The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
Luck Loves a Lady
The generous Bay ends the year her own way
White perch fishing in 2006 has been a disappointment. The spring run, if it did occur at all, happened in secret. I knew of no anglers, including myself, who found fish consistently in any numbers. During the summer months, the whites schooled well, but were mostly smaller fish. Even through the fall, it was as if most of the big guys had opted out for the season.
Hoping that we could wrest at least one more perch adventure from the remnants of 2006, I gave my friend Mike a call last Wednesday. His boat was still in the water, and he was as determined as I to rescue our year’s performance.
The morning of our departure I got a last-minute call from Mike. Rachel is coming along, you don’t mind, do you? he asked.
No, of course not, I replied, knowing that she was going to fish, not just watch.
I had met Rachel before and knew her as an athletic young woman who had played varsity lacrosse for Rutgers. Home for Christmas vacation, she was undoubtedly in better condition than Mike and I combined, so I had no fears of her holding up for a cold day on the water. She turned out to be not only an enthusiastic angler but touched by Lady Luck as well.
The day seemed almost balmy as we prepped the boat, but as soon as we got underway the breeze off of the Chesapeake’s chilly surface made December all too apparent. Fortunately we didn’t have far to go, and as we neared the Bay Bridge we found birds working over deep water always a good sign.
Dropping small tandem jigs tipped with artificial bloodworm down in 50 feet of water on six-foot spinning sticks, we had hardly begun to work the bottom when all three of our rods bowed deeply.
I boated my fish first. It was a nice fat perch, at least a 10-incher. As I flipped it in the cooler I looked over and saw Mike and Rachel still straining. Moved in to help, I soon saw the reason. Broad striped sides swirled in the clear winter water. A rockfish flashed, then another and another.
They both had double hookups, and all four fish were rockfish over 20 inches. There’s great irony to the sudden abundance of legal-sized fish shortly after the season closes. Just days earlier, we would have been dancing a jig; instead we released them all with reluctant farewells.
Dropping our rigs back in, we immediately hooked up again. As I landed and released my own chunky winter striper, I saw Rachel struggling with yet another pair. Then I noticed one of them was much darker than a rockfish, and my jaw dropped.
Mike saw it at the same time and almost lost his own rod overboard as he rushed to help Rachel boat a really jumbo perch. In fact, it was just under 14 inches, well above citation size, virtually black with age and sporting a buffalo sized hump. Rachel casually accepted our congratulations on her fine fish.
Neither Mike nor I had boated a white that large ever and our combined perch bag over the years has been in the thousands. There was just a hint of envy in the air as the two of us hurried to get our rigs in the water. There had to be more perch down there that size.
And there might well have been. I never thought that I would consider five-pound rockfish a nuisance, but that day they were. As we drifted over the large mixed schools we had located, the hefty rockfish would intercept our jigs over and over before they could get down to where the big perch were lurking.
But Rachel, amazingly, kept her touch. While she did get a number of those pesky stripers, somehow her lures as often found nice white perch willing to bite. They weren’t quite as big as that first monster, but many were one-pounders. And there were more than just a few.
Mike and I managed to score the occasional nice whitey despite the interfering rockfish, but our perch score combined didn’t equal that of the Rutgers’ star.
Eventually the cold air took its toll; our hands and feet were numbed and our teeth had started to chatter. We called it a day, but with a couple of dozen really nice white perch in the cooler. The fact that over half of the keepers were boated by our female fisher added a unique flavor to the occasion.
Mike and I both knew that Lady Luck had smiled on a deserving fellow angler. Rachel had hung tough on a cold, Chesapeake winter day, fished well, and had had a lot of fun. It was a great fishing trip for all of us, and a fine cap on 2006.
Fish Are Biting
White perch are schooled over hard bottom at the 50-foot mark. Many are good-sized fish. Way to the south, the mouth of the Potomac has been holding schools of 40-inch-plus rockfish for weeks, but it’s catch-and-release only throughout the Bay.