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Boston Harbor 2016 Revisited

Boston Harbor’s 2016 fishing season was quite different than any other season that I and other Harba’ veterans can remember. As usual, the season began in mid-May but anglers were often held hostage to the weather. May is the month of cold fronts, and this year it certainly lived up to its reputation. As Skipper of the Draggin’ Fly I had to cancel several more charters than in past years because these storm fronts sat over the Harbor for days at a time. When anglers could get out, they found some decent striper fishing.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABait was plentiful in June as adult herring began to drop back out of the Harbor rivers after their annual spawn. Mackerel also began to invade the ledges just outside the Harbor. Surface activity was more limited than the norm, but Draggin’ Fly anglers did well targeting striped bass on jigs.

 

It was an exceptionally dry year, and the heat of the summer kept the herring-of-the-year in their spawning waters. Usually by late June, the new herring fry begin to drop out of the rivers but not this year. July saw no changes and the migration did not actually start until late August!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This year’s run of bluefish was also sporadic. Few fish were caught in July and not many more in August. Even the fall was lean. The blues that were encountered were real monsters. A Draggin’ Fly regular, David Deitz caught one over 19 pounds on a fly rod. Most of the fish hit the scale at over 12 pounds.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe real surprise of the season was the return of pogies in numbers not seen in almost 20 years. Some days, bass tore into the schools of pogies, and the next day, it was monstrous bluefish that were on the prowl. Then the fish would seem to disappear for several days, only to return to start the cycle all over. Despite heavy netting by commercial pogy boats, this bite lasted well through September.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

At the end of the month, peanut bunker (immature pogies) moved  in and with the herring-of-the-year pouring out of the rivers, the inner Harbor fishing exploded. Surface activity was often limited to the morning tides. But jigging kept anglers into fish throughout the day.

 

The weather turned on Harbor fishers in late September and October was even worse. The left over effects of 2 tropical storms and 3 Noreasters’ shut down the fishing for the season!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Leader Debate

Captain Bill

While few freshwater anglers use leaders, most saltwater anglers use some type of leader. For most of our local saltwater fishing, leaders are a necessity. Leaders help to protect the main running line against chaffing and to prevent break-offs when fishing tough marine structure, especially when fishing in and around rocks. Leaders also add some shock absorption so lighter main lines can be used. Leaders help to prevent fish from cutting through the line with their teeth. An added advantage of using leaders is that they help in handling hooked fish at boat side.

Manufacturers produce several different types of leader materials to meet the demands of different fishing conditions. Today, anglers have many choices of leader material from which to choose including monofilament, fluorocarbon, wire, and hybrids. Leader material and preformed leaders are also available in much different strength and in different colors.

Fly fishers have long known that the leader is a very important part of a balanced outfit. For most veteran saltwater anglers, there is little doubt that leaders are as important for their fishing. It’s the last link between angler and fish. Leaders can literally “make or break” a fishing trip. Yet with such a wide variety of materials from which to select, what type of leader is best to use?

It is important to recognize that no one type of leader is best for all fishing conditions. Monofilament, fluorocarbon, and wire are the most common materials used to make saltwater leaders. Anglers need to look at the advantages and limitations of each type of leader. Important factors to consider when selecting leader material are durability, visibility, sensitivity, and even cost. Let’s begin by taking a look at each type of leader material.

Wire Leaders

Many southern anglers use single strand wire such as Malin and American Wire Toothproof. Offshore anglers also favor wire leaders when fishing for sharks and other toothy gamefish. Here in the Northeast inshore anglers who target bluefish and fluke often use a version of wire leaders.

Many anglers shy away from wire leaders because they take time and special tools to make. Others feel that the weight of the wire adversely effects the action of lures and live baits. Wire leaders also kink easily and once twisted they are almost impossible to straighten. For this reason, wire leaders need to be replaced often.

While considerably more expensive than single strand wire, plastic coated wire like American Wire’s Surflon is more flexible and more durable. These leaders are made with braided wire which is not as stiff as single strand wire. There are even knot-able versions available, at premium prices.

The other two commonly used leader materials, monofilament and fluorocarbon can be easier to work with than wire. They are easier to cut and simpler to connect. They have excellent tensile and knot strength. For these reasons, these materials are more widely used, especially in this part of the country.

Monofilament

Monofilament is used for both running lines and leaders. It has been used both by inshore and offshore anglers long before fluorocarbon was available. Over the years, manufactures have developed new coatings to improve strength, durability, and performance of monofilament.

Monofilament is popular with so many anglers because it is flexible at all temperatures so it’s the easiest leader material to work with. It has excellent knot strength and good abrasion resistance. Mono is also relatively invisible in the water. It stretches when put under pressure which helps to absorb sudden surges. Compared to other types of leader material it is also less expensive.

Monofilament used to construct leaders is usually slightly different than what is used as the main line. To cast long distances with accuracy, running line needs to be soft and limp. This allows line to be spooled onto spinning reels with limited memory, which helps to eliminate line twists.

Mono used as leader material is often stiffer than what is used as the main line. This helps to limit stretch and increase knot strength. It also has a harder surface finish to better resist abrasion. An additional advantage of stiffer mono is that it absorbs less water and sinks better than running line. However, all these characteristics can create more memory and for this reason, this stiffer mono would be difficult to cast if used as the running line.

On the other hand, soft mono like what is used in many running lines can dig into anglers’ hands if used as leaders on large game fish and can be very dangerous. This is especially true when trying to subdue hot fish at the boat. Harder finishes and thicker diameters used in monofilament leaders helps in handling fish.

The New Kid On The Block.

Fluorocarbon was first introduced in Japan in the late 1970s and has been universally used in this country since the 1990s. It was developed for the Japanese market because Japan is a very populous country. Fishing areas are quite limited and angling pressure is extreme. Japanese anglers demanded a line that would be invisible and make presentation as life-like as possible. Manufactures responded and fluorocarbon was born, a new strong, durable, and invisible material.

It didn’t take long for US anglers to hear about this new invisible line. In this country, it was not the freshwater anglers who began to gobble it up. Rather, the demand was from saltwater anglers. Unlike in Japan, fluorocarbon was used as a leader material and has had a very limited use as a main running in the States.

While fluorocarbon and monofilament look very similar. They are made with very different materials. Monofilament is relatively inexpensive because it is made from inexpensive nylon and is relatively easy to extrude or form. Fluorocarbon gets its name because fluorine and carbon are used to create a polymer. This manufacturing process is much more complicated. During the extrusion, it is also treated with several coatings that increase strength; make it more flexible, and more resistant to UV rays. All of which add to its cost.

Everything that you read about fluorocarbon says that this material comes closest to the light refractive index of water, creating far less visible surface area in water than wire or even monofilament. I did not do well in my high school physics class but from my own untrained observation, I can tell you that it is virtually invisible when it is in the water. For this reason, anglers can use larger diameters with increased strength to further protect against the teeth of fish and encounters with rough structure.

When and Where

Both monofilament and fluorocarbon have their distinct characteristics which make them more useful in different circumstances. The key to successfully using a specific type of leader is to recognize the benefits and constraints of each material. Then anglers can make informed decisions when to use each.

Many anglers feel that monofilament leaders present lures more naturally on the surface of the water than fluorocarbon leaders. This is one of the main reasons why many fly fishers and light tackle anglers fishing the shallows will only use monofilament leaders. They want less splash and drag when presenting flies and lures.

I have a different opinion. As a matter of fact, I first learned about the benefits of fluorocarbon when I was fishing along shallow water mussels beds several years ago. The water that I was fishing was often 3-4 feet deep, and besides the mussels, there were several sizable rocks in the area. Not only did I have this rough structure to work around, but I had to contend with supper spooky fish, most big and wise having seen hundreds of lures presented to them over the years.

I watched as these normally hyper-skittish fish attacked the soft jerk baits that I fished over the bed. No, I did not bother to do a comparison test using monofilament leader. I had done that many times before and knew the score!

Fluorocarbon leaders are a great complement to braided lines when fished below the surface. Many braided lines are very visible in water so fluorocarbon leaders provide an invisible link. Also, fluorocarbon makes for a more natural presentation because it sinks faster than monofilament with less belly in the leader. An added benefit of this material is that its abrasive resistant surface adds increased safety.

Be Aware

Fluorocarbon is much more expensive so use it selectively. There is a time and place for it. When fishing stained water there is no need for fluorocarbon. The same is true when fishing at night.

Several surfcasters that I know tell me that when fishing at night, fluorocarbon actually works against them. They tell how when fluorocarbon is exposed to light that it retains light which is transmitted down the entire leader. They also claim that when phosphorus weeds are present, fluorocarbon leaders light up like candles.

I have also discovered that surface lures might need to be retrieves a little more quickly because fluorocarbon sinks. The leader tends to pull the lure down. Light top water lures are also difficult to present with fluorocarbon leaders because of its stiffness.

There is no denying that fluorocarbon is strong; I have fished it in and around some nasty structure and with several different toothy creatures. It takes a lot of abuse before breaking. However, one thing that is not commonly known about fluorocarbon is that once stretched it does not have the recovery of monofilament. It is compromised and will be much weaker.

Another important factor to consider is that knot tying with fluorocarbon requires some expertise. It is stiffer and much thicker than monofilament making it more difficult to tie. I had several friends complain about break-offs that they contribute to weakening caused by knots. But in my experience, the underlying cause is more often sloppy knots than over stressing the material.

Be Prepared

I pre-rig my lures with leaders prior to heading out for a day of fishing. I use the days when weather forces me to remain at dock to tie soft jerkbaits and jigs up on leaders. I use a loop knot to tie these lures directly onto to 18 inches of leader material and use an improved clinch knot to connect a barrel swivel on the other end. I also tie leaders with a snap on one end and a barrel swivel on the other that can be quickly attacked to poopers and swimmers. When using bait, I will also tie up several bait rigs. I prefer to use a reverse snell to attach the hook directly to the leader and add a barrel swivel to the other end.

Final Thoughts

As you now know, no one type of leader is best under all conditions. Leaders are another important tool that anglers can use to their advantage. Experiment and learn to use each type of leader.

Remember no manufacture is going to focus on the limitations of their products. Anglers can be very opinionated so do not just listen to others either. Try different types of leaders under different conditions. Only by using them will you get a better sense of what work best for your fishing style.

Build It Right

  • Pre-tie leaders and have plenty available
  • Save money and tie your own leaders
  • Keep the leader simple- too much hardware will spook fish
  • Make the leader short especially if you are casting
  • Use a small barrel swivel to eliminate line twisting
  • Most lures swim better when tied to the leader with a no-slip loop knot
  • Be smart and check all the connections

Captions for Pictures

Picture 1: There are many different types of leader material

Picture 2: Fluorocarbon is an excellent choice when fishing during the day

Picture 3: Select the type of leader for the type of fish you are targeting

Choosing the Right Fishing Line

Captain Bill Smith

Fishing line is by far the most important part of any fishing outfit. Line is the angler’s direct connection to the fish and using the proper line is often the key to a successful fishing trip. Yet, many anglers have limited knowledge about different types of fishing lines available today

Understanding the characteristics of each type of line and when to use them will help anglers to select the right line for the type of fishing they do. To their credit, the larger manufacturers continue to spend millions of dollars in improving their lines. Manufacturers all claim to have the best line and continue to bombard anglers with advertising claims of unmatched performance, increased sensitivity, and outstanding strength. Much of these assertions can be quite confusing. It takes some research to sort out this information.

