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In Search of White Perch
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 streams.

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 fish.

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 bait.

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 fish identification.

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 angler.

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.

BAIT RIGGING. 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.

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