Can spring be far away when a number of local, tidal creek fanatics have begun their annual hunt for yellow perch?
It happens every February. Shoreline and johnboat anglers from the Northern Neck of Virginia across to Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the western Chesapeake Bay get serious about hunting the gold-hued, green-barred fish that neither fight very hard nor are difficult to hook when they gather in tightly bunched schools as they prepare to spawn. But it’s a kind of ritual, a harbinger of warmer days ahead and this, after all, is the first of the anadromous fish species that signals the start of a new fishing year.
In years past, we’ve seen yellow perch gather in great numbers in the deep holes and drop-offs of dozens of nearby tidal feeder creeks. When the water temperature rises enough to induce the female perch to move upstream (somewhere in the high 40s), seeking favorable spawning grounds, the males — known as bucks — follow. They wait for long ribbons of roe to be strung across underwater roots, gravel and sunken tree branches, then spray the eggs with life-giving milt. The sun will do the rest, incubating the roe until thousands of perch fry emerge.
So now we wait, searching for the yellow “neds,” as Marylanders sometimes refer to the perch. We’ll be in boats, intently staring at the screens of depth locators, hoping to see dozens of tiny markings, then lowering artificial or real minnows, perhaps tiny spoons, or a small metal blade lure known as a Silver Buddy. Live grass shrimp can be deadly, but even garden worms will be looked at by the fish whose fillets, when fried golden brown, can make for fine dining.
Some of us rely on Dale and Nancy Knupp to signal that the perch have arrived. The Knupps, who live in La Plata, are not only fine bass anglers — they also get totally serious about the yellow perch. In fact, as you read this, Dale has hooked an odd resident perch here and there, but he says the spawners have not shown up in significant numbers. That, however, can change in a single day.
Top local perch waters include the Wicomico River at Allens Fresh in Charles County; the Occoquan River, Aquia and Potomac creeks on the Virginia side of the tidal Potomac; now and then the upper tidal Patuxent River not far from Wayson’s Corner; and also the Eastern Shore’s Chester, Corsica, Nanticoke and Choptank rivers in their far upper reaches. Add the Northern Neck of Virginia where you find two of the best — the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers.
Potomac tidal bass bite continues: Professional bass fishing guide Andy Andrzejewski and I fished the upper, tidal Potomac from Alexandria’s Belle Haven Marina coves across the river to the National Harbor flats and drop-offs and we found willing bass on flat-tailed grubs, even deep-running crankbaits. Water temperatures ranged higher than 40 degrees. The Spoils Cove, on the Maryland side just above the Wilson Bridge, has given up decent numbers of crappies and bass, according to one fisherman that contacted us.
Kerr Reservoir delivers fishing action: In south-central Virginia, straddling the Virginia and North Carolina state line, the reservoir that also is known as Buggs Island Lake has been delivering good bass, crappie and catfish numbers. The bass like scented grubs and worms, also long-lipped crankbaits; the crappies prefer live minnows, and the catfish look at cut slabs of any kind of fish, including tidewater gizzard shad if you can find some. Some good-sized stripers are caught uplake on trolled lures.
Bluefin tunas heading south?: There’s been a let-up in the numbers of bluefin tuna hook-ups in the Virginia Beach area, but a few are still caught. Ken Neill, of the Peninsula Salt Water Sport Fisherman’s Association, believes the tunas are headed toward North Carolina waters. The striped bass schools, however, have not declined. Neill and superangler Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) agree the rockfish deliver the goods between Cape Henry and Sandbridge, within two miles of the shore. Ball said some of those stripers weigh from 40 to 50 pounds. It easily is turning into one of the best winter rockfish seasons ever. If catch-and-release fishing is good enough for you, the stripers are all around the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, also from north of Plantation Light, down to the mouth of the bay.
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