- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 5, 2004

BENEDICT, Md.

Has your fishing confidence gone to pieces because too many outings ended with nothing to show for the effort? Is your angling ego easily bruised when others score almost at will and all you catch is a cold? If so, spend a day fishing for white perch.

This most democratic of creatures lives in the salty waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers. It will soothe body and soul because it simply doesn’t know how to turn down a bait or fishing lure.

Ask my friend, Dale Knupp, a professional bass fishing guide, what he does when he seeks relaxation and the chance for a delectable fish. “White perch,” he says instantly. “Nothing can beat a white perch as far as taste is concerned or its willingness to go after almost anything you throw at it.”

Last week Dale and I promised our families a dinner of fried perch — fillets or whole, it doesn’t matter. We heeded advice from Ken Lamb, the proprietor of the Tackle Box store in Lexington Park, and headed for the tidal Patuxent River where, said Lamb, the perch were thick as fleas in practically every feeder creek and the river’s main stem.

Knupp’s bass boat was launched at the Hallowing Point public ramp, a direct shot across the river from the town of Benedict, and then steered downstream.

Mind you, neither Dale nor I is a Patuxent River expert. We spend more time in the tidal Potomac because we live close to the big river, so we approached the Patuxent as total novices.

We ran south toward the Sheridan Point area on the Calvert County side of the river, and Dale pointed to a large cove that appeared to have a series of fallen trees poking from the water near shore. The tide was high — an important consideration when maneuvering a boat through strange waters. In less than 4 feet of water, we slowly idled toward the dead, waterlogged branches.

Dale and I don’t believe bait is needed when fishing for white perch, although if that’s your preference be aware that perch are not picky. They’ll strike small pieces of peeler crab bait on high/low, two-hook bottom fishing rigs; they’ll inhale strips of squid, tiny morsels of bloodworm, even nightcrawler pieces or store-bought pieces of raw shrimp. Among artificial lures, they’ll inhale a small silvery streamer fly, or a white in-line spinner, even Silver Buddy lures and such.

We prefer to use simple spinning or casting rods, loaded with 10- or 12-pound monofilament line that is tied to 1/8-ounce Strike King “Bitsy Titanium Pro Model” spinnerbaits with a white or white/chartreuse skirt covering the hook. The strong line we use is not a requirement for fish that normally weigh less than a pound, but it’s of immense help when a submersed branch is snagged and the lure needs to be freed.

As far as the little 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits are concerned, Dale likes slender dual blades — one willowleaf, the other a round Colorado model. I prefer a single Colorado blade. Either model works, so let the fishing commence.

Seconds after our spinnerbaits touched the water and we began to turn our reel handles to retrieve line, we both had perch straining against the nylon. Just like that. The white perch struck our lures with such gusto that quite often we believed much bigger fish to be at the end of our lines. This is true even when a tiny specimen decides to attack a lure.

What delighted Dale and me was the seemingly endless supply of fish present in that short stretch of shoreline. In less than an hour, we released roughly 40 perch and kept maybe a dozen.

Then, as the tide receded and the perch moved away from the shore and entered deeper, nearby water, we took off and headed for Battle Creek, a winding waterway, also in lower Calvert County.

Dale entered the first cove he spotted inside the creek, cast his spinnerbait toward a grassy area near a docked cabin cruiser and promptly hooked a flounder. A flounder on a spinnerbait? It sounds impossible, yet it happened.

We also reeled in one white perch after another. Most of them were less than 11 inches long, but they were well-fed and had broad backs — just right for a frying pan.

Occasionally, we caught juvenile rockfish and watched dozens of cownose rays swim past our boat as they scoured the bottom for food.

It was a grand day that ended with a delectable fish dinner for our families.

Apparently, Ken Lamb wasn’t kidding about the Patuxent River’s bounty. The place is jam-packed with white perch. But remember, so is practically every river in Chesapeake country, from the Northern Neck of Virginia clear up to the Susquehanna north of Baltimore.

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

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