- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

HILLTOP, Md. - I’ve always been interested in learning about people’s vocations and consequent avocations. For example, after a tough game of golf, does Tiger Woods go hang gliding or rock climbing? After driving at harrowing speeds for 500 miles on a high-banked oval, does Dale Earnhardt Jr. relax by rolling a bowling ball down a polished alley? And what about those whose work and play are one and the same?

Some years ago, a California man who was a Pacific Ocean charter fishing captain used every recreational minute at his disposal to drop a lure into any water that held largemouth bass. Apparently, he couldn’t get enough of fishing, and he’d drive inland to try and hook largemouth bass in one of California’s fabled mountain lakes. He did well, too, and for a short time claimed a state record that he caught in Lake Castaic or Lake Miramar.

Locally, what do you suppose a very popular Chesapeake Bay charter boat captain and a top-flight river bass guide do when they take a day off from work?

Yeah, they, too, go fishing.

“Things haven’t started yet in the Chesapeake Bay, so I enjoy spending a day looking for yellow perch,” said John Montgomery, who runs his Miss Susie charter boat out of Solomons in Calvert County when the rockfish, blues, croakers and sea trout make things interesting in the big water.

Last week Montgomery and his long-time friend, Andy Andrzejewski, one of the best tidal water fishing guides anywhere, stood side by side on Andrzejewski’s 22-foot bass boat, casting 2-inch grubs that had been fed onto 1/8-ounce jig hooks into the Nanjemoy Creek in Charles County. They dragged the little lures across an undulating creek bottom, hoping to coax a yellow perch into striking. The rubbery lures had been dabbed with baitfish-scented Smelly Jelly, and it wasn’t long before a perch inhaled one of the little grubs, soon to be followed by another.

What is it that attracted two grown men who are used to bigger and better piscatorial pleasures to chase after a relatively easy to catch fish — a species that isn’t renowned for its fight or taste?

“I’ve started booking a bunch of bass outings already,” said Andrzejewski, “but whenever I have a chance to relax, I do this.” Andrzejewski said he’s into the bass up around the Wilson Bridge.

This odd allure of the yellow perch is indeed something to behold. It rarely measures more than 12 inches long; it absolutely offers no more of a fight than a wet dishrag; and as table fare usually rates right alongside such culinary delights as canned sausage gravy or Chef Boyardee’s “Italian” food.

Yet when the first warm winds that tell of a coming spring blow across the tidal streams, creeks and rivers of Maryland and Virginia, a goodly number of fishermen (including me) begins to visit those waters hoping to hook the first of a series of anadromous fish species that come here to spawn.

To prove as much, Andrzejewski and Montgomery dragged, hopped and bounced their little lures through the Nanjemoy, occasionally setting the hook to a “ned,” as Marylanders call the perch, but mostly enjoying the surroundings and lack of business pressures. They watched soaring bald eagles or gently wading great blue herons, and they lamented the constant presence of commercial netters who are in the creek, removing many fish but never giving anything back to our natural resources.

The golden-hued perch normally finish their reproductive chores by the middle of March, then are quickly followed by migratory white perch and striped bass that are quickly joined by blueback herring and shad. Of course, the resident catfish, sunfish and largemouth bass heavily get into the spawning act by April and May, and when all of them are busy in waterborne nurseries, the snowy forecasts of the past are but a distant memory. The sun will warm our hides and life will be very good, indeed.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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