- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

BENEDICT, Md.

At 4:45 a.m., with the moon partially hidden behind dense clouds, the tidal Patuxent River can be as dark as an unlit cave. Not enough houses with yard lights line the river shores to help illuminate the water. But if you hope to get a parking spot for your truck and trailer at the DNR’s public Hallowing Point facility, you’d better arrive in pitch darkness because you’ll be competing for parking spaces with trotlining crabbers who are far more serious about their avocation than the two of us who only wanted to check the status of the river’s white perch.

We managed to ignore several rude rubes who knew nothing about boating etiquette as they sat in the middle of the launch ramps, blocking all traffic, to load their boats with the day’s gear. All this should have been done away from the boat landing while they were still in the lot. Despite that, our boat was eventually slipped into the water and a place was found for the trailer and tow vehicle. In a light breeze, we soon bobbed on the river, bow and stern lights twinkling in the black night.

Thanks to an electronic depthfinder and a brightly lit GPS unit that plainly showed the shoreline and even a thick band of shallow water on both sides, the short run downriver past Sheridan Point was a breeze. By the time the first hues of pink and gray appeared in the East, I had lifted an electric trolling motor from its resting place and put it into the water while Dale Knupp raised the outboard by pushing a tilt-and-trim button. We quickly prepared the rods with less than 10-pound line on the reels, tied 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits or tiny rattle baits to the nylon and then began a series of test casts to see if the gear functioned properly. Where we sat, the water was less than 3 feet deep — it was white perch country.

“Got one,” Knupp said immediately. I echoed him seconds later. Both of us had wildly objecting white perch on the lure hooks, and Knupp judged whether they were big enough to grace his frying pan. He decided his was and mine wasn’t.

The white perch is without question the most democratic fish in all of the Chesapeake Bay, its tributary rivers, creeks, bays and coves. It will ferociously attack almost anything it figures will fit into its not-too-large mouth. You can cast a small fly-rod streamer in white, perhaps with a bit of shiny mylar mixed into the bucktail hairs, and a perch will inhale it. Cast a little light-colored inline spinner and the white perch will act as if it hasn’t eaten in a month. Flick a triangular spinner bait into the shallows and begin the retrieve and chances are it won’t make it back to the boat. The same goes for 1/8-ounce rattle lures named “Pond Favorites” that come in chrome/blue or gold/red made by the Creme Lure Co. or those from Bill Lewis’ Rat-L-Trap company known as Mini Traps. They’ll slam into them as if they hadn’t eaten in a year.

White perch simply aren’t aristocrats. Unlike other fish species that are picky, these delicious creatures aren’t the least bit choosy. They are the fish of the people, and to this day Knupp and I can’t understand why anyone would spend hard-earned cash on expensive bloodworms, crab chunks or artificial Fishbites just to hook a white perch. All you need is a couple of small flashy lures and you’ll be set for years.

A couple days after Knupp and I got enough perch to make several great dinners, another friend, Bob Rice, joined me to check on the perch. Rice had absolutely no problems finding willing Patuxent perch. He landed one after the other on a small rattle bait.

When either of us chase after perch, we prefer a high tide or one that has just begun to ebb, a shoreline or cove that is filled with fallen trees or duck blinds, perhaps the edges of a weed bed, in water that can be as shallow as one foot and no deeper than four feet.

This time of year and well into autumn, the perch will be in the lower Patuxent and its feeder creeks; ditto for the Potomac, Choptank, Chester, Nanticoke, Rappahannock, and Wicomico rivers. The same holds for rip-rap walls and bulkheads from the Susquehanna River down to Deale, Chesapeake Beach and all other bay shores. The bounty seems to be endless, although commercial overfishing can put a serious crimp into local “perching.”

If you like to eat fish, the white perch ranks high on the list of good Chesapeake table fare. Filleted or scaled and fried whole, they are a taste treat. Just ask Knupp, who’ll treat a mess of perch like they’ll be his last meal.

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


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