White perch are back and biting
Like Pavlov’s dog I began to salivate as soon as I saw the bobber dip. I set the hook, my rod bending nicely as the first silvery perch of the year tore across the shallows in front of me. My bright yellow float trailed a swath of noisy bubbles as the fish pulled it out toward the middle of the creek. The perch run was on.
Though their common name is white perch, they really look silver, like the precious metal. And they are particularly precious to me for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they are incredibly delicious, which was the cause for my involuntary salivation.
Second, they are the most abundant fish in the Bay, which means not only are they generally available but also that I can enjoy as many of them as often as I want without any undue pangs of conscience. They are also quite a bit of fun to catch.
How to Catch ’Em
Fish Are Biting
The white perch run is on, with fish arriving throughout the mid-Bay tributaries and streams. Yellow perch are winding down, though pockets of late spawners still occasionally show up, and of course the males will remain until the very end. A few nice rockfish have been caught and released around the Bay Bridge, but no one is claiming any Susquehanna Flats action as yet. However, it’s sure to come soon. Rockfish trophy season opens April 21. Read Bill Burton this week for details on the new size restrictions.
This time of year, they are making their spawning runs up into the small tributaries where they themselves were born, coming in easy range of anyone who cares to pursue them. Fancy equipment is not necessary; in fact the simpler rigs are the best. A small spinning rod rigged with six-pound mono and a small shad dart under a bobber and tipped with grass shrimp is as deadly a rig as you could desire.
Shore-bound anglers can simply cast to the water from any tributary bank or pier, working methodically in a fan-shaped pattern. Paying particular attention to any nearby structure such as downed trees, pilings or rocks will pay off well this time of year.
Throwing close to the structures, let your baits sit for a long minute or two … if they remain untouched, retrieve them three to four feet in a series of irregular twitches. Then wait again.
If you are fishing from a boat, target partially submerged trees, low-hanging trees, rocky riprap, jetties, sheltered coves and areas around docks and piers the older, the better. Continue your search along the banks of the streams and up into the headwaters.
Blue herons can clue you in to nearby fish, and pay attention to any osprey that might be working the skies nearby. They can pinpoint concentrations of perch like no electronic gear possibly could.
Water temperatures in the 50s are all you need for the action to commence this time of year, and right about now that temperature should have been reached throughout the mid-Bay’s rivers and streams. High tides are usually best, particularly when they occur early in the morning or late afternoon but that is only a generality.
There is neither possession nor size limit for white perch, but it really is not worth keeping any under nine inches; there is just not enough meat on the smaller fish. During a particularly good bite, 10 inches is a better culling point.
Artificial lures can also work this time of year, but not nearly as well as the shad darts tipped with live bait. The fish are still primarily feeding in winter mode, finding food by taste and smell. Striking visual stimuli (lures) will not become a dominant reaction until water temperatures get appreciably warmer.
When you do find fish, note the time of day, tide phase, current, wind and light conditions (clear or overcast). Your notes will serve as prime indicators as to when the fish will be most inclined to frequent that location and become active again.
Remember, each day the tide phase is 50 minutes later. If they began to bite at 3pm on one day, it will be closer to 4pm the next day that the same tide and current conditions occur.
Once you’ve managed to get a good mess of white perch in your possession, cleaning them promptly will ensure the table integrity of your fresh-caught fish. Perch also freeze well, particularly if you top off the freezer bag with water to exclude any air.
On the Chesapeake, wealth can take many forms. The most precious silver of spring is more likely to be found flashing through our streams than in anyone’s purse.