There are several specialty lines used by East Coast anglers including wire and lead core lines, but for most general fishing situations, anglers use monofilament and braided lines. For this reason, this article will focus on these last two types of lines.

Not All Lines Are Equal

As a charter skipper, I have field tested different brands of both braided and monofilament lines from different manufactures. I can tell you from experience that lines even of the same test vary greatly from manufacture to manufacturer. And even different brands of lines by the same manufacture have noticeable differences. There are differences not only in appearance, shape and diameter but more importantly in performance. These differences include stretch, knot strength, flexibility, breaking strength, water absorption, and abrasion resistance.

Although I am sure that no manufacturer wants to hear this, I can also speak for experience when I say no one type of line or brand of line is best for all fishing conditions. Lines cast differently and respond differently under loads. For this reason, like many anglers I have strong preferences in what I like both in braids and monofilament.

Some History

The first massed produced fishing lines were made from silk or cotton fibers. These early lines were fragile and required a lot of maintenance. After a day of fishing, the line had to be removed from the reel, washed, and allowed to dry before re-spooling them. Anglers quickly learned that storing wet lines led to rot. Maintaining these natural fiber lines was time consuming, and if not performed regularly, salt would quickly begin to eat away at the fibers.

Just before WWII, the DuPont Chemical Company began to experiment with nylon to create a stronger type of thread to use in textile manufacturing. This company then utilized this new technology to introduce the first monofilament line. Monofilament, or mono for short gets the name monofilament because nylon is melted and extruded into one continuous strand. This line was not well received at first. The earlier versions were difficult to work with because they were very stiff, heavy, and had a lot of memory.

Later, line manufactures like the Ashaway Line Manufacturing Company of Rhode Island and Cortland Line Company of New York began to experiment with synthetic fibers. At first, they used rayon to make lines with limited success. Then Dacron, a polyester-like fiber was used and gained a quick following. Dacron line is still used today, but most of today’s Dacron lines have special coatings for specific applications such as big game trolling and line backing.

Monofilament: Advantages and Limitations

Over the years, huge improvements were made in monofilament making these lines the mostly widely used lines in the world. Today’s monofilament line is much more flexible and thinner in diameter. Manufactures have found several coatings that improve over-all performance, add UV protection, and increase abrasion resistance.

Monofilament is popular with so many anglers for several reasons. Even premium brands of mono are relatively inexpensive but this is not the main reason for their universal popularity. Monofilament has excellent knot strength and casts well. It is relatively invisible in the water. Mono also has a degree of stretch preferred by many.

Major brands also have reliable breaking strength. If you are fishing 12 pound test line, you can expect the line to break at about this level. And 12 pounds of drag is much more pressure than most anglers use when fishing inshore waters.

While some anglers think that monofilament is quite fragile and breaks easily, I can tell you it’s tougher than they would have you believe. All, yes all, my personal bests from stripers to white marlin to tuna have been caught on monofilament. It’s truly amazing how it well it holds up under the extreme pressures we put on it.

I spool several of my outfits with mono because I want controlled stretch to provide some shock absorption. This is especially important when I target big fish in shallow water. Here fish often follow lures only to attack close to the boat. Line stretch has helped me to hook and hold onto fish on many occasions.

I also use monofilament when working soft jerkbaits along the surface. This line allows me to get more action by twitching these lures. I find fish are attracted to the wobble-like action of these lures much like they track wounded bait fish. In my opinion, other types of lines tend to pull these surface lures straight through the water no matter how they are worked.

When fishing live bait mono is also my preferred line. I find that under stress monofilament is much more forgiving than other lines. When I used braided lines to live line, I have pulled hooks but have done this far less often when I use monofilament. I think that the stretch of this line helps to keep the fish from ripping out the hook.

There are some limitations of monofilament which anglers need to recognize. When it comes to sensitivity the stretch of monofilament line definitely has its drawbacks. This is especially true when fishing deep water. It can be difficult to pick up on subtle bites so anglers must be very attentive when fishing mono in deeper water.

When stored on reels for periods of time, mono develops memory causing the line to loop or coil when casting. Sun light will break down and weaken monofilament. Twisting is also a problem for beginning anglers using spinning reels.

New Breeds of Monofilament

Several brands of monofilament are marketed as no stretch lines. What should be said is that these lines have less stretch because no matter what coating is added, these lines are still made form single strand nylon so some stretch is inevitable. Manufactures claim that these new lines have better hook setting ability and provide greater sensitivity.

More and more monofilament lines are also being marketed as super or ultra-thin. Obviously, there is some advantage to thinner lines. For example, they should cast further and might not absorb as much water. But to me performance under strain is more important.

Super Lines

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Many refer to braided lines as the “new lines”. However nothing could be further from the truth. The natural fibers used in the earliest lines were held together through braiding. This was well before monofilament was even available.

Modern braiding processes and new synthetic fibers have certainly introduced “a new generation of super lines”. In the early 1990s, manufactures began to use space age fibers such as Dyncerna and Spectra in their braiding process. Both of these fibers have similar properties, especially when it comes to their small diameters and inherent strength. These new synthetic fibers are also very flexible. Fishing is only a small part of the market for these new fibers: they are used in surgery and in a variety of manufacturing industries as well.

Individual fibers are woven together to form a very thin diameter line. This braiding process creates lines that are more abrasive resistant and have far less stretch than monofilament. There is little doubt that braided lines provide anglers with the thinnest lines that have the highest breaking strength of any other type of fishing line.

There is really no secret as to why braided lines are so strong. The synthetic fibers used in manufacturing these lines were originally designed to be used as stitching and reinforcement of military-grade bullet resistant clothing. Braids are considerably more expensive than monofilament because the materials are very expensive; the braiding process is also very time consuming and also labor intensive.

The Advantages of Braid

There are numerous benefits of super braids. They allow artificial lures to be worked more effectively in deep water. They sink lures faster with far less belly in the line. There low stretch telegraphs strikes instantly and hook setting is immediate. Due to their incredible strength for their diameter, anglers can use lighter tackle to target larger fish.

Specta is the most widely used fiber in braided lines. Specta fibers have also been vastly improved since the original braids were first introduced. They can be woven more tightly together so the finished product is more uniformed than original lines. Manufacturers like Cortland Line have actually introduced round braid which casts further and is much more resistant to looping back on itself, a major problem with flat braids. While earlier versions floated high, manufactures like Shimano’s Power Pro are now using coatings that sink it much quicker. This slick coating also increases casting and helps to prolong life.

Braids have a much different personality than mono. I found that these lines take some getting used to. In my opinion, braid’s low stretch makes it a perfect choice for deep water fishing. I have several outfits spooled with 20-30 pound braid. It is my go to line when I am jigging for bass, blues, sea bass, and ground fish, especially in deep water. You’ll also appreciate its pure strength and excellent abrasion resistance when it comes time to horse a big fish out of some nasty structure.

Although I rarely use cut bait to bottom fish, I know several sharpies that specialize in this type of fishing and they only use braids. They tell how braid’s exceptional sensitivity allows them to feel the lightest pick-up. They say that they can tell the difference between when the fish are nibbling on the bait and when they actually have eaten it.

Be Aware

Pick up a spool of 150 yards of braid and sticker shock will set in. There is no denying that braids are much more expensive than premium monofilament but they last much longer. Many anglers go a whole season or more without changing line. Still it is a good idea to give the line a quick look from time to time while reeling in, especially check the first 10 yards or so of line. Don’t worry about some fading of color but check for frays which can significantly decrease the line’s overall strength. Cut back to where the line is solid.

A word of caution, many anglers use braids because with its ultra-thin diameter they can increase line capacity and can use smaller spinning reels. Yet, drag surface is often smaller on these reels so the drag needs to be adjusted to maximum pressure. This can lead to increased binding of the drag. Heavy drags can also cause hooks to pull especially at boat side when fish often make the minute surge.

It is imperative to keep drags well lubricated. You’ll need to service the drags on the reels that are used with braids more often. This is not really hard: it is just a matter of removing and oiling the drag washers.

There is no doubt that braided line can put a lot of stress on rods. I have heard horror stories about braid sawing through the rings of guides. This might be true with the cheapest rods, but I personally have never experienced this problem.

While monofilament is easy to tie knots with, it takes more time and much more expertise to tie with braids. Many knots slip when tied with braids. There is no room for error here; use knots such as the Uni Knot or the Palomar. Be sure to check all connections frequently. While monofilament cuts easily, you’ll need to have a sharp knife or strong cutters handy to cut braid.

 

Which Line is Right for Me?

Now that you are more aware of the advantages and limitations of each type of line, it’s time to make the decision. Opinions on which line to use are as varied as anglers themselves. Both monofilament and braided lines have their die-heart fans who only fish one or the other. There are other anglers like me who use both, depending on the particular situation and the conditions that will be fished.

When choosing the best lines to use, anglers need to consider several factors including what fish will be targeted, the size of fish most likely to be encountered, types of lures that will be used and the depth of the water that will be fished. These factors will help to narrow the choice of the best type of line to use, the line test that is needed, and even the color to use.

When it comes to lines anglers now have more options to choose from than ever before. Braided and monofilament offer today’s anglers increased opportunities to get to where the fish are. Take the time to learn how to work both mono and braids and you’ll increase your catches.

Line Management

Learn to spool your own line-it saves time and money

No matter what type of line that you use, inspect it often

Replace line when chafed or frayed

To avoid jamming or backlashing line, keep it tight

Protect lines by storing rods and reels out of direct sunlight

 

 

Increased Safety: Emergency Help Within Reach of All

Captain Bill Smith

Picture_1[1]Emergency Radio Beacons were developed to provide assistance in locating boats, aircraft, and people in life threating situations. Today, transmissions from these beacons are monitored by Cospas-Sarsat, an international satellite system established by the United States, Canada, France, and the former Soviet Union to coordinate worldwide search and rescue (SAR) missions. Over the years, more than 30 other countries have joined the system, greatly expanding the available ground response stations. Since the Cospas-Sarsat system was first introduced in 1982, Emergency Radio Beacons have assisted in the rescue of over 36,000 people.

Help Is Near

The first Emergency Radio Beacons were Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs), used by planes to alert nearby aircraft of an emergency. Since other aircrafts equipped with ELTs needed to be close enough to pick up the distress signal, this was a major limitation of the original system. For this reason, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees search and rescue in the US, developed the automated satellite system to constantly monitor distressed signals.

Over the years, NOAA has expanded its emergency distressed program to include two other sources of distress beacons. Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are used by mariners to connect to the satellite system.

