Volume XVII, Issue 26 # June 25 - July 1, 2009

Fish Are Biting

When it isn’t raining, the best areas to fish for rockfish have been off the mouths of the Chester and the Eastern Bay. Podickery and Hackett’s have produced some fish, but not as reliably. Chumming is the best technique, but live-lining has started to work almost as well with the arrival of scads of small spot and perch.

The freshwater bite is poor, mostly because of the relentless rains, but it should pickup once we dry off. Crabbing keeps getting better and better.

Live-lining on Light Tackle

Here’s how to fish for rock my favorite way

The morning sun, rising over the Eastern Shore into a cloudless summer sky, was warm on my shoulders. Our skiff had started to drift easily with the beginning of the ebb, and the air was calm. But now there came a tension to it.

A loose flock of gulls, quietly hovering over the water down-current of us, had begun to dip down and pick up small baitfish. The baitfish were driven up by stripers below that had started to feed with the current of a fresh tide.

Reaching inside our live bait bucket, I felt out just the right-sized white perch from the dozen or so that it held. Rigging the small fish carefully, I dropped the frisky fish over the side. It made right for the bottom. With my hook just under its skin in front of the dorsal, the fish seemed unhindered by my trailing line as it dove deeper and deeper.

Feeling the flicks of its efforts through the thin, sensitive 20-pound test braid, my thumb feathered the reel spool as it turned smoothly, feeding out more line. On my fish finder, I watched as new marks trailed across the screen. There were large, tightly schooled fish below, suspended at about the 20-foot mark in 35 feet of water.

As my white perch swam deeper, the thought occurred to me that this, perhaps, would be an ambush that one of those rascals below would regret.

The perch’s actions became suddenly more frantic. Then my line stopped … but only for a moment. Once again it began to move out, but this time there were no little thrusts of speed. This time I felt real power at the other end.

I gave the fish a long eight-count to ensure it had the baitfish well back in its jaws before I threw the reel into gear. When the line came tight, I set the hook. My light rod pulled down, and line began to peel off the reel. A buzz whispered from the drag as the fish made a long, determined run against its resistance. It was a lovely sound.

How to Do It

Live-lining is my favorite way to pursue rockfish during summer months. Schooled up in good numbers, striped bass this time of year haunt the channel edges near the mouths of the major tributaries and in other areas of favorable structure or current, the same places frequented by schools of young menhaden, perch, spot and croaker.

Offering stripers one of those varieties as a live baitfish of on light tackle is one of the surest and most exciting ways to hook up with a sizeable striper. You can present these baits while drifting over schooled fish, or you can anchor up and attract feeders by putting out chum. Both are equally deadly.

The surest way to ensure a proper supply of baitfish is to catch them the day before you intend to live-line. Some anglers chance getting their supply in the early hours on the way to the rockfish grounds, but that can be risky.

Once you’ve secured a sufficient supply (minimum six per angler), keeping the bait alive and frisky is the next challenge. Overnight, an in-the-water holding tank is the best method, with a large aerated tank the next best. Keeping them in a bucket of still water for any length of time will not work as the fish will quickly exhaust the oxygen and die.

Once you’ve left the dock, a water-circulating live well will keep the fish healthy. If the boat is not equipped with one, an aerated tank is best, and a floating bait bucket is next best. Simply keeping the fish in a large pail or cooler will do in a pinch, but you must constantly change the water to keep the fish viable.

There are three ways to hook up a baitfish to live-line. Placing the hook in front of the dorsal fin is my first choice. Don’t put the hook in too deeply on the fish’s body, or you will mask the hook point and risk pulling the bait out of the striper’s mouth when you strike.

Next best is hooking the fish through both lips. This is a good method if you intend to present the bait weighted and on the bottom. It allows the fish to breathe freely.

Last, hooking the bait behind the dorsal fin can be an excellent technique, especially if you’re fishing without weight. The bait will instinctively dive for the bottom against the resistance of your line — and that’s usually where the bigger rockfish are.

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