Better Perch Baits
By Dennis Doyle
As we drifted near the drop offs, bouncing hi-lo rigs with a fat grass shrimp on the bottom hook and a bloodworm on the top hook, we could pick up heavy, black-backed perch up to 11 inches, decently largae Norfolk spot and an occasional keeper hardhead. They kept our light rods bent over and our reels singing.
Unfortunately, more fish moved in and we soon began to hook up much smaller fish of those species and they seemed determined to suicide on our rigs. We were eventually spending more time re-baiting our lines than fishing and in danger of running out of shrimp and worms.
It may be wise to remember when you’re cleaning up your last batch of fresh perch, spot or croaker, to hesitate before you throw the offal into the garbage. Those shiny silver bellies you trimmed off the meaty fillets or thick bodies of your pan fish will make excellent baits if you prepare them correctly.
When cut into 4-inch long, narrow, flexible triangles, those tough cuts will outproduce anything for keeper-sized fish, even including soft crab. A 3- to 4-inch belly strip from perch, spot or croaker is a deadly bait to drift over the bottom.
When you’re bottom or drift fishing for Bay pan fish these days, it’s important to remember the little guys will often far outnumber reasonably keeper-sized swimmers. This means having to constantly unhook the more eager rascals to throw them back, and then having to re-bait your hooks or lures. When using softer and more delicate baits like razor clams, grass shrimp, bait shrimp and soft crab, it becomes quite irritating and even expensive.
A homemade strip bait made from fish belly, trailed behind a spinner or small spoon and weighted to stay near the bottom can often result in more keeper-sized fish. The longer strip bait cannot be engulfed to the hook by the smaller fish and the baits are far tougher and immune to bite-offs.
You can feel the smaller fellows hitting the strips over and over but they won’t often hookup until a bigger fish takes over. And the strips will easily last for multiple fish before they need changing to renew their scent and taste. This maximizes the time your baits stay in the sweet zone.
You can also dose these baits with popular enhancers and attractants such as Pro-Cure, Berkley’s many scent products, as well as handy and effective kitchen supplies such as garlic, anise oil or anything your grandad used to sweeten the bite.
The baits will also last longer if you’ve fortified them with salt and while it’s a bit messy it also toughens them and holds in scent in much longer. Also keep in mind that many fresh and saltwater species including the perch and croakers are shameless and savage consumers of the young of their own kind and this can take advantage of that ugly tendency.
But just a simple belly strip bait on its own can save the day just as it has for me on multiple occasions. It’s the only solution I’ve come up with when the bottom is teeming with teenies but there’s still lunkers lurking about.
The rockfish season, including catch and release, is closed from July 16 through the end of the month. When water temps and air temps get in their summer ranges the mortality rate of rockfish released back in the water can reach 90 percent. After the season resumes August 1 anglers are advised to avoid fishing for rockfish after 10a.m. if DNR Red Advisories (air temps forecast in the mid-90s) are in effect. White perch are schooling well in the mouths of the tribs and holding at 15 to 20 feet and there are a fair number of big Norfolk spot as well as a few hardheads. They’ll all take worms, shrimp, clams and crab. Crabbing is still very inconsistent and not near the DNR prediction for this season but half baskets are possible with some effort. The resource managers never seem to figure out that a robust female population is the key to everything. Maybe next year.