- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2003

Don’t believe it when you hear that the Middle Atlantic States’ tidal water yellow perch only can be caught during blustery, cold February and March days.

To be sure, that’s when the tidewater population of the golden-hued fish enters the extreme upper reaches of Chesapeake Bay rivers and tributary creeks, but it is generally agreed that the vast majority of these perch leave shortly after spawning chores are over. Then they return to the deep, dark waters of the Bay, even some coastal Atlantic shelves, with only very small numbers remaining in their birth rivers, where they eventually become known as “resident perch.”

Well, that at least is the way we’ve always been told it was supposed to happen.

Then pray tell me why on two separate outings in the past three weeks, Bob Lunsford and I — as well as Lunsford and his wife during a third attempt — found excellent numbers of well-fed, large yellow perch ganging up in the bends and deep holes of certain Patuxent River feeder creeks? It’s not late winter, so we could only dream for the temperatures to plummet into the 30s and 40s. Instead, we fished while the steamy-hot 90s wilted our shirts and melted what little ice was in the cooler.

One of these perch bonanzas was found in a Calvert County feeder to the Patuxent; the two other creeks come to the river from Prince George’s County.

It all began when I joined the Maryland DNR’s Lunsford in a search for recently elusive tidal Patuxent River bass. The place used to be home to excellent numbers of largemouths, but this year they seem to have taken up residence elsewhere.

A few miles south of the Jackson Landing in the Patuxent River Park, near Croom, we entered a Calvert County creek, traveled upstream for perhaps a mile, then started casting plastic worms and small, lipped crankbaits, aiming toward marsh edges, dropoffs and fallen trees along the shoreline.

The tide had begun to recede when we noticed an unusually large number of minnows leaping from the water in one sharp creek bend that fell from extreme shallows into more than 9-foot depths.

We had cast our lures toward what appeared to be a feeding melee among predator fish when one of our crankbaits was struck hard. It turned out to be an 11-inch-long yellow perch — a very respectably sized specimen. That perch was followed by a second one that Lunsford measured and found to be around 12 inches long.

I quickly switched to a new 2-inch-long, curly-tailed, chartreuse Gulp! grub made by Berkley. The grub was fed onto a previously tied-on ⅛-ounce jig hook on a spare rod, while Lunsford picked up one of his spinning rods that held a garden variety, dark green plastic grub.

Katie, bar the door!

I latched onto one yellow perch after another. Lunsford also got his share, but the scent-laden Gulp! grub was attacked more readily than the regular plastic bait. In fact, there were times when the artificial bait lay still on the bottom and a perch would hammer it. Lunsford and I were delighted with our find, but we eventually moved on after landing and releasing perhaps 25 or more well-fed yellow perch.

In another creek bend we did it again, finding and successfully hooking more of the fish species that usually is thought of as being a harbinger of spring quite a while before spring actually arrives.

We entered another creek, idled the boat along, again found frightened baitfish leaping from the water and — bingo! — hooked more yellow perch.

After that day, two other outings proved that the presence of these perch was no fluke (pardon the pun). They showed up on our hooks again and again. Not only that, Lunsford and I found that they would strike a wide variety of lures, including spinnerbaits, crankbaits, tube jigs and curly-tail grubs.

It was magnificent.

So when the bass don’t cooperate and things look gloomy, think of the yellow neds as Maryland’s tidewater anglers call them. Could be they’ll save what at first looks to be a bummer of a fishing day.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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