For some reason, people go out on the Chesapeake Bay in the middle of August and fish for bluefish. This is roughly akin to rabbit hunting in the Sears parking lot on Labor Day weekend. Even if you get some, it's so hot, crowded and unpleasant. Who needs it?
The proper thing to do in August if you like fishing tidewater is to find a perch hole up some river or other. They are in just about every tidal stream that feeds the Chesapeake, and during the heat of summer, white perch bunch up in shallow places and feed like starving puppies.
The amazing thing is the way perch fishermen share their spots. A person who would lie to his family about his turkey-hunting hollow or the stump where he caught his biggest bass will explain in a minute detail to a total stranger the whereabouts of his perch hole.
Just last month, I had occasion to be in southern Prince George's County crabbing with some folks when I brought up the subject of perch. These people had threatened to have me eviscertated if I disclosed the specifics of their crabbing location.
But they gave me the coordinates of their perch spot, right down to the rotten pilings on the shore, the ramp location where the boat could go in an the proper time of day and tide to fish.
Last year, a bass fisherman told me about a perch hole he uncovered on the Miles River. I went there, loaded up a fat, keeper white perch and wrote a story about it in which I practically drew a map.
The next week, he went back and found dozens of boats and fishermen trolling Tony Acetta spoons, surf casting from the trees, running drift nets through the hole. Didn't bother him a bit. He went back this summer and the place was as empty as ever, and the fish were in just as thick.
Perch bunch up in specific places, but it's hard to tell exactly why they select one spot over another. You'll be gliding along, plugging the shoreline after pickerel or bass, and all of a sudden you'll hit the perch Valhalla. What I do when I find such a place is to switch to an ultralight rod and reel, maybe four- or six-pound test line, and cast little Mister Twister or Beetle-Spin spinners in and retrieve them very slowly.
Perch love little spinners. They also will gobble up worms or minnows fished on the bottom, and some people use little rubber grub imitations.
Two years ago, Clint Bowman, a veteran Beltsville bass fisherman, took me to his favorite piling under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in August. We cast little spinners over the rocky foot of the piling and came home six hours later with more than 100 white perch. They weren't huge, but they sure were relentless. Bowman considered it a poor day. He said he usually id twice that well.
White perch, in my opinion, are the finest-tasting fish in the Bay system except for white shad, which are around only in the early spring and lately have become so scarce they are off limits to Maryland fishermen, anyway.
The flesh of a white perch is snow-white, extraordinarily firm with a light, nonfishy flavor. The only reason people don't go nuts over them is that they usually are very small. An eight-inch perch is a good one; a 12-incher is a bear.
In the spring, perch invade Washington waters of the Potomac in droves. They deposit their eggs in the fast water and then disappear for a while, presumably returning to deep water in the Bay. Then in summer, they bunch up in the slowmoving tidal rivers, hanging around submerged structures like dock pilings, sunken boats and bridges where they feed on grass shrimp, worms, minnows and other little stuff.
Believe it or not, there is a headboat that specializes in white-perch fishing. The Optimist out of Chesapeake Beach leaves the Rod 'n' Reel dock at 8 a.m. weekdays, and 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekends. The Optimist travels across the Bay and up the Choptank River to a perch hole. It's a great boat ride on a pretty day and everybody catches fish, even if the fish sometimes are no longer than your finger. Rates for the Optimist are $15 a head, plus $3 rod rental if needed. Bring your own bait or buy it at the dock.
Or, if you have a boat of just about any description, simply put in a tidal river and go exploring. The South, Severn, West, Patuxent, Potomac, Miles, Wye, Chester and Choptank all have perch holes waiting to be discovered.
Go early in the morning, catch a bunch of fish on a moving tide and, when it gets hot, pull up on shore and take a snooze under a shade tree. In the evening, hammer them again.
Save the Bay for the fall, when it's fit to fish.