Expanding Search and Rescue Services

Although the first PLBs were not available in the US until 2003, EPIRPS have been used by mariners for many decades. Skippers of commercial vessels including certain sport fishing boats are required to have EPIRBs on board. There are two different types of EPIRBs. Category I EPIRBs can be activated either manually or automatically. If a boat fills with water, an automatic activation is triggered and the EPIRB is released from its mount. The unit floats to the surface and begins transmitting. Category II EPIRBs can only be activated manually.

After several years of testing a new system in Alaska, the US expanded the emergency search and rescue system to include Personal Locator Beacons in 2003. The new PLBs are portable units that operate in much the same way as EPIRBs or ELTs. The main difference is that PLBs are designed to be carried and activated by a person instead of being mounted on a boat or aircraft. PLBs can only be activated manually. They operate on the same emergency frequency as the other two systems.

What is a PLB?

While EPIRBs and ELTs are large units, PLBs are much smaller, lighter, and easy to carry. Personal Locator Beacons are self-contained and include a transmitter, antenna, and battery. A GPS interface is an add-on feature available for many models.

Most Personal Locator Beacons are brightly colored to be easily seen and are waterproof. The units are equipped with a long lasting battery, which has a useful life of 10 years and is capable of transmitting a signal for 24 to 48 hours. All PLBs also have a built-in homing beacon that transmits a distressed signal that search and rescue track on the satellite system. Newer models also integrate GPS positioning, which improves the location accuracy.

Registering Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs)

Personal Locator Beacons are mobile devices that can be used on both land and water. PLBs must be registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Registration of a PLB. Registering PLB device provides identification information and emergency contact information to search and rescue agencies. You can register a PLB and add contact information to the NOAA Satellite and Information Service database on-line at www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov/rgdb/ or download a beacon registration form to send in. There is no fee or subscription cost for this service.

Help from Above

All distressed systems are linked into the worldwide Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system. Each PLB is equipped with a unique 15 digit identification code. Once activated, the unit’s beacon is activated and electronically transmits a distressed signal including its identification code. This transmission is picked up by one or more satellites. Once a PLB signal is received, the satellites lock onto the signal and instantly begin to identify the source. GPS enabled beacons also transmit location coordinates. The signal is then relayed to satellite tracking stations, which are linked to NOAA’s database.  The name, address, phone number and other pertinent information as well as the approximate location are instantly available to search and rescue personnel under the direction of the US Air Force.

Picture_2[1]Advantages

There is little doubt that cell-phones have truly revolutionized the way in which people communicate. They also enable callers to use the national 911 emergency response system. However, boaters often operate in areas that are out of the range of cell phone service and where there is little other boat traffic to assist during emergencies.

Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) transmit a personalized distress signal to summon help. Once the beacon is activated, there is nothing more to do than wait for assistance. Response from search and rescue agencies is immediate so in many cases it is even faster than the 911 system. PLBs also have the advantage of being able to pinpoint exact locations, which many cell-phones cannot do.

Their signals can be detected virtually anywhere in the world by the global satellites. This is the reason that PLBs are popular with skiers and hikers as well as mariners. The satellite system operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide quick response from rescue authorities whenever an emergency situation occurs.

Until recently, most manufactures of PLBs marketed their units in the $500 range. Those with GPS capabilities cost slightly more. The cost of these units has come down drastically over the last year and is now quite affordable. There are several models on the market for $200-300.

For Safety Stakes

While PLBs add a new safety measure for all anglers, one thing a PLB cannot do is alert the operator that an emergency is taking place. There is no substitution for safe operation on the water.  Keep aware of all situations which can affect the safe operation of your boat.

PLBs need to be used in conjunction with other safety equipment including kill switches, life jackets, throw ropes, and life rings.  Lifesaving equipment including rescue beacons will not work unless they can be deployed when needed. Keep them visible and within reach at all times.

You will find valuable information on the NOAA website at www.satsat.noaa.gov.The U.S. Coast Guard has an outstanding website with even more information on emergency distressed systems. Be sure to check http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/Emergency_Beacons.asp.

The Northern Migration of Black Sea Bass

By Captain Bill Smith

The Harba SlamBoston Harbor and the surrounding waters have long been recognized as a striper hot spot. With increased numbers of winter flounder, it is also on its way to reclaim the title of Flounder Capital of the World that it held until pollution shut down this fishery during the previous twenty years. These waters are now home to a healthy population of black sea bass.

Cape Cod Bay, Vineyard Sound, and Buzzards Bay have long been recognized for their excellent black sea bass fishing. However, until recently, this southern specie was a rare visitor to the Harbor. I was really surprised when I caught my first Harbor sea bass a decade ago. Since then, I caught a few of these critters each season while jigging for stripers.

To the surprise of many, things certainly changed over the past few years with an increasing influx of sea bass. Last season was a banner year in both numbers and size. Sea bass arrived early during the spring flounder run and stayed well into September.

Harbor Sea Bass

Although black sea bass are not real heavy weights by striped bass standards, no one can deny that they fight hard for their size. Sea bas put up a nice battle on light tackle. Once hooked, they use every inch of their body to fight for their escape. Most of the northern sea bass are in the 2-4 pound range, but some real Humpheads, fish over 5 pounds have been caught locally during the past two seasons. And these big “humpies” are real bruisers that fight deep and hard

More and more Harbor fishermen are beginning to target these fish. With striped bass, bluefish, and now sea bass in the mix, the Boston Harbor Slam of three different game fish on the same trip, is now a distinct possibility. Add in the occasional fluke and tautog and you have a super slam.

The recreational limits and season on black sea bass has not been set as we go to press. Be sure to check before heading out on your first Harbor Sea Bass trip. Last year, it was not difficult to limit out on these fish.

 

Best Locations

Talk to most any sea bass regular, and they will tell you that catching sea bass is more about location than sophisticated tackle. Sea bass are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever bait is available. They are also bottom feeders. In the harbor, I have caught them stuffed with crabs, shrimp, worms, several types of bait fish, and even small lobsters. Regardless of whether you opt for bait or lures, success will come when fishing tight to structure they like.

Regulars will also tell you that when sea bass are feeding, they gather together in big numbers. Sea bass favor rocky structure and will be concentrated on humps, rock piles, mussel beds, and ledges…Boston Harbor has plenty of this structure. Use your chart to familiarize yourself with likely haunts and target these areas to increase chances of catching more of these fish.

The drop-offs along Hospital Shoals in Quincy Bay are a great starting point. You will find sea bass mixed in with flounders beginning in May and holding through June. As the season turns to summer, sea bass move into West Gut, Hull Gut, Black Rocks Channel, and Sculpin Ledge. I have also had good luck fishing along the North Channel especially the section between Faun Bar and Deer Island.

Sea bass can also be caught from the shore. The key is to fish near hard bottoms with deep water access. The pier at Nut Island, the tip of Hull Gut, and the rocks at the west end of Deer Island are great areas to prospect.

Getting the Bite

I defer to the experts who have told me that there is no real mystery in catching sea bass. I consider myself to be a keen listener. I quickly learned that the same techniques these sharpies use to catch sea bass down south work up here.

The experts told me that there are several ways to catch these fish. Many who fish sea bass in southern waters do so with bait. They use a pre-packaged high-low bait rig that have two hooks set-up 6-10 inches apart with a bank sinker attached at the end. Squid, sea worms, and sea clams are often used as bait.

I read a lot of about the advantages of using bait and artificial lures. I have also tried both in the Harbor. I personally think that jigs are the way to go when fishing the northern migration. Our water is much colder than that to the south, and for this reason, the right jig seems to absolutely deadly!

I have experimented with many different jigs and came to the conclusion that plastic bodies rigged on a jig head out-fish bucktails north of the Cape.  It is critical to use a heavy enough jig to work the jig along the bottom. To me, body shape and color are also important. My best bites have come on natural finishes. When targeting Harbor sea bass I have had excellent luck rigging a 5 inch Berkley Power Jerk Shad on a Kalen jig head. Spraying a quick burst of fish scent adds to the attraction.

Experience has showed me that at times sea bass will eat anything that is presented within their feeding zone, but there will be times when they can be downright finicky. Never be afraid to switch colors when the go-to combination fails to produce. Too many anglers stick with the same jigs even when it’s not working. If I am marking fish on my sonar but not catching, I make a change. I bring along several different body shapes and colors. I continue to change the body until I find something that gets their interest.

Be sure to add a strip of natural bait as a teaser. I find that small pieces of squid or clam necks hold well. But do not overlook pieces of mackerel, pogy, and even those pesky choggies. I have also used several different Berkley Gulp Alive products and have had very good luck using Bio Edge’s Crab potion on my lures.

Some Harbor anglers use metal lures when fishing deep water. I have also taken sea bass on Cripple Herring and Kastmasters. But I can honestly say that these have not worked as well for me as jigs.

Although I rarely target sea bass with fly tackle, I have seen enough caught to know that they will take a fly if it is presented deep enough. Rig a Half ‘N Half or a fully dressed Clouser on a fast sinking line. When retrieving, keep the rod tip facing down and in the water. This will help to keep the fly in the target zone. You might want to add a dab of fish scent to get attention.

Tips and Tricks

When fishing sea bass in Boston Harbor, I prefer to drift along the structure while jigging. I start my drifts well up-tide and allow the wind and current to present my offerings. Outgoing tides seem to produce best for me. While the numbers of fish might not be quite as high, incoming water will also produce.

There is more to fishing for black sea bass than just retrieving the jig. While many who use jigs employ an up and down movement of the rod to bounce the jig along the bottom, I have had better success with a slow horizontal snap of the rod. I honesty can say that I let the boat do much of the work. I also use a stop and bump retrieve rather than a steady retrieve. Many sea bass caught by my clients are hooked on the pause.

A word of caution, no matter how you retrieve the jig, be sure to keep it just off the bottom. You might even have to play out some line during the drift. I also use braided line on my light spinning rods. This line has little stretch and provides great feel of how the jig is working. It also has great hook setting strengthen.

The Catch

Sea bass are a highly sought after food fish. They are often found on the menus of some of the finest restaurants in the area. Its sweet white flesh can be prepared in several ways. Sea bass can be baked, fried, gilled, pouched, or added to chowders. No matter how you will cook sea bass, be sure to bleed, gut, and ice the catch as soon as possible.

Personally, I prepare to grill my fish. I remove the fins and grills. Sometimes, I will stuff the body cavity and season the fish with chopped garlic, pepper, salt, fresh herbs, and thyme before placing it in a pre-oiled piece tin foil. I cook the fish on the grill for 3-5 minutes on each side, depending on size. Be sure to baste the fillets with a mixture of melted butter and fresh squeeze lemon. Cooked this way the meat will peel right away from the bones.

Last Thoughts

The past few seasons really opened my eyes to the potential of sea bass fishing in Boston. I have learned a lot about when, where, and how to catch these aggressive bottom dwellers. I now know why sea bass are among the most sought after fish in the Atlantic. They put on a great battle on light tackle and eat well.

Black sea bass fishing in Boston Harbor can be fast and furious. Having a successful day depends on many factors, but most importantly finding the correct structure. Spend some times exploring the Harbor waters and you’ll leave with aching arms and great memories.

