Bouncing Bernie’s Bombers
Temperatures were in the mid-50s, the tide was close to slack and a light wind was out of the southwest at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Hoping for a good score on the white perch that had been gathering there the last two weeks, we were armed with medium-weight jigging rods and two-ounce Bernie’s Bomber Rigs.
Marking a nice school, we dropped our lures down to the bottom some 45 feet below and started the yo-yo action that we hoped would draw some strikes from our favorite frying fish, wintertime white perch. We didn’t have long to wait.
My buddy’s rod arced over hard. Easing the fish up from the depths was not an easy task. “Either this is another schoolie rockfish causing trouble or a really big perch. I want the net,” he said.
“It’s right behind you,” I answered.
Then my rod bent over.
“Whoa!” my friend said as a monster perch came into view.
Slipping the net under the beefy, black-back, he brought it into the boat.
“I just hope this turns out to be a perch, too,” I said as I struggled with my own hookup.
In a half-dozen drifts, we found second- and third-year rockfish in far more abundance than white perch. Hooking up with these throwbacks became a nuisance. But all that ended right then.
My friend’s white perch measured 12 and a half inches and was winter fat. Mine was right close behind at 12 inches and just as porky. Those two fish would remain the best of the day, but thick nine- and 10-inch blackbacks were frequent in the mix. A 20-inch rockfish made a welcome late appearance.
We fished the rig by drifting, dropping it down and yo-yo-ing the jig off the hard shell and rocky bottom. Keeping it as close to vertical as possible to avoid snags. The heavier metal jig does catch fish, but we found that the small dropper attracts most of the attention.
This setup is not exclusively for white perch. It will take rockfish, redfish and bluefish and is particularly deadly on sea trout — when they are around.
Quite a number of other fishing boats were working the area, but most seemed to be missing the bite. They weren’t using Bernie’s Bombers.
The Bomber rig is a vertical jigging setup developed years ago by Capt. Bernie Michael. Essentially, it is a two-ounce in-line sinker painted white, chartreuse or yellow attached by a split ring to a feathered hook. That’s tied up on an 18-inch leader with a feather or hair-dropper fly or light jig tied about 12 inches above the heavier lure.
Capt. Bernie passed away quite a few years ago, but George Bentz, a retired charter boat skipper and the long-time president of Pasadena Sportfishing Group (pasadenasportfishing.com) is a high-quality lure maker who ties his own improved version of the Bomber Rig. Call him if you visit so he can be sure to have a few on hand (410-439-3474). Local sport stores carry versions of the Bomber Rigs as well as the materials to create them yourself.
Tie your own by substituting a one-and-one-half to two-ounce Stingsilver or similar metal jig (or painting in-line sinkers) on 18 inches of 30- to 50-pound mono. Add a small fly or jig near the top.
Making and storing a half-dozen or so of these rigs in small two-by-three-inch plastic zipper bags can keep fishing in your thoughts on bad weather days. You’ll be happy you made several because you can go through more than a few Bombers when the fishing is hot and the bottom is rocky, especially around the Bay Bridge.