But for pure fishing pleasure and delicious table fare, the under-appreciated yellow perch swims second to none.
Nothing brings back childhood fishing memories quite like Zebco 202 push-button reels, a coffee can of earthworms, and the agreeable yellow perch. If you were fortunate enough to hook into one, you were likely to catch many more.
One catch would lead to another and before you knew it, every clip of the metal stringer was occupied, and it was time to walk back to the house. That's the stuff of lasting memories for an 8-year old boy.
South Carolina represents the southernmost natural range of the species, but the yellow perch is plentiful, if not overlooked by anglers, throughout the Palmetto State.
"Local anglers consider yellow perch to be more of a nuisance species," said Hal Beard, fisheries biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. "Data from our angler creel surveys indicate that yellow perch are rarely a target species."
That suits fishing guide, Wendell Wilson just fine.
"As far as I'm concerned, the yellow perch is the best-tasting fish in freshwater, hands down." said Wilson, who works Lakes Russell, Thurmond, and Hartwell. "I now have a group of clients who are die-hard perch anglers because of how fun they are to catch and their delicious, flaky white meat when cooked."
According to Wilson, that wasn't always the case.
"When I started fishing Lake Russell back in the 1980s, I once caught a big fat 14-inch yellow perch and brought it by one of the local bait and tackle stores to have it weighed," he said. "The folks took one look at my fish and said, 'That's a real nice Bud Hall you got there.'
"Well, Bud Hall was the name of a local fisherman who would regularly catch yellow perch in the Savannah River before the lake was created. They didn't know the real name of the fish."
It's now obvious, in retrospect, that in addition to being a fine fisherman, Hall knew how to keep a good secret to himself.
Yellow perch in South Carolina average 7 to 9 inches in length, while fish more than 12 inches are considered trophies or "jumbos." They're greenish-yellow in color with several dark-colored vertical bands painted down their sides. The first of their two very prominent dorsal fins is spiny and a hazard when trying to remove the fish from a hook.
Yellow perch prefer clear water with plenty of aquatic vegetation.
"The species typically prefers cooler rivers and reservoirs and generally doesn't reach the average size of those found in more northern waters of the United States," Beard said.
The S.C. record of 3 pounds, 4 ounces, caught in 1979 at Lake Keowee, easily trumps any other yellow perch catch in the southeastern United States.
Lake Keowee offers the perfect habitat for the yellow perch - cool, clear water, a formidable forage base and shallow shorelines with abundant aquatic vegetation. However, Keowee is just one of many perch hot spots throughout the state.
Lake Russell, a Savannah River impoundment along the South Carolina-Georgia border, is another top yellow perch locale.
"Lake Thurmond and Hartwell have pretty decent populations of yellow perch, but neither are as good as Lake Russell," Wilson said. "We catch many fish over 12 inches at Russell and a few over 14 each year."
Several rivers across the state also provide prime yellow perch habitat.
"The Savannah River just below Lake Thurmond has an excellent population of perch," Wilson said. "The fish don't get as big there as they do at Lake Russell, but there are a lot of them to catch."
Beard claims a healthy population of yellow perch exists right in downtown Columbia.
"There's a thriving population of yellow perch in the lower Saluda River," said Beard. "This a is 10-mile tail water extending from the Lake Murray Dam downstream to the confluence with the Broad River near Columbia.
"Over the years, my fish sampling in this river stretch has revealed, that not only are yellow perch abundant in the system, but it also harbors some large specimens that would weigh well over a pound."
Timing can determine whether a yellow perch trip will be one of feast or famine. It can also yield clues as to where to look for fish.
"From November to early spring, the fish are concentrated and bunched up in schools," Wilson said. "This makes for pretty easy fishing once a school is located."
Angers fishing from boats should look for schools of perch with fish-finders and electronics. Yellow perch will be found at or near the bottom in no more than 30 feet of water.
The month of April and early spring is a period of transition for lake-dwelling perch.
"Once the water warms to about 52 degrees, perch will migrate toward the shallow shorelines to spawn," Wilson said. "This presents more of a challenge since the fish are no longer concentrated in large schools.
"Now they are more or less spread out along the shoreline. The fishing is still good once this happens, but you have to work a little harder for them.
"Look for weedy or grassy areas in shallow water. That's prime perch habitat."
