Springtime means dogwoods and white perch

Published 5:14 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2022

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Locals and even those from outside our little corner of the world proclaim the Chowan River as the most beautiful waterway in North Carolina with its slow rolling waters, majestic cypress trees, lily pads, and incredible history as it leisurely makes it way to the Albemarle Sound.

Not only is it one of the most beautiful waterways, it’s one of our states most historical rivers. It was once home to many Native Americans with several different tribes calling the Chowan as their home.

The mighty river was once traveled by Blackbeard the pirate. It was also home of its very own Tea Party in Edenton.

One of its tributaries, Salmon Creek, was most likely where some of the inhabitants of the Lost Colony were relocated.

Back in 40’s, 50’s and 60’s the illustrious river was home to the world’s largest herring factory at Colerain.

he father of our county, George Washington, once surveyed here and the river was the scene of several battles during the War Between the States.

Back in the 1980’s a local angler reportedly caught eight bass weighing a combined 65 pounds…. that’s over 8 pounds a fish. Six, seven and eight pounders were common back in those days.

The Chowan is also popular for anglers to enjoy reeling in white perch. That brings me to reprint an article I found in my archives…one authored by Will Cooke and printed in 2013 in a special tabloid we published called “Gone Fishing.” Will’s story was entitled Springtime on the Chowan and it is as follows:

Every year when the dogwoods start to blossom and the surface water temperature rises above 60 degrees, the Chowan River is full of white perch. This is truly a magical time on the water. All of a sudden, the local boat landings go from huge empty rock parking lots to overflowing with trucks and boat trailers.

When you cross the Winton Bridge, you wonder if you could walk across the river on all the boats in the river that are fishing for white perch. At this time, the first white perch start to bite and you know it’s Spring on the Chowan. Just about every person in our area has a white perch story, and most of these stories are from their own childhood and involve a boatload of fish.

I can remember going with my granddaddy and filling the bottom of the boat until we couldn’t plain off and we would slowly make our way back to Tunis landing. He believed every fish that bit his hook deserved to go home with him and they usually did. We would then spend the rest of the day stopping at friends’ and relatives’ houses to share what we had caught. Much like chicken, everyone likes white perch.

When the big schools of white perch first make their way up the tributaries in their yearly effort to spawn, catching them is truly easy and fun, making them an excellent choice for first time anglers and kids. As they first get here, you can catch them in the channels on bottom rigs, Sabiki rigs, Carolina rigs, and jigs baited with worms, shrimp, or squid.

Actually, when they are in big schools like this, you can catch them on mostly anything. On one of those trips with my granddaddy when I was young, I even remember running out of bait and catching them on bright shiny hooks. When we ran out of shiny hooks, Ms. Mildred, a family friend, tied the gold foil ribbon off of a pack of Marlboro cigarettes on a hook and caught them. This ease of catching makes white perch fishing a fun day with the kids and family.

Most times, in our group we make it more fun by seeing who can catch the most at one time. I remember showing someone that you could hook two bottom rigs in series so that you could catch four at a time.

The introduction of the Sabiki rig in our area has taking this contest to new heights with five and six-hook versions. I personally have not landed five on it yet. Four is my best, but I am still trying.

As the water temperature moves up, so do the white perch, until finally, they are on shoreline for the actual spawn. Here, most people switch to beetle spins tipped with either shrimp or worms, but they can be caught under a cork with worms, shrimp, or minnows just as easily. Some anglers looking for even more of a challenge catch them on fly rod or ultra-light tackle.

When they are at this stage, I have spent many afternoons throwing a gold bladed beetle spin at cypress knees waiting for the familiar rat-a-tat-tat white perch bite and subsequent loading of the line as I pick the rod tip up to set the hook on my favorite light spinning rod. This is by far my favorite way to catch them.

They will remain in the shallows eating herring roe and spawning until it’s time for them to make their long trip back to saltier waters. As they leave, anglers get a final shot at catching them again on bottom tackle.

So as we find ourselves once again in the Spring, I hope you all find the time to go to the Chowan with your friends and family and make your own white perch stories. If you want to avoid the mosquitoes that are hatching this time of year, you can go in the mornings when it is a little cooler and the fog is still on the water. As the fog lifts, the warm spring sun starts the white perch biting and also convinces the tom turkeys on shore to start gobbling. As it grows warmer and brighter in the morning you will hear and see the local Ospreys starting their day. You cannot ask for a better time on the water. So buy some bait and head for the Chowan. Also, remember if at all possible; take a child, for they will remember it long after you are gone.

I believe I’ll take Will’s advice and knock the cobwebs off my rod-and-reel and head to the river!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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