Fly Fishing for White Perch
"Twenty-one in a row! That’s my springtime fly-casting record for consecutive fish catching in the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. I look forward to this magical time every year, when peepers are peeping, the redbuds are budding, and the white perch are spawning in the creeks." - Shawn Kimbro
About White Perch
Ask anyone in Maryland to tell you the first fish they caught, and the most likely answer will be a white perch. (Morone americana). Close cousins to striped bass, they’ll take an artificial lure quicker than a whipstitch on a shad dart. They’re prolific in most tidal streams, and they are great fun to catch. Not just for kids either - there are plenty of full-grown adults, including this old stump jumper, who can’t resist rigging up a fly rod for these feisty fighters.
White perch are semi-anadromous, meaning they live most of their lives in brackish water. In the spring, however, they migrate back to the upper freshwater reaches of tidal streams to spawn. During the summer months, you’ll find white perch around rocks and docks almost anywhere in the Upper Chesapeake, but in April and early May they are concentrated on their spawning grounds.
Secret Perch Weapons
Ask a dozen anglers how to catch a white perch, and you’ll likely hear two dozen different surefire secret weapons that are guaranteed to fill a stringer with tasty perch. Grass shrimp on a shad dart? That’ll work. Beetle Spin with a plastic grub? Absolutely! Mepps Aglia with a gold blade? Guaranteed! Bloodworm on a bottom rig? If you must! During the spring spawn, you could probably catch white perch on anything – including a long-shank No. 10 hook on a Natty Boh bottle cap – if you give it a try!
I have my own secret weapon, handed down from my grandfather and father and now passed on to my sons and grandchildren. They taught me that a simple float-and-fly, rigged with a 1/32-ounce feather “Popeye” fly beneath a ¾-inch bobber, will catch as many white perch as I can handle. For fly casting, I modernize that classic technique by swapping out the bobber for a small biodegradable Oros indicator and replacing the Popeye fly with a Clouser Minnow tied on a No. 10 J-hook, or I simply go with a brightly colored, buggy looking, sized 12 to 16 nymph fly.
Rods & Reels
My fly-fishing outfit is a rashed-up G Loomis Venturereel on a Reddington three-weight rod. Since there are hickory and American shad in the creeks now, I’ll sometimes move up to my Orvis five-weight so I can land the heavier fish faster. Pretty much any trout-sized rod will work.
Accuracy is more important than distance when fly-casting for white perch. When these fish are spawning, they prefer sandy areas near the shore beneath overhanging tree limbs. They tend to spawn in shallow water, often holding at depths of just six- to twelve-inches. Jig your fly along with a regular cadence, watching your indicator closely for any changes in its usual motion because white perch strikes can be very subtle. If you get a bite, cast right back in the same spot: where there’s one fish, there are usually many more.
Where to Catch Them
In April and May, I am likely to put my old aluminum Jon boat in at the uppermost tidal ramp of the Pocomoke or the Nanticoke, or the Chicamacomico, or the Choptank, or the Chester, or well, you get the idea. This time of year, there are white perch in pretty much any tidal stream in Maryland.
If you don’t want to risk dinging a prop in the small shallow creeks, leave your boat at home and fish from the shore. Look for access at one of Maryland’s many state or county parks. On the Eastern Shore, try Byrd Park on the Pocomoke, Martinak State Park on the Choptank, Tuckahoe State Park below the millpond, or North East community park near the Susquehanna Flats.
On the west side, try Deer Creek on the Susquehanna, Waysons Corner on the Patuxent, Beechwood Park on the Magothy, and Grays or Winters runs on the Bush River. You can find many more great fishing spots to try along Maryland’s Fly Fishing Trail.
Don’t forget the Old Bay & new beer!
Although I’m typically a catch-and-release angler, I don’t have any qualms about keeping a dinner-sized mess of white perch. They aren’t threatened and they may just be the best tasting fish species in the Mid-Atlantic. My recipe of choice is to dredge filets in House Autry seasoning, pan fry them to golden brown, and sprinkle liberally with Old Bay, before enjoying with an ice-cold Flying Dog Deep Fake non-alcohol IPA. Now’s a great time to get out there and set your own consecutive perch-catching record. I bet you’ll beat mine. See you on the creeks!
Get Ready for Your Next Fly Fishing Trip
In need of additional information on where and how to fly fish? Check out Maryland’s Fly Fishing Trail. The first state-wide trail in the nation highlights 48 sites spanning from the shorelines of the Chesapeake to the mountain streams in Western Maryland.
Before you head out, be sure to acquire your license and check out the latest regulations from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
And if you’re up for turning your fly fishing trip into a getaway, check out Visit Maryland for places to stay, dine and things to do.
About the author: Shawn Kimbro is the author of 3 books about fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. A frequent speaker to fishing clubs, conservation groups, and environmental organizations, he is recognized across the Chesapeake region as a leading voice for stewardship within the fishing community.