By Dave Anderson
It’s funny how plugging for striped bass has so many moods. There are times when you have to work a spook savagely or burn a Magic Swimmer across the surface or gently guide a darter through the tail end of a rip or bore yourself to death with the slowest fucking retrieve possible while the analytical side of your brain slaps away the hand of the ADD side. It’s a mistake to banish any of these plugging attitudes in the pursuit of a giant bass. It’s a mistake to fall victim to conventional wisdom.
Think about the big bass profile that has been polished by the hands of so many surfcasting writers over the years. We have been told that trophy stripers are lethargic. That they are lazy. That they are unwilling to chase their food. That they are opportunistic feeders that clean up the scraps after their smaller cousins ravage a school of baitfish. That they stage up and wait for their prey to come to them. I could go on, but I won’t. A lot of this is total BS. Giant stripers are badass, apex predators that are built to rush their prey in the most inhospitable conditions the inshore waters of the Atlantic have to offer. They will ABSOLUTLEY chase down prey and they have no problem competing with smaller fish—they only have to want to. A 50-pounder will crash a bunker on the surface, she will attack any blackfish that will fit in her giant maw, she will blast schools of herring in two feet of water and she’ll patiently shadow schools of mackerel waiting for one of them to make a mistake. She will also pick half a bunker off the bottom, flush a lobster out of the rocks, sip sand eels off the surface and charge through a pounding surf to pounce on schools of mullet.
Don’t think for a millisecond that the 50-pounder we’re looking for is some old lady doing macramé and arguing over hands of canasta. These fish are at the top of their game, they have grown to this immense size against all odds and their life experience has sharpened their instincts to a razor’s edge.
This is why it is so important to do more than just cycle through a lineup of your tried and true, favorite plugs. It is every bit as important to change up your presentation to decipher the mood of the bite. Please take note of the fact that I said mood of the bite and not the fish. I’m implying that you’re tuning in to the attitude of all the fish in the immediate area, the way they are hunting and taking their prey. Hard, explosive hits tell me that the bite is competitive and I will fish my plugs fast and erratic, preying on the nature of a competitive feeding scenario. Swirls and bumps tell me that either the fish are not really turned on or that they are cautious, following for long distances, unconvinced, inspecting closely. This also makes me believe that there are not big numbers of fish or baitfish in the area. I like to switch to lures that are subtle in action and sound—needles or darters—because they force the fish to focus on the size and profile of the lure and takes action (pretty much) out of the equation. If that doesn’t work, I might resort to the live eel.
I guess my point is knowing how to use a plug is only a small part of plugging, it’s knowing how decipher the right type of presentation that can put you out in front of the pack. It’s an aspect of fishing that draws from your creativity and your experience and relies on your ability to observe and react to cues. No matter how ‘good’ you get at this, you will be repeatedly challenged, you will catch sometimes and be shown the door sometimes too. It’s your receptiveness to learning and your willingness to make changes to what you thought you already knew that will lead you into that Zen plugging place. When the fish speak and you listen—well, then you’re well on your way.
By Dave Anderson
It can be easy to forget how important the rod, reel and line are in the bigger picture when trying to target big fish in the surf. You can do everything right as far as location, timing and presentation are concerned and then find yourself under-gunned with the fish of a lifetime comes along. In the video above you'll see that I use a Van Staal reel, a Lamiglas 1321M and Daiwa Samurai line. It is a fact that these are all top of the industry choices, but I picked them for a reason--and it's not because I want to look like I know what I'm doing.
I chose Van Staal and Lamiglas for a lot of the same reasons--their longevity and reputation. Both the Van Staal and 1321-M have been around for a long time and have been used by some of the saltiest, scariest and successful surfcasters on the planet. This exact rig was used by many of the pioneers of wetsuiting, and they have both proven themselves worthy by remaining at the top of their class through three decades of further innovation by many other companies, they still can't be topped. That says more about these products than any online review or highliner posting rod selfies from the Canal. I can say with the utmost confidence that this combo will withstand any level of punishment that surfcasting can deliver. I never worry about my reel or rod when I'm fishing, they are 'givens' in the equation.
