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White Perch a Pair at a Time

Catch some for now and some for later

It was well after low slack when the incoming tidal current finally began to push me upriver. A light, soft wind from the south drifted my skiff diagonally cross channel and made everything just perfect for what I intended.
    September is an ideal time to gather a bunch of fat white perch, some to fry now, some to stock the freezer for the coming winter months. Acting on that principle, I dropped my baits to the bottom and felt the tic-tic-tic of the half-ounce sinker bouncing over the shell bottom 15 feet below.

  Rockfish continue to bite, with 21- to 24-inch fish just about everywhere, though not as consistently as last month. Trolling with bigger baits is delivering the bigger rock (to 36 inches), as is fishing cut bait on the bottom without chumming. Anglers casting Bass Assassins in the shallows in the early morning and just before dark are catching good numbers of keeper rock.
  Bluefish have arrived, complicating the rockfishing as steel leaders have to be used when they show up. Blues also stymie attempts at live-lining: the sharp-toothed critters are maddeningly adept at chomping away every bit of a Norfolk spot except the part holding the hook. Spanish mackerel are here, as are a few nice redfish. Crabbers have mostly quit for the season called the worst in 20 years. Those still at it remark at the absence of throwbacks, which does not bode well for next season.

Rockfish Population Note
  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries assessment of Atlantic Ocean Striped Bass (including the Chesapeake) reports that the biomass has fallen about 20 percent from its highest point in 2003. Without blaming over-fishing, the report notes with concern lower spawning success in the Chesapeake and foresees problems if the numbers of females caught is not reduced.

Hunting Season
Resident Canada goose: Western Zone: thru Sept. 25. For zone boundaries, see
Mourning dove: thru Oct. 5
Whitetail and Sika deer, archery season: thru Oct 16
Rail birds: thru Nov. 9
Ruffed Grouse: thru Jan. 31

    Almost immediately, I felt a tug, then another, but missed both bites. On the third, I wrist-flicked my rod tip to set the hook and was rewarded with a nice bend. As I was using a hi-lo rig, with two spinner-dressed hooks baited with razor clams, I gave the fish a bit of time on the bottom hoping to attract a second fish. I wasn’t disappointed.
    Easing both fish up to the surface, I kept my perch net close at hand in case they were extra large. Medium-sized whities can be easily derricked onboard by lifting them with your rod. But the mouth structure of bigger perch will often tear under the stress of their greater weight, releasing them back into the depths.
    I needn’t have worried. These two, barely nine inches, were throwbacks, as were the next set and the next. They were coming in two at a time, but their small size was defeating my purpose. It wasn’t until I had landed almost a dozen of the juniors that I finally got what I was after, a thick, black-backed 10-incher.
    Using razor clams as bait was a strategy I hoped would result in bigger perch as the clams are a more tempting bait than the normal fare of earthworms or bloodworms. However, I had neglected to factor in the nuisance of constantly rebaiting my hooks due to the swarm of shorties. My supply of clams was vanishing.
    Then, as I tried to worry my hook out of a little guy that had somehow managed to swallow a size two, I had an inspiration. Dispatching the hapless fish, I scaled its silvery, white belly, then carefully sliced it into tapered strips about a half-inch wide and three inches long.
    I was hoping that using a fresh perch strip on each of my flashing, snelled hooks would solve my problems. The smell of fresh fish would attract the larger perch lurking below, the longer three-inch baits would discourage the smaller fish from getting hooked and the toughness of the belly skin would mean multiple fish could be caught without rebaiting.
    Dropping the new setup to the bottom, I began another drift and again felt the immediate tug of smaller fish attacking. I didn’t even try to set the hook, just patiently waited as the rod tip danced a jig.
    Finally my rod bent over with the unmistakable weight of a good perch. I lifted the fish slowly, then felt additional weight jumping on as it came toward the surface. I had the net ready when the big pair broke water. One was over 10 inches and the other close enough to that size to add to my five-gallon pail.
    Renewing the perch strips every 20 minutes kept the bite hot, often with dark beauties over 11 inches going into the fish bucket. Within two hours I had enough for a generous family dinner plus a second meal of equal size destined for the freezer.
    As old Hannibal Smith was fond of saying, “Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together.”