- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

On the last day of February with yet one more unwanted snowstorm, after Charles County, Md., snow removal crews finished with the main roads and side streets, several of them drove down Friendship Landing Road that ends at the shores of the tidal Nanjemoy Creek.
When they arrived with a one-ton truck and snow blade that has become all the rage of late, they thought their eyes were playing tricks on them. At the top of the hill where earlier plowing had been halted, they noticed two very unusual, cleared tracks running down the middle of the road toward the creek.
"It was evident that these parallel tracks were not made by a vehicle, which puzzled our staff," said Tom Roland, Charles County's man in charge of green spaces and such wonderfully helpful things as public boat launching facilities, county piers and docks.
"As they plowed their way down the hill and around the curve, they spotted two men with a small home-type snow blower down by the ramp. When asked what they were doing, these two fiftysomethings responded, 'We're going fishing tomorrow and needed to make sure that we could launch our boat.'"
How about that? There actually are other people like those in our little group of angling freaks who would go fishing in such weather.
With a laugh, Roland added, "Not believing that the road would be plowed, these fellows had actually blown over a quarter-mile of tracks that led directly to the ramp. Nobody and nothing was going to get in the way of their yellow perch fishing."
Imagine, two grown men who probably have raised families and who readily accept the responsibilities and rigors of daily life suddenly doing something that could be described as a temporary loss of sanity. These men went to a slippery, steep road that ends by the gravel banks of a tidal creek, clearing a path through thick, wet snow to do what? To go perch fishing?
To fully comprehend this, one must first understand what a yellow perch is and how ludicrous this all must appear to the uninitiated.
Among all fish species that sport anglers pursue, it very possibly is the worst fighter of them all. A lowly bluegill will look like Muhammad Ali compared to a yellow perch. A miserable little mudcat, the little catfish that is all head and very little by way of a body, is a veritable Hulk Hogan compared to a yellow perch. So what is it that so excites us about a waterborne creature that rarely measures more than 12 inches long?
It can partially be explained because it is the first fish in reachable, nearby waters that Washingtonians and suburbanites can go after during the first few months of every year. It has nothing to do with sporting challenges nor culinary qualities.
Very simply, the yellow perch is a first-rate harbinger of spring, a messenger of warm days and fragrant grasses, of flowers and trees to come; of friendships and gatherings, good feelings, and simple, uncomplicated pleasures. That's what this beautifully marked but low-rated "gamefish" means to those of us in the tidewater portions of Southern Maryland, the Northern Neck of Virginia (where it's known as a raccoon or ring perch), the Eastern Shore of both states, and some of the residents of the District who lived in the rural areas in their younger days.
Perch fanatics are no different then freshwater trout anglers who grow antsy waiting for that first morning in late winter when stocking trucks from a hatchery roll through mountain valleys and back roads that angels fear to tread. They fully understand what happens when you look at one too many fishing equipment catalogues and tastelessly filmed angling shows on cable TV. You go batty, that's what.
It isn't the fish species that matters. No, it's a message that all is fine with the world and that despite modern workday pressures and international strive, life can still be wonderful.
Imagine, one little finned creature holding such momentous promise.
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.

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