The ice was just starting to melt on the ramp as we slipped our boat into the water in downtown Salisbury, Md. It was early February and a cold spell had prevented any fishing activity for about two weeks. The prediction was for temperatures in the mid-50s by late afternoon. It was just the kind of day that ought to stimulate a bite!
We stepped gingerly to avoid falling and were on our way out into Wicomico Creek for a winter black perch fishing trip. This species is usually called white perch, but for some reason or another — probably orneriness of the locals — they are known as black perch on the lower Shore.
Easy To Catch
Black perch are relatively easy to catch. All you have to do is be in the proverbial “right place,” with the proper bait and rigs, “at the right time.”
This species feeds on a large variety of marine organisms. However, the most popular bait is bloodworms. These are available at most every bait and tackle shop as well as most grocery stores and quick stop gas stations. There even are a few worm vending machines around. Each worm can be broken into a number of pieces. Larger individuals will provide seven or eight offerings and small ones at least three or four. Be sure to buy enough because at times the action can be hot and heavy!
Small pieces of clams also work well. These also can be obtained from bait and tackle shops. Most seafood markets also carry the bivalves, especially in the late autumn and winter. Many anglers will dig their own clams if they have access to the bays of the seaside.
Small mud minnows are also attractive to black perch. Do not use the large ones preferred by flounder anglers. While the perch will hit the big offering, they will more often than not, pull it off rather than get hooked.
Favored Bait: Grass Shrimp
Our favorite bait by far, however, is grass shrimp. The problem is that most tackle shops do not always stock them. If one wants to use this bait, it probably has to be caught.
When using grass shrimp, a few on a hook often works better than a single individual shrimp. Depending on their size, we usually thread three or four on a hook.
While some say that frozen grass shrimp work, we have found that the freezing and thawing process softens the bait and it falls off the hook easily. As far as being attractive to black perch, they probably are, but you would be baiting the hook quite often.
Other baits that also work are small pieces of squid, cut herring or menhaden, and even silversides. However, worms, clams and grass shrimp are superior.
Rigging is important. We use lightweight spinning or baitcasting outfits loaded with 4-pound to 8-pound-test line. Small hooks are necessary. Almost any style will work, but Beak, Sproat and Carlisle in sizes 8 to 4 are the favorites. Our favorite is the Chestertown pattern, which is used by anglers to our north for winter flounder. These are relatively strong and long shanked hooks. That makes it easy to unhook fish, doing the least amount of damage just in case you wish to release them. The best sizes in this style are No. 4, 6 or 8.
Try A Two-Hook Rig
Most anglers also use a two-hook, high-low rig. A 2-ounce to 6-ounce sinker is tied to the end of the line with hooks on 6-inch to 8-inch leaders fastened 4 inches and 12 inches above the sinker.
Our favorite areas to catch these guys during February is in Wicomico Creek and sloughs off the Nanticoke River. The channels run up to 25 feet deep. We prefer to anchor along the edge in 10 feet to 15 feet of water.
While the above are the most popular, there are a number of other locations where perch can be caught. We have gotten them right off the seawall in downtown Salisbury as well as near the Shad Landing area of the Pocomoke River.
As with all fishing, some years are better than others, but this species usually becomes active in these areas in late October. Depending on the year, that is, how cold it gets, the season may last well into late December. There have actually been years when they were taken all winter into March.
Black perch, or if you prefer white perch, can add a bit of late season excitement to your angling year. They are also excellent food fare and freeze quite well. So if you have the opportunity, give these guys a try.
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