When my friend Dale Knupp says it’s time to hunt for “gorilla perch,” he’s not engaging in idle chatter. Knupp is a serious devotee of the white perch, or “gorilla perch” as he calls extra large specimen of these tidal water inhabitants that many Chesapeake Bay residents believe to be the tastiest fish of all.
Knupp’s face lights up when you mention perch fillets, fried golden brown in a well-oiled skillet, served with coleslaw and ears of corn. Oh, yeah! The same fellow who is a bass fishing guide on the Potomac River will drop nearly everything when you mention perch. He and his wife Nancy love fried white perch. So do I. So do most of my friends in Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia.
Imagine the look then on Knupp’s face after he repeatedly cast a 1/8-ounce white Strike King spinnerbait into the waterlogged sunken branches and tree trunks of a Patuxent River cove not far from the Benedict bridge. He hooked a couple of average size white perch and then with some urgency said, “Better get the net. I’m not sure what I have on my line.”
Knupp’s ultra-light spinning rod was bent in a sharp arc, six-pound-test monofilament strained through the guides just as the morning sun began to climb over the shoreline trees.
“It’s a perch,” Knupp said with a broad grin. “A gorilla perch.”
Incidentally, to qualify for the simian designation, a white perch has to measure 10 inches or more in length.
This one did easily.
“Now we’re talking,” he said.
Moments later I hooked a big one that brought a gleam to both of our eyes. A series of average perch followed and then a couple more “gorillas” came along. The action was totally awesome and Knupp finally said, “Man, I’m ready to have a sandwich. This fishing is making me hungry.”
We sat down in the boat, ate, slaked our thirst with diet sodas, and of course talked about fishing.
Interestingly, all our acquaintances and friends throughout the region have their own little and usually not-so-secret spots where they find their biggest perch. For us it’s the Patuxent River, maybe parts of the Wicomico River near Cobb Island. Others swear that the largest perch are found in the Rappahannock down near Morattico, Va. One friend says the fattest perch are found in the lower Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and yet another believes the Potomac around the Route 301 bridge delivers the goods in the shoreline rocks and wood of the Morgantown Power Plant.
It doesn’t matter where you find them. White perch are found from Fletcher’s Cove in the District to the Chester River in Kent County and up in the Susquehanna in Havre de Grace. They also are found in the South River in Anne Arundel County and the Great Wicomico in Northumberland County in Virginia’s Northern Neck. And if you leave the general area, the fish can also be found in the brackish waters of the Atlantic coast from South Carolina north to the maritime provinces of Canada.
Best of all, you don’t need bait, although it’s fair to use small pieces of peeler crab, bloodworms, FishBites or even lowly garden worms. We, however, cast and erratically retrieve 1/8- and 1/16-ounce spinnerbaits sold as Beetlespins, Strike King Bitsys and a half dozen other brands. We also use small Rat-l-Trap lures known as Mini Traps or Tiny Traps. Inline Roostertail spinners in white, green or pink can be deadly.
Spinning tackle is best, the reels loaded with light monofilament, yet I prefer to use 20-pound-test FireLine that has the diameter of regular 8-pound-test line. It is very handy when fishing among sunken tree limbs and through tough weeds. If your lure finds itself stuck on an underwater obstacle, you pull it free, take a look at the hook, resharpen it if necessary, then resume casting.
c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org