Saltier water spices up fish catch


August 01, 1993|By PETER BAKER

You have probably noticed that the salt line finally is working well to the north and west in the Chesapeake Bay above Poplar Island, bringing with it a wider variety of fish -- spot, croaker, skates, a few sea trout and, people keep saying, scattered schools of 1- to 3-pound bluefish.

You can smell and feel the salt, you can see skates and sea nettles near the surface, and bottom fishing will turn up small croaker and spot. But the bluefish? Fishing for them continues to be a hit-or-miss proposition.

With rockfish season closed until the fall, that leaves white perch as perhaps the best saltwater fishing from the Bay Bridge to Tolchester.

But even white perch are not as numerous as they once were, and it might take a bit of looking before one finds a really productive location.

Perch are partial to shell bottoms, rock piles, gravel beds, channel edges, bottom humps in open water and man-made structures like deepwater piers and bridge pilings.

They also are less tolerant of high salinities than other bottom feeders such as spot and croaker, which will move faster up the eastern shores of the bay than along the western shores.

(The Coriolis effect deflects water motion to the east in the Northern Hemisphere, making the eastern waters of the middle and upper bay saltier than the western waters.)

So, excluding tributaries, which hold good populations of white perch year around, among the best places in the bay to find larger white perch at this time of year are from the bay bridges north across the western side of the Dumping Grounds, Belvedere Shoal, Seven Foot Knoll, the Lumps and off Tolchester.

In open water, the first key is bottom structure, the second key is the tide and the third key is choice of bait.

Let's say you are fishing on an ebb tide off Bodkin Point, at the mouth of the Patapsco River, and have marked fish on the south edge of a hard hump rising to 15 feet from a depth of 22 feet.

Chances are you have found a pile of perch or a bunch of young rockfish gathered. The first step should be to position the boat uptide of the drop off, bait up a double-bottom rig (No. 4 hooks, 1-ounce weight) with bloodworm, peeler crab or clam snouts, lower the rig to the bottom and drift over the edge of the hump.

If the drift turns up rockfish, move on. If the drift turns up perch, drop a marker buoy and reel in your lines -- just for a few minutes.

Using the marker buoy as a guide, re-position the boat uptide and anchor so that the transom lines up with the marker buoy, right over the drop off, where the larger perch should be lying in wait for food to be washed to them by the tide.

Anchoring is especially important around bridge pilings or piers -- too much scope, and you risk damaging your craft, too little and you will be too far off to fish effectively.

One method used by frequent bridge fishermen, once they have found a good location, is to set the bow anchor uptide and then to tie the stern off on the bridge piling.

Captain Ed Darwin, a charter skipper out of Mill Creek near Annapolis, has an interesting procedure for doing this.

First, he will anchor by the bow and let out line until he is in position to throw a line with a buoy on the end around a piling. Once the buoyed line has floated clear, he casts a heavy fishing line rigged with a large treble hook over the buoyed line, reels it in and ties it off. The anchor line at the bow is then snugged up and cleated off.

The result is a perfect fishing position, with the stern to the preferred side of the pier or piling.

Grass shrimp is the best bait to use around the bridge pilings because it is the most common food source for white perch there. On a No. 4 hook, one good-sized grass shrimp threaded onto the hook (from the tail curved through the body to the head) will work well.

When fishing the bridges, it is important to fish as close to the structure as possible and, over the past couple of weeks, the south span pilings toward the western shore from the lower 20s to the lower teens have been good choices.

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