The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
There’s still time to fill the freezer but beware of the chill
Extremes in weather bring interesting extremes in fishing as well. The biggest rockfish of the post-spawn season are arriving in the Chesapeake, and our white perch have gathered into the largest schools of the year. Both can be found in the deeper parts of the Bay as they take up their winter patterns.
While the jumbo stripers have been maddeningly elusive this year, the perch are much more accessible. Holding deep over hard bottom near structures like oyster reefs, rock piles and bridge pilings, they can be sought out by vertical jigging with a one-and-a-half to two-ounce lure. You’ve got to reach the bottom because that‘s where the perch will be. Stingsilvers, Trout Bombs, Kastmasters and Hopkins Jigs work very well.
A dropper fly, or jig, on hook sizes two to four, attached about 12 inches up with about a six-inch drop will generally produce most of the fish. It never hurts to tip the smaller lure, and even the bigger one, with a bit of bloodworm for maximum effectiveness.
Replacing any treble hooks on the heavier jig with a single hook will also result in more perch, which have small mouths for their size.
You can bait fish with a hi-lo rig and size-four snelled hooks baited with bloodworm. The hooks that come adorned with red beads and spinners are worth the extra expense in attracting bites. Use a one-and-a-half to two-ounce sinker to get down to the fish.
Because of the weight of the rigs and the depth, I like a six or six-and-a-half-foot fast-action spinning or casting outfit rigged with 14- to 20-pound Fireline or other super braid. The braids have plenty of strength but are very thin, hence will reach the bottom with a minimum amount of weight. They also have virtually no stretch, so you can feel the lightest tap, and a flick of your wrist will set the hook.
Once you’ve got perch on, bring them in gently for they have a delicate mouth structure and can easily tear free. A small net is not a bad idea; a crab net is perfect. It will save you from singing the big-one-that-got-away song we have all heard way too many times.
The best time to fish will be two hours on either side of high tide or low. That’s when the currents will be the most gentle, allowing you to get a relaxed drift. You’ll spend more time over productive bottom without having to reposition the boat. Anchoring is an option once you’ve located fish, but that can be a chore in the 30-foot-plus depths where the fish will be concentrated, especially if they move right after you’ve set.
Perch under nine inches aren’t really worth keeping, but this time of year you shouldn’t have any problems easily besting this size. Once you’ve located them, two or three dozen 10- to 11-inch fish are a definite possibility before the tidal velocities ruin the bite. Bring plenty of ice with you. Although the temperatures are chilly, it is always best to put fish intended for the table promptly on ice. They’ll taste better.
Managing the Cold
Be sure you dress warmly; the chill factor is always greater over water. A breeze that just feels comfortable while raking the leaves in your yard will draw out the warmth of your body in very few minutes on the Bay.
It may be tempting to bring a little strong drink to offset the cold while you’re relaxing, but it’s not a good choice. Alcohol only masks the onset of a bad chill. Don’t risk hypothermia, especially if the bud of your youth is just a memory. Hot coffee, cocoa or soup are the best winter elixirs. Save adult beverages for the fireside celebration.
Storing the Catch
Once you have the fish home, clean them as soon as possible. If you have plenty of freezer room, a fish that is scaled and eviscerated with the fins removed will arguably give the best flavor. If space is a problem, then scaling and filleting the fish is the next best option.
Vacuum packing will preserve eating quality the longest, though stuffing a zipper baggie full of perch filets and topping off with water before freezing is virtually its equal. I have eaten perch stored both ways that were over nine months old; they retained excellent flavor.
Fish Are Biting
This has not been a good month. The weather has not helped. Rockfish have been restless, showing in one area only to leave and not return. Big fish are scattered. Perch are jumbos one day only to be replaced by their junior cousins the next. Southern sorties as far south as Point Lookout are proving far more productive than the mid-Bay. Fishing may not be great right now, but it’s the last inning of a pretty good season. Stick with it. Rockfish season ends December 15.