Our fishing world is evolving, changing before our eyes, and smart anglers will adjust their tactics to the realities of the day. Those who do will reap the rewards; those who don’t probably will come home with less, or maybe an empty cooler.
Take fluke, for instance. Because of today’s higher minimum sizes, it’s not as feasible as it was 20 years ago to drift with the fleet off the sandy state swimming beach, catching the smaller fish that were legal at the time. Now you probably have to set your sights on deeper water using bigger baits, fishing around some type of structure and looking for keepers.
To be sure, some 9-pounders still will be caught amid the throwbacks in 30 feet of water in the tried-and-true spots of yesterday, though such areas often bring disappointment. Many of the fish just will not meet the higher minimum standards. People often e-mail me to say that they get discouraged tossing back fish after fish. They are not meat hogs, but they do like something to take home for supper.
The first question about catching larger fluke is where. If you have a plotter, look for hills and high spots in, say, 70 to 120 feet, running the extra distance to get to them. Drift over those with a standard fluke rig, but instead of small baits try a whole small squid or maybe a longer strip cut from the belly of one of your keepers. Make sure this is tapered to a fine point so it flutters lifelike in the water. Then add a large shiner, which is often sold in coastal tackle shops.
This is, indeed, a mouthful, but that’s the idea — offering bigger fish something they can’t turn down. And while we’re looking for keepers, have a net on board big enough to land a 12-pounder or bigger. You’re out in elephant country, so be ready for the big guys, maybe a winner in a monthly or yearly fluke derby.
During the heat of the summer, striped bass often bite best after dark. Fishing for them in the heat of the day may be successful at times, but don’t bet the farm on it. In my local area, The Race — the popular rip off the southwestern tip of Fishers Island, N.Y. — is so full of blues during the summer it’s almost impossible to get a lure past them, although you might see a striper just at the end of the tide.
It’s often better to fish at night during the summer, particularly from three days before to three days after the full moons. During those times, bass often bite very well on a variety of methods, including using a live eel on a three-way rig on many of the reefs up and down Long Island Sound.
If the method of fishing called three-waying is new to you, stop by your local tackle store when it isn’t busy. Buy some eels, rigs and sinkers and ask the fellow behind the counter for a quick how-to course. He might talk to you then and there or ask you to come back. Both visits are time spent well.
The weekend angler with a small boat also can catch bass by casting into the shoreline with a spinning rod and a live eel or any of the great plastic lures now available. The bright moon makes this a piece of cake, letting you see all of the structure and pot buoys on the way home in the wee hours. If you don’t want to drift, many anglers anchor up (only on nights with calm seas) and let the fish come to them, casting into shore and maybe putting another rod down with a fresh chunk of bunker on the bottom, covering all bases.
If a night trip isn’t in your cards, sea bass bite well during the summer months in the Northeast. The wreck shown on the chart you bought at that winter boat show might be a good bet if it hasn’t been fished too much. Head over there during the last hour of one tide into slack water and maybe the first hour of the next tide — times when sea bass bite much better than during the strength of the tide, when they often hunker down inside the wreck. That bit of information comes from my diver friends, who have years of experience watching sea critters up close.
For sea bass, you’ll need a high-low bottom rig, for sale at your local shop. Bait it with chunks of squid or clam, lower it to the bottom and drift close to the structure, but maybe not right atop it. That’s a sure way to lose rigs in the junk pile most shipwrecks become over time.
North of Cape Cod, Mass., many weekenders use their time on the water to catch cod while dressed in T-shirts, much preferred over a bundled-up trip on some cold January morning. The last few seasons we’ve had wonderful fishing for cod to 25 pounds not far east of the north end of Stellwagen Bank, fishing in 160 to 200 feet of water.
Today’s ultra-thin braided lines help this effort by allowing people to use lighter rods and jigs — easy on your guests, especially if they’re older or the kids down the block. Years back, we used heavy 7- to 8-foot rods with 4/0 top 6/0 reels and 50-pound line for cod jigging with 12- to 21-ounce jigs — heavy, to say the least, for someone with a small frame. Now you can tend bottom in the above depths with 30-pound braid and 5- to 9-ounce jigs, a lot easier on the arms and back during a full day’s fishing.
If you want a bit of adventure this summer and have some time budgeted, how about trying for halibut? My good friend Capt. Greg Mercurio of the Yankee Capts, an 85-foot party boat out of Gloucester, is now offering multiday trips up to the far reaches of the Gulf Of Maine, fishing off the Maine coast rather than Massachusetts. He found that his fares not only caught excellent cod and haddock but also halibut, the outsized flatfish that are rare in other areas.
In 2010, his fares landed 22 of these fish. They ranged in size from 4 pounds to more than 90 pounds. Catching a halibut of any size, especially a large one, is the fish of a lifetime. The boat is geared for beginners and rental tackle is available, along with expert instruction for the mates. Go to www.yankeecapts.com for information, prices and sailing times.
Summer on the water can be crowded at times, but it offers many opportunities on other days. The person who comes back more than satisfied is the one who adjusts his fishing and thinking to what is available now or shifts his methods to today’s realities. Don’t settle for what they did 20 years ago; take stock of what’s working and go with the flow.
This article originally appeared in the August 2011 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.