Ah, the ironies, the Chesapeake Bay can dish out.

So you want to go do a little fishing. Just in case they're not biting, you'll take along a few chicken necks, a roll of twine and your favorite long handled crab net.

Normally that would be the strategy of any dyed-in-the-wool angler who also likes to eat crabs. This time, however, we decided to go crabbing.

But what if the crabs weren't biting? We stuffed a few light rods and some bait into the 15-foot skiff, just in case.

We set up shop in three different places over the next hour, lowering our chunks of chicken ovesr the gunwale into the shallow water. Checked them; checked them; checked them again. Still no crabs.

Now something had to be done.Without crabs, crabbing is about as titillating as watching corn grow.

So fishing saved the day meant for crabbing.

My partner broke first, abandoning his chicken-neck caretaking to tie a small Beetle Spin on an ultralight spinning outfit. The lure arched toward a rocky outcropping near shore and soon the rod was bowed with the weight of a hefty white perch. When I finally cinched a small bright streamer onto the end of my fly leader and made a cast. I, too was onto a plump perch that raced and darted stubbornly across the bay backwater.

After hooking two fish on successive casts, we quickly abandoned the bottom-scuttling crustaceans for quarry more accessible to our fishing skills.

The white perch responded with unbridled enthusiasm, slurping in bait, lures and flies with equal fervor. After two hours we had a cooler full of perch and were turning back all of the silver-scaled fish except the rare behemoths among them.

White perch are scorned by some fishermen as to small and easy to catch to bother with. More times that I'd care to count, however, they've saved otherwise futile days on the water.

If for nothing else, they Jeserve consideration in this role. By always stashing a light spinning or fly rod on the boat, along with a selection of perch lures, flies, or bait, many a busted fishing (or crabbing) trip can be salvaged.

Perch needn't always be a second choice. If you scale your tackle down to correspond to the average size of these fish they can put up quite a respectable tussle, particularly when you strike into those fish over the half-pound mark.

Since they'll rarely exceed a pound, the lightest ultralight tackle is adequate for perch. Chances are, those who disparage the perch have dericked them with a chunky boat rod. Obviously that isn't going to be much fun. Four to six-pound line is much better.

Traditional bottom rigs finished with bait yield lots of perch. Use a half to one-ounce sinker with a small hook or two rigged a foot or so above the weight. Bloodworms are touted as the top perch bait, but the fish strike readily on fish strips, cut squid, clam snouts, or minnows. They'll even take common garden worms if you locate a tight pact of fish in a feeding mood.

But bait is often tedious and unexciting when you can catch your quarry on artificials, and you can most certainly take white perch on lures and flies. Beetle Spins, small sppons, little Rebels and Rapalas all work well at times, and a small shad dart will outfish bait on many occasions.

Fly fishing offers even more delights. A rod of eight to nine feet taking a seven weight-forward line serves nicely, a leader tapering to a three-or- four-pound tippet completes the outfit. Short and compact shad-type streamers in sizes 6 through 12 will fool ample quantities of perch. Orange, yellow, red, and green are good colors for the bodies; wings should be white marabou or bucktail.

Perch are the perfect fish for ginners in saltwater angling. So often novices will say: "We've got a boat and go out in the Bay a lot. We'd like to try some fishing - for rockfish."

Rock is not the fish to start with. White perch are much better if you want to catch something, rather than fish for just the pure thrill of holding a rod in your hand. Many experts are skunked on rockfish ontings the days.

Whatever light freshwater fishing gear you have handy will work, and even the same lures and flies produce.

Perch are easy to locate. The fishing report each Friday and Saturday in The Washington Post lists many spots where are countless other area where the silver scrappers can be found.

Inquire at local bait and tackle shops for the best spots in the Bay and its tidal feeder creeks and rivers. Bait works well in the deep holes, [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] and on oysters bars. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and flies concentrate on shallow areas close to shore.

Though they're small, perch are one of the most succulent sportfish in the Chesapeake. Keepa cooler-full for up evening repast and you won't regain the time spent cleaning them.