I started using Samurai braid before Daiwa had even named it, back in 2008 when I spooled up for the first time with, what was then called 'Daiwa Boat Braid' I was immediately smitten with it's combination of round construction, slick outer coating, limpness and it's impressive castability. Here again, it's been 11 years since it's inception and nothing--in my opinion--has topped it. So here again, I'm going on more than a decade of personal experience here, Samurai is worth the extra money and I will never stop using it--as long as it's available.
Does that mean that my preferences represent the best and only way that you can equip yourself to catch your personal best surf striper? The answer, of course, is no. Over the past five or so years, several affordable surf rods have been released that combine amazing power and top quality components with shockingly low price tags--like the Tsunami Airwave Elite series and those from Temple Fork Outfitters. Daiwa has recently released some economically priced surf rods that feel great to me as well. The most important things to focus on are the weight ratings of the rod, how much backbone they have and how the rod's action matches with your fishing/casting style. And if you're having trouble picking between two rods that feel good for you, go with the heavier one.
As for reels, just know that a high price doesn't always translate to better in surfcasting. Many of the higher end reels geared toward surfcasters (that aren't made by Van Staal or Zee Baas) were made with emphasis on longer casts--in my style of fishing, casting distance isn't even a consideration. Beware of reels with 8-million ball bearings or any frivolous bells and whistles, all these extra moving parts are just more places for sand and salt to wreak havoc. Keep it simple, look at the reel companies that have been around the longest and then go with the best one you can afford, Penn makes great mid-level reels for the surf and they will last a long time if you treat them with love and affection.
Line is probably the place where you really can't go wrong for the most part. I have only used one line that I thought was complete garbage and that was Daiwa J-Braid--it's hard to believe that they sell the worst and the best braids on the market! But Spiderwire, PowerPro, Suffix, Yo-Zuri SuperBraid... they all work great, and then it becomes a matter of personal preference.
I think the bottom line is that it's wise to do your research and then buy the best rod, reel and line that you can afford. And then do your best to take great care of it. If you treat it well, it will treat you well and it won't abandon you suddenly in the moment that you need it the most.
By Dave Anderson
If you’ve been following along here then you know that I put a lot of faith in instinct. It is the culmination of everything that I have worked for over the past 21 years of hunting striped bass. The funny thing about fishing instinctually is that you really learn to accept the value of pulling a skunk. Success and failure play an equal role in sharpening your instincts—as long as you don’t get too stubborn or start making choices based on what you want to be true rather than what you feel in your gut.
One night last week I had a strong feeling about a spot that I really love to fish, but the conditions were borderline at best—and I’m talking about personal safety. The feeling was strong enough that I went down there anyway and stared out at the spot. Waves were humping through the gap and blasting over my perch, I knew it wasn’t safe to swim out there and that, even if I did get out there, I’d be putting myself in harm’s way just standing there and trying to fish. I was vocally angry about having to make the decision not to fish there. I sat in my car and stared at my phone, looking at the marine forecast and the WindFinder App, trying to see a fishable window in the dismal forecast.
The following night seemed to present the best opportunity, although the wave heights were right at the edge of ‘safe’. I checked forecast about 891 times throughout the day, half expecting the forecast to change for the worse. That instinctual urge was blaringly present all day long, it’s like a nagging itch in the middle of your back, or a hemorrhoid—impossible to ignore. And despite the fact that I had yet to break 20 pounds on the young season, I suddenly felt confident that I could target and catch a big fish. A fifty? Doubtful. But, I just felt like I had a good shot and notching that first—confidence building—‘good one’ of the year.
The swim was pretty easy, and I soon found myself on a perch I hadn’t seen since last fall. I clipped on one of my own deep diving swimmers in solid yellow and fired a cast over the steep transition on the outside of the rock. Within 10 minutes of being there I felt a hard knock on the plug, I thought it might have been a tailslap so I paused and the plug was crushed. It was one of those fish that didn’t feel big at first. She just kind of wallowed around out there and then pulled out some line and started coming back to me. But then the afterburners came on and I knew the fish was decent, maybe 25 pounds, I figured. When I slid her up beside me, I saw a fish that was well over 30 pounds, officially 35 on the Boga. I caught one more fish that night, about 17 pounds, and then it was over. I really hoped I could go back the following night, but the wind increased and so did the waves and I was unable to fish there again all week!