Side Bar: Interesting Facts

  • Sea bass are the most widely distributed species of saltwater fish in the world
  • Black sea bass are hermaphroditic-they are all born as males and the majority change sex when 2-5 years old
  • The ideal temperature for sea bass is 58-64
  • Black sea bass are close relatives of white sea bass and groupers
  • Sea bass migrate inshore to coastal waters in the spring and winter in offshore waters
  • Since sea bass have the ability to adjust their coloration to blend in with the bottom, they have few enemies
  • Sea Bass are among the most popular recreational species along the Atlantic coast

Sharing the Passion

Captain Bill Smith

If you are like me fishing is more than a hobby, it is a real passion. I am sure that there are times when you enjoy the solitude of the sport. But I’m also sure that there other times when would like to share this life style with other family members and friends. I can tell you as a husband and father there is nothing more rewarding than sharing quality time with your family away from all the daily demands of daily life. Using the right approach you can get just about anyone from a spouse to a child involved fishing.

While some think of this is be overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. I understand the difficulties and challenges of getting beginners involved in this sport. Take it from a parent, a grandparent, and an educator getting someone interested in fishing isn’t as easy as when I first got started. There were far fewer distractions in those days. Heck, when I was a youngster there were only three TV stations broadcasting in black and white.

Today there are numerous competing interests including video games, computers, and instant messaging. There are also school commitments, music lessons, sports and other hobbies. There’s even peer pressure that makes it more difficult to get someone interested in the “geeky” outdoors.

If you feel a little intimidated about the idea of taking a child fishing, don’t worry; it isn’t as difficult as you might think. With some planning and the right approach, you can put together a successful trip. First, let’s take a look at the best way to get kids involved. Then we will explore some strategies of getting spouses and girlfriends to spend time with you on the water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlanting the Seeds

The best advice I can offer on how to get kids started is begin fishing with them at a young age. Young children are naturally curious about fish and water. They love reading a book about fish, watching fish in a tank, or seeing fish swim in their natural environment. Your outing will inevitably create some real excitement for children.

Kids  love to explore the outdoors. It is not just about fishing; rather it’s more about having a new adventure and doing something special. Cherish this time and nurture their excitement.

I can honestly say that developing a lifelong love for this sport has little to do with catching monster fish. If you own a boat, begin by taking kids out for short rides and make it a game. Look for wildlife and other things of interest. If you do not have access to a boat, take them to a pond or the shore. Help them explore.

At first, chances are your child will be much more interested in the rocks and sticks than in fishing. These seemingly distractions are really a part of the experience. Make it a game. Stop and skip some rocks. Let their minds wander. Play scientist or even pirates.

Keep Them Active

Only introduce fishing when the kids are ready and make it about them…not you or even the fish. Watching you fish or lengthy demonstrations will quickly kill their enthusiasm. I recommend that you do not fish yourself so that you can provide undivided attention to your children. Always keep in mind that they are not just tinny anglers. Fishermen are not born; it takes time to develop a true interest and to acquire needed skills.

To really get kids hooked, they have to catch a fish! Use bait and target fish that are more apt to bite. Bluegills, sunfish, and catfish can offer plenty of freshwater action. In the salt, groundfish like flounders, perch, cunners, and flounders will help to bend rods. You can also catch many of these fish from the shore. The size of the fish is not important. It’s more about the thrill of catching fish.

Praise their efforts, even if the cast reaches only a few feet. Always keep in mind that little ones have limited fine motor control. Besides, distance is very relative to them. Be sure to celebrate their success. Make sure that you capture these special moments with a camera.

Work them into fishing slowly by keeping outings short. If the child gets bored and wants to stop fishing, it’s fine. Also be sure to pack plenty of drinks and snacks as well as some toys just for these times. Every kid loves to play with things and most boats have all kinds of gadgets to keep them interested.

I am talking from experience when I suggest that a child’s first fish should be released. This helps to further their trill of excitement and accomplishment. Many young children have difficulty dealing with death so killing even a fish to eat can be quite disconcerting. Take the opportunity to explain how to carefully remove the fish from the hook, and the importance of doing it quickly so it can be returned to water.

When your kids show an interest in continuing in the sport, take them shopping for their own rod and reel. Nearly every tackle store has inexpensive gear specifically designed for children. Many manufactures use cartoon characters known by the kids. You might be surprised by how quickly they pick this casting when they use their own equipment. Also buy inexpensive lures and some terminal tackle.

Developing New Relationships

Before this hobby became a full time job, my wife used to complain about the amount of time I spent on the water. She also did not like knowing the comrades with whom I shared time with pursuing fish. Of course, she had no idea how much money I was spending on my hobby or this would have been a contemptuous issue. I wanted her to get her involved on an occasional trip to stem the tide, but I struggle with how to do this.

I found it much easier to get my children interested in fishing than my spouse. I am willing to bet that you might fine this be true. Time is often a limiting factor to getting them involved. There are also other reasons. Often you need to get them beyond the mindset that fishing is a male dominated sport which will be too difficult for them to learn.

Regardless of what the type of new activity, as we get older, we get more self-conscious and can get embarrassed about our inexperience. To you casting, retrieving and fighting a fish is done with little thought. Yet, to beginners fishing is a whole new experience that may even be a bit scary at firs. It requires skills that can be quite intimidating. Be sensitive to your spouse’s concerns and be as encouraging as possible. Confidence takes time to develop.

Make adjustments to your regular fishing routine. Keep it light and fun. It might be asking too much to have her roll out of bed at 4 AM. A later start will probably be your best approach.

Do not push them to do anything that they do not want to try. If they do not want to bait a hook or take fish off the hook, don’t force it. She’ll do this when she is ready. And never make fun of them, even in jest.

You’ll need to be very empathetic and patient. Keep instruction to a minimum. Demonstrate and explain the basics by breaking it down into small parts. Be sure to provide only positive reinforcement and plenty of it. Allow them to get comfortable doing one thing before moving on.

Celebrate the firsts…a good cast, the right retrieve, and most importantly that first fish. Let them know that you’re proud of them. Remember every first fish is a monster. To you it might be small and not a big deal. They see it differently. Be sure to capture the moment. Let them squeal and scream.

Beginners do not have the knowledge or skills for dealing with aggressive hard fighting fish. Most adults are not much different than kids when it comes to catching fish. They want action, not necessarily big fish so plan ahead so that you target areas that hold good numbers of fish.

In order to not turn them off, do what they ask. Often they do not want to kill a fish so minimize the stress put on it. It is best to use artificial lures whenever possible. If bait is needed, use the least ___ gear and release it quickly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEnding

Although I was a city kid, I grew up fishing, tromping across swamps and small local ponds. A trip to fish the Charles River or Castle Island was a real treat. I also tagged along on yearly spring trips with my Dad and uncles whenever I could. From them I not only learned the essential skills but more important I acquired a love of the water which eventually led me to become a charter captain.

It is not always easy to introduce someone to fishing. You’ll pay your dues baiting hooks, removing hooks, and untangling lines. But it can be very rewarding. If you do a good job getting someone interested in fishing, maybe your new fishing buddy will be like you and not be able to pass by a body of water without wondering where the fish are!

 

Important Points

  1. Outfit them with simple and fun equipment
  2. Put them in charge of bait
  3. Let them play
  4. Go somewhere interesting
  5. Catch fish!
  6. Help them Boast
  7. Passion is contagious

The New Generation of Sonar

By Captain Bill Smith

Fish MarksI must admit that I’m somewhat old fashion, and no one would call me a gadget geek. I’m also generally skeptical of new technology. I even remember my first Lowrance flasher, and I caught many fish using that little green box. There is little doubt that marine electronics have certainly come a long way since then. But is the new sonar technology all advertising hype or not.

It seems that each year new features are introduced by marine electronic manufactures so when side scanning imaging was first introduced several years ago, I was very cautious. Yes, it was the latest technology.  But could it really help anglers find and catch more fish as manufactures claimed?

Don’t Just Look Down

During one of my winter fishing trips in Mexico, I found the answer to my question when I was introduced to high definition sonar technology. My guide used the Lowrance HDS multi-function system with Structure Scan to look at the sea bed, search for bait, and find fish. I was truly impressed with the clarity of the images and the detail of the underwater structure was incredible. I knew then that I would add this technology on my own charter boat.

Over the next year, I did a lot of research, visited several dealers, and talked to a number of skippers who were running this technology. I learned more about several improvements manufactures had made on sonar since I last updated my electronics 8 years ago. Newer units have far greater definition screens, which provide detailed color images of underwater structure and have outstanding fish finding capabilities. Yet, nothing can compare to the side scanning imaging that allow anglers to really dial in on what is below the water.

Although side imaging had been used by salvage companies and underwater surveyors for years, cost and sophistication of the equipment kept it out of reach of most anglers. Navico, manufactures of Lowrance and Simrad, and Humminbird introduced units for the recreation fishing market.  It will soon be offered by other manufactures.

The Real Scoop

Sonar was originally developed for the military and quickly adapted for recreational boaters. No matter how wide a transducer that is used, traditional sonar provides only a downward scan of the bottom.  Side scanning imaging is an innovative tool that adds a new dimension to sonar. It allows scanning on one or both sides of the boat as well directly underneath.

For several years, I have been using Lowrance’s HDS Gen2 system and added Structures Scan2, which consists of Side Scan and Down Scan. Side Scan allows me to sweep up to 300 feet around the boat, providing a complete underwater panoramic view.  To me, it’s like using a spot light to sweep each side of the boat. Its high definition resolution provides clearly defined structure. Structure Scan produces a picture of the underwater world that we never had before.

Down Scan is the second built in feature of the system. It provides a 3-dimensional view of what is under the boat.  Down Scan has much less clutter, making it easier to identify individual fish than even my new state-of-art broadband sonar.

While many tout the advantages of side scanning in deep water, I fish mostly in shallow water. I’ve found it to be an amazing tool unlike anything else out there. It takes sonar to a new level.

This year, I have once upgraded my sonar to include the new CHIRP system. CHIRP is an acronym for Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse, and it is able to process sonar signals in greater detail.

How it works

You do not need to be a captain of an oceangoing yacht to understand this new technology. While the black box receiver does not look very impressive, it’s the brain of the Lowrance Structure Scan. This box is networked to a multi- functional display module though an Ethernet connection. The black box contains the software to interpret the acoustic signals gathered by the transducer and translates these signals into graphic images.

A unique transducer mounted on the transom sends three sonar signals: one to the left side of the boat, another to the right, and the last is directly beneath your boat. This skimmer mounted transducer is much longer and narrower than traditional sonar. It uses the same acoustic waves, called pings, which are used by traditional sonar. The black box measures time intervals also like standard sonar. This is where the comparison ends.

The new equipment can display greater detail of submerged structure, bait, and fish because it uses higher frequencies to produce pings that travel much more rapidly to and from the transducer than traditional waves. In the case of my Lowrance unit, the transducer uses dual frequencies, 455kHz and 800kHz. Traditional units use 50-200kHz signals. The speed of the returning signal produces crisp detailed images.

