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Big stripers do not come easy. Every once in a while a big fish is caught through the luck of being at the right place at the right time without foreknowledge but it is unusual.
Every year when September comes around I get a little bit excited about the good fishing that lies ahead. I am not alone. September, October, November, December and even one extraordinary January have been good to me. I love to fish for stripers and I fish for them throughout the year but there is no denying that at the end of the season when they begin to move and feed heavily the fishing is often very satisfying. It is the time of the year when most fishermen are going to have a chance at that fish of a lifetime. The records show this quite clearly. Almost all of the world record bass are caught in the fall along the northeast coast and plenty of others that tip the scales as close seconds and thirds are caught at this time of the year. November is the star month for these big fish but there are many other monster bass that are caught throughout the fall.
What does this mean for a fly fisherman who wants to have a good chance at one of these enormous stripers? It means that if he pays attention to what it takes to catch one and chooses to find out about and factor in some of the older proven techniques that have produced big fish in the past and then adapts them to the fly rod he may find himself firmly attached to the fish of his dreams. Not many fly fishermen have made the effort to target large fish in the recent past but there is a growing number that are willing to do it now. It makes good fishing sense to try.
Big stripers do not come easy. Every once in a while a big fish is caught through the luck of being at the right place at the right time without foreknowledge but it is unusual. The same people catch almost all of the big fish year after year and it was always that way even back in the good old days.
There are places, spots that have been consistent producers of large bass for decades. Knowing them is very helpful if you want to increase your chances of success. Knowing where many big fish have been caught in the past is fundamental knowledge for a fisherman who wants to try for one. When to fish there and how to fish there are also fundamental pieces of the puzzle. Fishing for large stripers is not for everyone. It is not easy but it is satisfying when you connect and connecting through your own personal effort leads you to real understanding and more success. Your knowledge and expertise builds through your experiences.
Fishing for large stripers is not a new game. It is an old game that is practiced by a core of seasoned anglers and it can be and often is very different than fishing for school bass although there are many similarities. Who catches the most big stripers year after year on a rod and reel? The straightforward answer is commercial rod and reel fishermen who fish with bait. How do they do it? They do it by chumming and live lining with large live bait and they do it from boats. These methods are not fly fishing tactics but valuable information none-the-less. What is important for fly fishermen to realize is that they do not catch these fish just anywhere but they fish a particular place or structure that is holding a school of large bass and they fish it with a plan. This type of fishing is not random. It is precise. It depends on focused presentation and control. It is not fishing for sport. It is the way they earn their living and they are very serious about it.
"They fish a structure or place that has a school of large bass present". This idea is very important; allow it to percolate. Large bass are school fish. This awareness is fundamental knowledge to commercial fisherman. Do not believe the jargoned theories part time sport fishermen tell each other about the normal patterns of large bass mixing in with small fish. It happens and it happens most often in the fall migration but you cannot earn a living fishing for these random large fish. The simplest reason to explain why so few large bass are caught by the majority of sport fishermen is they are not fishing anywhere near the large fish that they want to catch but are fishing for the random large fish that are sometimes mixed in with schools of smaller bass. This is not a high percentage tactic. There are exceptions to everything but if you fish for exceptions you can be sure that the results of your efforts will reflect the results of those fishermen who also fish for exceptions.
There are basically two types of physical structure that bass use to rest and feed. They are called On structure and off structure. On structure is attached to the shoreline. A good example is a point bar either rock or sand that extends from the shoreline out into deep water and is an unbroken slope from the land all the way out to where it ends. They may be very short, a few yards in length or they may be several miles long. The best ones reach from the beach all the way out past the littoral zone into the deepest water in the area. Fish use them as highways to migrate from the deep water all the way up to the shoreline. On any given day the fish may be anywhere along the structure. Another piece of On structure is a flat not necessarily a shallow one but one that abuts deeper water and slopes up to the shoreline. A good example is a cove that is cut into a rocky shoreline that may be fifteen feet deep at it's outside edge and slopes up to wadeable depth near the shoreline. Some flats are many acres in size and hold large numbers of fish for long periods of time and some are quite small and hold fish periodically. There are many types of On structure and what they all have in common is fish that migrate from the depths to the shallows along paths or migration routes that lead from the resting places to the shallows along the shoreline in periodic movements.
Off structure is structure that is not connected to the land directly.
It is somewhat like an underwater island surrounded by deeper water
with no path that leads upward to the land.
A good example is a reef or a shoal. We call them humps, lumps, high spots, bumps, underwater islands, ground; (east ground west ground) etc. They are not connected to the shoreline by a rising slope and are isolated from the shoreline. Fish migrate from the depths to the shallowest part of the structure to feed and they may be found anywhere along their migration routes. These two types of structure and the awareness of how fish use them to rest and feed are fundamentals that must understood if you want to be able to search intelligently for a school of big bass that are using a particular structure at any given time.
On structure is the key to shore fishing. Off structure can only be
fished from a boat. Here are a couple of proven commercial methods that
are used on Off structures that will catch large bass if they are there.
The principles behind these methods are sound and many non-commercial
fishermen use them in fact they were developed by old time inboard charter
boat captains in the fifties when outboard motors were unreliable toys.
