SIX SUREFIRE TACTICS TO CATCH MORE BASS IN THE SURF
Imagine a crisp October morning with cold, pounding surf rolling gently across the sands of the Jersey Shore. A school of peanut bunker slowly pushes off a long, empty bar, and as the sun creeps farther over the Atlantic's horizon, large stripers begin boiling in the rip.
You pull off some line, roll out a cast and begin your retrieve. Ankle deep with white water rushing past you, your floating line rips through the swells then suddenly stops. Water begins to spray off your hands as the line quickly slides through your fingertips. A startling commotion erupts just 20 feet out, and your reel begins to zing as a broad-tailed linesider pushes through the powerful waves. You're all alone; just you, the fish and the sea.
This is a common scene along the Northeast coast every fall. Saltwater fly-fishing in the surf is a sport within a sport, and those who consistently brave the cold waves are often rewarded.
The men and women who chase these hypnotizing surfside fish are part of a special breed. There's an old saying that surf anglers in this part of the country have been echoing for years: "One from the sand is worth 10 from the boat." Bottom line, if you've never hooked a linesider with your feet planted firmly on terra firma, you don't know what you're missing. If you're looking to score your first bass this season — or if you are simply looking to become a more effective surf fisherman — here are six surefire tactics to help you catch more striped bass from the suds.
ne from the sand is worth 10 from the boat.
The best advice I can offer for successful surf fly-fishing is to be prepared. Preparation comes in many forms: physical readiness, mental readiness and equipment readiness.
Compared to fishing from a boat, the surf places more physical demands on anglers. Walking long distances loaded with gear, getting pounded by waves, and pulling all-nighters take a toll not normally presented to boat or back-bay anglers. Anglers should cautiously ease into technical surf conditions. Being in shape does not necessarily mean you're in "surf shape." First off, find a fishing partner with equal or greater experience. It's good to have a buddy in the surf should a wave knock you down.
Being mentally prepared is just as important in surf fishing as in any other sport. That means having a plan before you head out. What tide will you fish? Day or night? Do you have confidence in your tackle and flies? Have you networked with other anglers to get the very best intelligence? These are all good questions to ask prior to heading out into the suds.
Equally important is your gear. Unlike the boat angler, who carries a host of tackle bags filled with spare reels, flies, leaders, clothing and other terminal items, the surf angler needs to travel light. That means bringing only the essentials. In my local waters of the New Jersey Shore, we are fortunate to have a 30-mile stretch of beach accessible via four-wheel drive, which allows anglers to bring much more gear. Most beaches of the Northeast, however, do not offer conditions like this, and setting out afoot for a long trek is the key to getting into some of the best surf fishing around.
Before heading out, know the area you plan to fish and bring only those items needed for a safe and enjoyable outing. Pay particular attention to line and fly selection. Showing up with small Clousers and a heavy sinking line when the bass are surface feeding on large herring would be a bad choice. As a general rule, I always bring the following items with me in addition to the critical items I might bring for a specific location: nippers; pliers; flashlight and extra batteries (in case I plan to stay the night); spare spool with a shooting-head system; shooting-head wallet with floating, intermediate and sinking sections; protective eyewear; mono tippet; wire tippet; band aids; first-aid ointment; hook cutters; compass and a good selection of flies.
Anyone can follow the crowd, especially during a blitz. It may be fun fishing with a large group, but serious and successful surf anglers are always on the hunt for something bigger. Hunting big fish in the surf is a state of mind. Anglers need to get out of the traditional thought process of going to the same spot at the same time and catching the same-sized fish. A true hunter can fish all night, come home empty and still be satisfied. Why? It comes down to knowing that — at any moment — a truly large bass could eat your fly. Surf hunters are always in touch with the environment. They know what tides produce the best bites. They know when to fish a particular fly, and they certainly know their baits and migrations inside and out. When hunting big fish in the surf here on the Jersey Shore, I almost always fish at night. I fish tides
HUNTING BIG FISH IN THE around slack water before and durin§
a new moon, as this is when many
SURF IS A STATE OF MIND. of the larger fish have been caught, particularly in October and November. During these times, anglers should look for structure along the beach that has both current and deep-water holes, allowing large bass to ambush bait. When hunting these big fish in the fall, putting one's time in is critical to success. And when something sticks, enter it in a log with as much detail as possible.
