GENE MUELLER: ‘Tis the season for Potomac perch

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HILLTOP, Md.

“Let’s go and see if the yellow perch have started to hang out in the creek bends,” my neighbor Dale Knupp said. “We’ll use only little drop-shot rigs with 3-inch plastic shiners, or a plain Sting Ray grub on 1/4-ounce or 1/8-ounce jig hooks.”

Enough said. Before you could spell the words Charles County we were backing a bass boat down the ramp at the tidal Nanjemoy Creek’s Friendship Landing. Knupp’s wife, Nancy, climbed aboard and soon the three of us idled up the creek, all the while admiring the fall foliage and a bald eagle that sat in a sycamore tree, not to mention three deer that cavorted on a meadow near shore.

That alone was worth getting out of bed for.

But when Nancy comes along on a perch hunt, things that normally don’t occur begin to happen. She’s an above-average angler and on more than one occasion has shown us men that wives are not to be taken lightly when it comes to fishing.

When her husband shut off the big outboard and slipped an electric trolling motor over the bow so he could move around quietly while staring at a depth finder that would show what lay beneath the boat’s hull, Nancy made a short cast with her light spinning outfit that contained a drop-shot shiner. She closed the reel bail and began a deliberate, short-and-slow lifting motion of the fake bait. For all purposes, the small movements actually made the rubbery shiner appear alive.

It worked. She suddenly set the hook to something as yet unseen and the rod began to bend sharply. This is no perch, I thought, as I brought in a tiny buck perch of my own and quickly let it go so I could quickly grab a camera. Meanwhile, Nancy had her hands full, but after some time her husband slipped a landing net under a white catfish that might have weighed 3 or 4 pounds. The white catfish is not well-known among most river anglers because it is often mistaken for other catfish species, but it is indigenous to the upper tidal Potomac and fanciers of fried fish fillets say it is delectable.

While Dale and I kept working on the meager number of yellow perch that hung around in several of the creek’s sharp, deep bends, Nancy suddenly said, “I don’t know what this is, but it’s pretty strong.”

Again, her lightweight rod bent like a pretzel, and the fight was on with what we at first believed to be a striped bass.

It was yet another white catfish, bigger than the first and full of sass. This “cat” didn’t like it one bit that a phony minnow had fooled it.

Although we kept the first catfish to grace one of our tables, the bigger, second one was let go.

What was so special about our perch search is the fact that in the tidal feeder streams of the Potomac, autumn and early winter can deliver a broad array of fish species and all you need is a small assortment of tackle. Several emerald green drop-shot shiners, such as the ones sold as Power Bait Shiners by Berkley, along with a few drop-shot sinkers (although large split shot can do as well). Add also the famous avocado color Sting Ray grub that imitates local bull minnows, then bring a medium/light spinning rod and reel, some light braided line in the 14-pound class, and perhaps a crawfish or garlic flavor fish attractant that can be applied to the lures.

That’s it. You’re set for perch searches, but always be prepared for additional excitement when catfish, carp, stripers, crappies, bass and even Chinese snakeheads decide the same fake bait that is meant to attract relatively small perch also looks inviting to the larger species.

By the way, Knupp said the water wasn’t cold enough to draw larger numbers of yellow perch into the deep holes of the Potomac’s feeder creeks. That, however, can happen any day now, and it’s one big reason why you shouldn’t sit at home. There are fish to be found. Don’t let the other guys and gals catch them all.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Gene Mueller’s Inside Outside blog on www.washingtontimes.com/sports.

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