Volume 16, Issue 37 - September 11 - September 18, 2008

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A Two-Act Play on the Bay

Rockfish followed by perch

It was just 8am, and I already had a limit. Two very nice striped bass were nestled deep in my cooler’s bed of ice. I looked around at the quiet, rock-strewn cove with only a tinge of regret. The fish had hit just after first light, one right after another. After that my sputtering surface baits, no matter how diligently they were worked, drew zero attention. The bite was definitely over — but only for rockfish.

It was still a beautiful morning on the Chesapeake, and I had planned for a second act to my sortie. I unsnapped the nicely crafted surface plug, put it away and laid down my casting rod. I then picked up a five-and-a-half-foot ultra-light spin rod. It was time for some perch fishing.

Act II

The rod was strung with thin, six-pound, clear copolymer line and armed with a silver and blue Mini-trap, the one-eighth-ounce version of its big brother, the Rattletrap. I silently eased closer to the shoreline with my electric motor.

I am a firm believer in a stealthy approach for all the species of fish I pursue, although many anglers scoff at some of my exaggerated efforts. Their claim — I run my gas motor all the way in and still catch fish — usually remains unchallenged by me, but for selfish reasons.

They probably do catch fish, and sometimes even a lot of them. But I also believe that the smarter critters have vamoosed as soon as they hear the motor noise. And I have a pretty good idea that those smart ones were very often the biggest ones.

This particular part of the shallows held a lot of sunken rocks from older riprap scattered over the years by relentless storm erosion. That makes it a rather snag-prone environment for deep-running lures. But it’s also prime white perch territory.

Fish Are Biting

Rock, blues, spot, perch, Spanish mackerel and crabs are all running well these days, although small blues are interfering with some of the rock fishing. Hurricane Hanna went easy on us and caused little interruption. Get out as much as you can now; the next big storm might not be so nice.

I flicked the tiny plug up close to the shoreline and immediately began to crank it back, holding my rod tip high to keep the rapidly vibrating bait from hanging up.

My lure stopped. I flicked my wrist lightly. The small rod arced over, and my soft drag hissed as a surprised fish took off on a wide lateral run that suggested one big white perch. I played the fish ever so gently.

With the bright morning sun easily penetrating the water, I could see the dark green-gold flash of a good fish down deep. I reached for my net. This is another careful consideration I make; I always net the bigger perch.

I have lost way too many jumbos trying to derrick them into the boat with my rod. Their paper-thin mouth structure will not take a heavy hand. The larger perch seem few and far between these days, so I try not to tempt fate. Scooping the hefty rascal up, I quickly popped the hooks.

The Mini-trap lure comes adorned with two small treble hooks, and they can be very effective — sometimes too effective. It is a chore to get these grabbers out of the mouth of a big, struggling perch, and the many barbs can be destructive to the smaller fish. They will also entangle themselves, fiendishly, in any net, cloth or clothing that they contact.

So I always mash the barbs flat on the tiny trebles. Then I can easily remove them and quickly release the fish or, when I’m looking for a dinner, get it into the fish box and my line back in the water without delay. I doubt I lose many that I wouldn’t have lost anyway. But of course special effort has to be made to avoid any slack line while playing them.

The next fish was just about as big, as was the next. Then the size dropped off, though the bite didn’t. After 15 minutes or so of releasing mostly smaller fish I moved down the shoreline looking for more of the big guys. A hundred yards or so later I found some.

By 11:00am, I had over a dozen nice, black-backed white perch over 10 inches in the cooler alongside my two rockfish. As the high sun and increasing water temperature slowed the bite to a halt, I couldn’t decide whether the rockfish or the white perch had been more fun.

I knew that on the table there would be a definite draw, for each are delicious in their own unique and savory way. You can’t ask for a better two-act play on a pleasant Chesapeake morning.

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