When hunting large stripers in the surf, understand that your tackle should be up to par. For these situations, I generally fish either a 9-foot, 11- or 12-weight rod, matched with a quality fly reel. I prefer a Tibor, but regardless, it's important that you are comfortable with your equipment prior to tackling big fish. Knot connections and leaders should also be perfect and pre-tied. Depending on your choice of fly line or leader material, be sure it is high quality.
While surf hunters generally work alone when fishing, they are definitely not without a solid network of other surf anglers. Surf anglers are a unique bunch. They often prefer to fish alone or with one or two trusted comrades. In years past, it would be taboo to even tell your closest friends about a hot bite. Instead, surf anglers would keep secret spots all to themselves. Today, many anglers still hold to this thought process, but for the average angler looking to simply go out and have fun, having a well-rounded network of other surf anglers in your area is a must.
To develop a good network, start by visiting your local fly or tackle shop, particularly one that is close to the surf you plan to fish on a regular basis. These shops offer a wealth of information because most surf anglers stop in before and/or after fishing. Spending a few bucks in the shop before asking for inside information is probably a good thing. Show the shop owner you are supporting him, and he most likely will offer you a world of information.
Today, the Internet has changed the way we fly-fish in saltwater. Whether you like it or not, the information highway is getting the action to the masses within minutes (sometimes seconds) of the actual bite. Saltwater fly-fishing and surf fishing websites, including www.stripersurf.com,www.bassbarn.com, www.stripersonline.com,www.reel-time.com, www.tidalfish .com and a host of others offer message boards on all sorts of topics. From tackle selection to tactics and techniques, these sites will help you be a better surf angler. Some sites will allow specific locations to be posted about the action, but most prefer that members remain somewhat general about their location to prevent overcrowding at specific spots. Additionally, local tackle shops often have their own sites and post up-to-the-minute reports and conditions.
The surf can be an intimidating place to fish. With endless miles of beach filled with jetties, sand bars and bulkheads, a wealth of options present themselves. One of the biggest misconceptions is that fly-anglers think they have to cast far to catch fish. True, being a more accomplished caster will invariably get you more fish, but it's not necessary to send offerings out where the spin fishers reach.
Almost even' beachfront I have fished from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod has some type of trough or deep trench that runs close to shore. Many times this trough is right at your feet, parallel to the beach. Other times, it can be just behind or in front of a sand bar away from the shoreline, or even perpendicular to the shore as a sand bar runs out into the water. No matter where the trough lies, however, it is without doubt one of the most consistent places to find stripers and other game fish looking for an easy meal. Here, water is pushed either over the bar or against the shoreline, creating a trench. As waves crash and roll over these areas, bait is swept into the trough in a disheveled and disorientated state.
When fishing a trough at your feet, start by backing up at least one to two rod lengths after making your cast. This allows you to bring the fly into and through the trough and still have enough line out to set the hook if a fish strikes. When a strong wind or current is present, start above the flow and fish your way down. After each cast and retrieve, walk down-current four to five paces and take another cast. Stripers have a tendency to hold in current on the inside of the trough, so its a good idea to keep moving. When you get your fly in the zone, try to keep it there as long as possible. Sometimes a suspended fly hovering in or just above the
trough is still the perfect target for a cruising bass. Its also important for the fly to have an appearance that its being swept into and through the trough rather than swimming up on the beach.
