White Perch Have Sprung

The spring equinox has kicked this year’s white perch run into overdrive. An increasing amount of daylight in early spring is one of the prime stimulants to the white perch spawn. The equinox, coupled with our recent record rainfalls, has gotten this best loved denizen of the Tidewater moving early.
    White perch are semi-anadromous, which means that they prefer salty, brackish water, but each spring they migrate to freshwater tributaries to spawn. They are a slow-growing, long-lived species with a lifespan of up to 20 years.

Fish Are Biting …

   The yellow perch run has peaked, and the white perch are right on their tails. Headwaters of the Severn, the Magothy, the Gunpowder and the South, West and Rhode rivers are all good on the Western Shore. The Choptank, the Tuckahoe, the Chester and the Nanticoke rivers are experiencing excellent fishing on the Eastern Shore. Sandy Point, Matapeake and Fort Smallwood parks are turning up big rockfish on bloodworms. But it’s catch-and-release and circle hooks only until April 15, when the trophy rockfish season opens.

    They can reach a maximum of 19 inches in length and weigh over four pounds. But an average Chesapeake Bay white perch is about nine inches. The state record for Maryland is two pounds 10 ounces, caught in 1979 at Dundee Creek.
    A gravid female will spawn a number of times over two to three weeks this time of year, casting a total of some 50,0000 to 150,000 eggs over fine gravel or sand bottoms. The eggs hatch, depending on water temperature, in one to six days. White perch are the most numerous fish in the Chesapeake and, luckily for us, one of the most delicious.
    Maryland anglers catch some 500,000 pounds of white perch every year, Department of Natural Resources estimates, and commercial fishermen net another million and a half pounds, making it, numerically, one of the most sought after fish that swim the Tidewater.

Catching ’Em Now

    Because the perch are frequenting the shallower areas of the tributaries to spawn this time of year, the traditional tackle now is a light spin rod six to seven feet long, with four- to six-pound test line and one or two shad darts rigged under a small bobber. Use grass shrimp, worms or minnows, and cast along tributary shorelines.
    Sandy bottom areas in three to four feet of water near the shoreline and around downed trees, brush and rocky areas are good spots to target. Identifying where ospreys are concentrating their aerial observations, anywhere a blue heron is lurking or anyplace that has lost bobbers decorating the brush line can also lead you to productive locations.
    The best times are the last phase of an incoming tide just before full, and the first two hours of a falling tide. Early mornings and late afternoons can provide a good bite as well. When the two situations coincide, the results can be outstanding.
    These fish put up a great battle on light gear. An eleven-incher will have you believing it’s a keeper rockfish until you finally get it to the boat.

Catching ’Em Post-Spawn

    The spawn will last into late May. After that, most whities will have returned to their customary haunts, which include just about every area of the Chesapeake and its tributaries. Angling for this popular fish after the springtime run can take many forms, from casting a small Clouser minnow on a fly rod in the shallows in early morning to bottom-fishing grass shrimp off of a pier to dropping a blood worm rigged with a two-ounce sinker into 60 feet of water. There could be white perch just about anywhere.

Eating ’Em

    On the table, white perch shines. The most popular (and in my opinion, the tastiest) way to prepare a perch is to carefully fillet and skin the meat. Blot it dry with paper towels, dip it in a cold wash of egg and beer (or soda water), roll it in Panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and fry it in an inch of 350-degree peanut oil until it is golden brown on both sides.
    Make a dip of mayonnaise with finely chopped cornichons (pickled gherkins) and a squeeze of lemon juice. Louisiana Hot Sauce is also an excellent condiment, as is a small bowl of warm and tangy olive oil vinaigrette.
    Accompanying beverages can be as diverse as ice-cold lemonade, a good light lager, chilled Chardonnay, Coca Cola or, for very special occasions a well-iced bottle of Taittinger. Bon appetite.

Stop the Raid on Program Open Space Funds

The search for money to balance the state budget has gotten ugly. Now Program Open Space funds are under attack. Department of Legislative Services is proposing transferring Open Space funds to the General Fund, permanently. The promised trade: $50 million a year for the foreseeable future. This is an out and out raid on land conservation funds of the most critical kind. Please write or e-mail the following people and let them know what you think of the proposal.
    The Hon. Adrienne A. Jones, Chair, House Appropriations Capital Budget Subcommittee, 120 Taylor House Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401; or [email protected]
    The Hon. James E. DeGrange, Sr., Chair, Senate Budget & Taxation Capital Budget Subcommittee, 3 West Miller Senate Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401; or [email protected]