Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: White perch thriving in Great Bay
By DICK PINNEY | March 05. 2017 1:19AM
Gramp Bradstreet was quite a guy, making a small living being a Crayola crayon salesman and having most of his summers to spend with Gram at her camp, as most of his clients were schools that were out for summer recess. He was great with kids.
Two advantages is that us three Pinney kids, my 5-year older brother Frank and my two-year older sister Jane and I, had plenty of crayons and were the envy of most of the neighborhood kids! The other advantage was that Gramp Bradstreet was an itinerant tinkerer and loved boats and outboard motors, which were kind of scarce in those days as World War II had sucked up a lot of those motors to melt down for our armed-forces' needs.
But Gramp had squirreled enough motors and parts together that it seemed he most generally had one that worked - kinda worked! From him we learned quite a vocabulary unique to most kids, words that we can't print here. For that was how he cured most of the ills with his cranky outboards by cussing them into working - or sort of.
My brother Frank, with an IQ that went into the atmosphere, had found other ways of passing his time, and eventually became a scientist and had many inventions to his credit. Even at my young age, probably in the 4- or 5-year-old range, I had an almost unquenchable urge to fish, gather or dig shellfish and, if someone would have let me, hunt. Gramp was my ticket to these great adventures. Flounder, cunners, clams and oysters were our target and we always came off the bay with enough to make a meal out of, which also was quite a deal for me.
We can't remember if any lobsters were included in our gathering but we do know a few crabs made it back to Gram's kitchen. As time went on, Gramp passed into the place where his ilk usually go - must be paradise of a combination junk yard and fishing waters. We finally got our own boat after hitching on with a few older friends.
With the considerable background of time on Great Bay, we quickly found lots of secret places to catch, gather or dig various treasures. Besides the flounder, we found stripers, blackfish (tautog), occasional mackerel and other fish we didn't even know the name of.
Later on in life, one of my greatest white perch, came from being at the right place at the right time.
We were taking a morning jaunt along the shoreline of Great Bay, just enjoying the day when we noticed a small boat tied up among some old bridge or dock pilings, and an old-timer was hauling in fish on a handline as fast as he could get it in the water and pull it back up. He was catching sea-run white perch! And he was shocked that I had sneaked up and discovered that fact. He pleaded with me to keep this whole thing confidential and not to tell other people, or fish openly for them. And for many years, we kept our promise.
We never saw the old-timer again, but if he's watching or reading this from above, thank you! We fished this tiny (at that time) resource each spring and had some great fish fillet meals. Most always I'd take Jane or my son Ted and then we let our longtime friend Brad Conner in on the deal, knowing that he was the most closed-mouth person around.
At that time, the white perch resource in Great Bay was very limited and often we'd catch all of them that were feeding at our spot. A dozen fish would have been a great catch as some of them were up into the two-pound range.
Fifty years can provide some huge changes! Now tidal white perch are swarming into our Great Bay and estuaries in numbers never envisioned. And a very dedicated group of mostly subsistence anglers are catching them in such numbers that new regulations to curtail overfishing have been put in place.
We have a theory for the explosion of the perch population. Mother Nature usually has a way of filling a void, and in this case it looks to me that because of the lack of coastal smelt, the white perch have taken their place. Most people don't realize that smelt are tremendous predators. And with the smelt's terrible disappearance from Great Bay, it looks to the Old Dickster that the tidal white perch have been the benefactors.
And maybe this is the reason that another tidal fish, black sea bass, are making quite a recovery in our coastal waters.
Again this year, it looks like an almost complete loss of what once was a tremendous ice fishing opportunity for smelt on Great Bay. It seemed to happen almost overnight!
Well that's my story and we're stickin' to it. Get out there and get you some.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.