ATTENTION BEGINNER ANGLERS: If your main goal is to catch something — anything with scales and a tail — you need to have white perch on your radar. White perch are one of the most prolific finfish in the Bay and its tributaries and creeks, they’re almost always willing to bite, and they also happen to taste great. That makes them an ideal species to target whether you’re just out looking for some quick action or you’re an inexperienced-at-angling parent with a kid who loves feeling a tug on the end of a fishing line.
White Perch Identification
White perch are relatively small silver fish with little or no additional coloration beyond sometime having a dark back or a slight yellowish-golden hue. They live throughout the region, not only in the Bay and its tributaries but also in many of the reservoirs and lakes in the Mid-Atlantic. In fact, they may be found as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as the Carolinas. An eight-inch fish is considered by most to be large enough to keep and eat, a 10-inch perch is a nice one, and a 12-incher is a real whopper.
White perch are close relatives to striped bass, and their firm white meat has a flavor that’s similar. They are anadromous fish that (in tidal waters) spend most of their time in the Bay and tributaries but swim upstream into freshwater areas to spawn in the spring.
White perch are opportunistic feeders that like to eat all sorts of small critters. Grass shrimp, small minnow, tiny crustaceans, and insects are all on their menu. However, they may favor specific delicacies at specific times, which can make choosing the right bait or lure important for success.
Fun Fact: even though these fish are small, they can live for quite a while. A 10-year-old white perch is not uncommon, and they’ve been known to live for over 15 years.
Record White Perch
In Delaware, the largest recorded white perch ever caught is a 2.9-pound fish taken in Indian River by Wayne Hastings, in 1997. The record for white perch in Maryland Bay waters is 2.6 pounds and was set way back in 1976, by Sid Stollings, while fishing in Dundee Creek. The freshwater record for Maryland is 1.9 pounds, caught by George Venker in 2017 while fishing on Loch Raven Reservoir. The biggest perch caught in Virginia waters was a 3.2-pounder reeled in by Beau McLaughlin in 2012 at a private pond.
White Perch Regulations
Because white perch are so prolific, there are few regulations on their harvest. Maryland and Virginia have none at all when white perch are caught on hook and line; in Delaware, there’s no size limit but you’re not allowed to possess more than 25 in total when fishing in freshwater (there is no limit in tidal water).
Best White Perch Baits
Sometimes white perch will bite on just about anything. At other times, however, they may become a bit choosier. Top baits commonly used to catch white perch include:
- Clam snouts
- Grass shrimp
- Night crawlers
- Small minnow
As a general rule of thumb, grass shrimp are considered a top choice at virtually any spot, any time of year. During the summer months many anglers prefer to use bits of bloodworm because white perch eat them with vigor in warm weather and they stay on the hooks much better than the easily-stolen grass shrimp.
One important note about fishing with bait for white perch: remember, these fish have small mouths. In most cases a tidbit of bait no bigger than a small paper clip (and often half that size) is more than enough.
Best White Perch Lures
White perch are just as willing to hit lures as bait. Top perch lures include:
- Chesapeake Sabiki rigs (often tipped with a piece of bait for added attraction)
- Shad darts (often tipped with a piece of bait for added attraction)
- Small spinnerbaits like a Beetle Spin, Perch Pounder, or Perch Prowler
- Tiny crankbaits and swimming plugs
- Soft plastics like tube jigs, twisters, and paddle-tails
As with bait, remember once more that small offerings are in order. Plugs and soft plastics should be just an inch or two long, and jig heads or darts should be no more than a quarter of an ounce with half that size usually being plenty.
Techniques for White Perch Fishing
Since white perch are so widely distributed and so willing to bite, a huge range of tactics can be used to catch them. Shoreline anglers often cast out bait on either a bottom rig or suspended under a bobber. Fan-casting lures from shore, piers, and docks can also be very effective. Boat anglers on the hunt for white perch in the open Bay will usually either drift fish or anchor over an oyster bar, then drop baits down to the bottom. And in creeks and tributaries, casting and retrieving lures to likely-looking spots along the shoreline is a favored tactic.
Finding White Perch Hotspots
In the early spring when the perch are spawning, going to upriver spawning grounds is key (see Early Spring White Perch for more details). The rest of the year, however, white perch can be located in just about any waterway ranging from the Susquehanna Flats to Baltimore Harbor to the Elizabeth River. That said, there are a few key features to look for including:
- Docks and Piers – White perch will often hide around the pilings. Piers that are lighted at night can be doubly good, because they attract tons of life into the area when the sun is down and often the perch will remain nearby even after daybreak.
- Rip-rap or Rocky Shorelines – White perch love to hunt little critters that live in and around rocks. Note that when casting to rocks and rip-rap, it’s usually a good choice to try casting and retrieving lures or use a bobber as opposed to putting baits on bottom because snags will be common.
- Shaded Areas – When the water temperatures rise during the summer months, white perch will commonly congregate in areas that are shaded from direct sunlight. Places where trees, bridges, or boathouses that create large pockets of shade can prove very productive.
- Oyster Bars – Oyster bars are prime areas to find perch both out in the tributaries and also in the open Bay.
White perch are one of the most cooperative species around, so they make an excellent target for beginners and especially for kids who might not have the patience to wait for bigger fish to bite. So, the next chance you get to wet a line consider giving perch fishing a shot.
Editor's Note: Watch the spines! White perch do have one defense mechanism all anglers need to be aware of: they have a set of sharp dorsal spines and gill plates that can poke you. You can grip the fish by cupping your hand around its head then sliding it back towards the tail, collapsing the spines and gill plates (which naturally fold back). Larger perch can also be lipped without any danger as they don’t have any teeth to speak of.