Sunday, December 27, 2009

Waiting out the Wind

Waiting Out the Wind
Fish are still biting, when the weather's right

By Dennis Doyle 12/9/2009
Originally Published in BayWeekly Magazine

I almost missed it. For over a week. I had wanted to get in one last white perch trip. But it just didn't look like it was going to happen. Those relentless winter winds were churning the surface of the Bay to a froth, and it appeared they had no intention of ever stopping.

Then one morning, the trees framing the skyline around my neighborhood sud­denly went still. I did­n't even notice until mid-morning. When I did, I ran to check the Thomas Point Light weather station web­site. The wind meter reports affirmed my fondest hopes. It was dead calm on the Chesapeake.

I phoned a fellow perch lover, Frank Tuma. Frank, a Magothy River charter skipper (, was shutting down his rock fishing operation for the season. But I knew that he also wanted to get in one last trip for perch.

These small fish are at their best this time of year, fat, delicious, still feeding up for winter and gathering in large, deep-water schools. If you're lucky, a full cooler of one of the best eating fish on the Bay is a distinct possibility.

We met at Frank's boat, Down Time, just past the crack of noon, armed with some short jigging rods, lures and a bag of bloodworms for insurance. A friend of Frank's, Rich Clark, joined us to add an extra rod to our efforts.

Cruising out the Magothy, we jumped on plane and headed toward the most likely spot for the whities this time of year: the Bay Bridge. It didn't take long to find the fish because there were a number of craft already there and obviously into them.

We eased up at the edge of the small fleet to drift along with a sharp eye toward the fish finder screen. When it lit up with the right marks, we dropped our rigs over the side.

The traditional Bay setup for this type of fishing is known as a trout bomb rig. Produced, and popularized many years ago by Captain Bernie Michael, it is a heavy, two-ounce feathered jig at the bottom of a two-foot leader. Added to the affair about 18 inches up from the bottom jig is a second, smaller, feathered lure. That is usually the perch catcher.

Easy as Perch
Dropping the rigs over the side, we worked, the lures by simply moving them sharply straight up and down with about a three-foot lift. We kept them close, to the bottom, careful to maintain just the slightest tension on the line during the drop back. That was when the bite was likeliest to occur.

You need a deft touch to consistently score with this setup. because you are working in 40- to 60-foot depths. That's a long-way down, and perch do not have a particularly violent bite. Even so, the. three of us were soon into the fish, and some of them were jumbos.

Rich was particularly adept at scor­ing big, thick black-backed perch. Several of his early fish measured over l1.inches. Frank and I, trailed until he finally nailed a whopper that topped 12”. That event seemed to turn the tide, as all three of us started getting larger fish. Anything under 10 inches went back over the side.

Within an hour, we had two buckets filled with the thick, chunky devils. Our wrists were sore from hauling them in. Frank cranked up the engines and head­ed the boat for home. At dockside, we were cleaning fish for some time.

The next day the winds returned and brought along a little freezing rain as well. It didn't bother me a bit. I had got my day in, and my rewards were already on the stovetop, rolled in bread­crumbs and sizzling in hot peanut oil.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Small Boat Planer Boards for the Chesapeake

Small Boat Planer Boards for the Chesapeake

Anglers with small boats have not been able to compete with larger vessels pulling PLANER BOARDS.

Things Have Changed.

Over the last 5 years Planer boards have emerged as one of the foremost components for catching fish in the Chesapeake Bay. When used properly, they have many advantages. Most anglers perceive them to be cumbersome and only workable on larger boats. This theory is no longer true.

Rigging Planer Boards.

Setup properly, Planer Boards are can easy to use and very effective, especially for Trophy Stripers that enter the Bay during their Spring Migration.
The design of Boards can vary.
Boards are designed to run as close to parallel to the boat when trolling. In the Bay our trolling speed is generally 2 -3 knots. The further back behind the boat, the less effective they are. The higher the speed the more pull they will have.

Size of the board makes a big difference. 2 board or 3 board models, 6 “ , 10” 12” Board depth all cause the boards to run deeper in the water, causing more resistance that maintains the tension on the Board retainer liner.

