This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
The Perch of those days-we will drop distinctive names now-seldom grew above six inches in length in the Hudson, about Albany, and was like burnished silver, a brilliancy that it loses in brackish water, where it breeds and grows to its limit. Then we did not know that learned men would dispute about its name, whether it should be Morone or Roccus Americaniis; and it is possible that our interest would not have been thoroughly aroused to the important fact if we had. We would probably have asked John Atwood about it. John was at least a dozen years old, and if any person knew more about fish than John, we did not know who he was. He could make a bob for Eels, snare Suckers, and could tell whether a nibble was made by a Sun-fish or a Perch; and as for names of fish, bless you! he knew them all.
In later years the books tell me that this Perch is found in brackish waters along the Atlantic Coast of North America, from Cape Cod to Florida, and I have learned that its common name is shared with a worthless fish which dwells in the Great Lakes, and with some other fishes either inland or on the Pacific Coast; but my song is not of them.
The White Perch had passed away into the realm of boyhood recollections by reason of years of wandering inland, where it is unknown, and the fly-rod had displaced the hand-line which John Atwood had taught was the highest form of sportsmanship, when suddenly this Perch appeared as a fish that readily took the fly, and was therefore elevated from the realm of boyish fun to "legitimate sport." And this is the way it happened: An invitation to fish for Black Bass, in a private pond on Long Island, had been accepted, and several flies were cast, one evening toward the close of July, without reward. Flies were changed and position was shifted several times, until the combination was a clear spot in some weeds and a red ibis and gray drake on the leader. Then arise; my boatman irreverently said: "arise my soul, arise!" The reel sang as the morning stars never did, and a silver-sided fish leaped into the air. It was not a Bass, but something strange; the spring of the rod soon checked the stranger, ' and the reel began to draw us into closer relationship. As we were approaching each other a second fish seized the other fly, and then the real contest began. My ordinary practice is to fish with one fly if the fish will take it, and to put on a second one only when they seem indifferent to what is offered. Two fish on a single gut do not represent two souls with but a single thought, although they may have two mouths which jerk as one, and they often part company when their desires to separate are synchronal; hence the experienced angler seldom cares to risk his leader in a contest with a double, and, if it is repeated, will remove one fly and content himself with one at a time. A school had been struck-for this perch is gregarious, and is usually present in numbers or is entirely absent; and soon a fine fish was struck that leaped into the air three times before it was brought to hand-a habit not mentioned, to my knowledge, by angling authors, none of whom mention fly-fishing for it.
Norris says: "Frank Forester, in his book on angling, dismisses it (the Perch), after a slight notice, as 'not sufficiently important to merit more particular notice.1 The latter gentleman missed much, by not becoming acquainted with our little friend Pallidus." But even Norris, the Nestor of American anglers in his day, only mentions our fish as inhabiting the estuaries and fresh waters that run into the sea, and does not speak of its capture with the fly. Scott, who was not much of a fly-fisher,if at all, says: "This fish is peculiarly adapted for the sport of juveniles," and after recommending its capture with light Bass tackle, further says: "A White Perch which weighs but a pound affords sport with light tackle, and, when weighing three pounds, it plays very vigorously." No doubt! I never took one that would weigh two pounds, and have had good sport with them. Do you ask about tackle? A Trout rig, I use that for everything, a ten and one-half foot split-bamboo rod of ten ozs., a waterproof silk line (heavy "D," I think,) and an eight-foot gut leader, with either a red ibis, gray drake, Parmacheene-belle, royal coachman or other bright fly, dressed on a No. 5 or 6 Sproat hook. My rod is heavy enough to cast a small frog, if I condescended to use bait, or to handle a larger Black Bass than ever struck it; and with that rig I would like to strike a ten-pound Salmon. True, it might be a bad day for the "rig," but if the fly had done its full duty and neither man nor age had impaired the strength of the leader, it would delight me to see a ten-pound fish, of any species, smash the rod or break the line. This rod has stood the severest strain that a rod can get, and that is in tournament casting, and the necessary preliminary practice; and it has won prizes, in other hands. But all this is a digression, provoked by an inviting foot-path across the untrodden fields of fly-fishing for White Perch, and just how to get back into the forsaken highway is a problem. My evil genius suggests that I give a technical description of the White Perch; beginning with its systematic name, or names, and after giving all the synonyms, and a map of its fin-rays, to enumerate its scales in both lateral and vertical rows, ending with its dental and digestive apparatus, which all readers will acknowledge to be the product of a learned man but will not read. A better adviser, me judicc, says that if it is certain that the reader will skip all that, then I had better do so. I ask my good angel what to substitute, and intimate that 1 have already said all that is necessary on the subject of fishing with the fly for White Perch; but my mentor says that so far the fishing has been in mill-ponds, where they are rarely found, and has not touched upon the taking of them in the brackish waters where they most abound; and suggests that something be said of that. Now there is nothing more to be said on the subject; you can take the fish wherever you find it, with either fly or bait, and it is no part of my purpose to tell about taking them with worms, pieces of fish, crickets, or other gross lures which appeal to their baser appetites. With Dr. Bethune, "I have long since washed my hands of the dirty things," and will only say, do not put a water-proof silk line into saltwater, because it will soften and ruin it; use linen or other material.
If after reading "this bald unjointed chat" there is a desire for a serious consideration of the merits of the fish, take down Goode's "American Fishes," and read his last paragraph, p. 38; it gives the White Perch a high grade, and recommends it to "the easy-going British Angler of the Waltonian type, to whom the pleasure of the rural scenery and quiet outing is of more moment than the strength and voracity of the fishes," etc. Goode and Norris are the only writers that I recall who have given this game fish a fairly decent notice. But this yarn has been spun too long and I am reminded of Edgar's remark (King Lear, Act ii., Sc. 4): "Frateretto calls me, and tells me, Nero is an angler in the lake of darkness." And thereby hangs a tale! "To this complexion may we come at last." How many of us can plead not guilty to Caesar's charge against Antony:
"He fishes, drinks, and wastes the lamps of night in revel ?"
If there is any moral to be drawn from what has been written I would much like to know it, for I assure you that none was intended; believing, with the servant in Romeo and Juliet (Act i., Sc. 2), "that the shoemaker should meddle with his yard, and the tailor with his last, the fisher with his pencil, and the painter with his nets," I will put the banjo in its case and no longer mar the harmony of the night, lest some one say with Hotspur:
"i had rather hear a brazen can'stick turned, Or a dry wheel grate on the axle-tree."
The ditty has been hoarsely sung, the curtain rung down; the lights are out-Good Night!
By Fred Mather.