I texted my former editor of this newspaper the other day asking if he’d been out recently fishing for yellow perch or other smallish fish. I was really angling for an invite to one of his honey holes. No, he said, too busy with work.
That might have been a ruse to throw me off the scent since that man loves to fish, and it is panfish season.
If you’re new to the Chesapeake Bay region, and it seems thousands more arrive monthly judging from the construction and traffic in my hometown, then you might want to know that March is a time of transition.
Ospreys returning to the bay mark the unofficial spring kickoff, and many fish are swimming upstream to either spawn, or are staging to do so. River herring, shad, rockfish, white and yellow perch are marquee names doing their biological thing.
In terms of simplicity, you cannot beat panfishing. Why? Plain and simple, it is plain and simple. Also, availability and access.
For starters, you don’t need a boat; you can catch these tasty fish from land at countless spots along the upper reaches of the bay’s tidal waters. Cast from the banks of your local creek bank or paddle out to a reservoir, millpond or similarly quiet water. Apologies if you’re read this from me previously, but it continues to hold true: Chesapeake panfishing is egalitarian, especially for young and novice anglers.
Fishheads might quibble with my system, but I put yellow perch — called neds or ring perch in various parts of the Chesapeake — in the same category as bluegills and crappies. Maryland is a tiny state compared to its forty-nine siblings, but it is relatively rich with quality panfish waters.
Specifically, the long-established yellow perch runs on the western shore are in the Patuxent and Potomac tributaries. Wayson’s Corner in the Patuxent, Allen’s Fresh in the upper Wicomico River, and Potomac’s Nanjemoy Creek are among the best spots.
Traditionally reliable and well-known (perhaps too well-known now) Eastern Shore spots include the Red Bridges, Bowling Brook Creek, the Tuckahoe, and the upper reaches of the Pocomoke and Nanticoke rivers.
Locally, the Magothy River can hold neds, but take care with extracting too many breeder sized as that spawning run seems to be rebounding and needs all the help it can get. Numerous ponds offer good ample quantities of panfish, too.
In Virginia, the Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and Chickahominy rivers fish well, as do several feeder creeks to the James and Rappahannock.
Sticking with the simplicity theme for what bait and lures to use, a good friend fishes nothing but a white grub on a very light, roundhead jig (1/32 to 1/8 ounce) and slays them. Others swear by live bull minnow on a similarly weighted jig. Your choices for small spinners (1/32 to 1/8 ounce) are insanely abundant, from standards like Black Martin and Mepps to those crafted by local lure makers.
With panfish, I’m fairly certain you needn’t be as particular about lure choice as you would when targeting puppy drum or speckled trout. You may not want to take my word for it, however. When fishing for diminutive fish, sometimes I tend to have attention span of a midge, and resort to making a game of how many different lures I can hook a panfish with versus efficiently filling my creel.
Throw what works for you. Only mistake you can really make is not getting outside and trying to catch one.