Story by Tom Pagliaroli

Figure by this weekend, and into next week for sure as a result of the warming trend and uptick in water temperatures, the white perch will start putting the raspy lips to blood worm and grass shrimp baits.

To be sure, this brackish water is eagerly sought in the tidal creeks and rivers during the early spring as it readies for its spawning rituals. Movement usually starts in early March, with the fishing improving first incrementally and then with a rush as March melds to April.

The species is not a perch at all but is kin to the striped bass. It even resembles a striper, sans for all the stripes, instead sporting one thin black lateral line. As with its big bass relative, it spawns in brackish-to-fresh waters and is perfectly capable of thriving in either. The bigger white perch are found in lakes and impoundments, and the current New Jersey freshwater (and IGFA) record is a whopping 3.1-pounds that was caught in Forest Hill Lake back in 1989. The saltwater mark is almost as large, though. It weighed 2-lbs. 12 oz. and was caught in Little Beach Creek in ‘98. Tidal water perch will be traveling in pods and schools of mixed size individuals, and females will be larger than males. The egg-laden ladies will be easy to recognize as per their bulkier girth and swollen abdomens.

Blood worms and grass shrimp are the top producing baits for spring perch,  and, predicated on the venue, one will out-catch the other. Grassies are tops in the more southerly swims such as the Mill Creek, Mullica River, Bass River, Nacote Creek, Egg Harbor River, Middle River and Tuckahoe River. Sure, you can put a few perch in the bucket dangling a piece of blood worm, but its the shrimp that will fill it.

The Toms River is another matter.  While it’s a pick via the grass shrimp offering, bloods rule throughout this white perch factory.

Observes Lenny Hahn at the Capt’n Hippo Bait & Tackle on Atlantic City Boulevard in South Toms River, “Blood worms consistently catch more and bigger perch during the spring than grass shrimp. Our customers swear by them, and when you see the catches that we do, well, pieces of blood worm on a hi-lo rig is the go-to bait during the spring run in the Toms River. We’ve been here 10 years, and our catch logs tell the story.”

For white perch action in the Toms, he points to the area behind the old Trilco building, the Beachwood Community Dock, Windy Cove in Beachwood, Island Heights, the Crabe Road Dock, and Mathis Park.

No doubt the white perch is one of the tastiest eating fish that swims in Garden State waters, either salt, brackish or fresh, and they are tons of fun to catch on light spinning outfits. There is no length limit or bag limit, and when the bite turns on, things can get rod-bending crazy.  We set a personal minimum at 7-inches and keep it to a dozen or so each between us. Sure, the sweet, firm white meat freezes well via a vacuum sealer and will taste almost as good a few months later. However, keeping just enough for a fried fish dinner and a few leftover fillets for next day’s fish sandwich lunch is a good conservation measure.

Be aware of the geographic demarcation if you’re fishing in the upper reaches of a tidal water. Beyond a certain point, a freshwater fishing license will be required.  The boundaries can be found on page 32 in the 2019 Freshwater Fishing Digest, or online at www.njfishandwildlife.com.

 

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