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.
By Dave Anderson
Let me start by saying that there is absolutely no way I can cover this subject in one post, I’m going to have to break this down into several parts—I could see it going as many as 10 individual parts, but we’ll see. Just to stay on trend with what we’ve been discussing recently, I am going to focus on deep presentations with plugs.
When I look at the blackfish footage in last week’s video I always come away with the same pointed thoughts in my mind; I see how tight they are to the bottom and how subtle their movements are (unless they’re moving frantically). I feel it’s important to stress the point that blackfish are only one of these ‘bottom species’ that double as reliable baitfish, and pretty much all of them stay tight to the bottom and tight to structure: scup, fluke, sea bass, choggies, kingfish, pollock—and I forgot to mention lobsters in my last post. Lobsters conjure—at least for me—images of the rich surfcasters of the 1800’s tossing lobster tails into the Cuttyhunk suds. And I have found numerous lobsters in the guts of the bass I have kept over the years. These crustaceans are active at night and absolutely are a favorite target of big striped bass.
Ok, hopefully I’ve made this infinitely clear: a deep presentation is a natural presentation in the boulder-strewn stretches of the Northeast coast that most of us fish. So that’s the first point: get comfortable with fishing deep. One of the best sentences I’ve ever read about fishing deep was written by my friend and elite surfcaster John Hanecak, it’s simple but so true: “You can’t be afraid to lose plugs, if you’re afraid you’re going to lose it, then you’re not going to fish it where you’re most likely to catch a big bass.” That’s paraphrased, but the point should be well taken. Which brings me to another quote from a YouTube video posted by swimbait pro Mike Gilbert, you think losing your $50 to $75 metal lip hurts, these guys are fishing baits that cost as much as $500! Mike takes a very pragmatic approach to it, he says, “Consider it gone. Once you cast it out there, you have to think of it as if you’ve already lost that bait.” Plugs are tools, and by the nature of what we do, they must be considered disposable. This is why I have backups of everything I like and why I build many multiples of the plugs I make for my personal stash. When they inevitably leave me, I have another to take its place.
So how do you know when you’re fishing deep enough? When you start banging into the bottom and hanging up periodically, you’re there. I currently only use metal lips and needles when I’m trying to dredge the bottom. And I am fully aware of the fact that there other ways to get this done, but shads, leadheads and bucktails don’t fit into the way I do it. I like to play on the buoyancy of the plug to keep my presentation natural.
Referring again to the underwater footage, notice how fluid their motions are and how often they really aren’t moving much at all. I can’t do that with a bucktail, I don’t doubt that someone out there can, but I can’t. I can do that with metal lip, especially one that’s weighted enough to slow its rise during a pause. I can also do this with a heavy needlefish, particularly those that are made to sink level. A properly made level-sink needle will not rapidly ascend through the water column like a conventionally made (tail-weighted) needle. It’s the riding angle of the plug that dictates it’s track, if the needle rides head above the tail, it will climb, if it stays level it will remain—more or less—at the depth you sink it to (until the line angle steepens to the point that it has to ride toward the surface).
Presenting these plugs is all about getting them to depth and then maintaining that depth while feeling your way through the retrieve. I’ll begin with the metal lip. Let’s assume that we’re fishing in 10 feet of water with a good sweep running from left to right. I’m going to cast out to about my 10 o’clock and put four or five hard cranks on the reel to get the plug down fast. Now I have a tight zone in which I can work the plug properly before the sweep begins to affect the action of the plug and its ability to stay deep—let’s say that’s from about the 10:30 position to the 1:30 position. When I have the plug down, I focus on a steady, subtle rhythm, I don’t want the plug to swim hard or to wobble out of control. Everything I do is dictated by what I feel and what I’m feeling is directly linked to the how the current is affecting the plug. My reactions are all made to maintain that slow, thumping rhythm. But with some mental footage of bottom species swimming in my head, I will also allow the current to move the plug while I stop cranking and lower the tip to cease the wobble and swing a stationary target through the tide. If I’m doing it right, I will bump bottom here and there and that’s another time when I’ll pause the plug, allowing it to swing and float over the obstacle before resuming the retrieve. To me, this method closely resembles what I see in those videos. Am I overthinking this? I really don’t know. But it helps me stay alert and confident, so regardless of its necessity underwater, it has a positive effect on me and therefore it has a positive effect on my fishing.
