Fishing as it was meant

  • Wayne Kruse / Outdoor Writer
  • Saturday, October 14, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Take sportfishing.

Then subtract any competitive element. Subtract the hassle and upkeep of a large boat, full of electronics. Take away the expense of travel to, say, Alaska. Forget about guide fees, lousy weather, and the necessity to make decisions on the proper trolling path, the proper color and size of lure, the tide change or the dam counts. Ignore politics, ignore Indian nets, forget about hiring an attorney to decipher the state fishing regulations pamphlet. Forget about Eddie Bauer, the tourney trail, Chrysler SUVs and $400 boron rods.

What you have left is recreational fishing as it was meant to be. Fishing from a simpler, perhaps better, time. A small boat, a pole, a nightcrawler, and panfish. Laid back, relaxing, inexpensive, totally enjoyable.

“Can you beat this?” asked John Reese, rhetorically. “A couple of old guys like us, sitting out here in a two-bit boat, catching fish and grinning like kids in a candy store?”

And I had to admit he had a point. We were drifting in Lake Washington, soaking worms and pulling perch, on one of those golden, satin-soft autumn days when the water looks like molten silver and it’s good to feel the sun on your back and to watch the swallows wheel and dive.

Yellow perch. Panfish. Kids’ fish. Pogo Possum watching his bobber on the bayou.

Bourgeois? Senile? Disgustingly low-class? Perhaps, but it was a memorable day in a beautiful setting, with good conversation, and I took home the makings of a deep-fried feast. I’m not sure you can do a whole lot better than that.

Reese is a Renton resident, a trained biologist, and past-president of the Western Washington Walleye Club. He gave up the problems and frustrations of salmon and steelhead a while back and now enjoys the warm-water species, including trips to various parts of the Columbia Basin for walleye, and of course perch fishing on Lake Washington.

He’s been working the big lake for about 10 years and, although he probably wouldn’t admit it, has become something of an expert. He gives seminars on where to find perch and how to catch them, prior to the club’s very popular autumn “perch pull” and fish fry at Magnuson Park – a family-oriented, sort of picnic outing, where more experienced club members take out those wishing to try their hand.

Here’s what I learned from John Reese:

The fish: Yellow perch are a highly sought panfish in this area, particularly those large enough to fillet, mainly because of their excellent table quality. Some rank perch higher on the gourmet scale than even walleye, a larger member of the same family.

Lake Washington has the reputation for producing not only good numbers of perch, but fish of excellent average size as well. Reese says, however, that the population of 12-inch perch he was catching 10 years ago has dwindled, to the point that a foot-long fish is not exactly a rarity, but not the usual catch, either. A good fish these days will go 10 inches or so, on the average.

Reese has started returning the large spawners, 11- or 12-inch fish and larger, to the water and encourages others to do the same.

Tackle: Light or ultralight spinning gear is the way to go. Reese makes up simple two-hook dropper rigs with a half-ounce ball or teardrop sinker on the bottom, a size 6 worm hook on maybe three inches of stiffer dropper, 12 inches above the weight, and a second dropper roughly 16 inches above that. A foot above the top dropper he ties a loop which is hooked through a snap swivel on the end of his main line.

Lures/baits: Pieces of nightcrawler are standard. After he has a fish in the boat, Reese likes to cut small, triangular pieces of perch belly, perhaps an inch and a half long which, he says, imitate the stickleback minnows that are a common perch forage fish. He’ll put a piece of worm on one hook, and a piece of perch belly on the other.

“Some fishermen like to use a very small curly-tail jig, in white or white/yellow, tipped with a piece of worm,” Reese says, “but I prefer to keep it simple.”

Technique: Reese runs to the spot he wants, then drifts until he hits fish. Some anglers then anchor, he says, but he prefers to toss out one of those small, H-shaped, self feeding anchor buoys to mark the school, then drift around it. Simply drop your rig to bottom and reel in the slack or, if weed growth allows, “fan” cast around the boat, working the bait back slowly along the bottom.

“A lot of times,” Reese says, “you’ll find some nice, larger fish, lying right under a suspended school of 4- or 5-inch perch.”

Launch: To access the spots in the accompanying map, we launched at the Magnuson Park ramp in north Seattle, at the old Sand Point Naval Air Station. A number of perch anglers fish the north end of Lake Washington, launching at the Fish and Wildlife Department access site on the lower end of the Sammamish River, at Kenmore.

When: Reese says perch are in the weed beds in early to mid-August, and he fishes the edges of the beds in 15 feet of water or so. A sounder is handy, but not necessarily crucial, in finding the right depth and also weed growth on the bottom. In September, he starts going deeper, starting in the weeds, but going farther out on the flats and down to 30 feet or slightly more. The peak of the fishery, he says, is about mid-October, when there’s a lot of elbow room because “everybody’s hunting.” The perch might be as deep as 60 feet then, schooled, feeding on minnows and crawfish. “You can catch ‘em through November,” Reese says, “down to 60 or 70 feet, if you want to put up with the weather. Where they go after that, I don’t know.”

Where: We started on the flat in front of the Magnuson Park launch, in 20 or 25 feet of water. Reese says if you haven’t hit fish in 10 minutes, move along, so we kicked across the lake to the center of Juanita Bay, a well-known perch spot, in 40 feet of water. We took a couple of fish there, but not enough to satisfy Reese. “A good day,” he says, “means 100 perch. You don’t have to keep ‘em all, of course, but you should keep hunting until you find that kind of action.”

In a new and unfamiliar area, Reese says, the rule of thumb is to start shallow and gradually work out to deeper water.

We moved south from Juanita Bay to the Hunt’s Point area, and worked the outer flats off Yarrow and Cozy bays, and the weeds in Fairweather Bay. We hit a few fish in each spot, but not a bunch. After trying one of Reese’s favorite spots, the edge of the shelf along the north end and northwest corner of Hunt’s Point, we ran back across to the Laurelhurst area, north of the University of Washington.

We finally hit our honey hole in the middle of Wolf Bay, about halfway between Webster Point and Magnuson Park, in only 18 feet of water.

Preparation: Reese bleeds each fish he keeps, before putting it on ice in his cooler for later filleting. He deep-fries some of his fish, in beer batter; or fries them in olive oil with only a dusting of lemon pepper, seasoning salt, and garlic powder; or makes “poor man’s lobster.” For the latter, he rolls a fillet, pins it with a toothpick, drops in boiling water until just done – just opaque – and then dips in butter/lemon juice mix.

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