If you are fishing a structure that rises to within 14' of the surface that is surrounded by deep water and is as big as a small house in other words, a well defined small area, The first thing to do after arriving and knowing the size of it and deciding to fish it is to anchor your boat directly up current of the structure. Some captains used to drift over the hump and cast large swimming plugs over the highest part of it to see if there were active fish holding others would drift with eels and see if they could pick up a fish or two and they often did. If they decided that the place was worth a try they would move up current and let down the hook.
Anchoring in the right place is very important because the lines must flow back to a place that is just above the structure or along side it or even in front of it. If the lines are off to the side then you must move and adjust the hook. Now a days a chummer will do this same thing but without the niceties of the swimming plugs or the eels. He will begin by letting a bait flow down over the structure to see if there are any fish high in the water that are active or he may not. Then he will begin to chum. If there are fish on the structure that are not active the chum will get them interested in feeding. They will often move up the slick and hold at the front of the structure and rise up into the slick. Sometimes they will move up right behind the boat. If there is a school of large fish that are using this structure he will catch his quota and leave. The next day he will be back and will continue to do this until the fish move and stop using the structure. It is very matter of fact and effective. Chumming is a way of altering the routines and moods of fish through understanding them enough to manipulate them for the purpose of making very large fish susceptible to being caught quite easily. The fish that are using this type of structure do become active from time to time and when they do they will rise to a fly. The best time to try is on the change of the tide for an hour or so and make sure that you drift over the structure first without your motor running.
Here is another method of fishing Off structure with live bait that is somewhat different Often bass that are inactive will hold close to a structure until the tide lets go and then they will move around and reposition themselves for the change. Often when they do this they become very active for an hour or so until the current begins to flow and they settle back into it. People who live line for large bass will fish a structure that has a heavy current flow when the tide is running hard but come there to fish in between tides when the current is weak and will fish with a very large live bait either free swimming or with a weight in its mouth very close to the bottom. They often do this in places where there are powerful tide rips over rock bars such as the reefs off Watch Hill or Cuttyhunk and drift in the slots between the reefs when the tide is weak and catch some gigantic bass this way. The key word is very large live bait and they are not casting and reeling in. They are drifting and fishing slow sometimes high in the water sometimes low.
On structure can be fished from boats up to the point where the water becomes too shallow for safety. Fish can be located anywhere along it and the easiest way to find them is to begin shallow and work your way deep. It is best to stay on top of the structure at first and not go off the deep end so to speak. The easiest way to find them is to troll parallel to the structure but on it; not next to it. Fish the depth of water incrementally: first the 5'depth line then the 8'line then the 10' line then the 12' line. Work your way out from the shallowest area that you can safely fish. This is not easy to do with a fly rod because the line rises in the water as the boat moves. Lead line and wire are the two most effective ways to locate fish when trolling. Once you find them and get a good range or a GPS reading you can cast for them and be quite successful if you follow them as they move up or down the structure. You can also locate them through casting but this can be imprecise still it is a good method if you use a marker and throw it overboard as soon as you get a hit from a fish. When the fish are deeper than 10' or 12' fishing slow with heavy sink tips can be deadly if you work hard at zeroing in on where the fish are holding.
If trolling is not a method that you wish to use than there are other ways that a structure can be explored with that are excellent if done slowly, precisely and methodically. The key phrase is methodically, slow is a good way to proceed but sometimes it isn't necessary. The most important factor is boat handling and staying in one place over the bottom. This can be done by anchoring and casting to systematically fish each section of the structure from top to bottom. Once you have strained all the water you lift the anchor move out to the next break line (depth change) and anchor up again. Cast from the boat out along the structure working from deep (end of cast) to shallow (location of boat) this will bring your fly up the structure and close to it. This is the easiest, most exact method and it is also the slowest. Whether you do this by anchoring or hovering with a bow mounted trolling motor or drifting the most important thing to do is to work your way out from shallow to deep in a searching pattern that follows the contour of the bar or structure. Floats can be dropped ahead of time that will show you the outline of the structure and if you do this it is easy to fish your way along without confusion as to where you have already fished and it makes it easy to know exactly where the fish are located on the structure once you hook one. Once you have done this and have had success doing it your knowledge of how to fish different structures effectively will have a strong root from which to grow. Any method that works is good and this method is an old one that is often productive. There are many others but they all share one thing in common the elimination of unproductive water through a systematic method of fishing it one cast at a time.
These methods are simple and effective and can be adapted to many areas
and situations. The fly rod methods of locating fish that I mentioned
in the On structure segment can be used on off structure also and they
do save time and give measurable results when fishing on any type of
structure that fish may be using both to feed and to rest. A few other
things that are worth mentioning are: a sharp hook is a fish, a dull
hook is a hit, big bass wear through a 20lb. leader in seven seconds
if you are not lucky, deep fish are harder to hook with a fly rod because
of the drag from the bow of the line, set the hook five times with the
first being a sweep set and do not be concerned with getting line on
the reel until the hook is set, use large flies that look alive and
swim, fish slow and down to the fish controlling the depth you are fishing
through back pressure from the line not by racing the line in to keep
the fly from snagging the bottom because you don't really know how deep
your fly is fishing above the bottom, and remember if you know where
your fly was when it hooked the last fish then you know where the fish
are and you can do it again. That is called speed and depth control
of your presentation. Hope you catch a hummer or at least hook one,
which of course is the most important part. First comes the hookup everything
after that can be done by anyone on the boat. God Bless America!