With the needle the basics are very much the same, except I often find that I have to make a few ‘test casts’ to find the perfect cast placement so that I can get it down in time to fish in that slice of bottom where the current works in our favor. A perfect cast would have the needle hitting the bottom at about the 11 o’clock position. Once again, the retrieve is completely based on feel and I make several casts every night where something seems to go wrong, the plug never gets all the way down or—for some reason—swings harder and I never really connect. But, on that same plane, when it does work properly the feeling is 100% different. I can feel the weight of the plug and how the current is playing off of it. I keep my rod tip high and when I feel like I’ve lifted it too far from the bottom, I drop the tip sharply, allowing a loop of slack in the line which the weight of the needle quickly takes up, sinking it back down a few feet. Here again, the goal is to tick bottom once in a while, keeping the plug in the lower 2- to 3-feet of the water column, swinging right through the strike zone. The hits are THUNDEROUS using either method.
All of this working with and working off of the current and all this talk about feel and reacting to how the plug is reacting to the current are why I made that video about “The Water Environment”. These places of increased water movement and abundance of life are the places where your presentation matters the most and the harder you work to complete your picture of what makes these spots so special, the better you’ll be at finding fish and presenting a plug to them. All of this stuff is important, you can’t fly the plane if you don’t know how to take off and land.
This series is about trying to catch a 50-pounder, but it’s all pertinent information that’s relevant to catching quality stripers from the surf. Understanding the relationship between a reliable source of food, water movement and how that water movement changes your presentation will take you a long way if you take the time to learn this and implement it in your own fishing.
I originally wanted to make this into a video, but the more I talked to the camera, the more I realized there was potential for a much more in depth video that would require a lot more 'in the field' footage, look for that sometime over the summer.
The striped bass is, at the moment, over-fished. It's clear now we have to all do our part to help protect this beloved fish for future generations. In lieu of this information, we have put together a solution to let the saltwater angler modify any lure to work with only 1 front treble hook. We believe this is important for several reasons, which we have detailed in the video. However, we also want the lure to work precisely as designed- and continue to catch as many fish as possible. So, in this short film, we detail how to use small "bullet" or "worm" weights to keep all plugs working as originally designed; while at the same time being better for the fish, easier on the angler, and allowing you to carry more lures in your bag.
Please share with your fellow angler, and lets do our part to help this fish return to abundance.
Look for an extended epilogue for this video to come in the next couple weeks with more information and discussion!
By Jerry Audet
By Jerry Audet
I think as we continue to write and talk about these “In Pursuit” series you’re going to hear a lot of similar themes and sub-themes. In fact, as Dave and I work on these and discuss them before and after posting, we often realize we’re even having pretty significant impacts on each other.
I have been thinking a lot about “commitment”- a theme that Dave has hit on several times in his posts. It can be called a lot of things- dedication, obsession, sticking it out, determination, being insane…whatever. And as a philosophy it’s the most important aspect of hunting, and being successful in, big fish. I do not feel there is a lot of room for debate with this. It’s pretty much fact.
However, there’s another aspect of commitment that I think is also very important. I think it’s probably slightly less so than mental commitment, and I’ll get to that, but still very important. This might be a little controversial of a post, but I think it needs to be said.
Physical commitment: I think it’s something we know, but sometimes don’t want to admit. I think it’s often something we don’t want to talk about. It’s uncomfortable, because it makes us look at our weaknesses. Our physical weaknesses.
I want to make this extremely clear up front- I am NOT trying to chastise or shame anyone. Everyone is free to be how and who they want, both as a person and as a fisherman/woman. This post is my opinion. It is one aspect of how I am successful in how I fish.
However, I will say I often get the same reaction to my discussion of this topic. It usually goes something like this:
“Wow, you fish really hard. How do you do it? I just can’t.”
To which I reply “I work really hard in the offseason. I run a lot, bike, ski, and do strength training. I have built up a base of fitness over almost two decades that allows me to “push through”. I eat healthy and try to keep my weight down. Sleep is always an issue, but when I’m not fishing, I take that seriously too.”
The response is almost always the same, averting their eyes they say something like “I just can’t do that. You’re lucky.”
Or, if they don’t say “lucky” they’ll say “young” or some version of that.
