I have dedicated a great deal of effort and financial investment in my quest for big perch on artificial lures. Last week I discovered I had been on the wrong track.
I experimented with the Super Rooster Tail, Beetle Spins, the Tony Accetta Pet Spoon, small Rat-L-Traps, the Little Cleo spoon, Acme Kastmasters and small Bass Assassins and Finesse minnows in various colors.
All can catch white perch. At catching really big perch, 12 inches or over, none seemed to do better than any other.
The successive heat waves have made fishing for rockfish difficult. The bite dies off early midday, picking back up only toward evening, when the threat of thunderstorms can make being on the water dicey. If you don’t mind rising in the wee hours, limits are attainable. Live-lining and jigging have become more popular as the prospect of tangling with multiple hookups of cow-nosed rays while fishing cut bait is becoming ever more daunting. The bite at the Hill on the Eastern Shore has been particularly hot for good-sized stripers to 30 inches.
Shrinking Rockfish Alert
Think twice about keeping barely legal rockfish. A striper that measures 18 inches just out of our 80-plus-degree water will shrink by as much as half an inch after it’s been on ice an hour or so. Natural Resources Police expect you to know this and will ticket you for undersized fish. The law specifies the legal length of fish in possession, not their size when they were caught.
Last week I had my eureka moment. Catching large perch was not a matter of the lure. It was the odds.
White perch do not school by year class. You’ll find all sizes of perch mixed together in the same areas. One reason is that they have such small mouths that once a perchling is larger than three or four inches, it is safe from predation by its brethren.
Thus when you fish an area with lures appropriate (generally 1/8- to 1/6-ounce) for the majority of white perch, the pure competition from the mass of whities of all sizes lowers the odds of catching the largest fish.
The bigger perch often seem to hold back a bit while the smaller fish flock to the shiny counterfeits swimming before them. In consequence, you spend a great deal of time dealing with throwbacks while Big Bubba sits back and susses out your game.
The Obvious Solution
The solution was embarrassingly obvious. I should have been increasing the size of the lure. That could tilt the odds in favor of catching big perch by eliminating the little guys that couldn’t get their smaller jaws around the lure.
I began my quest in an area that had produced middling perch. Starting with a 1/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap, a lure twice the size of those I usually employ, I had to do a little customization. The bigger Trap comes adorned with two substantial treble hooks, too big for even Bubba.
Clipping the bottom hook off each treble and bending the remaining two shanks closer made them more likely to get a good hold in a perch mouth — and less likely to foul in the rocky shallows.
The third cast with the blue-backed, silver-sided Trap resulted in a hard strike and a fierce battle on my light perch tackle. The scrapper turned out to be a handsome 12-inch whitey, my first fish of this size this season in the shallows.
I was amazed to find success so quick in coming. I banged a series of largish whites, over 10 inches, followed by a nice one over 11 inches before losing the plug in some submerged rocks.
My total supply of this size Rat-L-Trap (one) thus expended, I switched to some 1/4-ounce Super Rooster Tails, substantially larger than the 1/6-ounce I usually employ. I had similar results: a number of good-sized, thick-bodied fish, a couple approaching the 12-inch mark.
I hadn’t caught a fish much over nine inches in this spot all season.
The downside was that the heavier lures soon found the sunken rocks below, and I lost them, too.
My score for my hour and a half sortie, however, was a dozen particularly nice white perch, not including the 12-inch Bubba, which I released to grow even bigger.
Chinese-Style Perch Dinner
Remove all scales. Steam in a frying pan over a layer of scallion. Top with ginger and sesame seeds. Pour heated soy sauce and fish sauce lightly over fish before serving.