A Lazy Day Limit
By Dennis Doyle
Steeling myself for the labors of boat prep, I was delaying attention to my 17-foot center console skiff until the last minute when the phone sounded. My neighbor and charter boat skipper Frank Tuma was calling with a request for assistance in providing a rockfish dinner for his 18-year-old granddaughter, Alexi, who was leaving for med school in Austin, Texas, the next day. I jumped at the opportunity, especially since we would be taking his boat, the 29-foot C-Hawk, Downtime, instead of my craft.
The following morning, as we motored comfortably near the Bay Bridge, I cut up some soft crabs into bite-sized pieces. Rigged with just a smidgen of lead above our leaders on 5/0 hooks we hoped for a bit of luck this morning as the rockfish bite had been inconsistent of late. The incoming tide was ebbing, a perfect condition to allow the virtually weightless baits near a random bridge support to drift down to the marks showing on Frank’s electronic finder in 20 feet.
Remarkably, both our lines came tight almost as soon as the baits went down. Withing minutes our two-fish limit was filled with handsome 22-inch fish. Next, we added to the main course with some thick, black-backed white perch that were intermingled with the rockfish on those same crab baits. Within a half hour, we had sorted through a number of perch throwbacks and Frank’s family menu had been provided for in full.
The perch were the frosting on the cake, of course, but I must admit their presence is also the bane of the angler. Though rockfish dearly love a soft crab, the baits can also be quickly stolen by marauding white perch, as well as similar sized croaker and Norfolk spot. And since these lesser fish have very small mouths and the hooks used for rockfish are several sizes too large, the smaller fish are rarely hooked.
Add to this scenario the fact that soft crab baits are probably the most expensive of all the baits commonly used, a large presence of the smaller fish can quickly consume an angler’s total supply before they can encounter keeper-sized rockfish. There are, however, some devices to safeguard a soft crab bait, despite the fact that they are so easily torn apart.
One such device is an elastic thread, which when wrapped about the bait will keep it mostly intact for quite a while; another is a fine, transparent mesh which performs the same duty when wrapped around your bait. Both, available at most sporting stores, allow the alluring soft crab scent to drift freely into the surrounding waters, attracting the attention of nearby rockfish.
Another good idea when purchasing live soft crabs at a seafood market is to request soft crabs that have begun to harden, also called a paper shell crab. The seafood dealer will only be too happy to do this, as once the crab shells begin to harden they are less desirable for consumption. They do, however, last longer as bait on the hook and are just as attractive to saltwater fish.
The last suggestion for anglers using crab baits is to purchase peeler crabs, those hard crabs that are ready to shed their shells but not yet done so. These crabs will have all the scent and attractiveness of the soft crab but still have much of the hard shell and hold on a hook best of all.
You can be sure of getting a genuine peeler crab by a simple test. Holding the crab in one hand simply pinch the sharp point of the side of its shell and break it off. A true peeler will break easily off revealing the soft new body of the crab underneath, one that is still in full hard crab phase will not. The baits are prepared by peeling off the top of the crab and cutting the body into bite sizes pieces. Discard the legs and break up the pincers.
Don’t miss the most fun tournament of the year: Angler’s Sport Center 2021 White Perch Open, Sunday August 15, Podickory Point Yacht Club, 2116 Bay Front Terrace, Annapolis. The tournament includes a fried, white perch lunch—all you can eat plus beverages, tournament t-shirts and a very good time. Top three white perch wins the prizes and the party starts at noon, prizes awarded at 4pm. You don’t have to enter tourney to attend the party. All proceeds benefit Anglers Combos For Kids Program. Details: 410.757.3442 or anglerssportcenter.com/white-perch-open/.
The rockfish bite remains good in the Middle Bay, though few fish exceed 23 inches. Chumming is becoming very productive as is drifting soft crab over good marks and working structure in waters from 15 to 25 feet. Jigging soft plastics, particularly paddle tails, around structures is also getting the proper attention. The topwater bite is superior this week with higher tidal phases occurring in the mid-Bay early and late and low moonlight conditions the rest of the night. The panfish bite is also continuing with sizeable perch and spot available for worm, synthetic worm, clam, shrimp and crab baits. Look for marks in 10 to 15 feet depths along channel edges and over lumps. Good perch fishing is also available up in the tribs along shorelines, casting small spinnerbaits such as Capt. Berts and Super Rooster Tails. Spanish mackerel are fairly abundant right now near the mouth of the Eastern Bay over to Thomas Point taking small to medium, silver and gold spoons at six knots. They can also be tempted to hit Kastmasters, Hopkins and similar metal lures cast to breaking fish and rapidly retrieved. Bluefish may also be in the mix so keep some short wire leaders handy. Crabbing remains inconsistent at best and probably destined to get worse.