Its Latin monicker is perca flavescens -- hardly the stuff to conjure up dreams. But mention its more commonly known name -- yellow perch -- and a half million Washington, Maryland and Virginia winterbound fishing fans will go wild.

The wait for the annual arrival of spawning yellow-perch schools is a time-honored angling tradition. The moment the first yellow perch is hooked alongside a thorn- covered local stream bank, phones will start ringing. A sudden spurt of sick calls will be noticed in offices; tackle shops will notice a welcome increase in sales of light fishing gear and bait.

It's about to happen.

Just when is anyone's guess. The water temperature has to be just right: Some say if it hits 44 degrees, the perch -- massing by the thousands in deep tidal-river holes -- will begin to answer nature's call to reproduce.

The smaller males -- bucks to insiders -- should start the procession by the end of February; certainly during the first days of March. They'll swim and slither upstream in dozens of nearby creeks, surveying likely stopping points. Then come the roe-laden females, ready to spew forth ribbons of eggs that cling to underwater brush and gravel, gently fluttering in the currents, awaiting the life-giving milt of the males.

The excitement of hooking a fish weighing barely one pound is difficult to explain. Moreover, yellow perch rarely fight longer than three seconds; even then, it can hardly be called an epic battle. Blame such joy on a serious case of cabin fever or the knowledge that better, bigger and warmer things are about to happen.

Here's a rundown on the hows and wheres of yellow-perch fishing.

You'll need a rod, reel and line suitable for dense, overgrown shorebrush. An ultra- light, five-foot-long rod and tiny spinning reel loaded with four-pound testline is ideal. If your wallet is a bit thin, don't bother purchasing such an outfit -- any freshwater rig will do.

Next, gather an assortment of splitshot weights, sizes 6 and 8 snelled or plain hooks, a fish stringer, a bait pail and perhaps a half-dozen or so 1/32-ounce yellow shad darts or an almost weightless (size 10 or 12) streamer dubbed Mickey Finn. Small plastic floats also come in handy.

Pierce a hook through the lips of small bull minnows or through the collars of live grass shrimp. A few pieces of split shot, pinched around the line two feet above, serve nicely as casting and holding weights. Should stream or tidal currents be too strong, you may have to abort the lightweight gear and switch to more conventional bottom-fishing setups usually sold as white perch or spot rigs with heavier sinkers. Your tackle shop has them.

With live bait, the fishing can be easy. Find some elbow room and flick the offering into a creek hole. Looking through a pair of polarized sunglasses, you can often see hordes of perch as they wend their way past the banks. Wait for the telltale jerking of the line and bring up the rod tip. That's it -- your first yellow perch is ready to be carefully removed from the hook. Be mindful of the dorsal fins -- they're needle-sharp.

In the case of tiny shad darts, I like to tie two of them, about 18 inches apart, to the nylon. I pinch a bobber to the line roughly 21/2 feet above the darts and cast out the setup alongside a submerged brush pile or tree trunk. Then I move the rod back and forth occasionally, giving the little lead lures the appearance of perch fry. Bang! The yellow spawners sometimes go for it.

The Mickey Finn streamer in the hands of a skillful angler can be the deadliest lure of all. Glare-removing sunglasses are a must. You'll need to see in close quarters. Once a school of perch is spotted -- a regular event in narrow, reasonably clear local creeks -- drop the streamer into the midst of the fish. A flat strip of "match" lead or a tiny round splitshot a few feet above the streamer will see to it that the "Finn" sinks sufficiently. All you do now is hold a section of line with the left hand (as in fly fishing), and the rod in the right, then drift the streamer to and fro. I'm talking about fishing directly in front of your body, sometimes as little as three feet away.

Either way, yellow perching is fun for every member of the family. A gaze into my crystal ball predicts the full run to be underway by March 8 and ready to depart for deeper waters around March 20.

As tablefare, yellow perch rate good marks, although scaling and cleaning can be a chore. I prefer to fillet them. No matter how small the fish, a sharp bendable fillet knife turns the trick. Rolled in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper and a bit of Old Bay seasoning, the perch morsels are fried in hot oil and devoured by everyone in my household. THE PERCH HOTSPOTS SOUTH RIVER, Maryland Route 450, east of Crofton, Anne Arundel County. No license needed beyond St. Stephens Church Road. Fish from the banks of this very narrow beginning of the river. ALLEN'S FRESH, Maryland Route 234, to left of U.S. Route 301, Charles County. No license needed on south side of road bridge across Wicomico River. Be sure to have a license on north side. Fish from banks. CORSICA RIVER, off Maryland Route 213, Centreville, Queen Anne's County. No license needed. Fish from banks or slip a small boat into the water. SOUTHEAST CREEK, off Maryland Route 213, past Church Hill, Queen Anne's County. Turn left onto Southeast Creek Road from highway and follow to end of road. No license needed. Bank or boat fishing. PATUXENT RIVER, at Wayson's Corner, Maryland Route 4, Prince Georges/Anne Arundel counties. Fish under bridge, but don't park on road median. No license needed. NANJEMOY CREEK, Friendship Landing Road, off Maryland Route 425, Charles County. No license needed. Best for boaters. MATTAWOMAN CREEK, Maryland Route 225, turn off U.S. Route 301 in LaPlata and follow to Mason Springs, Charles County. Watch for tidal demarcation signs. May need a license. Bank fishing.