Over the past several days, the few paths through the snowy woods had become a dozen or so as handfuls of early season anglers made tracks down to the shoreline of Blackwalnut Creek, just east of Annapolis.
The word was out: The white perch were in.
Blackwalnut is a shallowbackwater with a channel to the bay wide enough only to squeeze through in a canoe or small jon boat. But late each winter, the perch congregate, and the fishermen come down through the woods as they do throughout the tidewater to creeks and streams.
For an hour or so, perch had been hitting a shad dart set beneath a float and jigged lightly over a modest dropoff. Fun fishing. Easy catch and release.
Bright sunlight accelerated the melt of the biggest snowfall in three years, and the floor of the wood was crossed with high-contrast shadows, while muted sounds carried through the morning chill.
Snow shushed as it fell from limbs and plopped into the slush. Dripping branchwater drummed on a hollow log. Two mallards muttered as they slid into open water from a rim of thin ice along a shaded shoreline.
Distant laughter came from a pair of anglers across a cove, one outfishing the other and unabashedly letting his partner know it.
Along muddy Blackwalnut, the rites of spring have begun early. But elsewhere the cold snap has had different effects -- especially for perch fishermen.
"The bad news is that we have not had the best conditions to fish for yellow perch," Fisheries Service biologist Martin L. Gary said. "The good news is that the colder temperature has protracted the spawn and we should see decent perch fishing right through St. Patrick's Day."
At a few of the traditional Eastern Shore perch hot spots, catches and conditions suggest the yellow perch run is about to begin -- most likely when the next stretch of seasonal weather moves in.
Along Tuckahoe Creek, the area just above the bridge at Hillsboro has been producing decent catches of yellow perch, while St. Paul's in Kent County has been turning up good numbers of smaller perch.
The headwaters at Wye Mills also has turned up some nice perch, and anglers who walk downstream from the spillway at the community lake should do well below the beaver dams, Gary said.
While water temperatures have moved into the mid 40s in many streams and creeks, at the Red Bridges area on the upper Choptank River, fisheries biologists report only 43 degrees and little action for white perch.
Wayson's Corner on the Patuxent River also has been slow and the best bet so far on the western shore could be Allen's Fresh in lower Charles County.
Anglers with boats will do well to fish the north and northwest shorelines, where waters will warm more quickly. Shorelines with heavy, partially submerged cover adjacent to deeper water and moderate current are good choices for yellow perch.
For area catch-and-release anglers, it is hard to beat the creeks of the Patapsco, Magothy, Severn and South rivers for yellow perch and eventually white perch.
Yellow perch caught in the Magothy, Miles, Nanticoke, Patapsco, Severn, South and West rivers cannot be kept.
The minimum size for yellow perch in other tidal waters is 8.5 inches, except in the Wye, Chester, Patuxent and Choptank rivers, where the minimum is 9 inches. The creel limit is five per day.
For a larger challenge, anglers can try the warm-water discharge at the Wagner Power Plant on the Patapsco, where rockfish to 28 inches have been reported in recent catch-and-release action.
Pub Date: 3/14/99