When the trough is outside the shoreline and off the inside of a bar, cast the fly on top of the bar and strip it into the trough. When the bar is perpendicular to the shoreline, cast up-current and allow the fly to drift over the bar and swing into the hole. When retrieving the fly in this situation, I prefer to use a slow and erratic strip, giving the impression that the bait is disoriented or trying to flee the current path. Many times the bass will wait for the fly to come over the ledge and crush it immediately. Always be sure to strip the fly all the way into the shoreline. Many anglers make the mistake of casting 40 feet, retrieving 20 feet, then picking up the line and casting it back out. Doing so might miss the trough entirely.
Line selection for the surf varies from floating to sinking, depending on wind direction and surf conditions. It could be argued by many Northeast anglers that a clear intermediate line is the best all-around choice. In most situations, an intermediate will cover your surf and jetty needs; however, over the last few years, I have had more success with a floating line than its sinking or intermediate counterparts.
Floating lines offer control against waves and white water. It is very rare to fish the surf when it is calm as a lake, and having the ability to roll cast over waves and pick the line up quickly for a new cast is an advantage that sinking lines do not offer easily. Because surf water is fairly shallow, it is much easier to
WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT A NEW SPOT, WATCH THE FLOW OF WATER FOR AT LEAST 15 TO 20 MINUTES.
work and locate the fly at desired depths from top down versus bottom up. Should I need the fly to sink under the surface a bit, I select a fly that is sparse or has some type of weighted eyes, such as a Jiggy or a Clouser Minnow.
Floating line presentations can also be spotted in most scenarios. Because of its bright color, it is easier to see where the line is being swept in rough or choppy surf. By having the line on top of the water rather than underneath, rips and undertows do not carry the line as quickly, allowing the angler to keep the fly in the strike zone longer than an intermediate line. Mending line is also very useful in fine-tuning presentations. Should fish erupt outside your current retrieval path, it is much easier to re-cast quickly. In many situations, the floating line does not have to be retrieved at all, the way a sinking line or shooting head does. With a floating line, the angler can present the fly in a more natural flow, based on current speed.
Preparing, networking, finding and hooking a nice fish in the surf are all incomplete without the glory of bringing the beast up on the sand. Most anglers take the landing for granted, and because of that, many waste their efforts by not having a pre-planned route, depending on location and surf conditions. I have seen many anglers hook and fight a heavy linesider in strong surf flawlessly only to lose her at the end because the angler was impatient or did not have a "runway" to bring the fish to shore.
When you arrive at a new spot, watch the flow of water for at least 15 to 20 minutes before actually fishing. Take note of how often the waves break. Do they come in sets? If so, how many waves in a set? How long is the time period of the lull? Do the waves all break in the same spot? How far up the beach does the wash of a larger set wave run? These are all important questions to ask and understand before selecting your runway or landing area. If the sets are quick, it will not be long before a wave can assist in carrying the fish onto the beach.
After the hook-set, keep the rod tip high and pointed at the horizon. It is best to have a good, vertical bend in the rod on the initial run, with most of the line out of the water. As the fish tires, bring the rod tip lower and off to the side, and steer the fish from side to side by putting pressure on the left or right side. Use the current and water movement to gain line when the fish is being steered with the water flow. Never try to reel the fish in against the backwash. This will cause strain on your line and could snap the tippet should the fish get some momentum with the flow of the wave. Rather, wait for a wave to push the fish up on the sand while you reel slack out of the line.
Once the fish is beached, always handle it with care by quickly removing the hook and walking it back to the water for a release. Make sure you place the fish back in water that is deep enough for it to quickly swim away. Nothing is more disturbing than watching an angler kick a fish back into the wash or, even worse, toss the fish in the air only for it to land in 3 or 4 inches of water.
Tliere are many other tips and techniques that will complement your skills in the surf this fall. But take note of these six, and you should be into the action in no time. (£)
(Side console w/ Mercury 90-hp 2-stroke)
Hell's Bay Boarworks Titusville, Florida 321-383-8223
(Side console w/ Mercury 90-hp 2-stroke)
Hell's Bay Boarworks Titusville, Florida 321-383-8223
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