"WHITES"--THE OTHER ONEIDA LAKE PERCH
by John Forney et al.

White perch are extremely common in Oneida Lake. They school in large numbers, bite aggressively, fight like holy terrors, are subject to no size or creel limits, and taste great. Not a bad resume--especially for a fish which, surprisingly, many anglers disdain.

White perch are the lake's only panfish that can live in fresh or salt water. They first appeared in Central New York in the late 1940's, invading through the Barge Canal system.

Oneida Lake's white perch population has fluctuated widely over the past fifty years. The fish's initial population boom in the 1950's was followed by a decline in the 60's. Several successful hatches in the late 1970's and early 1980's propelled numbers to a record by 1985. Just as it appeared that white perch might surpass yellow perch in abundance, their population collapsed. Dead white perch littered the lake's surface in the springs of 1987 and 1988, but the exact cause of their mortality was never determined. One theory held that unusually hot Spring temperatures triggered stress in the fish during spawning. Another said that a pathogen infected and killed the perch.

In subsequent years, white perch numbers gradually increased. Successful hatches occurred in 1995, 1997, and 1998. The population is now poised to reach a new peak and it is again approaching the lake's yellow perch total.

Whites feed mostly on zooplankton, midge larvae, and fresh water shrimp, and compete with yellow perch for these items. Abundance of whites in the past have not, however, had a measurable effect on yellow perch growth.

White perch spawn from late May through August, mostly on the lake's shoals. Some spawning occurs in the lower realms of Chittenango, Fish, and Oneida Creeks. A single female may emit from 30,000 to 300,000 eggs, depending on her size. These eggs hatch in 3-5 days. Larvae grow rapidly and young perch reach a length of 2.5 to 4 inches by fall.

How do you catch white perch? The fish love garden worms, bits of nightcrawlers, and small twister jigs (white and yellow are effective colors). Light and medium action rods work best and lend a sporting touch to white perch angling. Four- and six-pound test lines, tipped with #6 hooks and split shots, are fine. Once you locate a school, be ready for some incredibly fast action.

Where can you find Oneida Lake’s whites? After ice-out, Oneida Creek’s mouth and the Barge Canal at Sylvan Beach are proven hot spots. Cornell biologists have netted many whites on the lake's shoals in July and August and recommend that anglers try virtually any shoal that has about 8- to 15-foot depths. The biologists have been particularly successful netting the Dakin Shoals area. Yellow perch anglers often find huge schools of whites feeding off Sylvan and  Verona Beaches in August and early September.

White perch fillets are delicious, but require finesseful preparation. When skinning the fillet, keep your knife blade angled slightly above the skin. It should never touch the skin. This technique removes most of the fish's darker, less tasty flesh. Also, you’ll find a strip of fat along the filet's upper (dorsal) side. Remove it--it tears off easily. Cook the fillets as you would walleyes or yellow perch and be prepared for a gourmet delight.