“There’s fishing – and then, there’s catching.
And there are a few who are lucky enough to know the difference.”
What are your first impressions about fishing and where do they begin? Do you get all warm and fuzzy, remembering the iconic Andy Griffith Show where Opie and his “Pa” head off down the path through the tall timbers, whistling, with their fishin’ poles and lucky tin can full of earthworms? They reach their secret destination, sit, drop a line, then chat all afternoon while waiting for the fish to bite. For many parents who raised children through this formative, pre-tech period, this was the very epitome of quality family time – and it still can be. A big part of the enjoyment for fishing comes from “unplugging” and having the ability to commune with nature, to hone skills, and actually “listen” for the fish. But also, many folks look forward to the challenge of the catch, hooking a feisty fish, then seeing it to the boat.
We are indeed fortunate to be situated in the middle of the largest estuary in North America, where fresh water from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean, in the brackish Chesapeake Bay. On this gradient sliding scale of salinity, there are as many ways to fish as there are active anglers – especially when considering gear options, techniques, and combinations.
Word on the river from our resident fish whisperer is that things are a little slow these days, “ducks and ice, ice and ducks.” But that’s just on the Magothy. Upstream a bit, a favorite way for locals to start the season is with the annual “Perch Run,” marking the end of winter and true beginning of spring. This is not a formal, scheduled event, but one completely timed by the rotation of the earth and subsequent reaction by the fish. Just after winter solstice, days become longer, fish hormones flow, and yellow perch (Perca flavescens), then white perch (Morone Americana), migrate upstream to freshwater spawning areas where they drop eggs or spread milt, and are among the first species to find their way back to the bay.
According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), “female yellow perch mature between ages 2 and 3 and can produce between 5,000 and 109,000 eggs.” They can live as long as 13 years, repeating their cycle annually. At first glance, the fish appear to be prolific, but until recently, they were endangered and reported to be absent from the Magothy for up to 10 years. Thanks to conservation efforts of groups like Coastal Conservation Association Maryland (CCA Maryland), Chesapeake Bay Foundation, DNR, and Magothy River Association, the collective population of the beautiful yellow perch has increased significantly over the past several years. “While the biggest challenge that yellow perch face comes from development and run-off, regulatory changes nearly a decade ago and science based management has helped to improve the status of the species in some Bay tributaries,” said David Sikorski, executive director of CCA Maryland. In consideration of this initiative and in respect for the recovery of the species, most anglers adamantly obey limits and restrictions, often opting to catch and release. In contrast, there are no limits or restrictions on the abundant (and tasty) white perch
Just as the little fishies know when it’s time to mix and mingle, their evolutionary counterparts, the hunters, know that it’s time to come out of winter hibernation, giddy with the prospect of getting some action on ice-free freshwater tributaries. (And we’re here to personally vouch that there are just as many anglers’ wives out there, doing their “happy dance” too, when their husbands are called back to fishing season!)
For perch-catching techniques and pointers, we’ll defer to local expert, author and raconteur, Shawn Kimbro of Chesapeake Light Tackle, with his video, How to Catch Perch and Crappie on a Float and Fly, and another about Tandem Rigs. If you’re looking to learn more about local fishing, he’s an excellent resource and can be found at most boating events, and online at ChesapeakeLightTackle.com. (Learn more about the Double Uni Knot that Shawn refers to here.)
If you’re looking to introduce your children to fishing, both yellow and white perch will be available locally in the shallows and honey holes of the Magothy and Chesapeake almost year-round, spring through early winter (though the Magothy River from the base of Lake Waterford Dam downstream for 3,300 feet is closed to all fishing through February, March and April). The DNR includes this handy map of Traditional Yellow Perch Fishing Spots for guidance. Another good place to check what’s hot is the Anglers Fishing Report. When you’re ready to launch your boat, Ferry Point Marina & Yachtyard offers easy access to the Magothy and our ramp is open to the public (although there is a fee). Once on the river, you can dip with a fine-mesh net for grass shrimp around pilings and in the grasses. Perch love fresh, native grass shrimp.
Keep in mind that a big part of enthusiasm for fishing comes from the excitement of having a live fish on the line, and that, like all things, the more you develop your skills, the better you’ll do – and the more you’ll want to learn. It’s a wonderful cycle and the DNR has a great page, dedicated to keeping excursions fun for youth and beginners. CCA Maryland offers youth memberships and distributes their popular RISING TIDE magazine – and decals. (Kids LOVE decals!) Before you head out, we suggest also that you read through the Maryland DNR License and Fishing Regulations to get the latest license and limit info.
Of course, nothing says “successful fishing trip,” like a panful of sizzling perch. Here are a couple classic recipes. (Feel free to make your own seasoning adjustments, including J.O. or Old Bay – these guys are not from here, they say “fill-it” rather than “fill-ay,” but their panfrying techniques are quite universal.)
In closing, we’ll include a nod to roe. For some, it’s an “acquired taste,” but sautéed white perch roe is well-known, locally, as a breakfast delicacy, Coddle them in hot brown butter (or bacon fat, if you’re truly old-school and secure in your cholesterol levels), then serve them on toast with just a sprinkle of Old Bay. Yum. If you’re especially accomplished in the kitchen, or have access to a gourmand who is, National Public Radio (NPR) offers these fancier recipes. Enjoy!
Note: At the time this post (February, 2018), sizes and limits are posted here: http://www.eregulations.com/maryland/fishing/freshwater-seasons-sizes-limits/
The possession of yellow perch eggs requires prior authorization from the MD Department of Natural Resources.
SAVE THE DATES!
Earleigh Heights Fire Hall
February 17-18, 2018
Anglers Sports Center
February 17, 2018, 3-4pm
Magothy River Association’s State of the Magothy
sponsored by the Environmental Center at AACC
Friday, February 23, 2018; Doors: 6pm, Presentations: 7pm.
CALT Building, Room 100, Anne Arundel Community College, 101 College Parkway, Arnold, MD.