The next day I got a text from a charter captain friend cluing me in on some big fish up inside Narragansett Bay. He told me a general area and I set my mind to finding a way to access the shore in, what proved to be, a difficult area. This was going to be especially tough because the fish were hitting in daylight. I met my old friend John Lee on the way and we found our way down to the shore.
I am not a big fan of following reports. But what he told me was especially juicy. Quality fish hitting plugs during the day and nowhere near the Canal. I don’t like reports because they so rarely pan out. And I also feel like they cloud ‘organic’ judgement. But I threw all that out the window on a whim, hoping that this would be one of the few times a supposedly ‘can’t miss’ report would bear fruit. This time, it did. After three hours of fishing we landed three bass from 32 to 35 pounds and one 22-pounder. We lost a few other nice fish including at least one that looked to be pushing 40.
So, yeah, it worked out this time… but did it really? Since that day last week, I have gone back there four times, had a few big blowups, but ultimately I have caught ZERO bass since. In that same stretch of time, I have only fished one night tide—right in the middle of dark side of the June. So, while that initial trip delivered the goods and a good shot of adrenalin, it has since taken over enough of my mind that I have stopped fishing instinctually and resorted to fishing impulsively.
So when did I make the right move and when did I make the wrong move? Did I even make a wrong move? I suppose that answer could be different for everyone. But I’m going to concentrate on tuning back in to my senses. What would you do?
By Jerry Audet
In this latest "Short Hits", I am talking a little bit about bait fish behavior.
I don't have a ton of patience. I'm good at focusing, but when I'm fishing I want to be doing...something.
However, sometimes doing nothing is what catches fish.
What I mean by that is best displayed in the video. Fish- all animals- strive for energetic efficiency. They want to use as little calories as possible at all times. Sometimes it makes sense to chase bait hard for a predatory fish- if the pay off is big. However, most times fish just like to be still, and wait for an opportunity.
This doesn't just apply to the predator. Prey spends an awful lot of time just "sitting" there- suspended in the water, low or high in the column, doing relatively nothing.
This can make "dead drifting" and "slow and low" presentations especially effective for big (or any size) fish.
That's the great thing about the fly rod. Yeah, it's hard to deliver big flies from shore to areas where big fish hang out (most of the time). But, if you can, it can actually be more effective than other fishing methodologies because you can let your offering do exactly what these little spearing are doing in the video- you can just let it sit there.
So, next time you're out, mix it up. Instead of the same speed and type of retrieve, throw in some dead drifts or rrreeeaaaallllyyyyy slow presentations.
I bet you'll be surprised.
Oh, and the hits using this method? They are usually extremely hard and totally jarring. It's the best part about it.
By Dave Anderson
There are certain times during the year when you can't afford to falter, not even blink... or you risk missing out on something big. We are in the beginning of one of those periods now. The time between the new moon that falls closest to Memorial Day and then the one that one at the end of June/beginning of July represents one of -- if not THE -- best times to target a giant surf striper in Southern New England. This is when we have to go heavy and endure the fatigue, the arguments, the melded aromas emanating from a hot car, the strange looks from Janice at the office... it's time to focus. Don't you falter.
Today we're launching a new informal series called "Short Hits". It'll be a catch-all for all the things we want to share that we find, think of, or run into while out fishing.
This short video I took a few weeks ago while out surf fishing. I was walking through shin-high water when I ran into, literally, a group of 5 pretty big needle fish. They were probably about 15" long or so. They were all in a tight group right at the surface. It took me a moment to get my light on and my camera rolling, but I did get a couple on film.
It's not every day we get to see these in the surf, and I thought it was pretty cool. I also was pleased to see just how closely the bigger needlefish I use match this bait. Although I'm not really interested in matching the hatch with needles in most cases, damn if this isn't a perfect brief look at how a sub-surface needle mimics this ubiquitous prey species.
More coming soon!
Finally finished up my poppers and had a chance to take them out for the first time this holiday weekend. The action was OK, but the fish were small. The water is still freakin' cold. You'd think it was April 26 not May 26- June is next weekend for crying out loud! So I wasn't shocked to find only small non-breeding bass on the feed this evening. Things should change profoundly in the next 2-3 weeks. Regardless, I had fun and it was beautiful evening. Any time I'm casting the fly rod I'm happy. Just the act of casting is a good time.
