Burton on the Bay
By Bill Burton
Bay Weekly’s Bony Morone
Catch him and win $500 in Maryland’s Million Dollar Fishing Challenge
The pickerel and perch are good enough for me. I need no trout to let me know how dumb I am.
President Calvin Coolidge, 1872-1933
Among the better Vermont poets was Walter Hard of Manchester, about an hour’s drive from Plymouth where Silent Cal was raised. Being a young newshound, I failed to ask when ’n’ where they crossed paths when Hard told me of the above evaluation of fishes of the 30th president.
The subject of fishing came up when, in 1949, I stopped in at Hard’s bookshop after a morning’s trout’n on the Battenkill and had to admit to an empty creel. The trout had made a fool of me. Whereupon the proprietor informed me I should be like Vermont’s most heralded son.
Cal picked fish less intelligent than he was, said Hard, who admitted he didn’t fish much, though his shop was just a long cast from the famed Battenkill. As a boy, he was content to catch suckers in the springtime. “You’ve got to be smarter than your adversaries,” was his advice.
I was thinking about that the other day when I was asked by editor Sandra Martin of this sheet to assist in the naming of a very special fish of a common species in the Bay and its tributaries hereabouts: a perch, but not the yellow perch Coolidge talked of so long ago.
We wanted a catchy moniker for a white perch (Morone americana) that we’re sponsoring in the second edition of Maryland’s Million Dollar Fishing Challenge. Let the hundreds of others sponsor the smarter rockfish, we thought, or perhaps the wily bass. Like Coolidge we’ll go with a perch with a brain smaller than ours and also a deficiency in wariness.
The white perch is the common man’s fish. Anyone can catch it and most anywhere. It has only two things on its mind: to eat and to avoid being eaten by hungry rockfish and blues.
That’s our fish, we figured; no boat necessary. It is caught shore side, from docks, jetties and bridges as well as by boat. We want everyone to have the opportunity to win $500.
Our $500 Fish
Yes, Bay Weekly will pay $500 for the capture of our white perch dead or alive; preferably alive, so you can release it to be caught another day. All we want is the dark green tag from our fish. Turn it over to tournament authorities, and you’ll win enough to fill a new tackle box. And, might I add, to take the significant other out to a fine restaurant to ensure she won’t complain how the rest of the 500 smackers is spent.
We figured a fish worth that much had to have a name; on the post office’s wanted posters you don’t see any of the Ten Most Wanted just listed human.
Bony Morone combines the scientific name of white perch with the maze of bones in smaller perch. Hereafter, when we give updates on the hunt for our $500 fish, that’s what it will be called.
To be honest, we know no more than you about the size, gender and whereabouts of Bony Morone. We left the particulars up to DNR’s Marty Gary and didn’t even ask where our fish was released.
Catching Bony Morone
We want you to win, and if you do we’ll be open to an invite for a celebratory fish fry.
We want that invite enough that we have some tips on how you might catch Bony wherever he is. What better place than from Podickory Point to Herring Bay to Chesapeake Beach, a stretch known so well for its fine perch’n.
You’ll need neither fancy tackle nor baits, not even much patience. If white perch are around, you’ll soon know via a bend in the rod. They’re greedy little predators that eat anything that fits in their mouths.
The common bloodworm is among the best baits; as they bring up to $10 a dozen, you can substitute night crawlers and save or you can dig common worms from the garden. FishBites makes phony bloodworms that are exceptionally good, less costly substitutes to bloodworms, and they last longer too. Perch also love nuclear worms.
Other good choices would be tidbits of soft or peeler crabs, live minnows, little pieces cut from any Norfolk spot you catch, whole grass shrimp, small pieces of fresh or frozen menhaden, pieces of table shrimp or squid, also clam snouts or bellies.
Don’t rule out small spinners or spoons. Even tiny plugs will produce. Fly fishermen can try any of their assortments that work below the surface. Other options are small jigs, shad darts or my favorite Bay tributary panfish lure: the small BeetleSpin of white or yellow. I also use tiny Wee Willie spoons.
If you have access to a dock, try this: Tie two small shad darts on your line. Add a small piece of clam or real or artificial worms to each hook.
Drop it down to the bottom, then retrieve in a light jigging action, keeping it as close as possible to the piling where perch hide to avoid larger fish and to lie in wait for bite-sized fish.
Early morning and evening are the best times. Keep in mind that Bony Morone is likely to be close to the bottom, but be ready for a strike at any depth. If there are lights on the pier, Bony could bite in early darkness; light attracts small baitfish, which in turn attract perch and other predatory fish.
Win Big and Bigger
In signing off, let me remind you if you catch Bony Morone you will not only win $500 but also be eligible for the big drawing in the September finale, in which you can win one of two fancy pickup trucks courtesy of Toyota, one of three expensive fishing boats from Boater’s World or Bass Pro Shops or even a million bucks in cash.
If you do that, let me remind you that a millionaire wouldn’t expect guests to drive themselves to a fish fry. A Mercedes limo with an attendant serving snacks and beverages could pick us up at the door, thank you. Enough said.