03/27/09 — White lake home to many perch species

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White lake home to many perch species

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on March 27, 2009 1:47 PM

Many of the coastal plain's lakes have both white and yellow perch. It seems logical that White Lake should be home to white perch. But it is home to the other species.

Yellow perch are widely distributed, all the way northward to the Great Lakes. They occur in a variety of water chemistries. But nowhere do they achieve the size, abundance and beauty that they do in their acidic native North Carolina waters.

These fish colonize bay lakes and rivers and are called other names -- red-fin trout, red-fin perch, raccoon perch or raccoon bream. While they are usually hooked by anglers fishing for other fish, a few anglers who know their habits and habitats target them when they are in pre-spawn or spawning mode in February and March.

My wife, Carol, and I headed for my favorite spot to catch them, which is White Lake. The lake and town named for the lake are a premiere North Carolina recreational destination. The lake takes its name from the sand bottom and shoreline beaches. The bottom can be viewed at its maximum depth of around 9 feet, although dark areas occur where there are native aquatic plants.

Unfortunately, soft drink cans, bags, and cups can also be spotted. Human litter forms the majority of bottom structure, while boat docks and cypress trees form shoreline structure.

I first discovered the fishing accidentally, after an angler told me he caught some nice bass from the lake. Big bass are unusual occurrences in acidic bay lakes, or so I once thought. Now, I've also discovered them in other bay lakes, but those are other stories.

Casting along the shoreline with a Shad-Rap, as the bass angler instructed, I was soon catching yellow perch -- large and small -- sometimes two at one time. Beetlespins and inline spinners proved nearly as productive. But not until we reverted to trolling did the size and numbers of fish become truly inspiring.

We even caught a few eligible for NCARP awards, visit www.ncwildlife.org for details on the North Carolina Angler Recognition Program.

There are lots of birds at White Lake -- coots, mallards, ring-necked ducks, red-breasted mergansers, sea gulls and Canada geese. They have to be eating something. But even NCWRC Fishery Biologist Keith Ashley seemed shocked when I told him of the lakes outstanding yellow perch fishing.

"Our electro-fishing samples only turned up small yellow perch," he said. "But we only sample the edges."

The fish form large spawning aggregations in spring, which we discovered by trolling with a variety of lures. Once located, we tossed out floating markers and trolled the same area until the bite shut down. Then we moved to another area. Sometimes we found fishing spots that were given away either by diving or resting birds, or by fish oil slicks.

We usually just trolled in the deepest places we could find.

"Yellow perch are beautiful fish," said Carol. "I like to see them come to the top when I hook them. Big ones fight hard, but little ones just surf across the surface."

We were using ultra-light spinning rigs to get the maximum fight out of the fish. Reels spooled with 10-pound test braid and 4 1/2-foot rods gave us a good feel for the fight even from fish that seldom topped a pound.

A yellow perch is the wiggliest fish in freshwater short of an eel. I know of more fishermen who have been impaled by a lure's treble hooks from the thrashings of a yellow perch than any other fish. Carol handled her fish with a towel to keep their operculum spines and dorsal fin spines from sticking her and used pliers to remove the hooks.

"I like eating them even better than catching them," she said. "They're the best-eating fish in freshwater."

The only public ramp at White Lake is at White Lake Water Sports and Marina on the north side of the lake. The ramp fee is $8 and there is a pay box until the marina season opens in April. Most anglers don't fish when the water warms because the lake is taken over by water skiers and water scooters.