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Lures at the ready can make a great day

Plastic worms on board can be key on short notice

In my other life in the workaday world, I used to give numerous slide shows to fishing clubs and boating organizations. One of these showed a fellow holding up a 47-pound bass caught at the start of a flounder trip. The lucky angler decided that morning to stop and cast for stripers at a nearby point of land. After only 10 minutes, he had his trophy aboard then went for flounders. The trip was off to a good start, wouldn’t you say?

Schoolies love a 4-inch worm at sunrise or sunset.

The moral of our opener is to have lures on board your boat, ready and able to go on a moment’s notice. In the next breath, one might ask, “What lures are recommended given the hundreds on display at a well-equipped tackle shop?” For both value and productivity, consider some lead heads with a bag or two of twister-tail plastic worms. They are easy on the boat budget, have untold uses and are for sale in almost all saltwater tackle shops.

Try buying a pack or two of plain, 1/2-ounce lead heads, then a couple packs of worms with the curly tails. When pulled through the water on moderate retrieve with light spin rod, they come alive, requiring nothing but cranking to entice fish — great for your guests who might not be world-class anglers, maybe anxious for a Saturday morning on the water but need to be home by the p.m. for lawn work or honey-do duties.

Curly or twister-tail worms range from 4 to 8-plus inches. The small ones are great for school bass, fooling hundreds per year when the bass feed on small bait from Portland, Maine, down to the jetties and sandbars from Sandy Hook to Cape May, N.J. To use the worms, thread one up the shank of the lead head, so a barb-like holder on the head keeps the worm in place. If you’re not sure, ask the fellow in the tackle shop for guidance. You want the worm strung in a straight line, not all bunched up or crooked.

Four-inch worms in white or red are great for daytime fishing for school bass from sunup through dusk. Cast them into jetty fronts, on the seaward side of sandbars (watching for oncoming seas) or just in areas where birds are working just off the beach. One trick if you are off the beach is to let the lure sink a bit before retrieving. Bass sometimes hold under the blues, picking off the leftovers that sink down as bluefish tear into bait on top.

The beauty of this little system is you can use the same head with different worms, increasing the size if you want larger bass that usually strike larger baits. That large worm in red just at daybreak might provide the 25-pounder of the morning, making the trip a success then and there. If you head out after dark some beautiful, cool night on the full moon, casting into jetty fronts up and down the Jersey shore, or maybe anchoring up off a point of land in Long Island Sound, casting the heads tipped with an 8-inch black worm, you’re aiming at bigger game though schoolies and bluefish will hit also, adding to the night.

The standard, light spinning rod that most family cruisers/fishing machines have aboard will work. Use a piece of 40- to 50-pound leader up ahead of the 12- to 15-pound mono or one of the new super braids. If you’re new to the game, stick to the mono for a while. Just make sure it’s fresh line, not sitting on the reel in the cuddy cabin since granddad’s 65th birthday. You can spool fresh line at the same shop as you bought the plastic worms.

If you just happen to be on a fall trip to Cuttyhunk Island, Mass., (avoiding the summer crowds), you come right out of the harbor, stopping by the little nubbin of rocks on the other shore in Canapitsit Channel. That little rockpile, on slack tide, is a great place to start casting for the first bass of the day. The south-side rocks of the island is another, just watch for boulders under the boat.

If you encounter bonito and false albacore in your travels, try tying the head and small worm directly to your line; the sharp-eyed critters sometimes refuse to hit the worm until you do away with the heavy mono. Blues also love the worms, so be ready for them to bite through your leader from time to time. Having more heads and worms ready is all part of the game.

If you’re coming back from a trip to Montauk or Block Island for sea bass in the fall, why not stop at a rip like Race Point on the ebb tide or the Watch Hill Reefs to throw some lead heads and worms into the just-starting current from Wicopesset Island over to Sugar Reef? Stem the current with just enough rpm to keep ahead of the rip line and toss the lures back into the sloppy water. Start a slow retrieve and see if you don’t end up with a keeper bass or large blue in the cooler as well as the bottom fish.

Lead heads and plastic worms will not break the fish budget, don’t need oil changes or tune-ups. They sit ready on the boat, able to be cast out when conditions are good, maybe on short notice, your friend arriving at the dock just in time to trade his briefcase or tool box for fishing rod, enough respite for a couple hours casting before calling it a day.

This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the October 2009 issue.