If I get down on my stomach beside the boat, stick my head between to dock and hull where it’s shaded, I can often see fish. And not just a couple of them, either, but often an entire school. In winter, perch frantically spawn for a while, then casually return to their normal milling about looking for food, and females await the birth of a new gang, usually accomplished by mid-summer. Pile perch are common in these places because they have that the fish need, small crabs, mussels, worms, snails and security. Generations of these guys live and die here, often never traveling beyond the marina’s entrance channel, and why would they? Life is good here, for both us and fish.
There are many varieties of perch in both fresh and salt water. Pile perch can grow to over 17” and weigh in at over 4 pounds, but most never get past 10 to 14” in length with diving birds taking care of many of them. They’re easily recognizable by a small black spot back of the mouth, a long first dorsal fin bone and very deep v-shaped tail. Juveniles sport a dark vertical bar that fades with age – as both my little fish show in the painting. Many people fish for pile perch, using bait similar to what these fish normally eat, but they’re picky eaters and will only reluctantly take your offering. As for myself, I prefer to pursue nature to learn about it, not pursue it for a mediocre meal. For me, the memory of watching fish beneath a boat lasts far longer than catching, cleaning and eating it.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.