Attaching to Boat
Boards should be rigged to be attached to the boat at the highest point. Boats with T-Tops or hard tops have an advantage. The Board line will have a bow and may drag the water when out any distance. Without a t-top there are planer board poles that serve to raise the level of the board attachment

Generally you want the boards to run safely at 75 to 125 feet from the boat and be able to troll 2 to 4 lines.

Trolling with Boards
Boards are used to target fish that are in the top 25 ft of the water column. They are not designed for running deep lines. Generally trolling in the Bay consists of using Umbrella rigs with Parachutes. Bucktail rigs and double rigged rubber lures, Tsunami’s, Storms etc.
Spoons can be used on Boards, but due to to lures design, tangles may occur.

When attached to the Boards, my trolling rigs are about 20 feet apart and start at about 50 feet from the boat.

ALL PLANER BOARDS are not created equal
. Recently I tested and compared several popular models particularly designed for ease of use and small boats. All were effective and had their unique advantages and disadvantages.

Recently I took the time to try and compare several planer boards sold or made in the Chesapeake area.
With the popularity of Planer Boards now being used for trolling in the Chesapeake I thought I would try several models and see the differences.

I tested & used three types of popular planer boards
1) Production 6 inch 2 board set from Riviera
2) 6 inch custom 3 board set
3) 10 inch 3 board custom set I made from a model we have used for 5 years

I tested all models trolling at 2.5 – 3 knots in a slight chop.

Production Model from Riviera
These boards retail around $60- $70 each.
They are very light and made with plastic over foam. 2 Board model
They are made to fold up for storage – a plus

Setting out in a light chop these boards started to show instability and why these would have a problem in heavy chop

At 100ft – the boards run way back without anything rigged to the line

Started rigging with 1 umbrella and boards started pulling back further

With 1 umbrella @ 100feet, the boards start to pitch and pull and were close to flipping.

It is good that they fold and stow away .
That can be where they will stay!

Custom built 6 inch 3 board set
These were light and easy to carry. They did stack nice vertically.
Small eye bolt looked like it would come lose at any time.

Running and setting slow, the boards ran way back and low in water
At 60-75 feet out almost sunk and way back

Found that if I sped up to about 3 knots, boards started to work better

Setting out 1 Umbrella, caused the boards to sink further and run back.

In slight chop at 100ft – with 1 umbrella the board starts to disappear.

These boards were hard to pull in unless I came to a stop in the water.
This was probably because they were so far down in the water.
These may be ok for small 1 or 2 rigs and maybe only 50 to 75 feet out

Custom 10 inch – 3 boards Planer Boards

used by Down Time Charters

Setting out boards at 100 ft, boards are at a good angle - horizontal to the boat.

Board set out with 1 umbrella in slight chop shows good angle and no tendency to flip.
I run up to 4 Umbrellas on this setup

Plans for 3 board set here

Tips and Tricks
I use a reel to hold planer board line when not in use. Old open face reels work good to store line and keep from getting tangled when retrieving line.
I use 150 foot on each side with boards running out to about 100-125 foot with bow in line. Planer line MUST run to top or highest point on boat and out to Planer

Connecting reel line to running line is easy with a Scotty Clip setup.

Fishing Update - Chesapeake Bay Fishing for Trophy Striped Bass

2009 Fishing Update - March

Maryland's Trophy Striper season will be starting on April 18th.
Starting about April 1st Down Time Charters start fishing for the really big stripers moving up the Bay. These fish concentrate in the mid-Bay areas and warm water discharges of the various power plants on the Chesapeake. We will be targeting these fish in the mid-Bay area from Breezy Pt.
The big fish have already started to move into Bay with some hardy fisherman doing Catch and Release trips just to get out on the water. Some reports are coming in about surf casters catching stripers from the beach at Sandy Pt.
Big baits equal Big Fish.

During this early pre-season, trolling for these Trophy Stripers can be very productive. I try to down size and use lighter tackle than during the catch and keep season. We can usually stop and fight the fish one-on-one with less lines out and lighter gear.
When schooled up and the fish feed on herring and alewives in the bay, large Gulls and Petrels will feed on the bait being chased. These birds will let you know where the fish are. Following the birds can be exciting on these really big Striped Bass. Switching from trolling to meadium action spin tackle and casting jigs on these fish can be World Class Fishing.

I'll be posting fishing reports over the next weeks.
Hope you can join me on the Down Time and enjoy this fantastic fishing on the Chesapeake.