The Real Benefits

There is no doubt that side scanning improves efficiency, allowing anglers to cover larger areas in far less time. However, I believe that the real benefit of this technology is that it better clarifies structure. Most anglers know that both saltwater and freshwater game fish use structure to their advantage. Side scanning provides a picture-like view of what is actually below the surface. It allows anglers to study bottom transition and specific features.

While some anglers use side scanning to find fish, I really do not use my unit for this purpose. I find side scanning to be far more valuable as a structure locator. To better define targets and identify fish, I use Down Scan. It provides a much clearer image than traditional sonar.

My Lowrance system allows me to use all three modes of sonar on a split screen display at the same time. This is a tremendous advantage. I can monitor changes in bottom structure all around the boat and monitor what is happening below the surface.

A Little Advice

While I am hunting the flats or searching submerged rock piles, I use Structure Scan daily, even when fishing my regular spots. I make a couple of quick passes through the area I am fishing with Structure Scan set at 100 feet on each side of the boat. I cannot tell you how much I learn every time out. It is like having a camera scanning all around the water column.

Side scanned images look different than those in the traditional sonar view. Hard bottoms like rocks and made-made structure like pilings are easily defined. Soft bottoms and vegetation are more difficult to interpret. Take time to learn how to interpret the images on the screen. This is especially true when fishing vegetation like eel grass.

Traditional sonar will display the same bottom features without as much definition, but you have to drive over it to capture the view. By keeping the boat a good distance off the structure, you are less likely to spook fish lying along the structure because you are not disturbing the immediate area with your boat. This could make a big difference in how you approach the fish and help to set up on the structure.

Learn more about the capabilities of side imaging by taking the unit off auto settings. Rather than use the default settings, play with the gain. Turn it completely down and gradually bring it up until the screen is clear. Try changing the color palette to you get the clearest picture. Also be sure to try each frequency on both the Structure Scan and the Broadband Sonar units to get the best picture.

I trailer my boat on a daily basis. I was uncomfortable with a fixed mount transducer because of its length. I was concerned that when loading and unloading the boat on the trailer that I could damage the transducer so I made mine tip-up by retrofitting the mount. When the boat is in the water, I simply push the transducer down into position, and I am ready to go.

Get Serious

I am relatively new to side imaging. Every time I use it I learn more not only about the waters I am fishing but also the capabilities of this technology. Side imaging has changed the way I find fish and explore underwater structure. I am sure that side scanning sonar will also help you to find fish, but it is up to you to catch them.

 

Seven Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Sonar

  • Check out tutorials on the manufacture’s website and videos on YouTube
  • Experiment with the unit’s features
  • Learn to manually operate the unit to get the best view
  • Use the split screen to better define structure and identify fish
  • Keep the transducer clean, especially transom mounted units
  • Use the zoom feature to take a closer look at different levels of the water column
  • Learn how to network sonar and the chartplotter to capture targets and save waypoints

Working the Weather

By Captain Bill Smith

New England anglers, like anglers in any other part of the world, are often at the mercy of the weather and need to contend with changing weather conditions. But here in the Northeast conditions often change daily. There is no doubt that weather can create many challenges for anglers. During the spring and fall seasons in particular, anglers often plagued by changing weather fronts.

There is little doubt that a basic understanding of weather and its effect on fishing is essential to catching fish. However, the most important reason is to ensure a safe trip. For the unprepared, strong winds and accompanying sea conditions can be a deadly combination.  Each season we hear and read about anglers who get into life threatening situations that could have been avoided if they had more knowledge and used common sense.

All fish have a few basic needs. Aside for their need for protection from predators, fish need to eat and rest to sustain energy. It seems simple enough. However, other factors have a direct influence on how fish meet these needs. Most important is the availability of bait. And this can be greatly influenced by weather.

Lessons Learned

Over the years, I have discovered that fish are somewhat predictable because they do certain activities every day. Then why is fishing one day so much better than the day after or even the day before? Why are you more likely to find fish feeding on certain days than others? Weather is probably the single most significant factor that affects fish behavior.

Weather has more to do with fishing than whether or not it will rain or what temperature it will be. Understanding how fish react to the weather can help anglers to develop a better game plan, which can increase catches. This knowledge helps anglers to modify tactics and identify more productive areas to fish.

There is plenty of information available on the Internet for those who want to learn more about the effects of weather on the habits of fish. And winter is a great time to do this research!

Putting Pressure to Work

Most anglers who spend any substantial time on the water know that changing barometric pressure associated with weather fronts can dramatically affect fishing. Biologist and meteorologist agree on the fact that fish modify their feeding activity to adjust to changes in weather. When weather fronts approach, barometric pressure is the first thing to change. Fish, like many animals are ultra-sensitive to pressure changes, and the unique lateral lines on the outside of their bodies help them to rapidly process these changes.

Knowing more about how barometric pressure falls and rises with different frontal systems is helpful to all anglers. Specifically, fluctuations in temperatures caused by changes in pressure change when and how fish feed. Fish also move to different areas to wait out the weather. For these reason, anglers should pay close attention to barometric pressure on a daily basis.

Anglers can stack the odds in their favor by fishing the leading edge of a front before storms move into their area. Fish are often very active as the barometric pressure begins to drop, especially after long periods of stable pressure. This is especially true when it is an approaching cold front.

Once cold fronts hit an area, fishing often shuts right down. These fronts create strong winds and rapid temperature drops, a deadly combination for fishing. Under these conditions, fish become lethargic and move into deep water. Even after the cold front clears out, fish continue to be sluggish, and it might take several more days for them to get back to their regular routines.

I think of warm fronts as excellent fishing opportunities. When a warm front approaches, the air pressure begins to drop. Fish sense the drop in air pressure and become more active. These conditions will trigger fish to move out from deep water and away from heavy cover, aggressively feeding.

Cloud cover and approaching rain is associated with these low-pressure fronts. The reduced sunlight causes fish to move higher in the water column. Anglers who use surface and shallow swimming lures along shallower edges of the feeding zones will do well. Faster retrieves often produce best as fish are often more active.

A word of caution: be sure to watch the sky and monitor radar because thunderstorms often form along warm fronts. Remember fishing rods make ideal conductors for lighting so seek shelter from approaching storms. And do it sooner than later!

Mastering Wind

Wind is another important factor that anglers need to monitor. Wind often dictates how and where to fish. Some of the changes associated with wind help anglers to find and catch fish; others work against them.

Wind often requires adjustments in lure selection and presentation during a trip. Wind can change water clarity causing fish to behave differently. Wind increases wave action providing cover from the sun, and fish will attack on surface more often. Wind also causes bait to become disoriented. Predators like striped bass and bluefish use this to their advantage and savagely attack defensive schools of bait. Wind can provide some excellent opportunities to catch aggressive fish on poppers.

Wind can also work against anglers. Constant wind blowing from the same direction can push fish out of open water. Water temperatures will also change depending on the direction of the wind. Westerly and southerly blows help to warm water and can produce some good fishing, especially in the spring and fall. Yet, too much wind can also drive bait out of the area you are fishing. And big wind makes it uncomfortable and even dangerous to be on the water.

On the Weather Watch

No, weather forecasters cannot tell you where the fish will be. However, forecasters provide valuable information to help knowledgeable anglers make important decisions, as well as helping to zero in on fishing areas. Gone are the days of looking at the direction of the wind as a prediction. Some of the more veteran anglers still use an old wife’s tale to predict the weather: “When the wind blows from the East, the fish bite least. But when the wind blows from the West, the fish bite best.” Yet, maybe there is something to this… but that’s another story!

Not too long ago, anglers had little to go by other than local weather forecasts and some NOAA information. Luckily, today’s anglers have more tools at their disposal to help understand what nature has in store. Now with the click of a mouse or a push of a button, anglers have access to many sources of local weather providing both short-term and long-term information. There are many free and inexpensive marine weather applications that can be loaded on cell phones. Information that is available includes surface water temperature, pressure changes, real-time tracking of approaching storms, wave heights, and wind conditions.  In the past, this information was unavailable or only available to those mariners who could afford the tremendous cost of subscriptions to weather services.

There is little doubt that technology has changed not only how weather is forecasted but also the information that is provided to anglers. Obviously this new technology has changed how anglers plan their adventures. There is even affordable satellite marine weather that anglers can use to monitor weather on the boat. With a subscription to the Sirius or XM satellite weather data service and an inexpensive satellite receiver, anglers can have up-to-date weather information at their finger tips. Weather is graphically viewed on a compatible chart plotter through a NEMA connection or a networked system.

Learn to Play the Weather

There is a lot of planning that goes into fishing trips and much is controlled by the weather. Your fishing time is valuable and often quite limited. There is no need to be surprised at the dock or worst on the water. Today’s technology takes much of the guess work out of when, where, and how to fish. If you are like me, you simply cannot sit around and wait for the perfect day. It is up to the angler to sharpen fishing skills and make needed adjustments. Learn how to play the weather and maximize your time on the water.

Three Fronts to Learn

Cold Fronts: Occur when cold air pushes warmer moist air aloft. This quick rise in air mass generates strong winds and often produces showers. As the cold front moves through, temperatures drop and air pressure begins to rise.

Warm Fronts: Occur when warmer more humid air forces cooler air out. As the warm front moves through, temperatures warm and air pressure begins to fall. Cloud cover will increase and rain will develop.

Stationary Fronts: Occur during a showdown in air masses when cold air and warm meet but neither gives way. Overcast and light rain might persist for days until the warm air is finally pushed aloft. There is little or no change in pressure.

Deadly Flies

By Captain Bill Smith

As a professional charter skipper specializing in fly fishing and light tackle angling, I spend much of my time exploring the shallower waters of Boston Harbor and the North Shore. I find hunting bass in skinny water to be the most exciting and when the conditions are right, productive ways to catch big bass. When bass are on the surface especially in the shallows, strikes are often explosive and the fight is heightened when anglers have visual contact with a trophy fish. One of my clients said it best, “It’s like climbing into the ring to do battle with an oversized competitor.”

Throughout the season, bass will be found in different parts of the water column. During the heat of the summer, these fish will often hold deep to bottom structure. Other times, they will suspend and wait for bait to move by. However, in the spring and fall when the water is cooler, bass will often be found chasing bait along the surface.

Spring and fall are prime times to hunt trophy bass, and in the fall, jumbo bluefish will often be found in the mix. Water temperatures are more agreeable to bass, and there are good food sources to attract big fish to my home waters.

At times, especially if the fish are keyed into small bait, flies can be even more effective than bait or lures. Herring of the year and peanut bunker are often 2-5 inches, just the perfect size for fly fishers to imitate. And when the bass are driving these baits, a fly rod, the right presentation, and the correct fly will out fish just about any other technique.

Stripers can be caught on countless fly patterns and more innovative patterns are developed each year. If you are like most fly fishers that I know, you pride yourself in having a huge collection of flies. When fishing the early spring and fall runs, fly fishers need to select flies that swim on or just below the surface.  I am not saying to put away all of your Clousers and other weighted flies. I am saying that be successful during fall blitzes, you need to have a rod rigged with a floating line. And if you have only one rod, it should be set up for fishing the surface.