Anyways, if you missed the last posts and videos on this project they're on the category list on the right side of this blog under Casting Cork. Looking forward to sharing more with you soon!
By Dave Anderson
It's weird how certain things stick in your mind. It was 1992, I'm guessing it was not long after school let out for the summer, I was 12. This is my grandfather's back yard and there is a small pond behind the camera--before I became obsessed with fishing, there was not a single fish in that pond--just frogs, turtles, tadpoles and hellgrammites. I started carting bass and panfish back from the reservoir across the street when I was 8 and that summer after sixth grade was the first time we really saw results.
All the 'junk' around me in the photo is from sleeping out on the lawn the night before, no tent, no tarp, just a couple sleeping bags, some snacks, sodas, a flashlight and my two friends, Jeremy and Wes. I remember waking up, it was one of those mornings where the air feels heavy and wet and the warmth hangs around you, almost visible, like you could push it aside like a curtain.
For weeks prior to this excursion, I had been obsessed with finding a purple spinnerbait after seeing one in a Berkley fishing ad; they were impossible to find so I had to make one--I guess I haven't changed much. Anyway, after we woke up and took turns casting from the one spot where a person could throw from into that pond, we sat down and ate 'breakfast'--I don't remember what we ate, but I'd guess it was made by Hostess and was probably washed down with a half-gone grape soda.
I took out my new purple creation and I remember being afraid I might lose it in the willow tree that framed the casting perch. I stood with my bare feet in the muck and leaned left so that a hard, sidearm flip would sail below the willow branches. I surveyed my cast and aimed for the lily pads in the back corner. Once in a while, you know, you just hit one right and this cast was a majestic shot, right down the center of the fairway, landing just short of the lilies I was shooting for. I only had to retrieve about 15 feet before I simultaneously saw and felt the take. I remember feeling so satisfied with this fish, caught on a modified lure, a fish I had definitely caught before and carried across the street to release into the pond. The only thing I didn't know enough to appreciate was the moment itself. When you're 12, you feel like you're always going to be 12, you'll always wake up and do whatever you feel like, you'll always want to sleep out on the lawn with your buds, and your parents will always make those things possible. But, I knew that there would be another moment like it the very next day--strung together with all of the other ones that summer--most of them are forgotten. But I do feel so lucky to remember the feeling of that morning--the cold dew mixed with the stifling early heat, the feeling of having two friends that were always up for anything, the relief of summer vacation and that one cast.
By Dave Anderson
It's just about that time again, when the big fish come back to the Big Ditch. Anyone that frequents or even just thinks about the Canal has probably noticed by now that the Army Corps hasn't posted the tide chart this year and this makes planning these trips pretty tough. Never fear! We have posted the tide charts for May through November here. So go ahead and peruse and plan 'til your heart's content. You're welcome.
Posted below is a short video the explains how to interpret the tides in the Canal. Give it a look if you need a refresher course.
By Jerry Audet
In this installment of the "Fly25" In-Pursuit series, I am taking a look at a simple fishing philosophy: you can't will fish to hit your lure/plug/fly. We don't get to dictate to the fish. If you always remember, this you will be much better off as an angler.
The last few weeks I have been fishing a spot because I like it. It is easy to get to. It's beautiful. The water is relatively warmer than other spots. I get to swim in the ocean. These are things that I WANT to do.
However, it's also far along the Striper migration pathway. It doesn't usually fish well until at least the beginning of June. And as a result, I haven't been catching many fish.
I've been mulling over the idea that you can't "will" fish into hitting, and that "hoping" fish will do something that you want them to do is the absolutely wrong way to think about fishing.
Instead, we need to meet the fish on THEIR terms. They dictate to us; not the other way around. But until last night, I didn't feel I had a great explanation for these thoughts. But, this all came together last night when I got skunked again, and it really gelled for me that I was simply hoping the fish would be there- but not for the right reasons.
So in this video, I talk a bit about this concept. This applies to ALL fishing- not just surf fishing. Maybe an easy and simple concept, but something we need to constantly remind ourselves to do.