If you're like a lot of boaters, you have limited funds to enjoy your days on the water. In addition to normal boat expenses, fishermen must also decide just what lures they need - sometimes a daunting challenge to those new to the sport, given the walls of fish foolers on peg boards available for sale in most tackle shops.
To start off, most of us have a couple of spinning rods on our boats, hopefully ready to use when blues are on the surface some great Saturday morning. Kids and spouses get excited when they see the surface activity, the swirls and birds wheeling and diving around the melee.
During those grand times, a 1- to 1-1/2-ounce popper tossed into the breaks usually results in a strike right away, along with squeals from young kids delighted to be involved in such excitement right off the bat. If you notice swirls behind the poppers but no hookups, tell your charges to slow the retrieve. Perhaps, in the excitement of the moment, they are reeling too fast for even speedy blues to catch the lures.
There are good poppers on the market in the $6 to $8 range that should last a season or more. Others of a more durable nature sell for $15 or more. If all the colors confound you, pick one in white.
The popper will also serve when you're anchored up off some rocky point at daybreak or sunset, again with people new to the sport trying to catch a striper. While one rod sits on the bottom with a fresh chunk of bait, the other one or two spinners can be put to use casting poppers into shore. Just make sure you watch the kids so they don't hook someone on board with their back cast.
While on the subject of casting, select one or two packs of 4-inch plastic shads (ask the store for color recommendations, though green is always good). These are great lures for school bass anchored off some rocky point or just drifting along a rocky shore, casting into the boulders to see who's home. If you're on a summer boating trip to Cuttyhunk Harbor, don't overlook the south side of that island where the shads are easily stored under a console or up in a cabin, ready and waiting for some late afternoon.
Blues will hit them as well as stripers, usually chopping them in two, so be ready with replacements if the bite is on. Both your poppers and shads will work at various spots along the coast from just off some jetty front in New Jersey through the north shore of Long Island up through Narragansett Bay and points north.
Third on the list would be some single-hook diamond jigs from 4 to 8 ounces, depending on the recommendation of the local tackle clerk. These can be used for blues off the Jersey shore when the blues are holding deep, and the birds are wheeling and diving on the surface. Drop one of these to the bottom (best with conventional tackle) and begin a speedy retrieve when it hits bottom. Diamond jigging works extremely well on blues up and down Long Island Sound, especially through the very last rays of fall. Boats from Norwalk, Conn., and other nearby areas target the migrating fish from Bridgeport to Eaton's Neck to points west.
Diamond jigs also work well on striped bass in The Race off New London, but instead of a steady, fast retrieve, drop the lure to the bottom and take a turn or two on the reel. Pause for a second, take a couple more turns, pause again, repeat a second or third time, and then drop to the bottom and start anew. Newcomers to the fast tides in the area would be advised that their best chances with a diamond usually come at the end of the tide, slack water and the start of the next tide - times when you can feel the lure hit bottom so you know when to begin your retrieve.
You can also add a strip of squid to the hook and use your diamond jig at slack water for sea bass on wrecks from New Jersey through the south side of Rhode Island. Some of the wrecks in the latter spot offer sport as the summer heads into fall. Yo-yo the lure up and down near the bottom and be ready for the determined pull of a 5-pounder.
Trolling is often the bane of a new boater/angler, especially trying to master wire line. The whole deal often ends up back in the basement of frustrations or sometimes on the repair table of the tackle shop.
With that limitation in mind, we might recommend a trolling lure called the red tube. These are anywhere from 12 to 20-plus inches long, sold in all shops up and down the coast that handle striper tackle. They have a swivel on one end and a single hook on the back. You fish these by first putting a whole sandworm on the hook (The tackle dealer can show you how). You want the worm streaming out in natural fashion, not bunched up as if it were meant for bottom fish.
Let this out behind your boat and it can be trolled in close to shoreline rocks with plain mono, successful if the fish are in shoal water like they sometimes are in the summer on the south side of Fishers Island, N.Y.
The red tube and sandworm can also be trolled down deeper with the help of lead core line. This is much easier for a newcomer to handle than wire. And if you have a few bucks in the fish budget, they can be put on conventional reels with level winds so you or your charges do not have to worry about spooling the line evenly - that's often the bugaboo of people not accustomed to saltwater fishing as they wind the line all up on one side of the reel, often resulting in a bird's nest of biblical proportions when they let it back out.
Lead core line is color-coded so all you have to do is watch how much line you have out and you'll know how deep your tube is running. For best results, you want to lure down about 4 to 6 feet off the bottom. This sometimes requires a little practice, but getting the hang of trolling with lead line is light years easier than 40-pound wire line. Thirty-six pound test lead core is usually sufficient for trolling in places like the 10- to 25-foot depths along the rocky shores off Westport, Mass., in and around spots like Milk Island off Cape Ann or along the channel edges of the lower Housatonic River or various drop-offs on the Watch Hill Reefs.
There are many more lures awaiting you as you pick up speed and experience in saltwater fishing. These should get you started with minimum expense and hopefully some fish in the box. Be advised, though, that in time, if you're like the rest of us, you may look back on the first years wistfully, eyeing the smaller fortune invested in lures over the seasons, remembering when you first started out with a couple of poppers and two diamond jigs.
This article originally appeared in the New England and Connecticut and New York Home Waters section of the July 2010 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.