Since I began my obsession with shallow water fishing, I have fished a Snake Fly, a pattern originated by Lou Tabory, with excellent results. It has produced more trophy bass than all other flies in my collection. I consider the Snake Fly the best shallow water searching pattern ever to be invented, and it works in all seasons. The Snake Fly shines at dawn especially when the water is flat. Many flies, especially weighted ones land with a splash that can spook the ultra wary stripers that inhabit the shallows. The Snake Fly’s deer hair head allows this fly to gently move along the surface. Its long saddle hackle often triggers a reactionary bite when this fly is stripped erratically across the surface. Since I most often fish the false dawn hours just before and after sun up, I prefer an all white fly.

A few years ago a client introduced me to a fly tied by a Florida charter skipper for snook. This skipper also told how he uses this same pattern when stalking Chesapeake rockfish, known as stripers in our neck of the world. It didn’t take long for this fly to prove its effectiveness on our eastern stripers as my client connected with a big bass on his second cast. During this trip, my guest took several jumbo bass on this pattern. What is this fly called you ask? This deadly fly is the Hammerhead Jerk Fly and it now occupy’s a primary spot in my fly box.

The Hammerhead is a great imitation of plastic jerk baits, and when worked properly, it often entices reactionary strikes of big bass prowling the shallows in search of prey. Like the Snake Fly, I often use this fly during low light conditions and cast to sighted fish. It swims suspended just a few inches below surface, and for this reason, it is also a great searching pattern. Retrieve this with erratic rod action with two or three sharp but short strips, and it will gently push water.

I first used the Crease Fly when I was guiding for albies and bonito in Vineyard Sound. However, the more I fish it, the more I have come to rely on it during surface blitzes, especially when bass are targeting the massive schools of small baitfish. This pattern was originated by Captain Joe Blados who fishes out of Long Island. The Crease Fly is easy to tie and even easier to fish. The aerodynamic foam body of the Crease Fly allows for much easier casts than a traditional popper so it can be delivered even into the stiff winds of the fall season.  The Crease Fly can be retrieved in more ways from a slow jerking motion to a rapid popping to get the attention of big bass.

The late Jack Garside, one of Boston’s most innovative tiers created a versatile surface lure using synthetic foam and saddle hackle. Garside’s Gurgler is one of the most deadly surface patterns that I have ever used.  It is not a popper, but you can make it pop. It is not a slider, but you can slitter it across the surface by trimming the collar. Garside’s Gurgler casts as easily as any streamer, but it can be retrieved to push as much water or as little water as the fishing circumstances require. Fish it fast to get it to pop on the surface during those full-fledged blitzes.  It can also be retrieved to create just a small wake or a gurgle on the water, thus the name gurgler.

One big hint about using any of these patterns is to resist the temptation to strike quickly with the rod, but rather use a strip strike. If the fish misses the hook, the fly will only move a few inches and still be in the strike zone. The fish will often strike again thinking that it’s chasing a wounded bait fish bent of escaping.

By no means am I saying that you should not carry other fly patterns. However being on the water most every day in the fall, I feel quite comfortable that I have the right arsenal ready when I have the Crease Fly, the Hammerhead Jerk Fly, the Gurgler, and the Snake Fly in different sizes and colors in my fly box. There are literally thousands of fly patterns, but few can beat these four patterns in taking fall bass. Learn to fish these flies, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at not only the number of fall bass you will catch but also with their size. Fish them properly, and you’ll experience the joy of surface action.

Side Bar: Tying the Giant Gurgler

As tied by David Deitz

Hook: Daiichi 2546, size 4/0

Tail:  White EP fibers over Pearl Flashabou, followed by a few strands of silver Krystal Flash on each side.

Anti-Foul loop: 20 lb. stiff mono (e.g., Mason hard mono)

Body: Pearl/Opalescent Estaz or Sparkle Yarn

Back: 2mm white foam (available at most craft stores – try JoAnn fabrics)

Thread: Danville flat waxed nylon, white

Tying Notes:  A generous anti-fouling loop is critical, and using light synthetics which do not absorb water is also important. While the fly can be tied with a single layer of thick foam, I use a double layer to create both an over- and under-lip.  Color variations are infinite, but I have not found a good reason to tie anything other than white or black.

Fishing Notes: This is a very wind-resistant fly; I use a 10 wt. over-lined with an 11 wt. WF line and a relatively short (6’) leader to deliver this fly.  Under calm conditions, the fly can be stripped slowly to create a V-wake like a Danny swimming plug – the large underlip creates a fish attracting wobbling action.

Using Fishing Logs to Catch Fish

By Captain Bill Smith

Some think that catching fish must be easier for professional charter captains. I disagree! There is no denying that being on the water almost daily gives me an advantage when it comes to finding fish, but it is still work. I do not have a crystal ball or even a software package that tells me where the fish will be. I do have a great source of information, my fishing log.

Most anglers can catch fish when the birds are diving and the fish are chasing bait out of the water. However, such ideal conditions rarely exist. Having a database of the right information can increase your chances for success.

Importance of Logs

Long ago, I learned that I could not trust my memory of what happened during a trip, and I began to transfer the database in my head, first to paper and now to a computer log. My logs are my secret weapons. When planning a trip, I review my logs to help determine high percentage areas where I can anticipate finding fish.

A fishing log is much more than a written record of how many fish were caught on a trip. It is full of important information that helps me to prepare for each trip.  Let’s take a closer look at what I track in my logs.

Useful Information to Record

 If you want to use the log to help plan future trips, there is some specific information beyond the numbers of fish caught that you will want to track. Over the years, I have narrowed down what I record only to what is essential to keep. I record only information I think will help me as a future reference.

Most importantly I track the 3Ts: tide, time, and (water) temperature. It is amazing how much these have a direct influence on how fish behave and where fish are caught. Knowing the 3 Ts can help determine not only where to fish but often, how you should fish. Noting weather conditions including wind, cloud cover, and fronts is important. This information will be useful in looking for patterns over time.

Here in the Northeast, conditions change almost on a daily basis so I monitor information about weather very carefully. And again, I’ll defer to my log because it is packed with what worked under different weather and sea conditions throughout the season.

Another essential topic I track is where I caught fish, as well as areas that I fished that did not produce. It is helpful to include details about depth, structure and any bottom features. If I saved waypoints on my chart plotter, I will also note these.

Lure selection is extremely important so I find information on what lures worked and even what didn’t work to be very helpful. I list the type, size, and color of the lures. I also record how I worked the lures.

There is nothing like firsthand information but at times, you might want to include information passed on from other fishermen. But be very careful to note the source. Remember, exaggeration is a definite part of the sport.

How to Keep a Fishing Log

There are a number of commercially produced fishing logs available. Most provide headings with fill-in-the-blank type questions, which you use to record information about species, areas fished, time, wind, sea conditions, tides, and fishing methods. Many of these logs are bound with treated paper, which is water resistant. But you really don’t need to purchase a log book. You will find several templates, which can be downloaded off the Internet.

A friend of mine uses a calendar book to keep his log. He suggests using a calendar with large squares for each day with little or no writing in the blocks. If you can get your hands on one with moon and tide information, this would be very useful and also save time. I make my own electronic calendar with templates I find on line and paste in tide information.

If you have any kind of experience with database management software, such as Access or QuickBase, this would be very useful for organizing the information in your log. Even a simple Excel spreadsheet will work. The advantage of a database is that you can sort and search the information very quickly. Someday, I am going to take the time to set up my own database. There is no doubt that it would be much easier to punch a key on a computer rather than going through all my logs to find the information I’m looking for.

How I Keep My Log

 During the trip, I record brief notes about how and where I fish in a small notebook, as well as notes on the weather and related information. I used to transcribe these notes into an electronic log when I got home. Today, I still keep notes, but I use a mobile voice application on my cell phone called Dragon Dictation to transcribe this information. This speech to text recognition application is a much faster word processor than my fingers! I then email the text notes to myself. All I need to do is open the email and cut/paste this information into my electronic log. I also add any information that is passed on to me.

Use Your Log to Make a Plan

 You reviewed the tide tables to determine the best time to fish and checked the weather forecast. You have done your homework, reviewing your logs and searched for previous successful trips under similar circumstances. It’s now time to make a plan for your trip.

You are now ready to make logical choices on fishing spots and techniques you will use. It is simply a matter of plugging this information into your brain and deciding on a game plan. Since you might fish several different spots during the day, you will need to include plans on how to move from one location to another so that you are there when the fish are most likely to be feeding.

Will all this planning mean you will catch fish every time you go? Well, maybe not!  But, if you have plans to fish more than one place in more than one way, you will have a better chance of catching fish. It is certainly better than sitting in one location all day, complaining about fish that just aren’t biting!

Bottom Line

 Find the easiest way to keep a log that works best for you. That way you will more likely keep it up-to-date.  If it works for you, you will do it! Keeping a fishing log can provide valuable information that will help you catch fish, as well as relive some great memories.

Tips for Keeping a Fishing Log

  • Create shortcuts for entering information
  • Keep notes of where you fished and what worked
  • Note weather conditions including air temperature, cloud cover, wind speed/direction, and precipitation
  • Keep track of tides and the moon phase
  • Record water conditions including water temperature, water level, and water clarity
  • Complete the day’s entry at the end of the trip

Boat Trailer Preventive Maintenance

By Captain Bill Smith

I am sure that if you are one of the many fishermen who trailers your boat to one of public launching ramps managed by the state or towns, you have heard about or experienced trailer breakdowns. If it happens on a crowded highway, things can get pretty ugly quickly. After one of these events, I quickly got a wake-up call and reassessed my own maintenance program.

Trailer maintenance isn’t something I look forward to doing and it is probably the messiest part of my spring. But good maintenance of tow vehicle and trailer is something not to be avoided. Neglecting to preform trailer maintenance can lead to more than an inconvenience. It could be dangerous — even deadly. It will provide peace of mind and safe traveling.

Yet, too many fishermen fail to use common sense. Most trailer problems can be avoided with proper maintenance. According to Boat US, the most common boat trailer problems are flat tires, wheel bearing seizures, axle and suspension failures, and improper coupling as the main problems they service. All of which should be address through proper maintenance.

Time to Attack the Running Gear

Begin by removing the trailer wheels to check the condition and functioning of the brakes. If the trailer is equipped with a reservoir, check the brake fluid level. Many trailers are equipped with thin metal lines that carry the fluid to the brakes. They can easily rust, causing a leak that will drain the reservoir and lead to brake failure. I replaced my lines with flexible plastic tubing and have had no problems

With the reels removed, it is easier to inspect the springs and the holding bands for stress and rust.

Check the boat trailer’s tires for wear and make sure they are inflated properly.  Dry rot on the sidewalls is a real problem because the sun dries and cracks the thinner walls of trailer tires. When sitting up for a long periods of time, the ground will rot trailer tires. Also, inspect the rim for corrosion and excess grease.

