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With Yellow Perch, Spring Can’t Be Far Behind

How to catch the first fish of the year

With the end of February news that the yellow perch bite had started, I imagined an immediate sortie. But the next three days brought deep snow and temperatures in the low 20s.
    That ruled out any perch action for now. But following the big chill, a couple of series of days promise to reach the high 40s. That’s the window I want. I plan to hit water the second day in each series.
    At this time of year, if you wait for a fishing report to trigger your outing you will always miss the bite. The day you are hoping for has to be anticipated. By the time you get a good report, that opportunity will have passed. You’ll rarely get more than one good day in any series in March; the weather is just too ­inconsistent.
    Water temperatures this month will often hover only a few degrees above freezing. But a 45-degree (or higher) sunny day can warm just about any shallow water up into the high 40s in a matter of very few hours, instigating spawning. The second day of a short warming spell is as good a time as any to try for the yellow neds.
    Find a place along tributary headwaters with relatively shallow water (two to four feet), good current and submerged structure such as brush, downed trees, rocks or even old collapsed docks. You’ll be in likely ­territory. These are the areas the females will choose for spawning.
    If you are fishing from a skiff, you can target the deeper holes where the fish will collect and hold while awaiting more comfortable temps to arrive.
    Yellow neds are unique in that the females exude their eggs in a gelatinous, milky, accordion-like sheath about two inches in diameter and as long as five or six feet. That egg ribbon is intended to entangle on the submerged structure, keeping it off the bottom until the eggs hatch in two to six days.
    The males come first to the spawning grounds and remain there as long as females continue to arrive and spawn. As individual females begin to exude their milky, egg ribbon, multiple males follow and fertilize the eggs. After the females have emptied themselves of their roe, they return down river.
    Tide is your third critical piece of information. The website www.tides.info gives tide predictions for many locations on almost all the rivers feeding Chesapeake Bay, including prime yellow perch waters like the Tuckahoe and the Choptank.
    Having a flexible plan is essential to harvesting a limit. Knowledge of the approximate tide stages for an area lets you try multiple sites. If you find no action at your first choice, dropping downstream or moving upstream you can anticipate the water levels until you manage to locate fish. Neds tend to move onto the shallows during high water and drop down to the deeper holes as the tide recedes.
    The published tide predictions may not be specific to your favorite (or targeted) spot. But if you can find one listed anywhere on the tributary itself, after a visit or two you should be able to calculate the differential and note it for future estimates.
    Yellow perch can be very selective about bait. My general rule is small to medium bull minnows and grass shrimp followed by bloodworms, then night crawlers. One of those is sure to do the trick. Adding the bait onto a bright lure such as a shad dart, jig head or small spoon can also increase your chances of success.
    The fish are also sensitive to your line size. Heavier mono or braid is, unfortunately, more obvious to them, especially the larger fish. Four-pound mono is my favorite option, though some friends score well using heavier test braid and fluorocarbon leaders.
    The first fish of the new season, yellow perch are delicious, some say more so than their white cousins. After a horrible winter like this one, chasing a yellow ned is far preferable to staying inside one day longer than you must.