Game Fishing > Sunfish Family, Centrarchidae > Warmouth Perch

Warmouth Perch

Warmouth PerchThe warmouth perch, also known as the black sunfish in the North, was first described by the French naturalists, Cuvier and Valenciennes, in 1829, from specimens from Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. They named it gulosus, "large­mouthed," owing to its big mouth. There is a slight variation between the Northern and Southern forms.

It abounds in all coastwise streams from North Carolina to Florida and Texas, and sparingly in Lake Michigan and the upper Mississippi Valley. In its general shape and appearance it is not unlike the rock-bass, though in the radial formula of its fins and in its large mouth it approaches nearer the black-bass than any other species of the family. It has a large head and deep body, almost as deep as long, and is nearly symmetrical in outline. Its teeth are in brushlike bands on the jaws, with patches on the tongue. The Southern form has one or two less soft rays in the dorsal and anal fins.

It is dark olive on the back, lighter on the sides, with blotches of blue and coppery red, and the belly brassy or yellowish. Iris red, ear-flap black, bordered with pale red, with three dusky red bars radiating from the eye across the cheeks. Fins mottled with a darker color, and a black blotch on the last rays of the soft portion of the dorsal fin.

It is not so gregarious as the rock-bass, but otherwise is similar in its habits, though not so partial to rocky situations, rather loving deep pools and quiet water. It feeds on minnows, tadpoles, frogs, insects, and their larvae.

It spawns in the spring. It is a good pan-fish, and grows to eight or ten inches in length and a weight of nearly a pound. For its size, it is the gamest member of the family except the black­bass, and is more like that fish than the others. It is a favorite game-fish in the South, rising well to the fly, and is a free biter at natural bait.

In angling for the warmouth, the same rods and tackle mentioned under the section of rock­bass are well suited. In the Southern states a light native cane rod, ten or twelve feet long, and a line of the smallest caliber, sea-grass or twisted silk, is the favorite style of tackle, with hooks number 2 to 3 tied on light gut, and a quill float and split-shot sinker. The usual bait is the black cricket, or the catalpa worm or caterpillar.

The white grub found in decayed stumps, and other larvae, crawfish and small minnows, are all useful. Of these the minnow is the best. On streams a small float is necessary to keep the bait from the roots of overhanging trees. In the stillness of Southern streams, under the moss­draped trees, I have idled away many a dreamy hour in the pleasure of fishing for the warmouth, but at the same time fully alive to the weird surroundings.

Occasionally the splashing of a hooked fish on the surface entices an alligator from his lair in expectation of a fishy morsel. The echoes are awakened time and again by the pumping of the bittern, the hoarse, cry of the crane, or the hooting of an owl in the dark recesses of the cypress swamp. The solitudes of those waters are very fascinating to the fisher.

The novelty of the situation appeals very strongly to the angler-naturalist whose experiences have been on the clear, sparkling, tumbling streams of the North. There nature is ever bright and joyous; here she is quiet and sombre and subdued. But the fishes know no north or south or east or west, always the same creatures of interest and beauty, and ever responding to the wiles of the angler.

I was once fishing on St. Francis River, in Arkansas, where the warmouths were both large and gamy. One day I went through the woods and cane-brakes to the banks of Mud Lake, situated in the midst of a cypress swamp.

The lake was much smaller than it had been formerly, as was apparent from the wide margins of the shores, which were of considerable extent between the timber and the water. On this margin was a group of four cypress trees that in size exceeded any that I had ever seen, and I think worthy of mention. They were from twenty to twenty-five feet in diameter, or sixty- to sixty­five feet in circumference, three feet above the ground. They were buttressed like the wall of a mediaeval stronghold. In comparing notes with many naturalists and travellers, they have declared the size of those cypress trees to be both unique and wonderful.