by C.D. Dollar
It was the quintessential spring day: Dogwoods bursting, daffodils arching toward the warm, welcoming sun and a near cloudless azure sky opening up to a world of possibilities. It was a day that literally compelled us to go fishing. Not wanting to upset the natural order of things, Will Smiley and I obliged.
We directed our canoe toward a small salt pond off the Severn River and glided over the seamless waters as the rhythm of the paddle strokes kept time in an ordered yet tranquil way. About a month earlier, I had visited the same honey hole on a cold, fog-shrouded day and enjoyed good success. (Out of the respect to the man who showed me the spot and to remain true to the principles of secret fishing spots, I must remain vague about the exact location.)
Will is a true river rat, a good soul from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains who fishes for smallmouth bass in the cold mountain streams and rivers that slice through the Shenandoah Valley. He recently immigrated to Annapolis, so to demonstrate that we are a hospitable bunch in this part of the Chesapeake watershed, I took him fishing.
We waded the pond edges and cast into the bright day, sharing the spot with a hunting osprey. Tide was flooding in, and within the first hour we both landed a decent number of nice pickerel, including two that pushed 24 inches. These fish struck with much more ferocity than in the previous encounter. Will fished spin tackle with plastic lures (fin-s and shad imitations), and I fished a 5-weight fly rod with sinking line and weighted homemade flies.
Toward the end of the afternoon, Will broke our streak of pickerel only in grand fashion. At the end of his line, a beautiful yellow perch emerged from the water, its near solid black bars over golden-yellow body magically contrasted with the green-tinted, clear liquid in the day's fading light.
This perch was a full 10 inches, which might put it in its fourth or fifth season. According to A.J. McClane's Guide to Freshwater Fishes in North America, the average survival rate of yellow perch is about 1 in 5,000 for the first year, mainly because they are slow growers, adding two to four inches that first year.
In upper reaches of Chesapeake tributaries like the Tuckahoe, Patuxent, Severn and Choptank rivers, the annual yellow perch spawning run rings the welcoming bell of spring. But degraded water quality, particularly high acidity due to years of pollution as well as a loss of habitat, have severely depleted the fishes' stocks. I learned from John Page Williams that, in Virginia, yellow perch are also called ring perch. A little more research revealed that in other parts of the country they go by such names as jack perch, coon perch and striped perch.
In our region, the spawning run usually occurs when the water temperature reaches the low 40s, but in other areas the water temperature can be as high as the 50s. Although I am not a fisheries biologist, it appeared to me the yellow beauty that Will caught was still laden with roe. It was obvious, however, that it did not have the telltale flaming red-orange fins that mark the enthused male during this spring ritual.
Was it possible, despite most people's observation that the yellow perch spawn had been over for several weeks, that this perch had not released her gelatinous eggs into the water? If this were indeed the case, it reaffirms that my ongoing edification about our wonderful Bay animals continues. It also nurtures my belief that in the natural world nothing is static.
What is certain, however, is that this delay does nothing to improve the chances for survival for her 10,000 to 75,000 eggs. The road to adulthood for a yellow perch is fraught with danger. Predators, disease, parasites and less-than-ideal environmental conditions all conspire to knock the young fry out of life's competition.
But if several inherit that intuitive spirit to survive from the mother, in a few years we might be fortunate to handle more generations of her progeny.
| Issue 15 |
Volume VII Number 15
April 15-21, 1999
New Bay Times
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