In Search of White
By Rich Johnson
As �cabin fever� overtakes many of us during the cold
winter months, there are still alternatives one may take to generate some
heat in the way of fishing action. White perch are just one of these
options. While these once abundant panfish have been in decline over the
past few years, I was itching for some fishing and hit the local tidal
THE QUARRY. In Nassau County there are still
several locations you can find action with white perch. In some instances,
when you do find them, the fishing can be fast and furious, as anyone who
has fished for these panfish before you can tell. The action can come to a
screeching halt just as fast. These popular panfish travel in large schools
and can be caught in fresh, brackish and saltwater. When fishing in brackish
or saltwater, the angler must take care in proper identification of his
catch as they bear a close resemblance to juvenile striped bass. When young,
the striper may have his stripes but they are not as pronounced as an
adult�s, thus the possible confusion. White perch have a distinct lateral
line which adds to the confusion of this silvery fish. I have seen many
summons handed to a fisherman who thought they had a pail of white perch,
when in reality they were keeping juvenile bass.
THE SEARCH. Finding white perch can be a tricky
proposition at times. They are basically shy in nature and tend to stay over
deeper water with forays into the shallows during low light conditions.
Structure and drop-offs are key ingredients to a successful trip. In
addition to finding these key points, many white perch locations work better
on a high incoming tide as this allows anglers a better shot at some action
from shore since the perch venture closer than they normally would. Although
there are many potential white perch spots in Nassau County, the following
are a few of my favorites.
HOT SPOTS. One of the more popular pots in
Nassau County is Mill River in Rockville Centre. I�ve had good success here
in the past on both live baits and artificials. This brackish river has it�s
headwater at the southern end of Smiths Pond, also in Rockville Centre,
where the overflow from the lake spills into the river. The river continues
into East Rockaway flowing through Oceanside and joining forces with Powell
Creek to form East Rockaway Channel, which in turn empties into Reynolds
Channel. There is more than enough parking all along the river in Mil River
Park. This park is located just south of Sunrise Highway, across from the
Roy Rogers restaurant and can be entered off Ocean Avenue. The entire
shoreline can be productive, but I have found the north end area behind
Lister Field (softball field) where water flows from under the highway to be
prime territory using grass shrimp and plastic grubs.
The park is open to the public and closes at dark.
There is ample room to fish from both sides of the river here and there
bulkheads hold grass shrimp and some weedlines as well. This river gets deep
very fast and has warning signs due to the sharp drop-offs from shore. These
drop-offs are perfect holding ground for perch. At the southernmost section
of the park, off South Park Avenue, is Bligh Field and this too has plenty
of parking. This part of the river also has drop-offs and waders should be
very, very careful.
SMITH POND. This lake has a very good supply of
landlocked white perch. The only time that saltwater can reach this lake is
in cases of extremely high tides. Even as a kid, I can remember large
catches of perch coming from these waters with most of the action on garden
worms and nightcrawlers. To get to Smith Pond take Peninsula Blvd. to Main
Avenue in Rockville Centre, turn east for 15 yards and the parking lot will
be on your right. The lake is located between Main and Ocean Avenues. This
is a lake of approximately 25 acres and some exploring may be needed to find
MILBURN CREEK. This creek in Baldwin between
Merrick Road and Atlantic Avenue is also a good producer of white perch.
High incoming water is generally the rule here and grass shrimp are the hot
MOTT CREEK/DOXSEE POND. Both of these very good
fishing holes are located in Woodmere. Mott Creek is formed by the Mott
Basin just west and north of the Inwood Country Club. The most productive
areas are the water to the north of Rockaway Turnpike and between Peninsula
Blvd. and Branch Blvd. behind Lawrence High School. These areas are easily
located on a Hagstrom Map of the area. This creek holds a large number of
juvenile stripers which the DEC enforces very carefully, so be sure of your
Doxee Pond is also a hot spot for perch and located in
North Woodmere Park. This pond has large carp and in the past landlocked
stripers. There have been reports of stripers to 30 inches in the brackish
sections of these two areas. This water system continues northward into
Rosedale along the Nassau/Queens border and perch can be taken on light
tackle through most of this waterway. In both of these locations, chartreuse
and silver sparkle twister tails work well, as do grass shrimp.
THE DINNER MENU. As with most panfish white
perch will eat whatever food is available and in large quantities. In
brackish and saltwater areas, this would include small crustaceans, small
forage fish, insects and their larvae, as well as my favorite bait for
perch, small grass shrimp. In freshwater situations, the choices would be
basically the same with the addition of worms and terrestrial insects. As
food becomes somewhat scarce during the winter months, perch will drop their
cautious nature and be more readily tempted by artificials offered by the
ARTIFICIALS. You can choose from grubs, shad
darts and small spinners if artificials are your cup of tea. Remember, we�re
talking cold weather fishing and even though white perch are active in
cooler water temperatures, adjust your retrieve to compensate for the slower
metabolism typical of cold water conditions. For this reason, I�ll usually
stay away from spinners and stick with bait or plastics.
When it comes to plastic grubs, my choice would be the twister tail
variety. The most consistent producer for me has been the clear/silver
sparkle in the one and two inch sizes. Other recommended colors are pumpkin
seed/sparkle, motor oil/sparkle and the usual white, green and chartreuse.
When it comes to jig heads for these grubs, small 1/8 and 1/16 ounce heads
are ideal. Remember that for the most part, perch will run eight to 10
inches, so small is the better choice.
As for spinners, small Rooster Tails and Mepps Spinners
will suffice if you use a blade size no larger than #1. Matching the correct
blade color to the water color and clarity is a must. In stained, brackish
waters I like to use gold and copper colored blades and in clear fresh or
saltwater conditions, silver will often have the edge. Shad darts are also a
good choice for white perch in moving water situations. Small 1/8 ounce
darts are recommended in chartreuse and white. Very thin profiled, nylon,
1/8 ounce bucktails will also work and may be rigged with the shad dart as a
teaser tied above the bucktail.
TACKLE. Tackle should always be on the light
side with ultra-light outfits ideal. I was using a very light action
six-foot spinning rod and 4-pound test line on a small ultra-light reel.
This outfit was a perfect match for the three-quarter to 1-1/2 pound perch
here and using an old fly rod blank converted over to a spinning rod is also
ideal. The length of the blank of eight feet adds extra distance to casts.
The rod is fitted with a small ultra-light reel and 4-pound test line. Both
outfits are ideal for casting small grubs and bait rigs as well as getting
the most play out of these scrappers.
When fishing with bait such as grass shrimp, small light wire hooks are
preferred. Rigging consists of a basic bobber rig with continual adjusting
of the distance between the hook and bobber until you find the depth at
which perch are feeding. A small split shot placed a few inches above the
hook will help keep the bait down where you want it. These spots will
normally produce during mild spells during the winter, and can really heat
up in the spring. So, get out and take advantage of some fine panfishing
this winter and spring.