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Fishing - Landing the big one takes dedication

Seek out charter captains and hot shot anglers to shorten the learning curve for catching whopper stripers

Seek out charter captains and hot shot anglers to shorten the learning curve for catching whopper stripers

Many are hooked the first time they see an outsized striper unloaded, the unloader struggling to heft the 40-, 50- or even 60-pounder for the camera or to hoist it to a scale for the weigh-in. The incredible size, girth and, some argue, majesty, of such a creature makes an impression never forgotten. Some are so affected that they vow to catch one like it.

For a beginner seeking to land a 50-pound bass, they need the help of the Almighty or a major turn of the four-leaf clover to put them in the right place at the right time. Your best chance is to seek out a charter boat pro who specializes in big bass, and hire him or her for a day or night. Many of the bigger bass are landed after dark, especially in the summer months.

Consider the money as cheap schooling, any tips or tricks picked up save you countless hours of trial and error, not to mention burning marina gas at however many dollars per gallon it is today.

I remember taking pictures of a fellow from the Connecticut heartland several years back who took a trip with Capt. Bob Young, then fishing out of a 20-foot SeaCraft. Trolling a large plug near Race Rock in Bob’s boat, and under his watchful eye, the fellow bested a 68-pound bass — on his second saltwater fishing trip.

I doubt many people out for their second trip on the ocean have the skills needed to find, fool and fight such a creature. The next morning the owner of the marina where Bob kept his boat was so impressed by the catch he pulled the boat out of the water with a hydraulic lift so the fish could be hung off the side for photos, great publicity that made all the local papers.

Making friends

Some busy, hard-charging executives rely solely on charter boats for their fishing time. They just have too hectic a schedule between meetings, reports and travel to own a boat of their own. And, over the years, they come to know various times of the year and month when fishing is predictably better than others, so they book the time in advance then plan the other part of their lives around those dates.

Steady customers on charter boats are always well-received so the skipper might press a bit harder to find the trophy, especially if the trip is booked with the idea of hunting big fish, not a full fish box of lesser stripers. Any casual angler might be happy with a 20-pound striper, but for many in the year 2006 that is a “smaller” fish.

Another route to a big bass for those lacking the knowledge to do it on their own might be to see if a local hotshot might take them out, put them under his wing, maybe show them a little of the ins and outs of targeting large stripers.

If his is a larger boat, the guests should offer their services as gofer or do anything else to help. Doing a favor often results in return help. A Block Island native once took me around the island, showing me then-new locations, one of which produced a 67-pounder in the late fall of 1985.

Most large bass are caught in deeper water, and most chase some type of large bait. My good friend Sherwood Lincoln of East Lyme, Conn., has, in 32 years of hard fishing, landed about 60 bass weighing more than 50 pounds, and one bigger than 60 pounds. Others of that size have also landed in his boats, caught by friends aboard for a day or night. All the fish came from an area between Old Saybrook, east to Watch Hill over to Block Island back to the Montauk rips and back to Old Saybrook. Most of the fish were landed in water between 30 and 80 feet deep, fishing either large live bait such as herring, bunker, hickory shad or live porgies during daylight, or live eels after dark.

Some of the fish, however, were caught in shallower water, fishing large live baits again in water 20 feet or less off the south side of Fisher Island. One morning he caught five 50-pounders and a 60-pounder, all in a few hectic hours of trophy fishing few will duplicate. The lessons are two: give a big bass with a big mouth and big appetite something to interest him, and learn where and when the fish set up housekeeping. Knowledge like that takes time to accumulate; chartering a boat or seeking help pays enormous dividends, but be advised: Many private hot shots are close-mouthed, so bring a thick skin to the party.

Tricks of the trade

Folks who fish large chunks cut out of bunker, mackerel or herring also land the biggies. In 1992 a fellow dunking the head of a bunker on the bottom from his small boat in New Haven Harbor caught a whopping 75.40-pound bass, only a few pounds away from the “all tackle record” of 78 pounds, the largest striper ever landed with rod and reel.

Setting a goal to catch big bass will take effort, putting that objective front and center, letting other types of fishing go by the board.

Al Golinski of South Hadley, Mass., targets big stripers during the day with live bait. He spent more than $50,000 refitting a 25-foot center console, then put more money into rods, electronics and a trailer to pull it all down the road. On many mornings he is up in a tidal river at 2 a.m. setting a small length of gillnet to catch live bunker for bass bait. Last summer his wife got a 58-pounder.

Trolling wire line also produces its share of big fish for people like Capt. Bruce Millar of the Otter out of Groton, Conn., another skipper with a reputation for producing 35- to 50-plus-pounders for his clients. A few years ago another angler trolled a bunker spoon (made to duplicate large bait) in the Montauk rips to fool a 69-pound bass, caught on lure dropped to the depths with help of wire line.

Hauling 300 or more feet of wire line behind a boat isn’t recommended for beginners. Many often become flummoxed handling the wire line, either tangling it on the reel or in the bottom or on a lobster pot line.

It all comes back to learning: watching others proficient in the game is much faster than traveling the rocky road of someone who starts at square one and stubs his or her toes many times en route to the first one worth a photo pow-wow at the water cooler at work or the next day at the marina.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.