We were horribly late. The informal perch tournament had started promptly at 10am, but it was closer to 11 before our boat finally joined the fray. Easing up to the first stop on the planned search pattern, Roger Sexhauer and I made quick casts to within inches of some ancient pilings just off the rocky shoreline while Mike Ebersberger, our captain, set a small anchor.
Rockfish are returning to the mid-Bay, and live-lining is getting red-hot from the Bay Bridge south. Chumming continues to produce, as well, from Love Point on down the Eastern Shore side and should pick up this week on the Western Side at Podickery and down onto Hackett’s and south.
Our lures got pounded simultaneously. My drag sang out from a good run, and Roger’s rod tip was pulled down deep into the water as his fish sounded. These perch were big and full of fight.
Before we landed either white perch, Mike got off a cast and was immediately tight. A triple at our first location, and all, it turned out, over 10 inches. We were late, but Team 1 was in the game.
This loosely organized competition was made up of three boats crewed by as many of the full- and part-time employees of Angler’s Sport Store as could be spared on the appointed day. It had been conceived to settle (or inflame) claims of angling superiority occasionally made around the store.
Team 2 was skippered by Jamie Avedon, a dedicated white perch fisherman, and included fellow employees Jeremy Brown and Taylor Ciatola. Mike Stein, another employee and recent transplant from the rivers of Pittsburgh, skippered Team 3 with Sarah Bailey and her sister Tiffany.
The rules were simple. The longest white perch and the most white perch over nine inches caught between 10am and 2pm would determine the winning team. There were no prizes other than victory and bragging rights. The contestants and some select friends would then gather to celebrate (or deride) the winners and clean, cook and consume the entries.
Fishing for Victory
Our team started with a mental list of honey holes, the first of which proved incredibly fertile. The three of us landed quite a few heavy keepers, some well over 11 inches, before we wore out the welcome. The next stop proved barren, as did the next, and we moved to deeper water.
Deep jigging around the Bay Bridge pilings provided no improvement to our fortunes, and by 1pm, our luck had gone cold.
Moving around and working toward the Eastern Shore side of the Bridge, Roger finally scored a beautiful fish close to 12 inches. We quickly set anchor and drifted back into the sweet spot, but we couldn’t come up with a second fish. Then Mike reached down into his bait box and pulled out redemption.
He had netted a huge soft crab that morning from a piling where his boat was moored, and he had intended to save it for a special meal. Now, with the contest at stake, he made the ultimate sacrifice. Cutting the crab into small pieces, Mike added it to his top/bottom rig, and with fingers crossed, dropped it down into 25 feet of water.
Within seconds, he was struggling with a double-header. As he swung the pair up and over the side and onto the deck, we knew we were back in the game. Both fish were big black-backs and well over nine inches. Roger and I quickly baited up with crab.
Within the next half-hour, we were down to each section of the soft-crab’s legs and swim fins, but we had easily doubled our perch harvest.
Racing back to our homeport at the appointed hour, we tallied the results. Our team’s best fish, while almost 12 inches at 117⁄8, was not quite the equal of Team 2’s real 12-incher. But we had caught the most fish — barely.
As we all cleaned the catch, we declared the contest a three-way tie. The two top teams’ fish were virtually equal in size and numbers, and the third team’s efforts and enthusiasm had more than made up for their lack of luck.
Later, tucking into the crispy perch fillets as well as a few crabs that Mike and Roger had caught earlier, we promised to make the competition an annual tradition. Practice, we also decided, would begin immediately.