Weeds are essential for successful spawning, so their presence is an important clue to finding fish during the spring.
Yellow perch feed by sight only and need plenty of light to help locate food. This partly explains why perch are only found in relatively shallow water.
"We rarely catch perch in water that's deeper than 30 feet," Wilson said.
Yellow perch begin foraging for food in the morning when the sunlight begins to penetrate the water depths. They may feed off and on throughout the day, but usually there are accelerated periods of feeding activity in the mornings and in the evenings.
As night approaches and dark descends, perch (sometimes called "raccoon perch) disperse and are inactive until the following morning.
Yellow perch are rarely caught at night.
The vast majority of the successful lake-dwelling perch anglers fish from boats. The ability to move from one area of the lake to another is essential when looking for schooling fish. A boat provides mobility and on-board electronics provides an easy means of tracking and seeking out fish when trying different locations.
After fishing for 15 to 20 minutes without a strike, it's time to move to a new location.
Yellow perch won't usually turn down an easy meal so the lack of any action can only mean there are no fish nearby.
Shore or dock fishing can be productive during spring and early summer, when the fish are dispersed in shallow water. Yellow perch congregate around bottom structures, such as submerged aquatic vegetation, weed beds, rock piles, reefs, and along the lee side of land points.
Yellow perch consume a variety of food sources. Plankton, aquatic insects, freshwater shrimp, snails, clams and small fish are all a part of their diet.
"My preferred bait for yellow perch is live minnows. It's second to none," Wilson said. "Small minnows and shiners will catch perch when nothing else will.
"Smaller minnows will catch more perch than larger minnows. Yellow perch have small mouths so smaller bait is always more attractive to the average-sized fish.
"But I will also throw out a big, 3- or 4-inch shiner as well.
"You might think it's too big, but it's also the best way to catch a jumbo perch. You just need to be sure to give the fish time to take the bait.
"Don't set the hook right away when fishing with a big shiner."
When fishing to schools of perch in open water, Wilson uses a simple slip sinker, swivel and short leader to the hook. The bait is fished like a drop rig, vertical from the edge of the boat.
"The bait must be within 6 inches of the bottom," Wilson said. "Yellow perch are primarily bottom-feeders."
He also will fish a small jigging spoon when a school of fish have been located but are not motivated into biting.
"Even if the perch don't hit the spoon, it often excites the entire school and they will start hitting the bait rigs," he said. "That often causes a chain reaction and a feeding frenzy ensues. Any small jigging spoon such as a 2-inch Hopkins or Flex-It spoon will do the job.
"When a perch is hooked in the vicinity of a large school of fish, take your time to reel it in and land it. The excitement caused by the erratic motions of the hooked fish will often trigger the same frenzied feeding response from the entire school."
After you land a fish, it's important you re-bait your rig as soon as possible and get your line back in the water. Once a school of yellow perch are turned on, it's usually nothing but non-stop action.
It can also end as quickly as it started so waste no time when the fish are on the bite.
When fishing for perch in shallow water during and after the spawn, the best technique is with live bait and a float.
"Cast toward submerged weed beds or grass with a small minnow about 3-feet below a float or bobber," Wilson said.
When a yellow perch takes the bait, it's subtle. A smaller float will detect the take with more precision than a larger version.
At rivers such as the Savannah or Lower Saluda, look for fish in the deeper, slower-moving pools and eddies. This approach to finding fish applies to any time of the year.
Perch will always avoid fighting the current if possible. If some current does exist, the bait can be slowly drifted near the bottom with split spot or suspended with a small float or bobber.
Perch fishing doesn't require an extensive nor expensive array of fishing tackle or gear.
For open-water fishing, light spin tackle is more than adequate. A lightweight rod of 5 to 6 feet with a fast-action tip is a good choice.
Yellow perch are notorious bait robbers so a fast-action rod tip is essential for detecting those subtle bites.
Borrowing a page from successful crappie fishermen, fly rods are used with monofilament line by some perch fishermen because of their limber, forgiving nature when hooking the soft-mouthed perch. Open-faced, light, spinning reels are the easiest to use with lightweight rods and light line.
Using lighter monofilament line, such as 4- to 6-pound test, will allow more sensitivity to detect the softest of takes by the sneaky perch. Light line will also make a decent fight out of the lightweight perch.
Catching yellow perch is all about fun, so why not make it a sporting proposition?