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An Afternoon on the Choptank

Yellow perch are running

March 6 was perfect: sunny, 60 degrees and windless. The weather had been mostly cold, wet and windy up till then and would get worse again the very next day. But Thursday was a day made for yellow perch fishing.

Necessary chores delayed our departure, but by three o’clock we were quietly idling along the Upper Choptank and eyeing a shoreline that had an overwhelming abundance of good structure.

Too good. There were so many tempting spots we couldn’t decide where to start. Finally I arbitrarily nosed the skiff toward one of several large downed trees along the shoreline.

Fish Are Biting

Muddy water releases from the Conowingo Dam are stifling the striper fishing on the Susquahanna Flats, but eventually this should clear. As that happens and the water temperatures approach the magic 50-degree mark, the fun will really start. Yellow perch in the upper tributaries are getting reliable now. Bass and crappie are also starting to act aggressively.

My fishing partner, Roger, and I were both using 1⁄16-ounce gold spoons with small, lip-hooked bull minnows as sweeteners. A great set-up for yellow perch, it is also effective for most other species active this time of year.

On just my second cast, I felt a slight tug and dropped my rod tip to throw a little slack in the line. Then, ever so slowly, I eased it back up. At the first sign of resistance, I popped him. Fish on.

My rod arced heavily toward the water, and I instantly imagined a fat yellow perch gleaming gold and green at the end of my line. Easing it away from the tree cover, I maintained a gentle, steady pressure against its lively surges.

The fish came, but very reluctantly. It finally swirled near the skiff, putting a few more degrees of bend in my ultralight. However I didn’t see the gold flash I was looking for. I saw silver. The puzzle was solved in just a minute or so, as a very nice-sized crappie slipped into my net.

I was good with that; crappie are delicious as well. I was certainly glad to have been so tenuous in fighting this guy. Papermouth is one of their more descriptive aliases; the surest way to lose papermouths is to play them with a heavy hand.

Into the live well he went. Our trip was off to a great start. A few minutes later, as we moved up the shoreline, Roger scored with our first yellow perch, then another, both of them fat and scrappy keepers. He continued to get hits and landed another nice fish. In the meantime, I couldn’t even buy a bite.

I began to feel like the guy who wins the first hand at poker only to go cold the rest of the night. Eventually I picked up the trick. The yellow neds were bunched tightly. If you dropped your bait as little as a foot outside of a very small zone, they ignored the offering. Finding the sweet spot was key.

After we hooked up with a few more of the chunky yellow devils, they turned off in that cove, and we moved on to some other likely areas. Taking an occasional heavy roe fish as well as numerous smaller males, we thoroughly worked the long shoreline. Eventually, as the light began to die, so did the bite.

It ended all too soon, but we had had a great trip. We were certain we would have limited out on the big Choptank yellows if we had started just an hour earlier. We also knew that we would have many more opportunities to test that theory. The yellow perch run, now in its early stages, will last into April.

Blue Crab Alerts

Maryland Department of Natural Resources is soliciting comments on options for restricting catches in the 2008 season. The 2007 crab harvest was the second worst in Maryland history, and the number of surviving females is dangerously close to the threshold of population collapse. Especially for recreational crabbers, restrictions may be extensive. Find the proposed options and a comment form at Unfortunately, the window for this part of public comment is short: less than two weeks, closing March 13. If you’ve missed the deadline, I suggest that you still send in your comments by e-mail or by phone at 877-620-8367.

On Wednesday, March 19, DNR biologist Lynn Fegley explains what blue crab management may require in upcoming crabbing seasons. Then stakeholders take the floor with questions and concerns. 7-9PM at Harewood Park Community Hall (off Ebenezer Road) near Chase in Baltimore County.

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