Small White Perch, Big Smile

Apr 2, 2019

Felicity Russell holds a white perch she caught and released with some assistance in Tisbury Great Pond.
Credit Nelson Sigelman

One of the pleasures of living on Martha’s Vineyard is that spring arrives in tangible ways. You hear it and you taste it.

The first day of spring, I was standing in the Lagoon Pond launch ramp parking area when a distinctive sound rose above the hum of vehicles on Beach Road. I’m not a birder in any sense of the word — I know a pigeon from a plover — but the sharp peep-pip cry caught my attention.

Not far away a pair of American oystercatchers stood on a muddy bank among washed up shells. I was happy to see that these charming shorebirds with the long orange bills had started to arrive. Inspired by this omen and a newly purchased spinning reel, I went fishing for white perch.

A relative of the striped bass, which they resemble in a chunky sort of way, white perch are feisty and make great sport on light tackle. Deep fried with panko bread crumbs, the delicate fillets are delicious.

White perch are found in fresh and saltwater from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia. They prefer brackish conditions and may be found in Edgartown and Tisbury Great Ponds, particularly in late March and April when they move into shallow coves to spawn. The Land Bank’s Sepiessa Reservation in West Tisbury is a popular public fishing spot.

The best perch fishing tends to occur around sunset, when the fish begin to feed in the coves. I’ve learned to dress warm no matter what the Boston weather people report. The southwest winds that bring spring warmth to much of the mainland come off forty degree ocean waters, which makes for numb fingers this time of the year.

I arrived at a secluded cove. An osprey perched in the top of a big pine whistled away. One of the treats of spring fishing is watching the aerial acrobatics of newly arrived ospreys as they wheel and dive and call to each other while hunting for a meal — herring freshly returned from the ocean to spawn, and perch are frequent targets.

My goal was eight fish. Four for dinner and four for my friend Tom. He had raked up clams for bait but at the last minute was unable to join me. I was having good luck when Felicity Russell, a nearby property owner out for a stroll, came walking along the beach. How was I doing, she asked.

Many fishermen and hunters are solitary by nature. But over the years I’ve enjoyed inviting others to share the outdoor experiences that enrich the Island lifestyle.

Confident the fish were biting well I asked Felicity if she wanted to catch a white perch. She thought about it a moment and said yes, but said she had not cast a fishing rod since she was a kid. No problem. I cast out the baited hook and handed her the light, whippy rod.

“I feel something biting it,” she said almost immediately.

“Quick, raise the rod tip,” I said.

Felicity fought the fish to shore. It was quickly released, but not before I captured a photo of her wearing an expression of pure joy holding the perch.

Felicity was delighted, as was I, to welcome spring.