White perch, or Waccamaw as we southerners call them, are a food and game fish that live in most lakes and rivers in the eastern U.S. Their size range from the length of your finger to a foot-and-a-half, and can weigh up to five pounds (although I’ve never caught one that big). Their diet includes eggs from other species and small minnows. But I’ve caught them on cut shad and regular fishing worms. They also will bite any small artificial fishing lure, such as a rooster-tail or a shiny Cleo.
Some states consider the white perch to be a nuisance because they destroy other types of fisheries. Why, they won’t even let you take them to another lake to use as catfish bait, but luckily it’s not that way in our state.
I personally consider a nice mess of Waccamaw as good a fresh water fish as I have ever eaten. The reason being is that by moving all the time, this fish takes in a lot of oxygen and thus the meat tastes better.
Most of the time you can tell by looking at the cuts on a fisherman’s hands if’en he has caught many Waccamaw. It seems when you get ready to take them off a hook, their sharp gills really open up and cut your hands if’en you aren’t careful. Why, I ‘bout as soon have a Waccamaw’s head in my hands than a sharp knife in a fight.
In years past, schools of Waccamaw feeding on top of the water would stretch for a hundred yards or more across the river. Hundreds of Waccamaw would run schools of minnows to the top of the water and the feeding would begin. You could hear them feeding plum across the river. This was the prime time to catch you a nice mess because the fish seemed to be in a feeding frenzy and would just about bite anything thrown to them. Why, you could cast four or five lures on the same line and expect to catch as many fish on one cast. But also feeding with the waccamaw were largemouth bass and even larger stripers. I don’t know the times I’ve had my line broke or my small fishing reels torn up by these larger fish.
Why, sometimes these schools of fish would stay on top for hours or maybe just minutes. That’s why a fast outboard and a good pair of binoculars came in handy. Also you needed several rod and reels all ready to use, in case you got your line broke.
When the fish stop feeding on top, you can also jig for them with minnows or cut-bait off the bottom — but hold to your rod tightly, because when they hit, they hit hard.
Why, I remember one time a friend of mine and I were fishing for Waccamaw at Lake Tillery, just below the big bridge, when a large school of Waccamaw came up in front of our boat. I threw a fishing rig that had five jigs on the end right into the middle of that large school of fish. I could feel a heavy pull as each fish took a hold of them five jigs. Man, you talking about a fight: all five fish were pulling in a different direction, but luckily I managed to pull all five into the boat. This was a lot of fun but not an easy thing to do.
As I pulled all five fish into the boat, I began shaking them off as fast as I could hoping to get in another cast as soon as possible. But you know what happens when you get greedy and in a hurry. That’s right, one of them sharp fish hooks went into my thumb — barb and all. Now if’en you ever buried a hook in your hand, you know how I was feeling and the barb won’t coming out the same way it went in.
Not wanting to go to a doctor to have the hook removed, I asked my friend, “If’en I’d push this here hook through my thumb, can you snip it off with a pair of cutting pliers?” To my surprise he said, “No, the sight of blood makes me sick.” What kind of friend was this? I was the one with a hook buried in my thumb.
What could I do? I wanted to get back to fishing, but the pain in my thumb won’t letting up.
Finally, I got my so-called friend to motor our boat up beside another boat that was fishing the same school of fish. I asked one of the guys in the other boat could he cut the hook off when I pushed it through the other side of my thumb. Well he said, “If’en you can take it, I’ll surely cut it off when it comes through.”
I didn’t have a bullet handy, like John Wayne, to put in my mouth while enduring the pain. But I had the next best thing, and that was an old rag I was using to wipe the fish smell off my hands. Yes sir-ree, desperate times demand desperate measures. As you can imagine, the rag tasted terrible but that was just enough to dull the pain of pushing the hook through my thumb.
Won’t never so glad to hear the snap of them pliers as I reached with my other hand and pulled what was left of the hook out. Then as fast as lightening, I socked my bloody thumb down into our ice chest.
About fifteen minutes later, I felt no pain and the bleeding had stopped. I went right back to catching them waccamaw and my thumb never did bother me, but you can believe one thing: this ol’ boy never again fished with five hooks!
J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson Co. Writer’s Club, Anson and Richmond Co. Historical Societies and Story Spinners in Laurinburg.