- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dale Knupp and I knew instantly that the day wasn’t wasted when we saw six count ‘em, six bald eagles within a stone’s throw of the boat launch ramp.

“I’ve never seen so many in one small area like that,” the La Plata, Md., bass fishing guide said.

Three of the majestic birds were full-grown adults with their signature white heads and tails; the other three appeared to be juveniles, although they were big “kids,” nearly the same size as their elders.

Our boat slid into the icy waters of a tidal Southern Maryland creek, but the eagles paid us scant attention. As we chugged upstream, toward a large bend in the narrow waterway, two of the huge birds alit in a shoreline sycamore, while the others continued their aerial acrobatics in the morning sky. What a magnificent sight, especially when you recall that not too many years ago there were no eagles in this part of the state.

What also was magnificent was the fat, roe-filled yellow perch that dangled from a rubbery fake minnow that Knupp had cast into a 13-foot-deep creek ledge and only moments later felt the tell-tale tap of a fish sampling the offering. He set the hook and a fish that fights no harder than a wet dish rag came to the surface.

Being an outdoors columnist, the fishing for and writing about yellow perch present a bit of a challenge as far as descriptive phrases are concerned. There’s no way I can type such time-honored passages as, “The perch took the bait and began a mighty run, stripping line from the reel at an alarming rate, then exploded on the water’s surface, angrily shaking the hook and throwing it high into the morning mist.”

No, perch don’t fight like that. Nothing even close to it. They don’t offer much resistance. They’ll take a bait or artificial lure and you set the hook, then reel it in. End of story.

However, when nights and some days are still cold and spring has not yet arrived, there is no fish species in our waters that is greeted with more enthusiasm and joy than the yellow perch.

Take Knupp and all the rest of us happy loonies who own boats, expensive gear, depth sounders, GPS units and costly warm clothing. When February and March are here we begin the hunt for the gold-hued fish that signal that better days are ahead and hopefully more exciting fishing trips. So we salute perca flavescens as our very own harbinger of spring.

In the case of Knupp and I fishing for the yellow critters (which are very tasty by the way), we found two fine Maryland limits of five perch each in roughly three hours, but also released a number of small “buck” perch. The perch snatched up Sting Ray grubs, various green or yellow 2-inch PowerBait grubs, and other anglers on the creek said that live minnows worked well.

The fishing wasn’t as good as it might be, some of it because of pollution and recent poor spawning habitat. But there also are stream blockages that won’t permit the lazy swimmers to reach shallow waters where they lay their ribbons of eggs so the sun can incubate the ripe roe, and some perch are taken by commercial netters, although the Natural Resources Police has done a fine job of watching the watermen.

Worse yet, across the Potomac River, in Virginia waters, there are no tough laws to protect the yellow perch. Anything goes.

That can make life pretty rough for the fish and the anglers who often are interested only in playing catch-and-release.

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

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