Sporting Life

Dennis and Harrison Doyle with a perch caught on the Pocomoke.

Golden Perch On Their Way

By Dennis Doyle

The snow has been piling up for hours, a frigid wind has started whipping up the tree line, forecasters have predicted doom for New England and our house lights are flickering ominously. This is the dead of winter, the mercury is in the teens so it’s an ideal time to check your flashlight batteries and to think about fishing in the new year.

Diehard anglers are not dismayed by the current phase of frigid tempests, they’re part of the game for chasing the very first species that begins the new angling year. Known by various aliases throughout the Tidewater, jack perch, ring perch, ned and yellow ned, it is a delicious fish and a great way to begin 2022.

February is officially the beginning of the yellow perch run and while it can be touch and go with timing, the weather, the tidal surges and hoping for warmer temps, one thing is certain—the neds will soon be climbing the creeks heading for their natal headwater spawning sites.

The fish, striking in appearance, have a medium build, gold to brassy green on their gill plates and sides, and usually have six to eight olive, vertical bars on each side with bright yellow to orange accents on their pectoral fins and breast during the spawn. There are two dorsal fins, with the first supported by sharp spines and the second by soft rays.

Yellow perch have a unique spawning characteristic. Their roe is expelled in long, translucent, accordion-like sacks that are fertilized by several males as they are extruded by the female. These sacks tend to hang up on submerged bushes, laydowns, rocks and other underwater structure, keeping the roe suspended and allowing the eggs to hatch and emerge free into the currents.

Using light to medium weight spin tackle and mono to 6-pound test the tasty golden beauties can be taken with small minnows, red worms, blood worms, trout worms, grubs and grass shrimp usually fished on brightly colored shad darts under a small casting bobber in up to four feet of water or in the channels and deeper pools on hi-lo rigs, #4 hooks and sinkers to 1 ounce.

The fish are difficult to anticipate as they are in spawning mode and each group of fish seems driven only by their own collective urges. They are found in almost all of Maryland’s Bay tributaries, rivers, creeks and impoundments. Because Maryland missed out on migrating glaciers during the Great Ice Age we don’t have any natural lakes gouged out by their passing.

The ideal water temperature for yellow neds is touted to be 50 degrees for reproductive activity and the likelihood of an active bite. However, one has to take into account that in cold shallow headwaters where fish are staging it can get that warm within just a few hours of strong sunshine on a still day from February all the way to April. It’s almost impossible to determine exactly when that will occur.

The only way to insure a successful yellow perch angling event is to go often without expecting success. When you do encounter the proper conditions and active perch the minimum size for keeping the yellows is 9 inches and the possession limit is ten fish at citation size of 14 inches. Returning to the water a fat to bursting roe-laden female is not mandatory but it is extremely sporting.

         Good fishing usually occurs with a particular phase of current flow but since there is always down-current movement the ideal time always varies with tidal conditions. Two hours on either side of the high slack is generally the most productive phase. Of course, you can just take your chances, after all the best time to go fishing is whenever you can.