If yellow perch had any sense they would wait another two weeks to spawn.

Then the hordes of people lining the banks of Chesapeake Bay feeder creeks and streams awaiting them would have something better to do: fish for bass or striper or shad.

But something has to be first and in the great span of time yellow perch fell into that crack.

Because they did Ferdinand Wickesser arose before dawn last week and met friends for the ride from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore.

Cole Drew gathered his fishing crowd in Crownsville, and other groups formed in the dark of night in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and the far western mountain counties of Maryland.

At first light they found each other stretched along the edge of the Corsica River here, casting bait and lures after little perch.

What they saw didn't exactly thrill them. The tide at dawn was slack high and before long it was running out. The prevailing wisdom about spawning yellow perch is that they hang in deep holes and wait for a flood tide. Then they ride the flood up to the headwaters of the creek to deposit their roe (females) or shed their milt (males).

Serious fishermen ordinarily would be dismayed by this foul turn of tidal events. But the perch fishermen along the Corsica River were unperturbed.

"We'll fish, anyway," said one. "Eventually the tide has to turn around."

It was a typical March day. At dawn gentle south winds bore warm air. The sky was clear and placid blue.

By 10 leaden clouds obscured the blue and sharp wind puffs rippled the water. By 11 it was pouring warm rain. By 1 the wind had switched north and the clouds were gone. And by 4 the winds were blasting out of the north at 30 knots and the temperature had dropped about 25 degrees.

Through all except the worst of the rain the perch fishermen kept at their task, flipping grass shrimp, minnows, worms and little spoons up under the brush and hoping for a strike from waiting perch.

From time to time one took the bait, but the fish were small and few.

"They're not in yet," said the men on the stream, and that was the word from returnees from various other fishing holes where yellow perch are pursued each year.

The perch could choose this weekend to make their major spawning run. No doubt anglers will be waiting en masse at Allens Fresh on the Wicomico, at the headwaters of the South River between Washington and Annapolis, on the Patuxent River near Waysons Corner and at other spots on either side of the Chesapeake.

They will be looking for swarms of female perch.

Perch fishermen will tell you that the males precede the famales to the spawning grounds. At the Corsica last week almost all the fish taken were males, identifiable by their slender profiles and the milt they exude when caught.

Ed Connell of Howard's Sport Center in Waldorf was at Allens Fresh last week and he watched small males being taken there, as well.

And mostly males reportedly were being taken in the South River.

All that would indicate excellent fishing prospects this weekend, if the weather holds.

But perch fishing, like the weather it's undertaken in, is terribly unpredictable. Connell, for example, left Allens Fresh after four hours of spotty fishing. "I gave it up," he said, "but I don't know -- five minutes after I left they could have come in. It turned out they didn't, but you never can tell."

Part of the attaraction of yellow perch fishing is that unpredictability. Part of it is the fact that the fish are delectable table fare.

But the biggest thrill about perch will always be the fact that they are first.

Last year, I waited them out at Allens Fresh. The bank was jammed with people in early March and nothing was going on.

Then the tide turned. The sun was warm, I shed my jacket, and the bobber I had been watching all morning suddenly plunged under the muddy water.

I caught four fat roe fish and missed two more in about 15 minutes before things slowed. It was as if the curtain had gone up on a new season. Instantly it was spring.

The Corsica River is a delightful spot to fish for early-run yellow perch. It has a broad grassy bank that stretches for a couple hundred yards and paths through the marsh for a quarter-mile beyond.

The Corsica is on Route 213 in Centreville on the Eastern Shore. The fishing area is right in town and just off the road. You can't miss it. Look for the people.

The best luck was with live grass shrimp on small bait hooks -- about size six or eight -- and with small spoon lures. Almost everyone used bobbers, with the bait or lure suspended one to three feet below.

Another popular spot for Washington anglers is the headwaters of the South River, on Route 450 halfway to Annapolis. Look for the crowds and the cars along the roadside.