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Perch in a Poke

An old salt teaches this old dog a new lesson

 

It felt like a good fish right from the start. Lifting my rod tip at the strike, I felt solid resistance, then a headshake. Then the perch shot out from deep under the dock where I had hooked it. On its way out, the crafty devil also cornered at the nearest barnacle-encrusted piling and cut the line. 
I shook my head and reached for another spinner bait. This wasn’t the first big white perch to have done me dirt that morning. A number of whities finning in our five-gallon bucket were easily over 10 inches, but at least four or five larger perch had already burned us in one fashion or another. These big dock-lurkers were obviously battle tested and savvy in giving even seasoned anglers the slip.
Losing a few fish doesn’t bother me. It just makes me more determined. Besides, I had already realized that I was rigged too light for fishing under these piers. Six-pound mono on a long, light-action spin rod was giving way too much edge to the stocky brawlers lurking inside the forests of barnacled line shredders.
 

The Dockmaster

-We were fishing the numerous boat docks and piers on the Severn in a way I had never done before, courtesy of an old salt named Woody Tillery. Woody was showing my son, Harrison, and me how to score on jumbo white perch around the shoreline structures, even in what I considered adverse conditions: low water and bright sunshine.
Woody had gassed up, baited up, rigged up and was ready to go when we arrived at sunup with our skiff at the Severn River ramp. Another friend, Ed Robinson, was also fishing with Woody. 
We began the morning with high water, fishing for whities in the more traditional manner, targeting laydowns and submerged brush along long, shaded shorelines. We encountered some good action but not many perch the size we were after. Woody had promised jumbos and insisted we weren’t going to keep anything smaller than 10 inches. 
At mid-morning with the sun climbing up in the sky and our tide fading, I began to suspect that we might not get it done that day. Woody, however, was undismayed. “Looks like it’s not going to happen here,” he announced. “We’ll have to start working the docks and piers for the fish we want. They’ll be concentrated there in the shade by now and won’t be so scattered. We’ll get ’em.”
I had fished around those structures before for perch but not quite, I soon discovered, in the style Woody had in mind. He used his handcrafted one-eighth-ounce, safety pin-style, feathered spinner baits in white and chartreuse. Methodically, he worked the shaded areas of each of the piers all the way back to the shoreline.
Casting his baits far under the structures, he let them sink to the bottom before cranking them smartly back. With a six-and-a-half-foot, medium-action spin rod and 15-pound mono, when he got a strike, he would quickly lead the fish from under its refuge to do battle out in the open. 
“My best fish from under these piers was a 40-pound-class striper one fall a few years ago,” he explained later as we discussed gear. “Twenty-pound braid or 15-pound mono, certainly nothing lighter than 10-pound, might seem heavy for perch. But with these pilings, barnacles and the occasional big rockfish, it’s really ultra-light tackle when you think about it.”
That seemed sound logic to me.
Woody and Ed were still hammering casts around and under the Severn’s many docks and piers when Harrison and I had to depart at about noon. Their live well was populated with fish over our self-imposed minimum size, and almost all of them were from under the docks. 
Neither my son nor I brought home perch in the 12-and-over category, but I bet we had each lost at least one or two of that size. We did manage enough fish over 10 inches for a family dinner for five the next night. The extra-thick fillets were delicious. 
Just before we pulled out that day, we watched Woody finesse a 191⁄2-inch rockfish from under a structure, a nice touch for a fish-wise and generous guy my son and I had nicknamed The Dockmaster.
You might get some tips from The Dockmaster or even some of his handcrafted spinnerbaits at the Pasadena Sportfishing Group Meeting the second Monday of every month at the Earleigh Heights Fire Hall. Or call him at 443-962-3731.