcity of fish over 10 inches makes the pursuit of the big guys a challenge, and the methods to target them are many. The primary strategy is a lot of throwbacks.
    Like-sized perch tend to school together, but concentrations most always include at least one big lurker. Employing larger-sized Super Rooster Tails or similar spinner baits in one-sixth, one-quarter and even the one-half-ounce sizes (or No. 12 Tony Accetta spoons) gives you a better chance at the bigger ones. Throwing Rat-L-Traps in the one-quarter-ounce sizes (with one of the treble hook shafts clipped off) can eliminate most midgets, giving your bait a better chance of finding a thick black back.
    Fishing areas that are out of the way or difficult to navigate is also a strategy for lunkers. Small creeks and tidal ponds with very shallow access and deeper backwaters discourage both commercial netters and sport anglers with lesser determination. So these can harbor some really big fish.
    In the deeper channels of more open waters, bouncing a small jighead trailing a three-inch or longer strip-bait cut from the belly of a perch or spot can be effective. Only the bigger fish can inhale the whole bait and get the hook, and the belly strips are tough and can withstand multiple strikes before they have to be replaced.
    At the end of the day, however, no matter what size fish you’ve caught, rolled in Panko flakes and fried in an inch or so of hot peanut oil, a crispy white perch fillet is the finest treat on the Bay.