SOUTH HAVEN — Dick Griffin was beating me, probably two to one. This is not unusual as Griffin is the best perch fisherman I know. But he gave me a tip: Instead of fishing straight up and down — as I was — I should chunk the bait out from the boat and slowly bring it back.
"The fish are flat on the bottom," said Griffin, 75 years old and still perch fishing about 100 days a year. "You've got to get it right down to them."
We were using Griffin's usual approach — pair of hooks, baited with spikes, one maybe a foot above the sinker, the other about a foot above that. By casting the rig (instead of just lowering it to the bottom) we were putting the bait that much closer to the fish.
"It's really been working the last 10 days or so," Griffin said. "Even if you've got them under you, if I'm not catching them fast enough, I'll fan cast around. I'd rather catch them straight up and down. It's faster. But if it's not working. . ."
Leave it to Griffin; he's got it all figured out.
And once I started casting, I started catching them at a pace similar to my host's.
We were catching them at a pretty fair pace; problem was, we were doing a fair bit of sorting to get the 7 ½-inch (or larger) perch that Griffin wants. Between tossing back the small perch and the gobies — which were thick as cookie dough — it was taking us some time to fill up the ice chest. So I asked Griffin: When you're on small fish, when do you leave them to find better ones?
"I have a rule: Never leave fish to find fish," he said. "I figure they've all got fins and they all swim. You might be catching all little ones and then five minutes later you can be catching all big ones. They definitely move around."
Indeed, we hit good fish for a while — up to a little more than 12 inches — then it would be back to small ones. And gobies. Griffin said he figured when the bigger perch move in, the gobies beat it out of there.
Make sense to me.
A retired school teacher, Griffin has fished Lake Michigan perch pretty steadily since he moved to Wyoming from his mid-Michigan birthplace five decades ago. He has it down.
Griffin starts with reels spooled with 8- or 10-pound braided line (Power Pro), then adds a 12-foot fluorocarbon leader (Seaguar) tied with a surgeon's loop. He says a 12-foot leader allows him to break off once or twice, if necessary, and still re-rig without tying on a new leader.
He uses simple flies (tied on a No. 6 gold hook) or large ice-fishing jigs and puts two spikes on each for bait. As for sinkers, he uses round balls from two ounces up, depending on waves and current, attached with a small snap swivel.
"The lightest sinker I ever use is two ounces," he said. "Twos, threes and fours. Round ball sinkers don't seem to get hung up on anything and they don't spin a whole lot."
A seven-foot light action rod makes it all work.
"The rod's the key to the whole darn thing," Griffin said. "Your rod tip is your bobber. If you feel the bite, you're sleeping. You have to see the bite before you feel it.
"Buy the most expensive rod you can afford. And in some cases, buy one or two that you can't afford."
Griffin said he paid about $225 for his rods (he's using Cabela's rods these days).
"I spent half of one summer trying to find a rod I liked," he said. "I like good equipment, but I fish a lot."
Griffin fishes out of a 1978 Lund, with 40-horse Evinrude. ("I've only got one more payment," he wisecracked.) His electric winch anchor system includes 350 feet of anchor rope as he often fishes in deep (more than 100 feet) water. He updates his electronics regularly.
As for bait, it's spikes, spikes and spikes.
"I used to use mousies, but you can hardly get them now," Griffin said. "They cost about $40 a thousand. Spikes are a quarter that much. And I used to catch my own minnows but it was too much work. I can catch fish faster on spikes than I can with minnows and spikes catch just as big fish."
And the rest of the story? Well, we anchored in 69 feet of water and we moved just a little way once — when the wind switched — to reposition the boat. We caught and tossed back a lot of perch and gobies. Griffin, who tossed the gobies to his feet and counted them up and the end of the day, caught 50 himself. We caught our 70th (and limit) keeper perch at 9:30 a.m.
Most of the perch were in the 8- to 9-inch range, though we had 15 that were 11 inches or better. Not bad, eh?
Griffin says the current status of perch is stable.
"It's not like it was in the '80s when you could find a big school and just sit on them," he said. "But this is my 15th limit trip in a row.
"I'm not the best perch fisherman there is, but I do a lot of little things right," he concluded. "That's the key — the program I'm using is working."