Volume 13, Issue25 ~ June 23 -29 , 2005

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Burton on The Bay
By Bill Burton

A Good Fish Deserves Respect
Big things can come in small packages.

A fish of only nine inches could be the ticket to a million bucks for Brian Nurmi of Annapolis — if he’s awful lucky. The fish is a white perch, and though nine inches is not bad for a perch, it’s small stuff to those who fish the Chesapeake for rockfish.

But I’ll wager at this moment, Brian wouldn’t trade his perch for a rockfish three or four times as long. Attached to his fish when he caught it June 9 off the mouth of the Severn was a bright green tag imprinted with the number 1427.

That tag makes Brian eligible for a crack at big money in the Maryland $1,000,000 Fishing Challenge, currently underway in the Chesapeake and its tributaries. More than 2,000 tagged fish have been released by Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The name of everyone who catches and reports one goes into the hat from which four finalists will be drawn. Automatically, each of them will join another lottery for a chance for a million bucks at the grand finale July 18 at Sandy Point State Park.

They call it a fishing contest, but the only angling involved is to catch one of the tagged fish, which guarantees nothing other than the chance to be drawn as one of four finalists. Each finalist will then be subjected to another lottery-like procedure with a one-in-500 chance to win the big prize.

With more exotic species — rockfish, hardheads and largemouth bass — also tagged, wouldn’t it be great to see an Izaak Walton like Brian Nurmi whiz through the obstacle course and collect the ball of wax for catching a perch. Just a perch!

Brian would win more than enough moola to buy a big boat for chasing rockfish and hardheads in the Bay and a bassboat for hunting largemouths in the shallows of the tributaries. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he just kept on perch’n. Morone Americana has quite a following in Chesapeake Bay Country. Ounce for ounce, it is probably a better fighter than a hardhead, rockfish or largemouth bass. It beats them all in taste with its firm white flesh with little fat, which makes it ideal for freezing.

Show Some Respect
I’ve always suggested that those who look down on white perch go to an Eastern Shore fish fry and note which fish disappears first. White perch every time.

Hey, and what’s wrong with bottom fishing? That was the original method of sportsfishing. Put a bait in the water, wait for a fish to take it, then bring the fish in. In freshwaters, more than a few perch chasers cast artificial baits like small spinners and spoons, or perhaps flies. But in the tidewater haunts of Morone Americana, it’s usually plain old bottom or drift fishing, a relaxing, laid-back pursuit.

Some of the better fishermen of the Chesapeake are known to be perch aficionados. Among them is Capt. Ed Darwin, who fishes the charterboat Becky-D out of Mill Creek, Annapolis, and a dozen years ago guided a party to what could well have been an IGFA world-record rockfish. He chose to release it because it was a female still packed with roe.

DNR biologists checking the length and girth measurements provided by Darwin estimated its weight would have been more than 80 pounds — an all time rod ’n’ reel record. But to this day, he’s not sorry. This much-sought-after skipper is known to specialize in two fishes of the upper Bay, practically always in sight of the Bay Bridge.

Those two fish are rockfish and white perch. He’s tough to beat for bluefish, sea trout, hardheads, flounder, you name it. But ask him what he’d rather carry parties for, and he’ll name those two — and this from a veteran skipper who is booked practically every day of the season and in off season chases after such exotic fishes as tarpon, pompano and bonefish in the islands.

Fishing’s Shmoo
This is perch time, and as many of the species do this time of year, they’re moving from the smaller tributaries of the Bay into the larger tributaries or to the Bay proper. Some, generally the smaller ones, will stay in the tributaries. Much of their movement is dependent on the hunt for food. Competition to eat is high among perch, which are the most abundant fish in Maryland.

They range in size up to an occasional 12 or 13 inches. The Fishing In Maryland record is 16 inches (two pounds, 10 ounces) for a fish taken in Dundee Creek in 1979. The IGFA world mark is four and three-quarters pounds for a fish taken in Maine by a woman in 1949.

Perch are among the anadromous fishes. Though in Maryland they are most commonly associated with tidal and brackish waters, like yellow perch, they move into freshwaters to spawn. Some might choose to stay in fresh waters; others are stocked in reservoirs, ponds and lakes. Salt or fresh, they flourish.

The Bay Bridge, where perch are moving in now, is one of the biggest and most productive artificial reefs for perch along the Atlantic Coast. Its pilings offer fish cover, and the small aquatic creatures that hang around them make easy meals. The Key Bridge in the Patapsco is another good perch haunt, as are bridges on the Choptank, Nanticoke, South, Severn and Magothy to name a few.

The rocky shoreline of Fort Smallwood and the waters at what’s left of the old Severn River Bridge near the Naval Academy are shoreside suggestions from this corner. The bars and reefs of the upper Bay from off Holland Point to Podickory Point and the knolls above the Bay Bridge are dependable perch’n holes. Look for obstructions, and you’ll find perch.

Boats are recommended, but not necessary. Perch are taken from docks, pilings and shallow shoreline edges where vegetation (and minnows and other food) is present. They will take most any bait; among their favorites are grass shrimp, bloodworms, nuclear worms, tidbits of peeler or soft crabs, snouts and bellies of soft shell clams and pieces of cut Norfolk spot.

Since the price of bloodworms increased to about $10 a dozen, some fishermen tell me they have switched to nightcrawlers or just plain garden worms for perch that hang around docks and pilings. However, for the open Bay, I’ve not had much success with the inland worms; they don’t have the bloody scent that attracts perch.

No fancy rigs are needed; just small hooks and a sinker to bring them to the bottom, and you’re in business. Many boat anglers prefer to drift fish until several fish are caught in one spot, then anchor there. Others just look for drop-offs and uneven bottom and set up shop. If perch are around and hungry, you will quickly know.

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