First Sign of the Coming Spring
Daylight hours have been getting longer, yet most days, temperatures keep us in winter. But the yellow perch know that their springtime is here.
Moving now into the deeper water of the tributaries, they are forming large schools and staging. Yellow perch are the earliest fish to spawn in the Tidewater, and their run is the first trumpet sounding the Bay’s piscatorial spring.
Called yellow neds, ring perch or just plain neds, they are one of the most mouth-watering fish that swim our Chesapeake.
Frequently growing to 14 inches or more and sporting a rich olive back and golden yellow flanks, the perch is marked with vertical olive-green bars along its sides. They also sport bright-orange pectoral and pelvic fins this time of year. The meat is white, firm and deliciously sweet.
The smaller males are already moving up in the tributaries toward the headwaters. There they await the older, larger males and finally the big, gravid females that are ready to spawn. These females, arriving in various sized pods over the next two months, will exude their long egg sacks into the shallow streams where they themselves were born. The waiting males will spew their milt over the eggs, fertilizing them.
The spent females will then head back downriver. But the males hold station until the very last females have arrived and deposited their eggs. Only then will they, too, head back downstream.
At one time in the not-too-distant past, the yellow perch run was a major celebration every year all around the Bay, with whole families gathering to fish. Fried yellow perch and perch roe were a traditional part of the early celebration of springtime.
But years of developmental stress and the greed of commercial netters who intercepted most of the fish before they could spawn virtually eliminated this annual event. Four years ago, Department of Natural Resources finally reined in uncontrolled commercial fishing, allowing the yellow perch a chance to rebuild.
Within just a few years, they have started to rebound. The fishery is once again assuming its place among the Bay’s time-honored traditions. Chasing yellow perch, you will find, banishes cabin fever and the cobwebbed doldrums of winter.
Go Catch ’Em
If you haven’t tried fishing for neds, you owe it to yourself to experience it this February and March. Any medium-action spin rod will do the job. The first fishery — in the Upper Bay around North East — is a particularly rich staging area.
A couple of charter captains there will take out interested parties. Try calling Herb’s Tackle Shop in North East (410-287-5490) for an update on how and where they’re biting, and perhaps reserve a spot on Captain Mike Benjamin’s boat for a morning or afternoon on the Bay. The limit is 10 yellow perch per person; the last year or two it has been an easy task to fill that.
Later in February and into March when the fish journey farther up into the headwaters, shoreline fishing can be just as productive. The better spots on the Western Shore are the upper reaches of the South River, the Severn, the Magothy and the Patuxent. Eastern Shore honey holes can be found higher up on the Northeast River, the Chester, the Tuckahoe, the Choptank and the Wye.
More Commercial Oyster Poaching
Learning no lessons from the apprehension of two commercial boats last week, eight more commercial oyster boats were surprised by Natural Resources Police and caught poaching on the same Tangier Sound Oyster Sanctuary. Five escaped, but three were corralled and charged by NRP officers. The watermen’s associations have constantly claimed that illegalities are the acts of a few rotten apples. But this is telling another story.