It had been a simple plan: Start out before dawn; catch some small Norfolk spot for live-lining; locate a pod of rockfish; catch two keepers; get off the water before the temps hit 100. I’d done it before, and that formula had been a sure route to success. However, all the parts had to cooperate to make my plan work.
The before-dawn part was easily accomplished, though the gods know I don’t care for getting up in the dark. But after I had launched and began my bait search, I found absolutely no spot. I fished bloodworms, grass shrimp and tiny spinner baits in both deep and shallow waters where I had caught bait-sized spot in the past. But I found no takers.
My only other option was to use small white perch for bait. I knew that perch came a distant second in attracting the attention of stripers, but I had no other choice. I gave up on spot and started to hunt small perch.
Throwing my most reliable Rooster Tail pattern at a location that had produced bait-sized perch in the past, I got one on my first cast. But it was over 11 inches. That was conflicting. Perch that big are not easy to come by, so it was only with the greatest reluctance that I dropped it back over the side.
The next few fish were almost as big, forcing me into a dilemma. These were very nice perch, eating-sized treasures, and there were apparently a lot of them. Should I take advantage of my good fortune and convert my trip to a perch outing? Or should I stick with the original plan that, with the absence of spot and time wearing on, was getting ever less likely to be successful?
I decided to stick with pursuing striped bass and left the school of jumbo perch for another location more likely to hold smaller fish. As I moved away from the area an old fisherman’s proverb echoed through my mind: Never leave fish to find fish. I ignored it.
What followed next was a deluge of whities in the eight- to nine-inch range. They’re often called the perfect size, perfectly wrong: They’re too big for live-lining, too small for eating.
Moving to shallower water and switching to grass shrimp under a bobber didn’t improve my success. The fish I caught, though a bit smaller, were still too big for bait. Going back to spinners in progressively smaller sizes didn’t work either.
In the end, I just kept working a location until eventually I would, at last, hook a fish small enough. It was two hours later before I had just four of the little buggers finning in my aerated bait tank.
Skunk Under the Bridge
Heading out to the Bay Bridge and searching around the supports with my fish finder, I registered only a few likely marks indicating rockfish. They were scattered and only around the occasional piling. Drifting a perch over them got no results. What few boats still out that morning were having similar results.
Then, just before mid-day, I thought I’d hit pay dirt. I located a big, tightly packed school of rockfish. It should have been perfect, and I had it all to myself. There were hundreds and hundreds of marks suspended from 15 feet to the bottom in 30 feet of water.
However, by this time the sun was high in the sky and the tide was ebbing. Swimming my precious white perch down through the school had zero effect. Not one striper would touch them.
I stuck with it, thinking that over time the fish would surely turn on. But though the tide turned and the current increased, the rockfish still wouldn’t eat. The big orb overhead was scorching by the time I bolted for home, fishless.
Over the following hours, Never leave fish to find fish haunted me. Except now, the adage had become just slightly modified: Never, ever, leave fish to find fish, dummy!婃