“When the white stuff is falling, the white perch come calling.”
Invariably, we as anglers have to get through the grueling month of February. Striped bass season is closed in the back, winter flounder season is closed, wreck fishing slows up, and it begins to look like it’s going to be a Facebook February.
But alas, the white perch is there to bail you out! And not only does the white perch bite last all winter long, but it picks up serious speed as we enter into March and April.
Dennis Palmatier of the Hook House in Toms River states white perch season basically runs strong from early November through the winter and it really peaks in March and April. “Any water above 45 degrees they start biting,” he said, adding “Ideal temps between 45 and 55 degrees. Generally around here you can always find some hot spots in the Toms River, Metedeconk River, Forge Pond and Cedar Creek.”
Palmatier’s customers are always grabbing hi-lo pill float rigs with size #4 hooks off the wall when its whitey season. “Guys will swear by the gold or bronze and the various colors of the float, all have their particular favorite colors, but generally fluorescent yellow or green fits the bill,” Palmatier advised. The main forage for perch is bloodworms and shrimp and tip bits of bloods are generally the best baits to thread onto hooks.
“You’re casting into 3 to 4 feet of water average depth, and I find the rougher water they bite and do not bite heavy at all when its slick calm out,” he stated. “Look for windy conditions where the waters are all chopped up. I also find that it’s mostly a night or evening bite from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and that they cycle in day to day.” Dennis advised that if you find that school of fish bites at 4 p.m. one day, be back next day at 5 p.m. with the shift in tide. “Usually it’s a half hour to hour long chew then quiets down,” he said, adding “You don’t need to plan a six-hour day to find them, just make note when you do get a hot bite, plan that hour the next day and you can pinpoint the chew and maximize your time.”
Along the Toms River there are many bulkheads and docks in the Island Heights and Bayville sections where you can tangle with white perch from the shore, or if you have boat access, simply slip into the Toms.
Down at the Absecon Bay Sportsman, owner Dave Showell is a back bay legend and white perch can’t elude him for long. “Recent winters, the Mullica and Egg Harbor Rivers have been real good for perch,” he said, adding “Collins Cove used to have a 35-foot hole there but heard it filled in a bit. You always want to look for the thermocline which is usually about 15 feet down as that’s where the perch will hang.” According to Showell, during the months of January and February, perch are hanging in those deeper holes.
“White perch are moving around when it’s iced up or super cold out, usually in February then they can pool up in the springtime,” he said. Showell believes the cold weather bite is better on the high tides and when the sun is out during the day in the winter months. Generally the rig is simple. Hi-lo rigs you use for kingfish or pompano, pill floats and #4 to #2 beak hooks will do the job. Use worms or grass shrimp as bait and you can even find and net your own shrimp that are clinging to the dock pilings and bulk heads.
While bank anglers will send out the hi-lo rigs with a 1- to 2-ounce bank sinker, boat guys have the option to set up a slick and fish multiple rods with floats. Start up by picking a ledge or channel where you have running water, and anchor up. Begin to dish out a chum slick with dropping a clam pot down with clam chum, then grab your grass shrimp, lightly spraying shrimp by the handful into the waters. As the shrimp sink, they attract white perch to come cruising up through the channel waterways. Send a slip bobber float out with 2 to 3 feet of leader or freeline worm and shrimp baits back into the slick. Tip the hook with three to four grass shrimp, or 1-inch bits of bloodworms or sandworm and send it down.
Early morning through a sunny afternoon, into the evening, white perch will be on the chew as they move along with the tides. Beside the Mullica and Egg Harbor rivers, the Ocean City salt creeks like the Tuckahoe River and both the Maurice and Cohansey River are always top perch producers in South Jersey.
It’s a no brainer to go with light tackle, but know that white perch are not pushover, they can put up one heck of a fight for their size. Get set up with a light tackle freshwater type rod like a St. Croix 6-foot, matched with a light 2500 to 3500 class Shimano Stradic spinning reel spooled with 12-pound braid or Seaguar mono line.
Quickly unhook fish into the icebox and get back in the game immediately, because when whiteys are on the chew, you can easily land 50 to 100 fish if you’ve got them greedily feeding in the slick. By far, one of the prime accolades of white perch are their presence in the frying pan. Light, succulent fillets that can be beer battered and sautéed to perfection for the ultimate comfort winter food.
Unless you’re ice fishing, February usually stinks as a fisherman’s month, especially since we probably won’t have any boat shows, flea markets or outdoor shows to attend with the COVID crisis still hanging over our heads. But it doesn’t have to! White perch will be out and about on the prowl, making the perfect prize – combining the fact they are easily caught, you don’t need a boat to catch them and they are excellent table fare.
As I said, when the white stuff starts falling, hear the white perch calling!