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Volume 16, Issue 8 - February 21 - February 27, 2008

Hangin’ with the Yella Fellas

This angler’s spring arrives early

Flipping my small, gold spoon out from the stream bank, I said a prayer to the fish gods. The winter had been hard on my disposition; my wife had just recommended — actually she had demanded — that I get out of the house and onto the water. So here I was.

The tide was dropping a bit, just right for this stretch of the Tuckahoe, a particularly fertile tributary of the mighty Choptank. The bottom was barely discernable near the shoreline and out of sight anywhere deeper than 18 inches. I liked that. Murky water relaxes the fish, as it masks them from airborne predators.

I scanned the far bank. The stark, black, leafless trees edging the water did not lend much comfort to a chilly landscape, but the chocolate-shaded water, moving slowly in front of me, was rich with possibilities.

I warned myself not to expect anything on this first outing. After all, fishing for early yellow perch is a crap shoot. Some days you get ’em, but usually you don’t, and you’ll never know which it will be until you’re ready to go home. With that semi-profound thought, my rod tip twitched.

Was it a fish, or had I just bumped bottom? I lowered the rod and let my spoon settle back. It was sweetened with a small, lip-hooked mummichog, a yellow ned’s favorite treat.

I hoped that the wobbling of the descending spoon combined with the fresh, wriggling minnow would prove irresistible to any cruising perch. But this time it didn’t. Finally I lifted my rod, felt no resistance and once again slowly retrieved the lure, weaving it lazily back through the light current.

First Fish

Apparently the departing meal was more than the unseen perch could endure. It finally and recklessly gobbled the minnow and my spoon and headed out for the opposite shore. My light rod bent almost in half as my spirits soared and the reel groaned.

My chill-stung fingers were suddenly warm, and my chest was pounding. This angler’s spring had just arrived on the Tidewater. Nervously playing the fish like it was a world record in progress, I eased it gingerly toward my position on the bank.

As the fish neared, gold flashes telegraphed from the cloudy water, confirming the species. My first yellow perch of the year was at hand. It would not do to lose it now; that could queer the whole season, though I will always deny being superstitious about such things.

Ever so gently, I lifted the fish nearer and nearer, finally sliding it up onto the bank. It flopped angrily, displaying its bright spawning colors and emphasizing that it had no intention of cooperating with anything I had in mind.

I reached down, carefully avoiding its erect spiny dorsal fin, and unhooked the frisky devil. It was a bright male, just under the legal size of nine inches and with a supply of milt that was obviously overflowing. I admired it a bit and then slid it back into the Tuckahoe to go about its business. All was now right with the world, I had scored my first yella fella.

Meet Perca Flavescens

The yellow perch is the first fish of the year to make its spawning run in the Tidewater. Its scientific name, perca flavescens, translates as dusky, turning to gold, though for years I thought it meant flavorful perch. I still think my original guess was the more apt.

A particularly handsome creature, it is dark green on top with seven dark vertical bars along gold-colored flanks. It sports bright orange swim fins, especially during the spawn when it ventures up into the freshest parts of Bay tributaries.

In the better areas, principally the headwaters and feeder streams of the Bush, Chester, Wye and Choptank on the Eastern Shore and the Gunpowder and Patuxent on the Western side, good populations can be encountered in the early spring.

As a 2008 bonus, this year marks the maturing of two dominant classes of perch spawned during the ideal conditions of 2003 and 2004. These fish will be measuring 10 to 11 inches or more.

If Maryland Department of Natural Resources forecasts prove accurate, this may be the best season in many years and a good time to try hanging out with the yella fellas. They won’t disappoint you on your line or on the table.

DNR Seeks Perchers

Maryland Department of Natural Resources seeks your participation in a Cooperative Recreational Angler Yellow Perch Survey this season. Find a survey form at Contact: Paul Piavis: 410-643-6776 x 110.

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