The white perch now swarming up the Potomac River on their annual spring spawning run are delicious, abundant and the price is right.
But you can't just wish them into the frying pan.
Some top-notch anglers deride the sport as "perch-jerking." Indeed, it is neither terribly difficult nor demanding, but there is a certain technique to it.
Like most fish on the move, perch seem to concentrate on the edges of fast channels. That way they can move upstream in the slow water and dart out into the fast water to feed.
The best fishing in Washington waters is above Key Bridge, on the edges of the main stream.
Perch are bottom feeders and the best bait is worms.
Bloodworms are best but they are worth their weight in Strontium 90. Less expensive nightcrawlers and garden worms, which are free for the picking, also will work.
To advertise the bait most successful fishermen favor hooks rigged with small spinner blades above them. Long-shanked hooks in sizes 4 to 8 are best for easy removal, and these hooks are available at most tackle stores, already snelled and rigged with the spinners.
To get the bait to the bottom and make the most of it, a so-called "top-and-bottom" rig is used.
Two hooks are attached, one about a foot up from the end of the line and another 12 to 18 inches above that, each dangling on a leader of about 12 inches.
At the bitter end of the line a lead sinker holds everything down. Two ounces worked fine. Attach the sinker with a swivel and a snap so it doesn't twist the line.
An old Potomac trick is to run a rubber band through the eye of the sinker and use that to attach it to the snap swivel.
That way when the sinker gets caught in the rocks you can break it off and not lose your hooks and bait.
After the worms run out, some anglers use cut strips from small perch they catch. They scale them and leave the skin on the thin strips, No matter what the bait, always leave the point and barb of the hook exposed.
The most important thing is to make sure the sinker is on the bottom. Fast water can lift a light sinker up and float it downstream. You should feel a bump when it hits bottom and be able to repeat that every time you lift the rod tip slightly.
When the perch bite they usually tap at the bait. Just jerk the rod tip up and set the hook and reel it in.
It's not at all uncommon to catch two at a time when the run is on in full force.
Perch experts favor an incoming tide on the theory that the fish make their dashes upstream when the tide is in their favor.
The Post publishes the Potomac high tide schedule daily in its weather section.
Fletcher's rental boats, which go for $5 a day, can hold up to four people, but it is better fishing if no more than two use a boat. There also is good fishing along the bank below Fletcher's and all the way up to Chain Bridge on either side of the river.
Perch are astoundingly good to eat, fried, baked or broiled. The meat is snow white and flaky. CAPTION: Picture, Billy Collins prepares plate of perch for 81-year-old Charlie Maggio following day on Potomac. By Angus Phillips-The Washington Post