No sooner do I drop my terminal-weighted, two-hook rig to the bottom and reel in slack line when I get bit. “That’s a good sign,” I tell Ken. “I got skunked when I tried for yellow perch here last year.” It goes without saying that some facts are better kept close to the vest until after you talk your buddy into a day of uncertain fishing.

Winter always seems to bring on a case of the doldrums. This year was no different. My favorite steelhead streams remained high and unfishable and frigid temperatures kept my boat in storage. Most days, the fog didn’t lift until early afternoon. Short of driving three hours north on icy roads, my only option for fishing was Cargill Pond.

 Earlier that morning, Nancy had remarked, “Why don’t you turn on your mood lamp?” She hoped that me sitting in front of the 10,000-lux therapy lamp she gifted me for Christmas would activate my pineal gland and raise my spirit.

“It’s vitamin D from sunshine that I crave—not artificial bright light,” I replied, as I donned insulated bibs and headed off to retrieve my boat from the storage yard. Air temperature had reached 40 degrees and skies were clearing.

I drained several gallons of water from the hibernating boat hull and peeled off the protective cover. The outboard motor turned over at first click and there was no sign of overwintering racoons. However, a varnish of mold covered the steering wheel, pink roe stain mottled the gunnels, and blood on the floorboard marked the last fall-run Chinook salmon that I bonked. Seems I did not scrub the deck with Lemon Fresh Joy after my last trip on the Hanford Reach in early November.

Following a general cleaning of the boat, I gave a fellow retiree a call. A died-in-the-wool fly fisher, Ken will get his fingers worm-stained if it means white meat for the dinner table. “Several vehicles had gathered around the perimeter of Cargill Pond when I drove to the cabin last week,” I told him. “Either the drug-dealing has gotten more brazen or yellow perch are biting.”

“I was headed to the Sportsman to get a patch of grizzly hackle for the latest bass pattern I’m working on,” he replied. “How bout I pick up a dozen nightcrawlers?”

“Better get two dozen,” I said. “Worst case, we will have some leftover.” (In this example, “we” meant “me,” because Ken does not have a bait refrigerator in their garage, as I do.)

Cargill Pond is a short 20-minute drive from home. A rarely used, small concrete launch provides ready access. The bottom consists mostly of silt-cobble and is a uniform 10- to 12-foot deep across its width. Thousands of snow geese gather in the wildlife refuge located on the other side of a busy highway. Bald eagles perch on tall cottonwoods that shade the pond. The clank of barges loading scrap metal from a nearby industrial area clashes with the squawk of lonesome gulls. More important, yellow or “ringed’ perch move in from the lower Snake River to spawn in this five-acre backwater when shorelines first rim with ice.

I brought along a 4-foot “Ugly Stick” that I use for ice fishing and 6-foot ultra-light jigging rod. One reel was loaded with 6-pound rag line and the other with 4-pound mono. Yellow perch of the size we expected to catch do not test your drag. Ken showed up an ancient fiberglass spinning rod and reel he has owned since he was a kid.

Ken takes an early lead, reeling in a 10-inch yellow perch swollen with roe. In short time, he tosses three more fat perch in the cooler before I put us on anchor. It isn’t until I notice that his slow retrieve method yields more bites than my patented twitch-and-reel technique that I land a decent-size perch.

Following three hours of casting on a balmy winter day when the sun peeked from behind gray clouds, two dozen fat perch, seven- to ten-inches long, flopped in the cooler. Our catch was bolstered by three doubles that put a bend in the rod equal to that of a marauding walleye. You might wonder, why use seven inches as a cutoff for harvest retention when filets are as big as your index finger? Because that was the average size of perch we hooked and we wanted enough meat for at least one meal each of fish tacos—that’s why!

Female yellow perch possess a single ovary, a trait unique among North American fishes. They lay their eggs in long connected ribbons in the vicinity of submerged vegetation, a behavior which helps protect their offspring from predators. Nearby bank anglers that cast worms under a slip bobber did not fare as well as Ken and me, but their success would improve as perch moved into shallower water to spawn.

The sex ratio of kept perch was approximately 75:25 in favor of females, albeit a ratio skewed because we lacked data from the 20 or more smaller fish that were released. According to some accounts, perch spawning is a communal affair with up to two dozen males pursuing a single female. Gravid yellow perch are easily identified when you land them by their football shape. The gonadosomatic index or gonad-to-body-weight ratio for females approaches 24 percent at spawning time compared to eight percent for ripe males.

Not only do we catch enough tasty yellow perch to meet our epicurean goal, but I didn’t have to be fooled by artificial “happy” light in order to realign my circadian rhythm and trigger the production of serotonin and melatonin. The mood lamp will remain idle until which time Nancy reminds me of its intrinsic benefits.