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.