The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
Right-Sizing Your Fish
The size perch I wanted would suit a keeper rockfish
I flipped the lure up close to the rocks and began the retrieve as soon as it touched the water. Any hesitation, and it would hang up in a crevice. I was working the small spinner parallel with a jetty in three to four feet of water.
After just a few turns of the reel’s handle, I had a jarring strike. There was no need to set the hook; the fish was on. I lifted the rod firmly to keep the fish away from the rocks and felt the unmistakable surge of a big white perch. This one had shoulders.
The fish flashed a pale gold deep in the murky water and made a good run against the drag of my diminutive outfit. I tried to hurry the process as much as I could, but this fish did not cooperate. After a number of bulldog lunges back toward the rocks and a nearly successful encirclement of the prop on my outboard, I finally got him to the boat. Lifting the bulky warrior with little ceremony, I unhooked him and, with a disappointed grunt, flipped him back into the Bay.
Ordinarily an 11-inch perch brings a smile to my face and an immediate and privileged spot in my cooler. Today things were a little different. I was looking for rockfish food, perch between five and seven inches, and they can be a rare item when you really want them.
If they are much larger than seven inches, they’re not particularly attractive to the striper class currently schooling in the mid-Bay. Any smaller than five inches, and I risked enticing an undersized fish. A 17-inch rock can quickly swallow the smaller baitfish, which was something I particularly wanted to avoid.
It was a rare July morning of late: No thunderstorms forecast. I had a flood tide and the winds were low, perfect for my purpose. I was working a series of rocky erosion jetties that jutted out a good distance along a relatively shallow shoreline that was on the way to the rockfish grounds. Getting into position just off of the points, I could cast to both sides of the jetties, searching for the size perch I wanted.
How to Catch ’Em
I had two ultra-light-action spinning rods six feet long strung with six-pound test mono. One rod was rigged with a small Roostertail spinning lure, and I had clipped one of the hooks off the treble hook adorning it. I also squashed down one of the remaining barbs. If perch took the spinner, I wanted to be able to quickly unhook them without further injury.
A small yellow shad dart under a two-inch weighted bobber completed the second rig. I tipped the shad dart with a small piece of Fishbites, a synthetic bait created to mimic the flavor of a bloodworm. The imitation worm is very effective this time of year and far more convenient than the real thing. When the smaller perch are present in good numbers, the darted rig is all I really need. When the water is cloudy and the perch are scattered, as they were now, I needed the spinner bait to search them out.
I worked the jetties first with the spinner. If I started to catch perch the size I wanted, I would stick with it. But sometimes the fish would smack the lure without getting hooked. I would know where they were, though, and switching to the baited shad dart would generally get results.
If this seems an elaborate setup for something as simple as catching a bunch of pint-sized perch, you would be right except for the fact that time was of the essence. Every minute spent in the pursuit of the bait delayed my quest for stripers. There wasn’t a minute to lose.
I stored my baitfish in an aerated bucket. A handful of ice placed in the bucket from time to time helped them cope with the confinement. Cold water calms the fish and retains more oxygen.
Since I was accompanied by my usual fishing partner, my dog Sophie, I needed only six or seven baits for a full morning’s outing. Normally that’s not much of a challenge, but this morning the right-sized fish were maddeningly elusive. Only one of four fish that I caught made the grade.
When a small perch is hooked, it is well to resist the urge to crank them quickly to the boat. Their small mouths are paper thin, and if you horse them, the hook will easily tear free.
It took me almost an hour to get my supply. But sometimes when things start to go your way, they really start to go your way. When I arrived off of Sandy Point, I would only need three baits, and just over 30 minutes to get my limit of nice rockfish. Often, luck has a lot to do with just being properly prepared.
Fish Are Biting
Rockfish continue to please trollers, chummers and live-liners at The Sewer Pipe, Love Point, Swan Point, Podickery and on down to the Thomas Point areas. There’s no telling how long this can keep up; good fish have been caught continually over the last three weeks. You know it can’t last forever, so get your licks in while you can. Persistence is the key to success right now, for sometimes the fish are turning on for only an hour or so during an entire tide phase, so when you find fish, stick with ’em.
Jumbo perch are finally showing up, along with some nice sized spot. The lumps at Belvedere Shoals and similar structure near Poplar Island have produced, but these fish should be all around the mid-Bay by now. Croaker are no shows; if you want them, head south. Some blues are here, reportedly up to five pounds, but they’re constantly moving, so you have to be lucky.