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Northeast fishing

Trial and error: catching a trophy bass

There are several good strategies for novice anglers to target a 50-pound striper

Trial and error: catching a trophy bass

There are several good strategies for novice anglers to target a 50-pound striper

At some point in one’s saltwater fishing career, many get the urge to land a jumbo striper — one that draws “oohs” and “ahs” at the water cooler with a sharp, bright and bold photo of it — far longer and heavier than the average fish.

If that’s you, there are several routes open to accomplish what may seem like a daunting task.

One of the best ways is to hire a pro, a charter captain specializing in finding and catching stripers over 30 pounds on a steady basis. Trips with people like that are worth every penny to learn some of the tricks involved. Many of these skippers have boats big enough to fish on marginal days, weather that may keep a smaller vessel at dock. This comes in handy if you have guests coming from a distance with only a limited time to fish. If you’re hosting a VIP from another part of your company, the ability to go out when scheduled looms large indeed if your charge for the day must be on the morning flight back to Dallas.

Scattered around the Northeast are many fine charter boat captains. Two of them that come to mind are Capt. Kerry Douton of the Dot-E-Dee, (860) 739-7419, out of Niantic, Conn.; and Capt. Bruce Millar of the Otter, (860) 859-1234, out of Groton, Conn.

Between the two, their boats accounted for an eyebrow-raising number of stripers from 35 to 58 pounds the last two seasons, fishing the many tide rips in and around the eastern end of Long Island Sound, an area long known for large bass.

Targeting big stripers is a specialized fishery requiring much trial and error to become proficient. Gaining pointers is a road worth traveling, saving both dollars from the boat account and bruises to the ego when the road ahead might otherwise seem never-ending.

If you don’t seek a pro, try to wangle an invite from an advanced amateur with a history of winning the yacht club tourney or other events. You may exit your bed at 2 a.m. to meet him or her, but that’s the price to be on the water long before the rest of the world stirs. It may come down to the question, How bad you want that 40-pounder?

Lacking access to the above two categories, how does the average boater catch the bass of his dreams? One of the most direct routes may be chunking — a nickname for a large chunk cut out of the midsection of a fresh, dead, large bait. You will soon learn that outsized bass have big appetites. For every one caught on a small plug, dozens are landed on big natural baits lying on the bottom in deeper water.

If casting for schoolies is productive along the surf line, chances for bigger game increase as you head into 15 to 60 feet of water. Maybe that rocky point just down from the marina, the one with a history of producing contest winners, is the one to fish consistently.

Don’t expect instant success — but then again, the history of striper fishing is ripe with tales of people out for their first or second trip who landed the bass of a lifetime. My log has an entry from more than 25 years back of a fellow from East Glastonbury, Conn., who caught a 68-pounder on his second-ever saltwater fishing trip. It may not happen that way for you, but it does happen.

Back to chunking — an easy method to master. Sometimes all you need is a hook and hunk of bait. Note: while the midsections cut from a large bunker, mackerel or herring is often written about, the heads of baits also do well. Not too many years ago, a gent I know of landed a 75-pound bass out of a small boat on a bunker head fished in the late spring in New Haven Harbor.

Anchor your boat outside the rocky point or end of a jetty, close to the structure that is a home to the forage that draws fish to that location. Always be mindful of incoming seas.

Once safely on the hook drop the baits to the bottom, put the clicker on the reels and await your first strike. If may sound like glorified bottom bouncing but it’s the easiest way I know for a person of limited experience to catch bigger bass.

Jumbo stripers are often painted in stirring scenes, crashing through seas after terrified baitfish. Those occurrences do take place, but for each time that happens, dozens more simply take a fresh chunk.

Conventional tackle is far better suited to this type of angling than spinning, the conventional rod able to take heavy sinkers, if needed, to keep the bait down in a current. Any questions about the proper rigging can be answered at a local tackle shop, the same place you buy your bait.

Always buy some extra bait, and keep that off to the side, preferably in a cooler out of the sun. After getting a couple rods in the holders, with bait on the bottom, cut some smaller pieces out of the extras then toss those over the side, this chum draws any fish in the area up tide or current to hopefully find your hook bait. Don’t let baits sit a long time as they get washed out. Put a fresh offering on the hook and lower away.

Your catch using this method will also include smaller bass, blues to be sure, and other critters that prowl the bottom like fluke, from time to time, porgies and dogfish (unwanted but a part of the chunking scene).

Consistency is more important than one long day on the water. Plan to put in as many hours as your schedule allows. If you don’t fancy getting up at sunrise, be out at sunset and fish into dark, especially four days before to four days after the full moon — prime time for large bass to be on the prowl after dark. You may have to bundle up in the fall, but you’ve got to think like the guy who robbed banks because that’s where the dough resided. You have to fish spots and times where the odds increase for bigger prey.

There are many, many other methods to catching large bass but they require more knowledge than chunking. Learning them requires more trial and effort than anchoring your boat in a good spot and waiting for the leviathan to pick up your bait.

If the kids get antsy, limit that effort to an hour or so, then take them out for fluke or some other watery pastime. Then mark the calendar for another trip, another day, keeping at it.

Your time will come — maybe not this season or the next — but don’t get discouraged and you can reap the satisfaction of landing a fish that weighs over 50 pounds. And just think, you fooled it, fought it and caught it.

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.