Saturday, June 19, 2010

Every Method Has Its Time & Place in Surf

Surfcasters have a dizzying array of choices when deciding on which method of fishing to employ each time on the water. Spinning rods, conventional bait-casting rods, and fly rods are the main tools of the trade, but even within these applications, there are countless combinations of natural baits and artificials an angler can present to hungry fish. Knowing when and when not to use each tool is just one of the many keys to successful surf fishing.

One of the best things to have in the surf is an open mind. Surfcasters can sometimes be stubborn and get too caught up in the method rather than the results. Strange as it may seem, there are anglers out there who will ignore, and even look down upon, a certain method, even if it is out producing another. Whether it is fly, spin or conventional, artificial or bait, an angler must choose the best application and presentation for the particular situation at hand.

For example, during summer full and new moon phases on Long Island Sound, a highly sought-after phenomenon known as the cinder worm hatch can sometimes occur. These worms hatch out of muddy flats, which can create a feeding frenzy among striped bass. The best method to duplicate this forage is with a fly rod, a floating fly line and small worm patterns. I have been in these situations without the right tools for the job and it is very frustrating to say the least. You would be wasting your time fishing during this hatch with anything but small worm imitations.

Another example can occur while fishing near a large school of adult menhaden, also known in our area as bunker. Striped bass and bluefish are at times so keyed in on the real thing, that presenting life-like artificials, even on the outskirts of the school of baitfish, often turns up fruitless. Snagging a bunker with a weighted treble hook, and live-lining the now-injured baitfish, can be much more productive, as your struggling bait should stand out in the crowd. If that doesn’t get their attention, using fresh cut bunker chunks under the school may entice the target species. Large striped bass are known to be lazy at times, not wanting to waste their precious energy. Scooping up an easy offering on the bottom expends much less energy than tracking down a fleeing baitfish.

We all have our preferences when it comes to fishing, but try to keep an open mind before and throughout each outing. Leave all options on the table and keep your ears and eyes peeled. Ultimately, it’s not what you want; it’s what the fish want.

This article originally appeared in the New Haven Register on 8/1/2008

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cashing In

The ingredients for serious thunderstorms were mixing all day. They finally materialized in the afternoon and we waited until they passed before our sunset bait-snagging mission.  A friend and I were soon cruising along a stretch of shoreline that has been home to bunker for the last few weeks.  They were right where we left them last, but teasing us just out of casting range. After back-tracking a half mile west, we witnessed another school getting sliced and diced by bluefish. No doubt there were also bass underneath, cleaning up their mess.  We only had a few cracks at snagging before the bait moved out of range for good.  On our furthest casts with weighted treble hooks, we connected with four hard-earned baits that would soon pay huge dividends.

Three of us arrived to spot B in fading light. Our fourth partner had already been there for a short while, slinging rigged eels to no avail. Conditions were ideal with a light southwest breeze and a low outgoing tide. We cut up the crunchy bunker and each took a most-coveted head section.  All was quiet for over an hour until dead low tide. What at first felt like bunker lightly tapping my line, was really a striped bass mouthing then dropping my bait. The fish came back not 10 seconds later, this time making its presence known by peeling several yards of braided line from my Baitrunner. The bass soon thrashed on the surface in the shallow water, with the sound of the displaced water giving us an idea how large she was. A short and memorable battle ensued and I was shaking with adrenaline as my largest surf-caught striper slid into my lap. After cooperating for a quick photo, the fish swam off strong, leaving a lasting impression for one happy angler.  

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Strike While The Iron's Hot

Our local waters are loaded with life and fishing very well at the moment. Fresh with sea lice, migratory striped bass have returned to the area and are corralling pods of Atlantic menhaden in the shallows. Like clockwork, bluefish have also joined the party. In addition, thousands of alewives and blueback herring are dropping out of tidal rivers while schools of silversides and sand eels round out the baitfish smorgasbord.

Now would be a good time to log some hours on the water before summer sets in. Water temperatures remain cool enough for nice bass to be taken close to shore in broad daylight. As long as all this food sticks around, the shallow water all-you-can-eat buffet will continue. And as the water warms up, it will be time to start playing the night game a little more. Bottom line: go fish!