If your weekend crew isn’t quite the collective Tiger Woods of the fishing world, don’t despair.
You can still pull off the day without pulling out your hair. Here are a few suggestions to keep from going bald or losing what hair remains.
This time of year we often find bass or bluefish on top early in the day, their presence given away by birds working over the baitfish driven to the surface. Sometimes there are surface swirls; other times just the terns or gulls wheeling and diving. The whole situation is perfect for beginners.
Have two spinning rods rigged and ready with 12-pound line tied to 3 feet of 40- to 50-pound monofilament leader. The outfits are light and easy to handle, even for rank amateurs. On the business end of the leader, tie a lead head with 4-inch curly-tail plastic worm in white, or perhaps some 4-inch plastic shads sold in all tackle stores up and down the coast.
Try the worms or shads rather than a popper. First, they have single hooks with less chance of hooking your quests when a struggling schoolie is lifted aboard and, second, they require far less skill with the rod. Even if the angler is clumsy holding the tackle, all he or she has to do is turn the crank of the reel with a slow-to-moderate retrieve. The lures do the rest.
Blues like the plastic lures as well as school stripers and will bite through the leader. By sticking with the mono instead of wire, you’ll get more hits from the prized bass. You might also suggest that your guests let the lure sink a bit under the birds as bass often hold under bluefish, picking off the leftovers or pieces of chopped-up bait fish that sink down.
If your fishing area has numerous tide rips like those between Fishers Island, N.Y., and Watch Hill, R.I., you can often find game fish holding in the rip near or just before the roiled water at the tip of the underwater hill (the structure that causes the rip in the first place). In this situation, you want to position the boat just upcurrent of the rip, maybe adding enough power to hold the boat in place in the current, letting your anglers cast into the rip water.
If the rip isn’t built up too high, many will drift right into the rip, watching for hits as your lures get nearer the strike zone close to the face of the rip. Watch out for pot buoys that could be just under the surface, and also seas from either a storm offshore or a leftover sea from a front that passed prior.
My home waters around Fishers Island Sound are full of rocky haunts where bass feed on a fall morning, ready to hit a lure tossed their way. But you’d never know they were there unless you tried some blind casting.
Years back, we’d do the same thing along the jetties off northern New Jersey, hitting all the jetty fronts between Shark River and points north, catching a mix of striped bass and blues. The same could be said for all the sand beaches on the south side of Long Island, all the way out to Montauk. Just because you don’t see any birds is no reason not to try some casting just outside the breakers.
It pays to have some Plan Bs in the back of your mind. If the casting is going south, have some frozen bunkers, mackerel or herring aboard to try anchoring up and fishing bait on the bottom for a while. Select a fishy spot like some of the rocky holes around Stamford Harbor or any number of bassy-looking areas off Westport, Mass., or maybe over on the Elizabeth Islands.
Once anchored a safe distance from the rocks that hold the bass, cut up some of the bait and drop a couple chunks over the side on conventional rods that most people have on board besides the standard-issue spinners. Put the rods in the back holders with clickers on and reel in free spool. When a fish takes the bait, the clicker sounds off, and you set the hook, hand the rod off, and watch what goes on. Of course, you’re in control the whole time, able to lift the rod a bit for a youngster, elderly person or someone new to the sport.
Even if you catch a blue or bass on the chunks, the crew might look to move on as the sun climbs higher and the morning gets longer. Plan B-1 might be to check the tides to see if slack water is coming up. If so, you could take the chunking rigs off the conventional rods, replace them with two-hook bottom rigs and head out to a nearby wreck or rock pile for some sea bass. These black beauties grow to more than 6 pounds, are great on the table, pull hard and bite readily when tides ease and go slack. You get GPS numbers for nearby wrecks from tackle store charts, sometimes from booklets or sheets of artificial reefs put out by the state marine fisheries division.
Bait the two-hook rigs with pieces of squid and drop to the bottom after adding a bank sinker heavy enough to tend bottom in the lighter tides. Drift over the structure. The sea bass and maybe some large porgies will eagerly grab the bait if they are on the prowl for a morning meal. Instruct your charges to be ready for a tussle when they set the hook — sea bass especially fool folks accustomed only to bluegills in the family farm pond.
See, you not only survived the day, you hopefully passed with flying colors catching some fish. Or perhaps you landed only a few, but you did it with a diverse trip that didn’t produce yawns but rather an earnest thank-you for sharing the saltwater experience with newcomers.
This article originally appeared in the Home Waters Sections of the November 2009 issue.
Tim Coleman died May 3, in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do best at that time of year: scouting the salt ponds and outer beaches for spring striped bass. He was an exceptional saltwater angler and a prolific writer. Thousands of readers lost an advocate and authentic storyteller for fishing in the Northeast, and anyone fortunate to have known Tim lost a good friend.