Fishing’s Last Hurrah
Last chances for food fishing and eating
I picked up a small but plump golden-brown fillet from the heaping platter and dipped it in my favorite sauce, fresh, homemade tartar. Biting off half of the crispy delight, I was reminded of why I love to catch white perch. The rascals are simply delicious.
I have done well this past season with rockfish. They have been in reasonably good supply. The fall, shallow-water bite was not as successful as I had hoped, but I will not lack for some good striped bass dinners over the coming mean season.
But the tasty mound of rapidly disappearing perch fillets on our Sunday table represented the balance of my total supply. I was quickly becoming perchless.
Outside, a chill wind was abusing the surrounding trees and a cold rain was threatening again for the third consecutive day. Temperate times were definitely over, and as friends’ and family’s eager hands helped themselves to the table’s bounty, I realized that there was an important task to be confronted in the very near future. It was time to lay in a supply of white perch for the wintertime.
Fortunately, at this time of year on the Bay, that is not difficult. The white perch are staging in large schools for winter, and fishing the deeper pockets of the tributaries and the structures of the main Bay should promptly restore my larder.
Bait fishing is the most efficient method of loading the cooler, but this year I am going to employ a fresh-water technique. It has proven as effective on the Bay as it was on the northern lakes of my youth, especially in this cold weather.
Using a one- to two-ounce gold or silver wobbling spoon as an attractor and as the weight to get down quickly to the desired depth, I add a much smaller and bait-sweetened dropper lure about 18 inches below the big spoon.
Drifting likely areas and working the setup with a gentle vertical jigging action just off of the bottom has always brought outstanding results, particularly with larger fish.
White perch will feed on visual stimuli when water temperatures are over 50 degrees, but below that temperature they transition to smell as the triggering sensation. The big, bright wobbling spoon attracts the perch’s attention; then the smell of live bait on the much smaller lure induces the eating response.
As an added bonus, the larger lure will often take any rockfish that happen by. Or you can forgo the hook on the large spoon and add a second dropper lure to the rig. (Maryland regulations forbid more that two hooks per terminal setup.)
Heavy wobblers that have proven effective are the Acme Little Cleo and Sidewinder and the Luhr Jensen Krocodile. Slab spoons such as the Acme Kastmaster, the Hopkins Shorty, Haw River Stingsilver and the Luhr Jensen Crippled Herring provide almost as much attraction.
The droppers I like particularly are the Doodle Bug and the Forage Minnow, made for ice fishing by Northland Fishing Tackle. The advantage of these lures is that they have been designed to present a bait horizontally, which is the most efficient orientation for hooking up a nibbling fish. Small Tony Accetta and Nunguesser spoons in silver and gold will work almost as well. Shad darts and Hildebrandt Flicker Spins are also an option.
Grass shrimp is the best lure-sweetener for white perch, but bloodworms are a close second. If you run short of bait, you can compensate by filleting the shiny, white belly meat from one of your perch and cutting that into two- to three-inch slivers to adorn the dropper. It can be just as deadly.
Another imperative this time of year is to change your bait often. If you haven’t had any bites in five minutes or so, change it. The scent that attracts the attention you want washes off fast.
If simplicity is your motto, you may prefer to rely on the old standby: a high/low rig on a two-ounce sinker with Number 4 hooks and grass shrimp or bloodworms for bait. This basic rig has always worked well and will undoubtedly produce fish. Perch are nothing if not cooperative this time of year.
The point of this whole operation is to have an ample supply of whiteys in your freezer when the wet winds blow and the temperatures plunge. There is absolutely nothing like a platter piled high with crispy Chesapeake Bay white perch to chase away the winter willies.