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Lake perch fillets are jumping into the frying pans

Perch prospects prevail.

Along with a walleye revival, Lake Erie's yellow perch numbers have risen in recent years. During the 2003 breeding season, not only walleye but also perch eggs entered fry and fingerling stages in record numbers in all areas of relatively shallow Lake Erie waters.

The Latin name Perca flavescens means "becoming yellow," a reference to the bright colors between dark vertical bands that resemble rings.

Bright body coloration makes them a welcome sight when caught. Tasty fillets make them terrific table fare after each fishing trip.

Western New York anglers suffered through a decade-long perch-catching drought until the start of this new century. Ohio and Pennsylvania anglers could hit into fair schools most summer seasons, but only diehards anchored off Sturgeon Point, Cattaraugus Creek, Dunkirk Harbor and Barcelona Harbor more than two or three times before switching to bass or walleye gear.

Not this year.

Gasper DeFelice of LeRoy took his family to Sandusky in mid-July for an extended weekend outing. "We couldn't keep them from hitting; we had a limit in no time," he said after returning from Port Clinton with many packages of frozen fillets.

Pennsylvania anglers see similar scenes most mornings, according to Tim Truitt, proprietor at Northeast Marina a mile or so west of the New York State line.

"Boaters here have headed out to 55-57 feet off the marina or slightly west to get in on the perch action," Truitt said.

Keystone State anglers have a 20-fish limit on daily perch catches. "Many of the ones who headed out at sunrise this summer were back with a limit by as early as 9:30 some mornings," he said. When the fish are biting, worms work as well as minnows in these waters.

New York State anglers have a 50-fish limit, which has been reached more often in recent years. Sturgeon Point and Cattaraugus Creek vie for the most perch boat traffic each year. The Catt has been scratching its way into the lead for boater presence so far this season.

The biggest "sleeper" in New York State waters has to be those 50-foot drop-offs west of Barcelona that stretch some eight miles to the Pennsylvania state line.

While most perch fishers anchor around Brocton Shoals waters -- close to the Barcelona launch site -- and catch respectable numbers of ringbacks, that westward reach beckons.

Fall could see a revival of perch numbers off Sturgeon Point, normally a center for perch, bass and walleye successes. Staged drop-offs west of the point off Evans-Angola Bar hold forage for perch and draw many boat anchors that fix anglers over these schools.

Few knew more about these perch movements than the late Joseph "Lackawanna Joe" Fronczek. Joe fought cancer until his death in May. At 74, he logged more solo trips for perch and walleye than any active angler out of Sturgeon Point, said his close friend, Keith "Bedbug" Dickerson of West Seneca.

Whenever a circle of anchored boats appeared off the point, more often than not Joe's blue 16-foot Lund boat would be bobbing at the center of the flotilla. When he moved, the other boaters scattered -- or followed Joe -- shortly after. He upgraded gear with the times, monitoring a VHF, GPS and sonar system with the best of tech-headed anglers.

When lake waves were too high for walleye and perch fishing, he would sit near a ship anchor next to the launch ramp and look out over the lake for hours. Dickerson and other friends gathered funds for a plaque, which has been placed in a rock next to this anchor.

Joe, a loner and a leader, would know where to go. His friends and family miss him.

His daughter, Judy Ambrose, plans a dedication of the memorial at 12:30 p.m. next Sunday. If he were perch fishing this summer, he might have headed to Cattaraugus Creek -- or maybe he would have found them closer to Sturgeon.

e-mail: wille@pce.net

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