Searching for a Bucket of Gold
The fish were big and fat: two limits of golden-yellow perch that barely fit into a large bucket. What a haul! Beautiful, healthy fish, most over 12 inches and a few that exceeded 14. Unfortunately they weren’t ours.
Angling friend Ed Robinson and I spent the day chasing that gold and just missing it. Starting out fishing from the Millington shoreline on the perfect cusp of a flood tide beginning to fall, we were told we should have been there yesterday.
Everyone got their limits of yellow neds the day before on that part of the Chester. Though we plied a substantial stretch of the shoreline, our result was zero. We switched to another location higher up on the river with similar results.
The yellow perch spawning run is red-hot. From the North East River on the Susquehanna Flats all the way down to the Choptank, the Nanticoke and even the Pocomoke, the bite is on. Minnows attract the larger fish, but some days and in some locations the neds want only worms and other days only grass shrimp. The fish are big, healthy and plentiful.
Canada goose, resident, late season: thru March 3
Traveling on to the Red Lion Branch, we fared no better. We worked another hour at Wye Mills with the same result. Consulting with fellow anglers assembled there, we learned the fish had skipped that particular section of water.
At a new, higher location on the Chester, it appeared we hit pay dirt. On my first cast, I felt a familiar tap-tap-tap on the end of my line. I was swing-drifting a small gold Tony spoon with a lip-hooked minnow out across the stream and dancing it back through a shadow line cast by the 301 bridge above us.
Lifting my rod tip smartly, I felt the immediate resistance of a fish on my line. I played it carefully and lifted it onto the bank. The fish was a frisky male, just a bit undersized but an excellent start. Perhaps we’d blundered into a run.
A second cast produced another strike with a missed hook set. But a few casts later, I hung another small male that flashed briefly at the end of my line before it achieved an early release. There were no more. By early afternoon, we were out of ideas, time and tide, and our weather was turning surly.
As Ed dropped me back at my truck, we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we were not alone in our defeat. No one caught fish. We had fought the good fight and would do better the next time.
Then I saw a truck towing a big Carolina skiff that looked familiar. I assumed that they had been fishing the nearby Bay Bridge for catch-and-release stripers. But they hadn’t. They had been chasing the neds with an outcome far different than ours.
Admiring the contents of their bucket, I couldn’t help feel remorse at our own failure. We conversed with the lucky anglers for 10 minutes or so, congratulating them. They even shared their lucky location: It was far to the south but it did confirm that the fish were definitely on the spawn.
Ed called me the next morning with an offer to return to the area we’d just worked with the idea that the yellow perch had to show up sooner or later. I demurred with a tinge of regret.
That evening I discovered Ed had scored an easy two dozen fish in little over an hour. He was preparing eight fat neds for dinner when I called. I was going to have to step up my game to share in the bounty.
Gill nets would be banned on the Chesapeake — if Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat, and the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association can win support to pass Senate Bill 1032. Used in commercial fishing, gill nets are very long — up to two miles — and virtually invisible, making them easy to abuse and the culprit in several recent poaching incidents. They’ve been banned by most states along the East Coast but Maryland still allows their use.