Winter fishing yields yellow perch payoff

  • Follow Rob Pavey

CLARKS HILL, S.C. — Most months of the year, yellow perch make only an occcasional appearance on stringers loaded with other species.

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Tom Lewis (left), of Evans, and Ashby Gray, of Saluda, N.C., fish for yellow perch from a boat anchored in the Savannah River, one of the best venues for the fish.  ROB PAVEY/STAFF
ROB PAVEY/STAFF
Tom Lewis (left), of Evans, and Ashby Gray, of Saluda, N.C., fish for yellow perch from a boat anchored in the Savannah River, one of the best venues for the fish.
Video: Augusta Outdoors
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The exception is late January and into February, when the orange-finned fish swim upstream to spawn in cold, flowing streams.

“They move up against the current and end up below the dams,” said Tom Lewis, a diehard perch angler who won’t hesitate to invest a cold winter afternoon for a handsome payoff in yellow perch.

The colorful fish – which resemble their larger cousin, the walleye – have thick skin toughened by layers of tiny scales. Inside, though, they are among the tastiest of freshwater fish.

The Savannah River, in particular, is one of the best yellow perch venues in the region.

“You can find them below Thurmond, and they are caught downstream below New Savannah Bluff too,” Lewis said.

Catching perch requires lots of patience, but very little tackle.

An ultralight rod and reel rigged with a tiny gold hook, a light monofilament leader and a small egg sinker can be remarkably effective when baited with the tiniest minnows you can find at the bait store.

“You fish them on the bottom,” Lewis said. “But the minnow has to be alive. If it’s dead, you won’t catch a thing.”

Fishing below Thurmond Dam can produce good catches of yellow perch for about a mile, with deep holes producing the best fish.

Lewis usually jigs the baited hooks slowly along the bottom.

Perch also react to changes in current. During an outing last week, we fished three hours with barely a bite, then caught a dozen nice perch within 40 minutes.

Our fish ranged from seven inches to about a pound and we took them all home to clean.

An hour later, they were skinned and filleted, dusted with salt and pepper, dipped in milk-and-egg, rolled in flour and quick-fried in hot peanut oil. It was fish at its finest.

WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? The British company that organizes one of the largest hunting and sporting shows in the U.S. bowed to political pressure and decided to ban so-called assault rifles from this year’s Eastern Sports & Outdoors Show, saying the decision would only affect a small fraction of the vendors who attend the annual Pennsylvania event.

Predictably, the insulting edict spawned a broad boycott, with almost 300 participants – including the National Rifle Association, retail giant Cabela’s and the National Wild Turkey Federation – immediately withdrawing.

The company, Reed Exhibitions, grossly under-estimated the outcry from their attempt at censorship. On Thursday, the company was forced to cancel the show.

It is interesting to me that the boycott was supported across the board by many sportsmen (and women) and not just by vendors who sell a particular style of cosmetically enhanced firearms.

WHO SHOT MY COW? Congratulations are in order for James Keener, a law enforcement corporal with Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division.

He was honored last week for his diligence in chasing down an unwholesome pack of Pickens County poachers – and solving a particularly heinous case involving a murdered cow.

The case began with a complaint of spotlighting and shots fired. Over several weeks, Keener gathered information and ultimately charged nine poachers with 53 violations.

Most of the charges were typical: taking deer at night, hunting from public roads, shooting from a vehicle and possession of illegally taken wildlife.

One suspect was charged with something entirely different: “killing a cow mistaken for a bear.”

The poachers paid fines totaling $4,800 and were sentenced to probation and community service, with some losing their hunting privileges.

One suspect was fined an additional $800 – as restitution for the dead cow.

For his efforts, Keener was named Investigative Ranger of the Year, an honor for which the deserving nominees also included one of our officers, Cpl. Brian Hobbins of the Thomson office.

FISH PROTECTION: A Savannah lawmaker is asking the General Assemly to offer one of Georgia’s favorite coastal fish species more protection and respect under a designation as a “game fish.”

The bill from Rep. Ben Watson would make the red drum, or “redfish” an official game species in Georgia, which means it cannot be sold (unless otherwise provided for by law) and can be legally taken only by rod and reel.

Anglers would still be able to target, catch and keep red drum for their own use in line with state regulations, seasons and limits, according to a press release from the Coastal Conservation Association, which supports the change.

Both Florida and South Carolina have already enacted game fish status for its important coastal species.

YELLOW PERCH

HABITAT: Deep, cold, flowing water

SPAWNING: January and February

BEST BAITS: Jigs, tiny live minnows

BEST TACKLE: Ultralight rods, light line

FOOD QUALITY: Excellent


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