Boat trailers are regularly immersed in water and even fresh water will cause the wheel bearings to rust if not properly packed with lubricant.  Remove the wheel bearings and clean them before repacking them with grease. Only use marine grease that won’t break down when exposed to salt water.  Go easy when adding new grease. Too much will blow out the rear seal and will actually allow water to get into the bearing.  Grease will also spray all over the wheel and the trailer body at highway speeds.

I find it easier to replace the bearings, cones, racers, and seals. If you are not using, a Wheel Bearing Buddy System, it is time to make the investment. These specialized covers use a spring-loaded hub to keep the bearings clean and allows for constant lubricated, which displaces water. Some models of Bearing Buddy even have a visual exterior to monitor the level of grease in the hub.

When replacing the wheels be sure to tighten all the lug nuts. Check them again after running your rig for a few miles. They should be torqued to about 85 pounds. You do not want the tire to loosen up and ruin the rim… or worst become a lethal weapon on a crowded street.

Make Launching Easier

Manufactures are notorious for using non-galvanized bolts, nuts, and other fasteners to attach parts to the trailer. Check the condition of the rollers, posts, and bunks on the trailer. Lubrication is very important so spray liberally with a rust inhibitor.

Inspect the condition of the winch strap or cable for wear. Replace if there are any frays or kinks.

Lubricate the tongue jack and wheel. Inspect the safety chains and coupler.

Safety First

Trailer lights seem to be a constant source troublesome annoyance for most of us. You don’t want to get ticketed for a burnt out light to spoil your fishing trip so test all the trailer lights. this is the time to consider replacing the lights with the new LED sealed units. Mine have survived more than 250 dunkings in salt water.

Once you have hooked the boat trailer up, make sure the boat is balanced. Check how the boat looks in the trailer and make sure that it is loaded correctly. A top-heavy boat might flip when it leans too far over, especially on a curve in the road. The same is true for smaller and lighter boats, which tend to be pushed with the wind so make sure that boat is properly tied down to the trailer and the trailer is correctly attached to the vehicle loose. I never trust my winch cable so I secure the bow of the boat with a separate tie-down. I also use two transom tie-downs, one on each side of the trailer.

Avoid Embarrassment Factor

I hate to admit it but I once failed to check my trailer registration and had to pay a hefty fine for my stupidity. While at it, make sure that the boat registration is current. And yes, remember to put the drain plug before heading out

10 Commandments of Towing

Make Maintenance a Daily Routine

When towing a boat trailer, use driving common sense.

Give the wheel bearings a quick shot of grease before making a trip.

Stop frequently to check the trailer and the boat.

Trailer tires carry heavy loads so be sure to keep them properly inflated and watch for wear.

Test your trailer brakes before each trip.

Are those trailer lights working, even the turn signals?

Keep a spare hub kit tucked away in your truck or boat for use in a pinch. A complete kit will include a hub, bearings, seals, dust cap, lug nuts/bolts and grease.

Even a well-maintained trailer can have problems so it is best to anticipate problems and carry spare fuses, lug nuts,

Saltwater is a constant enemy of your trailer so keep it sprayed down with fresh water

 

Boston Harbor Revisited: 2015 was Full of Action

By Captain Bill Smith

Boston Harbor’s reputation, as one of the Northeast’s premier fishing destinations was not in jeopardy during most of the season.  Throughout the season, there were big schools of bass in Boston Harbor and surrounding waters. There was no need for long boat rides because the best action was minutes form the dock. From the rocky shorelines of the North Shore to the sandy beaches of Wollaston, the fishing pleased Harbor regulars and visitors alike. From spring to fall, Boston Harbor fishermen had a variety of opportunities to experience the many faces of this exciting urban fishery.

Several long-time Draggin’ Fly regulars felt that the fishing was almost like the Harbor experienced 15 years ago. Draggin’ Fly anglers encountered trophy bass almost on a daily basis but had to work to get their lures and flies in front of these bigger fish. Too often, the school-sized fish beat them to the punch! With the consistent action, there very few complaints.

The season was late getting started.  I believed that the real cause was not water temperature but rather the previous winter’s snow pack which added a bunch of fresh water, causing an abnormally low salinity level. Whatever the reason, once the bass arrived they took up residence in the Inner Harbor for the entire season.

Last season, winter flounder were back in their regular spring haunts throughout Quincy Bay including Portegee Cove and Hospital Shoal. Other hotspots included, Deer Island Flats, and inside of Hull Gut also fished well were far less crowded. Anglers managed to land their limit of these delicious table fares throughout the month of May.

During the spring, the Harbor’s rivers, especially the Back River, experienced the biggest spawn of herring in recent history. The Division of Marine Fisheries installed new video counters that document this incredible spawn. Drop-back herring and herring fry provided plenty of bait all season long. The fall also saw the return of peanut bunker, a bait that has not been seen in the Harbor in many years.

Stripers were available throughout the season in good numbers. Trophy bass over 40 inches were caught on light tackle, flies, and bait throughout the season. Bluefish were certainly not as numerous as in the past seasons, and even during the fall migration few were found in area waters. However, black sea bass invaded the Harbor early and remained throughout the season.

The Harbor’s bays and rivers were teaming with bait so the hungry bass did not have to travel far for a meal. It was true “Urban Fishing”. There was a big mixture of year classes of fish. This is a good sign that the future is looking a little brighter than some anti-fishing critics would have us believe.

Throughout the spring and summer, there were often major bites of bass even during the middle of day. Some days the bite was in the North Channel, and on other days, it was in the Inner Triangle. Often these fish pushed the bait up into shallow water. When the fish were feeding on the surface, soft jerbaits and fully dressed flies were deadly, especially early in the morning before the crowds got on the fish. Historically, summer is the time that many Harbor anglers transition to using bait or turn to fishing jigs in deep water. What a nice change it was to have blitzing fish during the heat of the day…and boy was it hot!

Very little changed in the fall and fishing continued to be consistent. The Inner Harbor fished exceptionally well. The added surprise was the schools of peanut bunker in late September. Bass blasted this bait in shallow water along the shoreline of many of the inner harbor islands. Hull and Quincy often fished extremely well.

Bass usually do the Houdini, disappearing from the Harbor around Columbus Day but not last year.  Action lasted well into October. However, the Draggin Fly was often held dockside at the mercy of the North East wind. There were times when the wind blew for days at a time. When it did let up, the Draggin’ Fly had big seas to deal with. It was time to pull the boat and call it a season…one full of action!

 

 

Getting Ready for Winter

By Captain Bill Smith

picture 3_wrapping (2)It’s that time again. There’s a chill in the air and Mother Nature has begun to turn some leaves different colors.  It’s time to clean the boat and get it ready for winter. Proper winterizing the boat and motor is the most important maintenance that you can perform to protect your investment. Take the time now, and you’ll be ready for next season.  Neglect it, and it will cost you not only serious money, but your friends will leave you in their wake next spring while you wait on repairs.

Do not let those Indian Summer days fool you. Cold weather is coming so don’t get caught short. Make sure that you get the motor drained and ready for winter before the first freeze. Water is great for fishing but when trapped inside an engine in cold weather; it’s nothing but bad news. It only takes a few hours of freezing temperatures for even the smallest amount of water in the engine to freeze and do damage.

Boaters who do not feel comfortable doing their maintenance should have it done by a qualified marine mechanic. This is a busy time of year for boat yards, and they book up quickly. Do everybody a favor, and get the boat in for winter maintenance early.

Getting Started

Everyone can complete the first step of getting a boat ready for winter. Begin by thoroughly cleaning the inside and outside of the hull. Before storing it for the winter, you will want to remove all the dirt and grime before it permanently stains the boat. Next, you should give the hull a good coat of quality boat wax to protect it over the winter. Do not forget the motor and trailer; give them a good cleaning too.

If you are handy and have the time, you can also do the winter maintenance on the motor yourself. Start by reading the owner’s manual. Most manufacturers have specific instructions of what needs to be done for winter lay-ups.

Proper storage involves adequate protection of engine and hull from water damage, rust, corrosion and dirt. The following are the steps that I follow when winterizing my outboard motor. Inboard engines and stern drives (I/O) have addition maintenance requirements. Check with your regular mechanic.

#1-Flush the Engine

I begin by flushing the engine to remove any contaminants that might have found their way into the cooling system. This grid can play havoc in the water pump, the impeller, and the gaskets. Most modern outboards have an attachment for a garden which makes this job easier to do.

First, run water through the engine at a low rate of flow for at least 10 minutes. Next, continue to run the water and turn the engine on. Allow the engine to run at idle for another 10 minutes, increasing the flow of water, making sure the engine does not overheat.

#2-Change the Oil

This is a good time to change the engine oil and filter. Most manufacturers suggest changing the oil and filter every hundred hours and at the end of the season. This removes any corrosive contaminants which can damage internal engine parts, especially when an engine is stored and not used for long periods of time.

Several years ago my outboard mechanic told me that long lay-ups cause oil to drain down over the winter. In turn, this can lead to what is called a dry start in the spring. This is especially true in older 2-stroke engines. Before I started running 4-stroke outboards, he suggested that I use a marine additive to coat the cylinder surfaces, seals, and bearings. He said that this would protect and keep the engine components well lubricated, combatting dry starts. I know several boat owners who have use Mystery Oil for years and swear by it.

After changing the oil, run the engine to bring it to operating temperature. Allow it to run a little longer before shutting down. The engine oil is now protected for the spring.

#3-Visual Inspection

With the engine cover off, this provides an excellent opportunity to inspect all engine parts. Remove and inspect the spark plugs for wear. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for replacing spark plugs.

Inspect and grease all engine fittings. Check the wiring harness and fuel line for wear.  Also, check the steering cables and the seals. Test the power trim and tilt.

To protect internal components from surface rust and corrosion, spray the power head with CRC 6- 56 or some other anti-corrosive spray. This will displace any moisture in the engine and protect the motor from the elements.

#4-Stablize the Fuel

All petroleum products including gasoline, diesel, and E10 will go bad over time. Gasoline breaks down when allowed to sit for long periods of time. During winter lay-ups, untreated fuel begins to form thick varnish-like clumps that can clog the engine. The ethanol in E10 can cause phase separation by pulling water from the air. This is bad news because it degrades the octane in the gas and causes water to form at the bottom of your gas tank.

All this can be avoided if the fuel is treated with marine stabilizer before the boat is put away for the winter. Just follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for the correct mixture. I also add StarTron Enzyme Fuel Treatment to my winter gas as an added safety measure to prevent fuel separation and octane breakdown.

Some think that fuel stabilizers can reverse the changes in fuel that has gone bad, but they cannot. Fuel stabilizers are preventative treatments. Stabilizers can only stop fuel from breaking down before the process starts. That’s why it is important to fill the tank and add stabilizer when fuel is fresh to keep it that way.

This is also the time to remove and replace all auxiliary fuel and water separator filters. When filling the new filter with gas, add a 1/2 teaspoon of stabilizer and install the new filter. Connect the motor to the flushing attachment and run the engine for 10-15 minutes to allow treated fuel to run through the entire fuel system. 

