By: Run the Marsh VA – Glen Pizzanello II and Warren Reese
Now that spring is here, targeting white perch is a great choice for anglers throughout the tidal rivers of Virginia. The influx of grass shrimp, fiddler crabs and small bait fish are signs that the white perch are soon to follow. White perch are members of the Percichthyidae family, or the temperate bass family. Another commonly known species found in this family include striped bass, which are often a bycatch when targeting white perch. An ideal time to target white perch is during their spawning season, typically occurring throughout each spring.
The white perch spawning season occurs from about late March to early May, depending on the weather conditions of the spring season. The spawn takes place in tidal, brackish areas that consistently hold about two to five feet of water with rocky or textured riverbeds. Ideal water temperatures for the spawn range from 50 degrees to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A single white perch female may lay anywhere from 50,000 to 300,000 adhesive eggs over these riverbeds throughout a three-week span. During this time, males remain close to the females in order to fertilize the eggs once they have been laid. Once fertilized, the eggs can begin to hatch in as little as 30 hours, or within six days.
White perch typically feed on small bait fish, insect larvae, fiddler crabs and grass shrimp. As the sun rises and moves into the day, the white perch tend to congregate in deeper waters. As the sun begins to set and evening approaches, the fish move towards grass lines and structure to feed. During the time from late May through August, the perch spread out more along the flats, making large groups of the fish difficult to come by. Therefore, the ideal times to fish for white perch generally tend to be during the months of April through June, and again from September through November.
Understanding the distinct habits of white perch can assist in targeting the species. White perch can typically be found in locations such as sloping drop offs, gravel riverbeds, large mud flats, and around structure just outside of flats or ledges. After establishing a location, it is important to keep in mind that the best perch fishing is done in the evening. During the ideal white perch season, the fish are most often found in shallow water ranging from 2-5 feet. This makes wading typically the best technique for catching the fish. Lures imitating small bait fish tend to work best when catching white perch. Examples of these lures include lightweight spinner baits typically 1/16 ounce or 1/8 ounce in weight. These lures are thrown best on ultralight spinning gear, as these rods have greater flexibility allowing for a deeper hook set. The addition of a small piece of cut shrimp onto the spinner baits can greatly increase success as well. While wading is generally the best option when targeting white perch, trolling may also prove to be successful if the location and lures are well chosen and consistent with white perch habits.
White perch fishing is an excellent choice for anglers looking for large quantities of delicate white meat fish. The use of ultralight gear, the opportunity to catch large quantities of fish, and the likelihood of quality bycatch such as red drum, speckled trout, and striper makes the white perch fishing experience often an exciting one.
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