If You Can’t Catch a Rockfish …
… A white perch will do. If you can’t catch either, God bless you.
Setting up just north of the Sandy Point Light in 40 feet of water, our chum bag was soaking deep on its weighted line, and we were waiting for the rockfish to start to eat.
Our planned destination had been farther up the Bay. But as we passed the spot where we now fished, our electronic finder had marked such a large school of big fish that it stopped us short. Setting up about 75 yards off of the flank of a commercial hook-and-liner that had obviously noticed the same thing, we prepped our tackle,
Casting fresh-cut menhaden baits from our anchored skiff, all seemed well with the world. A short time later, a charter boat trolling about 200 yards distant from our stern had four of its six rods go down with strikes as it crossed below us. The action was about to begin. Except it didn’t.
Rockfish remain excellent, but the hot weather is making them finicky. They are turning on for shorter periods and at unpredictable times. Some anglers are finding success in the afternoon, some in the morning, but that changes as fast as location. Rays are becoming more of a nuisance for chummers and others fishing cut menhaden on the bottom. Live-lining small spot and trolling are now more reliable.
We waited and waited but got not a nibble. Eventually I got a pickup and a solid hook set. The fish was heavy and took out gobs of line, but something didn’t add up. No headshakes, and the fish stayed too deep too long. After working it closer and seeing the dull flash of a brown wing under the surface off our starboard, I cranked down the drag and froze the spool with my thumb.
The line popped at the hook and my cownose ray sank back into the murky, algae-stained waters.
About an hour later, the same thing happened to my buddy Moe.
When the tidal current died, so did our hopes. These rockfish had lockjaw, at least for our lures.
“Our first skunk,” Moe noted. “Had to happen sooner or later.”
But it was only 10am and with a nice flat calm.
“We can rescue this,” I said. “How about catching some spot and live-lining?” But my heart wasn’t in it. We had both had our fill of bait fishing.
As we sorted out our tackle, emptied the chum bag and discarded the remaining scraps of bait to the crabs and gulls, we noticed that our early sunny morning had been replaced by a long, low overcast. “Might even rain now,” I commented.
“The cloud cover could hold the perch in the shallows,” Moe countered. “Let’s try ’em.”
When the sun starts to get high, white perch abandon skinny water in the creeks and rivers because they can be seen easily by hunting ospreys and herons. But cloudy weather renders them mostly invisible. They’ll often feed in the shallows all day.
Fifteen minutes later, we were throwing Rooster Tail spinner baits to three feet of water along a rocky shoreline. On the first cast, both our rods bent over with fish. “God is great,” I announced. “This is more like it.” Moe landed a fat keeper, and my perch was almost 11 inches.
I filled a five-gallon pail half full of water and added the perch to it. I long ago discovered that it’s wisest to wait until you’ve gotten at least a half-dozen or so decent-sized white perch before you start putting them on ice. No one wants to clean just three or four perch. It’s better to turn them loose if keepers turn out to be scarce.
Before very long we were adding thick, black-backed, 10-inch perch to the cooler and no longer the bucket. We had lots of throwbacks, but the number of jumbos on ice was impressive.
Switching lures to a silver Rat-L-Trap in hopes of enticing even bigger perch, I had a smashing hit on my third cast. Surprise! After a long and delightful battle I netted a 20-inch striper. A second would follow soon after.
Eventually the eager perch (plus an occasional striper) wore us out. By 1:30pm with the day getting hot despite the overcast, we were on our way home with a delicious fish fry in the cooler.