Peace with the Perch

When I was a very small child I went along on a family fishing trip to the gravel pit lakes of Glendale Mississippi.  The Glendale lakes near Hattiesburg were my Dad’s favorite fishing lakes apparently and now I just have to wonder about my name which is Glen and my cousin’s name Dale, as my uncle liked to fish there too.   Anyway, Dad’s favorite fish was what we call crappie but what everyone back then called “white perch”.  I’ve been told that using the name “white perch” for crappie is a misnomer.   The “white perch” is another fish found in Northern climes.  Even so, I grew up hearing them called that and it’s fairly common to hear the term in the Deep South.   Whatever the name, I knew that it was my Dad’s favorite fish.

On this ancient fishing trip I was given a cane pole with a cork and a live minnow on the hook.  Well I watched that cork like a hawk for what seemed like an eternity, which was probably not very long, being so young.  The minnow’s movements caused little ripples from the cork but there were no up and down movements and certainly the cork never left the surface.  Soon I became impatient and told my mom that I wanted to play.  She said “Okay, give me your pole”.  When she pulled in the line, a big slab of a crappie was on the end of it.  I was so mad. Not at my mom.  I was mad at that fish.  I had sat there forever (probably five minutes) and the cork had never gone under, yet that fish had swallowed that minnow.

That was my introduction to crappie, notorious  for its aggravating (to me), light, almost undetectable bite.   I don’t remember fishing for crappie ever again until after I grew up, moved to mid-Mississippi and joined a fly fishing club and subsequently met and fished with buddy Albert who re-introduced me to crappie fishing.  Albert is a highly motivated crappie fisherman as many others that I have met here in mid-Mississippi are.  Though he uses a flyrod, when he’s in a boat he will keep a jig pole in the water and catch the fish on both.   Fly fishing or jigging, I have always been amazed at his capability to read the bites from the light biting crappie.  I have struggled and attempted to duplicate his high catch rate but the aggravating light bite of the crappie has haunted me all the way from childhood. Subsequently my fervor for crappie fishing has never been excessive.  Until this past weekend that is.

After getting the word that the fish were starting to get on the rocks at the Ross Barnett Reservoir, I made a half hearted mid-day run to the Rez.  At first, using a bead chain crappie candy with indicator on the tip of the fly line, I was trying to slowly pull and/or strip while keeping a tight line to “feel the fish”. I caught a few but I felt other takes and  failed to hook them. Also when I did catch them this way, they were hooked low, actually in the gills most of the time. I wasn’t happy with my missing what I thought were takes so I tried something I had been using to catch tiny pond perch out at the office lake.   I held the rod high, to give me room for a long slow strip while watching the flyline where it meets the water.  If the line where it meets the water stopped its natural return to a stable position in exactly the same place,  I would respond with a trout set, pulling the rod straight up.  I started catching fish really consistently. And the fish would be hooked in the upper jaw, not in the gills which was better for releasing them unharmed.  Sometimes there is a false positive on a take, but like someone once told me “it doesn’t cost anything to set the hook”.

 

After a couple of trips using this technique, I have finally made peace with the perch.   I am now confident I can catch a mess of those delicious fish with a fly rod, assuming they’re where I can get to them.  I also found that the technique allows me to ditch the indicator, which is in the way when you get hung up because you need to push the rod tip down to the snag or rock to release the fly.   The technique also works great for night fishing in that, though you can’t see the line on the water, all you need to see is the line dangling from the rod where it meets the water.   I can catch light biters at night with nothing but the ambient light from distant light poles.

Here’s an additional tip.  The slicker your fly line the better.  The slow, long strip will be nice and smooth with a slick line and though its not a big thing, it will help.

The downside is you can expect to have “painter’s arm” the first couple of times you do it.   The higher you hold the rod tip, the more sensitivity you will get from the line as it dances where it meets the surface. Holding the rod butt up high was something new to a saltwater sight caster that is used to holding the rod tip in the water and stripping with the line pointed at the fish.  The new tactic worked some muscles that weren’t used to it.   Maybe the high sticking trout fishers and Czech nymph’ers have those muscles already developed and won’t have that problem.

I hope readers find this helpful.  This is the kind of thing you don’t learn in your basic 101 fly fishing course.

Below is my son Chris with a nice slab.  Note the stripping bucket and rod holder.   The rod is in the holder and the line he stripped in to bring the fish in is in the bucket.  He has two hands to hold the fish for the photo op and he’s not doing anything dumb like biting the cork handle or balancing his expensive rod and reel on his shoulder (which is nuts in my book).  Of course anyone looking at the pic can tell he’s using a flyrod.  I just don’t understand why I don’t see others using stripping buckets, unless its because other stripping buckets are inferior.  I will accept that other buckets are inferior as the only reason, because  those rocks will confound the heck out of you trying to fish by just dropping the line on them.   Not to mention all the sticks and debris and potential damage to the fly line.  The rocks will absolutely ruin your fly line.  I went by Orvis yesterday and saw that they now have a high end fly line that is $129.  Most any decent fly line is more than $60. Now that I understand how my casting works with different lines, I am in love with all the new designer lines, but I sure don’t want my “designer” line in the rocks.  When I bring in a fish I just pull the line, placing the line in the bucket.  There were some redfish I caught in the marsh recently that I hand-lined to the boat and stacked the line in the bucket.  When I get a crappie to the shore I just lead him into the rocks, grab the leader with my right hand, then I drop the rod in the rod holder and have two hands to deal with him.  I sure as heck don’t want to lay my rod down in those rocks.

Notice all the rocks in the photos above, most of them covered in various accretions or concrete.  Nasty stuff to stumble and fall in and/or tangle fly line in.  Yes, I pulled off the bucket and laid it down for the photo, but that’s only for showing that I do in fact use the bucket and rod holder for ALL my fly fishing.  Maybe I wouldn’t use it for Tenkara 🙂

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The bucket’s false bottom to keep flies in has been very handy.  Here are some of the flies, mostly crappie candy, marabou microjigs and coyotes.

 

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