White perch top off good rockfish outing


For the past hour, a cooling breeze had been rising from the south-southeast, well-spaced seas had been building and a wall of dark clouds over the western shore of Chesapeake Bay had obscured the sun.

With two keeper rockfish in the cooler, it seemed wise to start the 20-minute run back to the dock from Bloody Point Light. Trimmed out at 25 knots, the center console rode easily atop the chop.

The late afternoon had been fruitful. Rockfish and a handful of small blues had come readily into the chum line, and after a pair of 22-inch stripers had been put on ice, an hour or so of catch-and-release fishing had been busy.

But the weather had an ominous look about it, and as with almost any summer evening around the bay, the forecast included a slight chance of thunderstorms. The choice was simple: Run for cover closer to home, or wait to see what developed.

And running for home also meant there probably would be time for bottom fishing along the bars and edges between Thomas Point and Tolley Point, where white perch anglers had been doing well for several weeks.

At times, it seems white perch are overlooked during the mania of rockfish seasons. But the smaller cousins of the striped bass bite readily, fight well and taste great when fried or broiled with salt, pepper, lemon and butter.

If there is a catch to catching white perch, it is finding them in open water.

River and creek anglers know to fish ambush points along deeper shorelines, points and holes. Bay Bridge anglers know to fish close to the pilings, adjusting for sweep of current, which carries food and baits to the fish. In both cases, it is hard to beat grass shrimp for bait.

But in open water the game and baits change.

Clam snouts, peeler crabs, grass shrimp and night crawlers all are good baits for white perch, but my preference is bloodworms, which are easily cut into inch-long lengths and threaded onto hooks and quickly disperse a blood scent.

The rig of choice is a wire double-bottom rig, which allows quick changes of weights (use just enough to hold ground) and will stand up for years against the abuse of shell or rocky bottoms.

Light spinning tackle rigged with 4-, 6- or 8-pound line is a good choice, and the lighter the line the more sporting perching can be.

Perch most often hold over hard bottom areas -- oyster or clam beds, natural rises in the bottom and rock piles -- or orient to sharp channel edges.

In each case, their position is optimized to take advantage of moving water -- tides, current and wave action caused by prevailing winds. Moving water is a conveyor belt of food and scents from food sources, a natural chum line.

At the mouth of the Severn River, Tolley Point extends east under the bay, a spine of clam beds and oyster bars that is washed by outgoing river current and scoured by tide and wave action when the wind is building from the south-southeast.

The other evening, with the tide theoretically an hour into ebb, the fish finder showed a horde of fish along the 20-foot edge of an underwater ditch made by a clammer's rig, a favorite and reliable hole. But two drifts over the area turned up croakers eager to bite but so small they had trouble taking the hooks.

During a run along the southern edge of the spine east toward the edge of the shipping channel, the fish finder showed scattered fish at mid-depths, the size of the icons and their location indicating they probably were small rockfish.

The first pass to the north side of the spine, while still in 8- to 10-foot depths, showed little on the fish finder. But the movement of the crab pot floats, extended up the bay, showed a lot -- the tide was still moving in, held past the appointed hour of turn by building wind and wave.

Farther to the north, in 22 feet of water and tight to an innocuous 4-foot rise, the fish finder showed fish, lots of fish. The first drift turned up a pair of nice perch. The second drift turned up another, and the boat was set to anchor.

For 30 minutes more, the perch bit readily enough -- and then they stopped, and 10- to 12-inch rockfish moved in for a few minutes before they, too, moved on.

Judging by the action of the crab pot floats, now upright, the tide finally had begun to turn -- and the cries of gulls, a familiar sound of summer bay evenings, were rising from the south side of the spine.

With the turn of the tide, pockets of rockfish were herding baitfish up against the bar, breaking on the surface and feeding heavily. Gulls were sweeping in to feed on crippled fish or bits of flesh on the surface. Here and there, baitfish broke free of the surface while trying to escape and rockfish broke free in pursuit.

The possibility of thunderstorms had dissipated, darkness was close, but as I pulled the anchor, I decided there was time for a few more casts.

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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