We are having an up-and-down winter as far as the temperatures are concerned. Brutal cold one week, 70 degrees the next. The long range forecast calls for moderating temperatures with a warmer than average February and March. Hey, I'm for that. And with those warmer temperatures comes the first real fishing option for late winter - that of the yellow perch spawn in local lakes and rivers.
Yellow perch are great eating fish and among the most colorful in freshwaters locally. They spawn when the water reaches the low to mid forties and are the earliest of spring spawners in our region. For many decades throughout the mid-Atlantic and East Coast states, yellow perch runs were a sure sign that spring was here. Anglers would crowd the creeks and tidal estuaries in quest of these willing biters. Over time, the tropical storms, pollution and angler glut took its toll on them. But thanks to several years of non-and limited harvest regulations on both the commercial and recreational fronts, these fish are now back in numbers and size that merit a trip to upper Chesapeake rivers and streams or local reservoirs.
Top waters regionally would include the Susquehanna Flats complex, the North East River, Elk and Choptank Rivers. Other smaller systems like the Nanticoke, Marshyhope and Wicomico on the Eastern Shore also are seeing more yellow perch than in the past decade. Timing is always the key, as both male and female yellow perch will swoop in and out in a hurry to spawn, usually at night, and the entire "peak" of the run, on any given tidal system, will usually only take 3 to 5 days to complete, sometimes less. In freshwater reservoirs, such as Deep Creek in western Maryland, Liberty on nearby Marburg Lake in Pennsylvania, the spawning process usually takes a bit longer, but is still centered from late February to late March.
Although many anglers fish live minnows on or near the bottom, many others prefer to use small 1/16th or 1/8th ounce jigs bounced slowly along the bottom where either early weedgrowth or fallen brush is located. These fish lay their eggs in long gelatinous strands that adhere to weed, brush or other structures. Be there when they are there and you may well get your Maryland limit of 10 fish, per angler, per day. In Pennsylvania, there is a 50-fish limit on "panfish" to include any combination of bluegills, crappies, or white or yellow perch. Ten fish might not seen like much, but with the increased average size of yellow perch in the upper bay, 11 to 14 inch perch are not uncommon. Ten of those are plenty for a couple of meals.
Most of the bigger yellow perch I have taken have come from Deep Creek Lake, and through the ice. However, DCL experienced a very brief ice-fishing season this winter and as of this writing there is very little safe ice (4 inches) on the lake. If you go to this mountaintop perch paradise, then plan on it being a boating effort. The spillways in and around Laurel and Seaford Delaware also sport runs of yellow perch, along with some early season crappie fishing as well.