Volume 16, Issue 26 - June 26 - July 2, 2008

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The Bay’s Most Abundant Catch

White perch will hardly ever pass up a bait or a battle

An early-morning heat mist still lingered over the water as my skiff drifted to the first set of piers. A flood tide pushed far up the pilings, cresting just a few feet under the decks. That did not leave much room to throw my small spinner bait.

The first few casts simply banged the gaudy Rooster Tail off dense wooden timbers, bouncing it back into the no-fish zone three or four feet from the pier. Finally I relaxed, stopped trying so hard and zinged one back under. Flipping the light spin reel into gear, I started to crank the bait back, but it had already been eaten on the fall.

My light, five-and-a-half-foot rod bent hard as a hefty white perch got the point and dug deeper under the pier for refuge. I had the drag set tight as I dared, for I knew that if I got wrapped on any one of the old, barnacle-encrusted pilings, it would be over before it started.

Feeling my stubborn resistance, the fish turned — but only to head for trouble in a different direction. Thrusting my rod tip out as far as I could reach, I angled to keep the fragile, six-pound mono out of contact with the pier supports. This time it was fruitless.

It must have been an old black back I was up against because this fish knew its stuff. A few moments later, after it had cornered at the first piling it came to, it apparently took a half-hitch on one or two others farther along because not only did it make off with my four-dollar spinner but also took another 15 feet of line as well.

Luckily I had an ample supply of mono on my spool and a few more spinners. And now I knew there were plenty more rowdy perch holding on the docks that lined this section of the river. Not landing every fish is part of the charm of this summertime sport, and the countless opportunities for a rematch make it as reliable an experience as an angler can get this time of year.

Fish Are Biting

Rockfish fanatics are switching from trolling to chumming and live lining for the best action as summertime patterns begin to develop. The fish are still moving about and difficult to predict, but they will settle down soon. Love Point, Podickery, Sandy Point Light, Hackett’s, the Gum Thickets and the Hill have been popular — but not any one place for long. Reports of bluefish are getting more frequent, and the spot are getting bigger. Croaker are still being taken but not in any great numbers. White perch continue to relocate toward the main stem of the Bay and are now taking artificials well in the warmer water. Nice-sized blue crabs are becoming available just about everywhere.

Meet the Bay’s Most Abundant Catch

Morone Americana, the white perch, has a substantial population established in the Chesapeake. A relative of the striped bass, it has a dark, olive back, silvery white sides with one distinctive lateral stripe and sharp, dorsal, pectoral and anal fins. Use care in handling them or you will get stuck.

The white perch is a slow-growing and long-lived fish able to reach 20 to 25 years of age if it manages to elude its many predators. Citation-sized fish of 11 to 13 inches, depending on which organization is issuing the citation, will take just about as many years to attain that size. The fish is known to reach over 18 inches in length, though the average is half that.

An estuarian creature with large populations in New York’s Hudson Bay as well as the Chesapeake, the white perch spawns in fresh water but prefers more brackish water the rest of the year. It is rarely found in salt water, though it has an established population in some of Maryland’s fresh water reservoirs especially Liberty, Loch Raven and Prettyboy.

Numerically, it is the most harvested finfish in the Chesapeake both commercially and recreationally. Strangely, for a fish with such an ardent following, it has few aliases. The bigger perch are sometimes called black backs for the darker colors they assume when they get older and larger, but otherwise they are simply referred to as whiteys, white perch or just plain perch.

The best live baits for these aggressive and delicious fish are grass shrimp, bloodworms, minnows, clam snouts and peeler and soft crab. The best artificial lures are many and varied. Spinner baits such as Super Rooster Tails, Beetle Spins and Mepps are reliable producers, and the smaller versions of swimming plugs such as Rattle Traps and Shad Raps often seduce lunker whites.

Some devotees swear by small silver or gold spoons, and others by the many mini-sized soft plastics of the Bass Assassin, the Fin-S and the Berkley Gulp series. Whatever method or device you choose to pursue these sporty devils, one thing is sure: You won’t lack for action, for they will hardly ever pass up a bait or a battle.

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