Thursday, June 2, 2016

David Berg's yellow perch official state record - but how long will it last?

The ink is hardly dry on David Berg’s new Ohio yellow perch state record book entry and the Mentor angler is all ready sharpening his fishing hooks in anticipation of defending his crown.

Berg, of Mentor, caught what has become Ohio’s new state record yellow perch. The fish weighed 2.86 pounds and was taken from a bulkhead that helps protect a small private marina and rack storage business in Lake County’s Fairport Harbor, a community with a long and storied history of Lake Erie commercial and sport fishing.

Berg’s perch’s other significant statistics included a length of 15.75 inches and a girth of 13.75 inches, though the actual weight is the only key that opens the door into the Ohio state record fish chamber.

Another point worth noting is that the fish was caught April 18, which will seen in a moment as a significant number in its own right.

Certification came May 25, following some filing protocol snafus that temporarily delayed Berg’s entry into Ohio’s state fish record book. This documentation process is the purview of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio’s State Record Fish Committee, the nation’s only such body that maintains a state record fish ledger.

As for what Berg’s yellow perch replaces is the former record holder: Itself a Lake-Erie caught yellow perch but one that weighed 2.75 pound, measured 14.5 inches and was caught by Charles Thomas on April 17, 1984.

Berg said he went fishing at the HTP Marina with his brother, Fred, of Fairport Harbor. Both men were facing some serious health assessments and work and decided to wet a line or two in order to relax. The marina was selected because that’s where David Berg keeps his 29-foot Amberjack walleye-fishing boat.

“It was in the afternoon so there weren’t many other anglers around,” David Berg said. “A couple of days earlier I was there also and caught a nice 32-inch northern pike. Fred’s caught perch there before, and it’s not unusual to catch other fish, too.”

Those other fish include smallmouth bass, which seem to relish the opportunity to wheel about the security of the marina’s steel bulkheads in search of minnows. And Berg thought it was just such a smallmouth bass that had snatched an emerald shiner from his perch rig dangling from an ultra-light spinning outfit.

“At first I didn’t even think I’d go for the net,” David Berg said, continuing. “In fact, when the fish started to come up I thought it was a smallmouth.”

Only when the fish’s true colors – and its hefty bulk – became truly apparent did the Berg Boys spring into “gotta’ save this fish” mode.

Though David  Berg has taken yellow perch that has pulled the tape to 14 inches before he knew he was breaking new ground. Thus began the several-day odyssey that saw the perch weighed on a scale which did not bear a current certified-approval sticker issued by a county auditor, then the scale being certified but only after the fish had been all ready weighed (not permitted, no exceptions), and a jumping-of-the-gun premature announcement by some outdoors media that a new state record yellow perch was caught.

David Berg was determined, however, to ensure that his perch would become the replacement for Thomas’s 1984-caught state record yellow perch.

“That fish had a lot of miles on it,” Berg said.

Thing is, even with David Berg’s now-officially recognized yellow perch in the record books he’s got his eyes on the prize for 2017. And that brings up the matter of David’s Berg April 18 catch and also the date of Thomas’s now-former state record yellow perch: April 17.

Those dates are certainly no coincidence, says both Fred Snyder, chairman of OWO’s record fish group and a retired Ohio Sea Grant agent, as well as Cary Knight, supervisor of the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Fairport Harbor Fisheries Research Station.

It was Knight who verified David Berg’s yellow perch as being, well, a yellow perch.

“When I walked over to see the perch I jokingly said that it was a peacock bass; it was that big,” Knight said with a chuckle.

What Knight won’t joke about is the timing of the catch.

“Remember: Pennsylvania’s new state record yellow perch came just the week before,” Knight said.

And this conjunction of state record catch dates is important to note. That is because in Lake Erie’s Central Basin “mid-April is primo time” for a hunt to catch a new state record yellow perch. The reason being is that Lake Erie’s female yellow perch have reached their maximum egg-laden pre-spawn weight, Knight says.

“At this time of year a female yellow perch can add a half-pound of weight just in eggs; maybe more,” Knight said. “I can just about guarantee that this is a perfect time to go for a record yellow perch.”

What’s more, says Knight also, such pre-spawn female yellow perch often come close to shore, the fish looking for structure to lay their eggs. Something like steel bulkheads.

Asked if a three-pound yellow perch may some day challenge David Berg’s record book catch, Snyder is not about to dismiss that potential.

“I think there’s a high probability that David’s record will be broken in the not too distant future,” Snyder says. “For one thing there’s much better management of Lake Erie’s yellow perch stocks than ever before with much more cooperation among the states and Canada. All of this is allowing fish to become older and grow larger.”

And that management strategy is taking into account several prior good hatches of yellow perch that extend 10 or more years in the past, Knight also says.

“Yes, I believe that this (current) record could be broken in 2017 or 2018,” Knight says.

Which is perfectly fine by David Berg. His eyes are not only own savoring his current record-holding yellow perch but have cast themselves to next year – and beyond – with the idea of reeling in a new record-setting three-pound behemoth yellow perch. Maybe even from the same bulkhead from whence came his 2.86 pound state record yellow perch.

“Absolutely I want to keep my name in the record books,” David Berg said.

By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who  covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. Jeff is the recipient of more than 125 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.

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