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White Perch Are Plentiful

But where have the bigger fish gone?

Cutting the engine a good distance from the shoreline, we drifted quietly toward a projecting erosion jetty. It was the one that reached farthest from shore, creating a sort of false point along an edge full of shoreline protections. 

Nearing casting distance, I lowered my anchor, and we skidded to a stop. When our minor disturbance subsided, we prepped light spin rods.  

They were five- to six-footers with small 1,000 series reels spooled with ultra-thin, misty copolymer monofilament, ideal for the pursuit of white perch. All the better, they were tipped with gaudy spinner baits irresistible to the species.  

These long, narrow rock piles are common structures along the Bay. Perch gather there for relief from tidal currents and use the nooks and crannies for hiding from the many predator species in the Bay. Various critters such as minnows and grass shrimp that the whities feed upon also visit these jetties. 

My cast was met with an instant attack, a hook-up, then the buzz of my drag. It was a long, intense struggle to keep connected to the obviously large perch. A lot can go wrong during a perch battle, from a hook tearing away from too much rod pressure to a dislodged hook from too little. 

My buddy’s cast was firmly intercepted as well. Those first two fish measured 10 and 11 inches. They were also the biggest we would land, though we would eventually catch and release more than 75 fish. 

Perch aficionados repeat what I fear: The number of perch 10 inches and over has decreased to a distressing degree. 

White perch can reach 18 to 19 inches. But few encountered these days in the middle Chesapeake exceed nine inches; most are much smaller. That’s not a great recreational fishery.  

Informal (and off-the-record) conversations with Bay fisheries biologists suggest that diminishment is an unintended consequence of our commercial fisheries policy. Netters have few constraints beyond an eight-inch minimum size. Reporting is voluntary. Thus we have no solid basis for species management.  

Male perch begin spawning by two years old and females at three, when they are four to five inches long. The fish that grow slowest will spawn the most until they reach legal commercial target size of eight inches. Thereafter they are fair game. As the market for the fish has become ever more lucrative, I suspect harvests have grown — though nobody knows given the current voluntary reporting. 

Is that why we’re seeing and catching so many small white perch, at least in the middle Bay? 

Department of Natural Resources budgets and salaries are supported by the license fees from about 300,000 Maryland anglers, who rate the white perch as their most frequent catch. Seems to me that managing the species to create a quality recreational fishery is an appropriate objective. What do you think?  

 


Fish Finder 

Middle Bay fishing has been ever more miserable, with rockfish scarce and of barely legal size. A large school of quality stripers north of Swan Point (Hodge’s Bar) was quite hot and productive last month. But it was the only bite, and their numbers have been worn thin. Most areas from the Bay Bridge south on both shores remain barren. The fault has been laid in many directions, from an unusually cold spring, to dolphin pods chasing the rockfish north, to dead zones, to excess netting over winter, to a rumored increase in recreational poaching. 

Crabbing is another disappointment. Recreational harvests have become consistently miserable, and now commercial crabbers are reporting that they’re barely breaking even. The cold spring was blamed for the poor numbers. But now it appears that the scarcity could be the result of the high winter mortality, perhaps higher than even the winter dredge numbers indicate. Nobody really knows, though the big rains certainly didn’t help. Nor the resultant vast releases from the Conowingo Dam.