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Bill May: White perch and the Liberty Reservoir

When Andy Grosko invited me for an outing trolling for white perch on Liberty Reservoir last October, I quickly accepted.

I had some idea of his basic approach, and that it could produce more than white perch. But I figured, correctly, that he didn’t want to over promise. What I wasn’t expecting was the quality of the Liberty white perch or how interesting a fisherman and unofficial fisheries biologist Andy is.

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When my bassin’ buddy Harry Pippin was still alive, we often fished Prettyboy Reservoir for bass (and took some big smallmouths) and fly fished for carp during the cicada hatch. Occasionally we used spinners made by Mike Beck of Beck’s Gunsmithing to take white perch.

The spinners were a simple, inline, beaded model with a long-shanked 1/0 hook, baited with a piece of nightcrawler and a clip-on spinner blade and clip-on weight. We cast or trolled these rigs to locate schools of white perch, but most of our fish were small.

White perch are a comparatively recent arrival to Liberty Reservoir, and whether it is a matter of biology or tackle and tactics, the perch are a lot bigger. Another bit of good new is these fish are accessible to modest reservoir rigs.

You don’t need the high-powered, fast, 18- to 20-foot boats of tournament anglers to enjoy this fishery.

Andy Grosko with one of our throwback white perch.
Andy Grosko with one of our throwback white perch.(Bill May Photo)

White perch are a good choice for kids, beginners and casual fishermen, and good on the plate, too.

I met Andy at the ramp in the morning, and his 16-foot boat powered by a 24-volt electric motor was already in the water. His tackle consisted of a pair of slow action, 7½ foot rods with baitcaster reels loaded with 10- or 12-pound monofilament. His terminal tackle is slightly modified walleye trolling tackle favored mostly in more northern waters, and Andy often targets walleye in Liberty with these rigs, and taken other bycatch species, too.

The First Element: The Rig

The bottom bouncing rig is the first element and the heart of the system. A V-shaped wire is formed with a small eye at the bend for the line attachment. The longer, bottom wire is about 9 inches long with an elliptical sinker molded about 2/3 of the way down from the eye. The trailing wire below the weight ticks along bottom preventing the sinker and whole rig from snagging. One rule of thumb is to use one ounce of weight for every 10 feet of depth; we used 2 and 3-ounce molded sinkers. The shorter, upper arm is about ¼ the length of the longer wire and terminates in a snap swivel.

Andy clips a second snap swivel to the first snap swivel then another swivel to that before attaching the line. This line is 17-pound test monofilament, heavy enough to operate the spinner without twist and hold up to fish bigger than perch. The entire length of this line is two to three feet, preferably the shorter length. The line is run through a plastic clip sleeve holding a size #3 or #4 spinner blade.

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Then a bead is added, a small bait rig float, another small bead, then a size 4 snelled Octopus hook, with a size 2 second hook attached to that a few inches further back. A piece of nightcrawler is stretched between the hooks. All the elements from the weight to the hook are bright colored, chartreuse or bright red or combinations.

The Second Element: The Depth Finder

All the time we were moving, Andy kept his eyes glued to a depth finder.

The Third Element: Speed

Basically we moved slowly, Andy described it as “a walking pace,” while trying to feel the bottom wire ticking along bottom.

The Final Element: Knowledge

We trolled along breaklines and over points. But Andy clearly knew the waters we were fishing and would what the bottom would be like as we approached an area. There are a number of “walls,” holes and humps, and Andy would slow down or speed up the boat in advance to keep our rigs just above the bottom. A number of our perch came from these structural anomalies, and I think we lost only one rig the entire day.

Andy is also no slouch in reservoir bass fishing, so we compared notes on that, too.

A big part of the enjoyment of the day was Andy’s sharing his knowledge of the fishery biology of the white perch. We kept about a dozen perch for dinner, many 10 inches or better. (Notice in the photo the rig used and the body depth of the perch compared to their heads.)

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A couple of keeper white perch with the bottom bouncing rig.
A couple of keeper white perch with the bottom bouncing rig.(Bill May Photo)

Andy said the quality of these fish was due to their diet of Chaoborus, “phantom larvae,” tiny white midge larvae about the size of a third of grain of rice. Sure enough, when he cut open a couple of the fish to demonstrate, their stomachs were full of these things.

Andy told me at least one DNR fisheries biologist suspects these near-microscopic creatures account for the faster than average development of stripers in their first few in Liberty as well.

A few days later, I told Chuck Thompson about our trip. Chuck fishes Chesapeake Bay and tributaries for stripers and white perch, and the latter is his favorite eating fish. He immediately went out and bought some of the rigs described above.

As I said, this fishing doesn’t require tournament level boats. We’re hoping to try this trolling from our kayaks. Besides perch, walleyes, stripers, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, catfish and crappie can be bycatch as Andy can attest.

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