Trust me, there’s no luck in this...Ok, ok, that’s not exactly true, my parents are still both good athletes (although they came to it later in life in their mid-40’s), and my sister is an outstanding cross-fit and weightlifting athlete, so I do have good genetics. However, I was also a chunky kid (husky pants and all) and I have to be careful about my diet, regardless of how much I work out. I’m not “blessed”, I just work really damn hard. People who know me well, know that I spend a lot of time working hard to be fit.
I used to do all my exercise and training for other reasons besides fishing, of which I will not get into here- and not all were because I enjoyed exercise. In fact, I often still don’t feel like going out and running when it’s 20 degrees in January, and I really (really) don’t enjoy doing weights inside my house or at a gym. I hate working out inside. And you will never, ever find me on a treadmill. Or the “dreadmill” as I call it. But, I try very hard to stick to my exercise plan each day, week, and month during the “off season”. In my opinion, it’s got to be done.
Because it allows me to fish longer, harder, and more days in a row without breaking down physically. I can go further to access spots that would be out of reach, physically, since I am relatively fit. I can throw huge plugs for 5 or 6 nights in a row, for 6 straight months, without hurting my shoulders, back or elbows. And, while this may have mattered less when the fishery was good, I think it’s becoming more and more important in this current “lack of fish” climate. You have to go further, harder, and longer to get good fish. And with access seemingly drying up as well, we’re in a “double punch” scenario. You either chose to fish the same handful of spots everyone else can (which is a topic for another time) or you figure out creative ways to access quality areas. For me, this often results in parking further away and utilizing my legs.
In fact, my best nights from last year (and the year prior) have been from spots that take at least 40 minutes of biking or walking (or a combination) before I can even begin to fish. Being fit and not balking at an hours of “investment” before I even fish has allowed me to find “secret” spots and fish areas that are (I believe) either not fished or very under-fished. In fact, two of my spots I’ve been fishing for a long time now and have yet to see a single angler!
This makes them mine, and I genuinely feel it has helped with my productivity. I think, perhaps, I’m even into fish at one of the spots that are residents that perhaps don’t even see as many lures during the season and as such are more willing to make a mistake in taking mine. I admit this is a relatively shaky theory, and I wouldn’t want to debate it with Dave, but it’s interesting how well I will do from this spot while anglers in adjacent areas lament about how there’s no fish.
Being strong, and especially having good endurance, is critical to all of this. I think many hardcore anglers downplay how hard they work. I know “Crazy” Alberto has talked about this openly before, and written about it, as has DJ Muller, so I’m not the only one and this is not an original idea. However, I think it’s harder to be honest about, versus the mental commitment discussion, because you have to admit and work on your weaknesses. And even just admitting them can be tough!
Now, I know some of you are thinking “not worth it” or some version of “but I have a spot X that I catch good fish and I just get out of the car and be fishing in 3 minutes”. To address the first point, you’re not wrong! I am not saying you have to be fit and work out, I’m saying that it is a way I am successful in catching big fish. Also, if you don’t care about catching big fish but just want to catch numbers, many more options open up to you. And you don’t have to fish as much either, because there’s a higher likelihood of success with less trips and less hours of fishing each trip. To address the second point, If you live on the coast, have exclusive access somehow, enjoy fishing easy access places like the Cape Cod Canal or Montauk light house (aka crowds), or even breachways, etc. than you have options for “physically easy” fishing (still have to mentally work, just not as much physically). However, even in these cases, being able to spend hours on your feet, very late into the night, over many nights, can be physically taxing. And, again, casting huge plugs (or bait is even worse) on heavy gear is tiring.
Which leads me to why I’m putting this in “Fly 25”. I think fly fishing is even harder. It’s always amazing to me how much more sore I get from casting the relatively light-weight fly rod in comparison to the heavy 11-foot surf stick. The higher repetition of false casting, especially with a double haul, results in a term called “pattern overload” which does extreme amounts of muscle injury. Also, the phase of the double-haul is an eccentric (lengthening) movement, which does additional damage. All this jargon means it makes you fucking sore. And maybe it’s fine for one night. But what happens when you have a great night, and want to go again…but are so sore you can’t? To me, that is an unacceptable outcome, and I want to mitigate it as much as possible by being as strong as possible.
