Fishing - Little rods can land some big fish

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The reefs under the swift currents of eastern Long Island Sound have long been known to hold lots of big striped bass. Equally known was that heavy tackle was usually required to catch them because the heavy rod was needed to handle the larger sinkers required to keep a bait near the bottom, in the strike zone, in the tide.

The reefs under the swift currents of eastern Long Island Sound have long been known to hold lots of big striped bass. Equally known was that heavy tackle was usually required to catch them because the heavy rod was needed to handle the larger sinkers required to keep a bait near the bottom, in the strike zone, in the tide.

Well, that has changed.

The introduction of the new super lines — so-called super braids — microfilament lines with one-quarter to one-third the diameter of monofilament or Dacron, yet with the same pound test have drastically altered our angling landscape.

For instance, 30-pound Power Pro, one such brand on the market, has the diameter of 8-pound mono. The finer diameter allows one to use a lighter sinker, which means lighter tackle, which means more sport. Smaller conventional rods that up until a few years ago were used mainly for fluke, porgies and winter flounder, are now handling striped bass over 30 pounds, providing lots of excitement in the process.

In the past it wasn’t uncommon for sinkers from 12 to 20 ounces to be needed, but today’s fine lines allow sinkers of only 3 to 6 ounces to tend bottom in a lot of the reefs close to shore. Spots like boiling tide rips off New London called The Race get a lot of press, but there are many, many other reefs near land from Branford to Stonington that hold big bass, ready to hit a bait dropped down on light tackle with a much lighter sinker. This method has been exported to many other locations as well.

Rigged and ready

The rig many people use on the light rods is the three-way rig, so called because it’s made up around a three-way swivel. On one eye you tie your line and on a second, a 16- to 20-inch piece of 40- to 60-pound mono with a loop in the end. Your sinker goes there.

On the third eye, tie about a 4- to 5-foot piece of leader. On the other end, tie a 5/0 to 7/0 hook for live eels, the preferred bait for drifting after dark. If you don’t have the know-how to make your own rigs, these are available at many tackle shops along the coast.

Outfits for this new brand of light tackle challenge to the many large bass off the Connecticut coast are many and assorted as more companies offer lighter gear.

My good friend Sherwood Lincoln of East Lyme, a master at fishing after dark, favors some of the new Shimano tackle, either Trinidad or Torium reels in smaller sizes along with a Teramar series rod, model 76MH plus 30-pound Power Pro line.

The trio will set you back noticeable dollars — good equipment often does — but it will last. The drags on those reels are as s-m-o-o-t-h as any political spinmeister on TV. If however they are a bit beyond budget, lesser outfits are readily for sale.

Live eel fishing at dusk into the evening fits into the schedule of those working during the day, but who still want to get in a little fishing before turning in. This is one of the many benefits of owning a boat and living along the shore.

On my last trip for pictures for this column we left the Niantic River just at dark, fished three hours and were back around midnight — landing stripers of 27, 37 and 43 inches. Not a bad way to spend a weeknight away from the job. By 12:30 a.m. the boat was washed down and each of us on our way home.

The same tackle shops can sell you some eels, usually kept in a 5-gallon bucket, along with some type of coarse rag to get a grip on their slippery hide. The shop owner might also recommend a place to start fishing, information well worth the price of the bait.

Bottom feeders

The technique is to drift on underwater hills, spot where the bottom in the Sound rises from, say, 40 feet up to 28.

The bass will be holding in a feeding station, ready to ambush anything coming down with the current. This spot is at some point on the up-current side of the hill — the top — or in some cases, down in the valley on the down-current side of the hill.

These hills are almost beyond description, so many dot the Sound floor. Some will be well-known structures like Bartletts and Hatchetts reefs, but others have no names, little bumps that hold bass. They may be a spot where the bottom rises only a few feet, but holds the bait bass need to survive.

Fish such spots with a three-way rig. Hook the eel between the eyes, with the hook point going in under the mouth out the top of the head, dead center, otherwise it will spin in the current.

Run the boat a short distance up from the rip that usually forms on the surface near the top of the hill. Drop the rig to bottom and drift back to the rip. The super braids not only allow lighter tackle, but are more sensitive than mono, allowing one to feel every bump, every time the sinker ticks the bottom.

It’s usual practice to take a turn on the reel every time you feel the sinker hit the bottom if the bottom is rocky and rising. Once you clear the peak, it’s further practice to drop the eel into the hole or valley behind the peak, seeing if bass are holding there, out of the current.

The difference between knowing the tick of the sinker on a rock and a bass grabbing its dinner comes with a little practice. My friend Sherwood recommends dropping the tip a bit when you feel a bite then setting the hook with an upstroke of the rod. Any bass over 20 pounds will dash for freedom against the light rod, the drag singing out and announcing you have a fish on.

Tools and tips

If you’ve never caught a striper over 30 pounds, be ready. It will bolt for freedom with determination, running off quite a bit of line in the process.

Once it stops, steady pressure will beat the fish — lifting up with the rod and reeling down, gaining line, and repeating the procedure until the fish is at boat-side where it can be netted.

A chart plotter is a great aid for this fishing, letting you blow up the bottom contour so you can see exactly where your boat is in relation to the reef. The vessel track of the plotter also makes it easy to repeat the same drift after you locate a pod of bass holding at a certain point in a long rip. A good fishfinder will spotlight any bass under the boat.

To locate feeding bass, it pays to make drifts at different points on the length of the rip, zeroing in when you get the first hit or land your first fish. It also pays to have other places in mind. If you catch two bass at Spot One only to have the bite go flat, it’s time to crank up the engine and head to greener pastures.

A 16- to 18-foot boat works fine for this type of fishing on calm nights. If the weather is iffy and the wind’s blowing against the tide, building the rip, consider leaving your smaller rig at the dock and catch a ride with a friend who has a bigger boat.

Watch the fog rolling in. If you happen to get caught without a radar unit to guide you home, it might be time to add an item to the Christmas wish list.

Over time you will learn that at certain times of the month bass will bite at different times of the tide.

When currents are at their weakest, look for hits at the height of the tidal flow. When currents approach 4 knots at their peak, you might catch fish at the beginning of the tide and then maybe after it peaks and begins to slow down.

Three-waying on the many spots just off the coast is a great way to spend a evening fishing, with the technique often amazing non-fishermen whodidn’t realize the number of large bass just waiting a short ride from the dock. Our area holds these fish from May through a point in late fall.

It’s a great way for Mr. and Mrs. Average Boater to land the striper of their dreams — and have a whole lot of fun doing it.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.