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Joyce Endee

Catch-M-All It's the little things in life…like the Yellow Perch Fish #2

March 31, 2011
It was a crisp mid-February Sunday morning and we were on the hunt for white perch (Morone americana) through the ice of Leavitt Bay, an appendage of Lake Ossipee. White perch is a freshwater relative of the much larger striped bass found in the ocean and this bay was supposed to have a healthy population of the silvery fish.

As we pulled our sleds toward the bay, we were happy we packed light. Clay actually packed too light because he left his snowshoes at home. So as Dave skited across the four-foot snow banks like a web-footed ballerina, Clay slogged along with the grace of a dying moose.

The walking improved considerably on the ice and we were soon drilling a line of holes parallel to shore in about 20 feet of water. The LCD screen of our fish finder did not show fish, but we dropped large glowing jigs down anyway, tipped with lively smelt in hopes of attracting some patrolling white perch.

In a short while our sonar showed that we had a visitor. A fish was clearly swimming around our smelt, but was not fooled. We quickly lowered a smaller jig tipped with a wax worm. As soon as it reached bottom, a telltale jerk signaled success. With hoots and hollers the fish was reeled from the depths. However instead of a fat white perch, a six-inch long yellow perch appeared in the hole. He was not our target fish, but we were very happy with the small surprise.

Yellow perch (Perca flavescens) are remarkably pretty fish. They have an overall yellow-green hue that is disrupted by dramatic dark vertical bands. The pectoral fins on the bottom are bright red. These native fish can grow to over a foot long (state record is a 15 ½ inch brute from Hooksett), but most waters are filled with schools of much smaller fish. To fend of predators yellow perch are well armed with many sharp parts, including needle-like fin spines and wicked sharp gill covers.

Now our fish is probably the unluckiest little yellow perch in the state, because any other fishermen would have tossed him back. But according to our quest rules, we have to eat the first legal specimen of each species that we catch. Since there is no minimum size limit for perch, this little guy was lunch. We carefully unhooked the fish and placed him in the sled where he quickly expired. We tried for a few more hours to add to our catch, but failed. This young perch would be the only one invited to lunch.

We gutted, scaled, breaded and fried the fish in a camp stove skillet on shore. This is a basic technique that does justice to any pan fish. But we wanted to honor the little fish's sacrifice for the quest, so we invented a more elaborate gourmet dish: the Effingham sandwich.

An Effingham sandwich requires a bulkie roll, two slices of ham, a little barbecue sauce bought at a friendly convenience store and a ridiculously small fish caught in Effingham. The delicate fish flesh should be flaked off the perch with a fork, leaving the bones behind. It is then heaped on top of the ham in the roll and dashed with sauce. The taste of the fried yellow perch was quite good and it added a nice moisture and flavor to sandwich. We added a side of potato chips and washed it down with Sutter Home chardonnay.

As we finished off the wine and watched clouds dance around Mt. Chocorua's summit, we felt quite at home on this snow-covered shore. We thanked the bay for such a warm welcome and the little perch that was now part of us and the muse for a legendary sandwich.

Until the next one…Dave and Clay are two local fishermen that have embarked on a yearlong quest to catch and eat every species of freshwater fish in N.H. Follow the Quest at www.cach-m-all.com or look for the next article to appear in the Mountain Ear.

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