Actually, this is sort of the nexsus of my entire point, and also the admission of what is essentially a problem at times. I cannot resist, I cannot stop, and I cannot accept not fishing as much as possible. And to do this, I have to stay fit. I’m so obsessed, so addicted, I can’t stomach the thought of not being able to fish a good tide or bite because I’m “too tired”. Yes, this is not necessarily a great thing (especially if you’re married or have a high-stress job), but nevertheless, it’s part of the drive and commitment to catch more, and larger, fish.
However, you don’t have to be 10 percent body fat, be able to run a 6 minute mile, and bench 300 pounds. You don’t have to be able to score a 300 on the PT test (although, that’s not a bad idea!). In fact, trying to look like Brad Pitt from Fight Club is a total waste of time. I would suggest instead of doing crazy hours of exercise, an angler use that training time doing something fishing related- scouting, researching, and preparing for the season. In full disclosure, I do enjoy long distance running, but I don’t do that because of fishing (I do that because I like it). In fact, I think my running in the winter can hamper my preparation sometimes- too much of a good thing, as they say.
However, doing things like power walking for an hour, doing some pushups and chair dips, and some core exercise (planks are king!) can be huge in increasing your ability to fish really hard. Basically, I would recommend 3-5 hours of aerobic (e.g. biking, hard and fast walking, elliptical, hiking, XC skiing, etc.) and a 1-2 total hours of strength-training work a week. You’d be amazed how strong you can get by doing just 20 minutes of strength training a day, with just a handful of exercises. No need to even go to a gym, just fit it in when you can. If you’d like suggestions, email me and I am happy to give you some actual exercises or training plans. Anything, is better than nothing!
I know. It’s not exactly fun- even for me who has been doing it a long, long time and enjoys some aspects of it. And it’s yet another thing to fit into the day amongst all the other crap we have to do. But, if you think of it as investment in your season of fishing, it is easier to commit. I do, truly, believe it makes a difference in being prepared and able to hunt for larger fish. When you’re tired, you get sloppy. When you’re sloppy, you make mistakes. You lose focus. These things play directly back into what Dave was talking about in “Colemans law”. Every time you cast, you have to be ready for that hit. Because if you aren’t: you lose 9.9 times out of 10. And I just don’t like those odds. If your back is aching, or you’re falling asleep at the wheel (as they say), your ability to analyze even goes down- it’s not just about casting or being able to walk into a remote spot. In essence, it’s a snowball effect, that all piles up to decrease your chance at success.
Let me close with a very recent example, which is where the photo is from in this post.
I was fishing for Northern Pike a few weeks ago. I had been fishing for over four hours, casting relatively large lures from shore and had walked a couple miles wading in water up to my waist. I had nothing much to show for it- a handful of moderately sized pickerel and one baby bass. I was getting tired, hungry, and bored. I went all the way back to the car, about a mile which took a long time wading in the water. I didn’t want to leave, so I grabbed my fly rod and started to work the shore again hoping the change in tactic would reinvigorate me.
I went back to the car again after about 20 minutes. I was sssoooo done; I was over it. However, as I stood staring at the cove I was parked near, I saw a good number of bugs hatching and rising from the surface. There was actually a lot of surface action from small sunnies as they slurped down the emerging bugs as well. This, in combination with the waning day light and the extremely warm early spring weather, just screamed “big fish”. Everything just felt “right”. I instinctually felt it.
But, my God did I want to just leave!
Instead, I sucked it up, I drank some water and ate a Clif Bar and grabbed my spinning rod again. My arms were tired and my legs starting to get there too. But I went back out and started to cast a large jerk bait anyways.
Ten minutes in, and I had my largest bass of the year so far, as pictured.
Needless to say, I was pretty glad I had sucked it up. I stuck it out until full dark- almost 45 more minutes- and had a few more moderately sized pickerel and then called it a night.
As I drove home, this post came to me. The only way I was able to do this, to stick it out, was because of the “investment” I had made over the winter through my running and strength training. Those nights of running in the dark in 25 degree weather. Those afternoons sweating it out doing strength training in the basement, absolutely miserable. If I hadn’t, no doubt in my mind I would have got in the car and left- and not caught that fish.
And yes, we should be fishing “smart” and not just “hard”. But sometimes, you have to fish hard to fish smart. And to do that, you have to be fit.