Sporting Life: Spring Blooms and Runs

Did you know you can predict the peak of a particular Tidewater spring fishing run by what is in bloom? Daffodils, forsythia and dogwood each bloom in concurrence with a specific Chesapeake spawn.

The first spring blossom is the daffodil and it coincides with the rush of yellow perch that ascend our tributaries from now into April. When you see a brilliant flash of yellow along roadsides know that Chesapeake angling season has kicked off, with tributaries hosting the annual yellow perch run.

Yellow perch, sometimes called yellow neds or ring perch because of its golden hues set off by olive vertical stripes, is a particularly delicious fish with firm, white meat. A cousin to the striped bass, the yellow perch can reach up to 18 inches in length, though the minimum legal size is just half that at nine inches. A 14-incher is a citation.

Though its numbers have decreased during the last few decades because of developmental silting, this fish continues to swarm the shallows this time of year to the delight of anglers.

Drifting grass shrimp, minnows or a bit of blood worm on small shad darts under weighted casting bobbers will tempt a bite.

At low water conditions, bottom fishing deeper waters with an ounce or so of lead, hi-lo rigs, number 4 hooks and the same baits can be just as effective. With a limit of ten daily these frisky beauties can definitely provide an excellent springtime dinner.

The next blossom to look for is the fiery forsythia, a brushy plant that spews out yellow petals as if they have no end. Its blooming is an indicator that the Chesapeake’s white perch are finally on the move to reproduce in their sweet water birthplaces.

The most numerous fish in the Tidewater, the white perch is also the most delicious. The same baits and techniques that are used for yellow perch will work equally well for whites. Another cousin of our rockfish, this fish may also reach 18 inches, though lately, a ten-inch fish is considered a big one. Citation size is 14 inches with no minimum size and no possession limit.

White perch is the most harvested fish in the Bay. Dipped in a sticky mixture of flour and beer then rolled in a heaping dish of panko, Japanese bread crumbs, and fried in 400-degree peanut oil until golden brown, it is one of the premier treats of springtime.

Finally come the dogwood bloom and hickory shad run. Big, flashy white blossoms in a tree line let you know that the shad are flashing as well in area streams. Returning from the Atlantic, hickory can reach 24 inches and leap like tarpon.

Once treasured for its roe sacks, which were fried in butter by colonists, the hickory’s numbers have waned. It is currently illegal to harvest, though catch and release fishing is permitted.

Hickory shad are strong adversaries and hit shad darts, retrieved erratically. Their wild leaping runs on light spin rigs will definitely make these early months of the Chesapeake angling season memorable.

Check DNR’s Fisheries website for notices on closed seasons, minimum sizes and new possession limits.


Spring has definitely sprung with higher temperature days and not too cold nights. While the yellow perch may have peaked the whites are now ascending and will be mixed in and hitting the same baits. Staying the course until you are on the water at the same time as the fish is the secret to scoring this time of year, the runs are erratic but dramatic. Shad are reported, though I haven’t seen any myself, and there are a satisfying number of large pickerel. It’s a beautiful time of year to be on the water. Springtime weather is unpredictable so enjoy it when you can.