If weekend weather drips, sneak a weekday fishing trip Right conditions for white perch elusive

OUTDOORS

April 04, 1993|By GARY DIAMOND

If the weather cooperates, Harford County anglers could be catching large numbers of chunky Susquehanna white perch by mid-April.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature rarely listens to incessant whining from fishermen, despite the severity of their cabin fever. If she did, the river likely would be warm and clear instead of high, cold and muddy.

Opening day of 1993's trout season last week, an event when anglers traditionally gather on the shores of Deer Creek to catch fish and bask in spring sun, was beset with water so muddy you could see raccoon tracks on the stream surface.

Similar conditions were found along the shores of the mighty Susquehanna, where last weekend local farmers joined a handful of recreational fishermen at Susquehanna State Park's Lapidum Landing.

It was shortly after sunrise when they conducted their annual ceremonial coin flip to determine whether to fish for white perch or plant corn. After nearly an hour of debate and tossing several baseball-sized rocks from the launch-ramp jetty to the quagmire below, by unanimous decree, the river was proclaimed "too thick to fish and too thin to plow."

Unfortunately, these circumstances only occur on weekends, a time when avid panfish anglers figure on enjoying their favorite pastime -- white perch fishing. Conditions usually improve by noon on Wednesdays, when the sun always shines, temperatures soar into the 70s and rivers run amazingly clear.

By late Friday, the TV weatherman usually is whimpering about distinct possibilities of heavy rain, the passage of another cold front or trying to dispel rumors about him gathering pairs of animals and placing them aboard a large boat in his back yard.

So, in the interest of accurate journalism, every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday throughout the summer will be spent in the field, researching every aspect of recreational fishing.

This difficult and demanding schedule will commence next Tuesday, shortly after bright rays of sunshine burn through Sunday and Monday's dense fog and cloud cover. Tuesdays are always good days to make sure the outboard motor still runs, fill the boat's gas tank, buy spare outboard oil, pick up a pint of grass shrimp, check the trailer tires and put this year's sticker on the boat.

Early Wednesday morning is spent loading the van with fishing tackle, bait and a few essentials that make this arduous task more tolerable. Such items include sufficient food to feed a detachment of Maryland's National Guard, plus copious volumes ice to chill your favorite beverage, all of which is housed within a cooler that easily could double as Count Dracula's casket.

After launching the boat, crank up your outboard and slowly NTC motor downriver toward the I-95 bridge. Be sure to keep a sharp eye peeled for partly submerged logs, rocks and other objects that quickly could change an enjoyable day on the water to instant disaster. If you were to inadvertently flip the boat over, your chance of surviving more than 20 minutes in the Susquehanna's 48-degree water is slim and none.

Keep the other eye glued to your depth finder, looking for tiny blips situated close to the bottom. This time of year, white perch usually suspend a few inches above the rocks in depths of 12 to 25 feet. When conditions are right, 48- to 53-degree water temperatures, the larger females spawn, depositing millions of eggs between rocky crevices. Within minutes, swarms of small males converge on the site, fertilizing the eggs with their milt.

Shortly before and after spawning, white perch go on a feeding binge, consuming large volumes of food in order to recoup their energy. This is where an outdoor writer's job really gets tough, determining what the fish are eating.

This is done by baiting a size #6 hook with a few grass shrimp and lowering your offering to the bottom. Usually, within a minute or two, a chunky 10- to 14-inch white perch grabs your bait and attempts to rip the fishing rod from your grasp. If grass shrimp fail to produce within 10 to 15 minutes, switch to bloodworms or night crawlers or use a combination of all three.

After determining the correct bait, quietly anchor the boat a few yards upstream from the action, put a few dozen fish in your cooler and spend the remainder of the day enjoying a large lunch on the water.

Immediately upon returning home, fillet your catch, making sure to remove all bones and skin, then rinse thoroughly in ice-cold water. In a shallow mixing bowl, blend one cup of skim milk, two eggs and a -- of Old Bay seafood seasoning. Dip the fillets in the mixture, coat them with Italian bread crumbs and pan fry in vegetable oil until they're golden brown. Outstanding.

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