#5-Fogging

It’s never a bad idea to fog an outboard engine that is going to be stored for a long period of time as an added prevention against rust from getting started. While you can spray the surface areas of the engine, fogging is the only way to get a protective coating into all the internal engine components. Fogging an engine is a simple process, but you should only fog an outboard motor after it has been run up to temperature with stabilized fuel. Disconnect the fuel line and start the engine. While the engine is running on the gas in the carburetor, spray a fogging agent into the carburetor. Continue to spray until white smoke comes out the exhaust and the motor stalls. The fogging mist has penetrated the internal parts and will prevent damage from moisture. Be sure to reconnect the fuel line.

#6-The Lower Unit

Drain the lower unit gear oil by removing the two screws on the side of the lower unit. Check for water and contaminants. Any contamination can lead to costly repairs. If the gear oil has water in it or has a milky color to it, the seals will need to be replaced. I suggest that you have a certified marine mechanic check it out. If the gear oil is clean, you can finish the job yourself. Fill the lower unit with fresh oil until the oil runs out the top screw hole. Replace the O-rings on the screws before tightening them.

Remove the propeller and check for cracks and bends. Damaged props can be reconditioned at minimum costs. Check for any fishing line that might have gotten wrapped around the shaft. This could cut into the seal. Before replacing the prop, be sure to check the hub for excessive wear and movement. Replace the hub if worn, grease the shaft, and reinstall the prop.

It’s Now Time to Store the Boat

The engine is winterized and protected from the elements. The hull is cleaned and waxed.  It’s now time to get it buttoned up for winter storage.

Remove all seat cushions, fishing equipment, safety gear, and anything else you can store inside. You’ll want to take off all the electronics to store inside so that they are not exposed to moisture and extreme temperature changes. I also remove the batteries and store them inside. This allows me to keep them charged over the winter.

Before shrinking wrapping or covering the boat, it’s a good idea to hang some Damp Rid packets on the support. This helps to control dampness which could lead to mold. I also put moth balls in all the storage lockers and under the console to discourage rodents from nesting in the boat.

Remove the drain plug and the plugs in fish boxes and live bait wells. Be sure to jack up the bow so it is higher than the rest of the boat. This way any remaining water will drain out.

If you want to be ready for springtime fishing, spend the time now to get your boat ready for winter hibernation. With a few hours of work, your boat will perform at its best when you uncover it in the spring. Besides, you’ll be extending the life of your boat and protecting your investment.

Side Bar:

Tips for Winterizing Your Boat

  • Most anglers do not have the luxury of storing their boats in a heated garage so take the time to properly winterize it.
  • Add fuel stabilizer to the fuel with every fill-up starting in late September to make sure that you’ll be protected if the weather takes a sudden turn.
  • If you have putting off some minor repair, get to it now. Don’t wait until spring when you want to be back on the water.
  • Put jack stands under the trailer to get the tires off the ground. This prevents tires from developing flats spots and allows the tires to be rotated so the bearings can be moved.
  • Use a high-quality cover or shrink wrap to protect the boat, motor and if possible, the trailer too.
  • If the boat is shrink wrapped, put in a door to provide access to the interior during storage.

 

Making the Adjustment to Fall Fishing

By Captain Bill Smith

Fall is the time to cheer on your favorite football team, but it is also time to get out on the water. Fall fishing often brings some of the best action of the season. It is also a transition period between the summer doldrums, and the time before cold weather sets in. In more northern areas, stripers and bluefish have already begun their migration to their wintering grounds.

Finding and catching striped bass and bluefish during the fall transition need not be a daunting task. While many anglers rely on luck, real sharpies use their knowledge of fish and how fish react to seasonal changes to stay on the fish. This does not come easy; the more time you spend on the water, the more you will learn.

If you are going to be successful in pursuit of fall fish, there are certain conditions that you need to consider. The Big 3, weather conditions, water temperature, and availability of bait will determine where fish can be found and how they feed. Even subtle changes in any of these can make a difference in the fishing. Let’s look at each of these factors and how they affect fall fishing.

Weather and Water Temperature

Regardless the time of year, weather can be the most important influence on fishing, which also affects all the other factors of where stripes and blues will be found. During the heat of the summer, extreme water temperatures limited fish activity. In order to conserve energy, stripers are often very lethargic, reacting to environmental conditions almost like being held as prisoners of the heat. If weather patterns are normal, the fall season will bring more comfortable temperatures, along with frontal changes. There is less direct sunlight, which helps cool the air and water. As temperatures begin to moderate in early fall, they do so gradually. Nights will be cooler, and it will not be nearly as hot during the day.

As water temperatures cool down, oxygen levels in the water will increase.  After weeks of being inactive, the cooler water changes the metabolism of fish. They become more active, which means they need to feed more. They will also begin to group, and even big mama bass will mix in with the schools of fish. The cooling water also signals it is time to move. Stripers and bluefish head inshore in search of food. Temperatures in the shallow water are now more to their liking, and that’s where the bait congregates in the fall.

Fall weather means more wind. Wind can make it very difficult to fish. But in my opinion, it affects fishermen much more than the fish. It can make boat handling challenging; trying to position the boat to keep on fish can be difficult, especially when drifting. It is also harder to cast and get lures to the fish.

Fall winds can also limit where you can fish. In a blow, it is much more difficult to target fish in the shallows. Besides, the fish will more likely suspend and seek areas that deflect the waves. The good news is that I often find bass holding on rock piles, along inshore ledges, and on shallow water humps. Here they find protection from the elements. It is also easier for them to ambush bait that is being toss around by the waves and current.

Fall Bait

There’s no secret here. Just as it is during any other part of the season, the availability of bait ultimately determines where fish will be found. This is even more important during the fall when stripers and blues need to bulk up for their fall migration. In the summer, stripers are content to grub on crabs, shrimp, and whatever is available. But in the fall, they must stay with larger school of bait to get enough energy for their long journey.

Fall is also the time of year when you’ll find bass and blues in the same mix. Both are competing for the same food source. They dine on pogies, mackerel, peanut bunker, and bay anchovies.  They stay on the move following the bait.

Locating Fall Bass

So what is needed to locate areas that attract and hold fall fish?  At times, luck does play apart in fishing success. But if you are serious about consistently catching fall fish, you have to do your homework.

If you kept a log, it is time to review it. If you have not been keeping track of your fishing, now is the time to start. Traditionally, stripers and bluefish gather in the same areas as they migrate southward year after year. Their movement is more predictable during the fall than during any part of the season. Not only will they be following the bait, they will probably use their regular stop -over areas.

A good start in your search is a nautical chart. Yes, I said a paper chart, although they are now available digitally on-line.  Study the chart to locate likely inshore areas that have structure and deep water access. Also look for areas with a lot of current and strong tidal flow.

While on the hunt, monitor your chart plotter and sonar to pinpoint likely areas and the presence of bait. Fall fish are constantly on the move in search of food. Use common sense; do not spend a lot of time where there’s not much bait.  Do not overlook the obvious signs of fish like nervous water and birds.

Making the Adjustment to Fall Fishing

Fall is the time of year when striped bass and bluefish have the feed bag on and will eat any available bait. They are also more aggressive and seem to strike just about anything that is put in front of them. Yet, in my experience, certain lures work better than others, probably because they target the aggressive attitude of fall fish. This is the time to work topwater lures including poppers, stickbaits like Zara Spooks, and soft plastic jerkbaits. I think these lures have the action to increase catches when targeting big stripers.

When targeting fall stripers, I do not work these lures as fast as I do during bluefish blitzes. Rather, I use a downward jerk of the rod tip to move the lure from side to side. I also allow the lure to occasionally rest on the surface mid -retrieve. This technique gets more attention from wary cow bass.

While brightly colored lures such as fluorescent red and chartreuse get quick attention from bluefish, bass are often more selective. When the fish are fussy, I use natural finishes such as Arkansas Shiner, which can represent a host of local baits that are on stripers’ dinner menus. When the fish are more aggressive, I like white ice and albino finishes.

It’s Time

As the leaves begin to change so does fish behavior. Fall is a great time to be out on the water. There’s far less pressure on the fish and usually there’s plenty of action.

Fall fishing does not always mean that there will be stripers and blues at every stop. Yet, under normal conditions, the fish will take the same migrations that they have used in past seasons. This gives knowledgeable anglers a big edge, and knowing how the fish react to the changing seasons provides real insight into how to catch them. Remember, you have to be able to adapt to any changes that Mother Nature deals you, especially fall weather. Get out and enjoy some great fall fishing!

Side Bar:

Tips for Fishing the Fall Migration

  • Fish high percentage areas with strong currents
  • Look for schools of bait
  • Fall bass and blues will aggressively attack topwater lures
  • Soft plastic jerkbaits are a fall favorite when targeting fall bass
  • Carry a variety of lures in several colors

 

The Challenge of Bluefish on Light Tackle

By Captain Bill Smith

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile reading some of the reports posted on the internet web sites, I often come across some very negative comments about bluefish. Some anglers post that blues are good for nothing and wonder where the good fish like stripers are hiding. Others claim that they’ve caught so many bluefish that they see no sport in it, and they never want to see one again.

I do not share this negative view. I have been fortunate to chase many different species of fish all over the world on light tackle, and I can tell you that I don’t understand such negative attitudes about this strong fish. We have all heard the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” so I would be wasting my time trying to change the mind of these people.

When you think of glamour fish, bluefish may not rank at the top of the list. However, bluefish can be great adversaries on light tackle. The main reason that I love bluefish is because they totally unpredictable. They might begin the fight by running out line at lightning speed only to change directions and charge you. Bluefish pull hard and have the tendency to take to the air, shaking their heads much like tarpon do to try and get free of the hook. Besides, some of the best action with bluefish sizzles when the water heats up.

Targeting Big Blues

Bluefish are second only to stripers in popularity along much of the East Coast and often inhabit the same waters as stripers in most of New England. Anglers often catch blues incidentally while fishing for stripers. But some fly and light tackle anglers specifically target blues, especially during the heat of the summer when stripers seem to disappear. These anglers know that big blues do not fool around especially if they are hungry, which is most of the time. They are extremely aggressive and pound for pound, fight as hard as anything that swims in our waters.

Light tackle works well, but you cannot muscle these fish. If try to put the brakes to a big blue before it is played out, the next sound you could hear will be a snap. Hopefully, it will only be the line and not your rod. Nevertheless, catching bluefish on light tackle is fun and great sport.

In my neck of the world, north of the Cape Cod Canal, bluefish are regular summer visitors, but they are not as common as they once were. In these waters, bluefish do not show up in any real numbers until late June. The summer is traditionally a great time to find schools of feeding fish. Often these summer fish are in the 3-5 pound range, but it is not uncommon to catch fish weighing in the mid-teens.

On the Prowl

There is no real secret to finding bluefish. Bluefish can be found most anywhere. They hunt the shallows where they trap bait. Inlets often provide a good opportunity to intercept feeding bluefish. Ledges and rock piles are other great spots, especially if you are targeting big blues. Never overlook making a few drifts through the rips, as long as the current is pulling.

When fishing open water, always keep your eyes open. Look for obvious signs of bluefish on the hunt. Birds working on the water, nervous pods of bait fish, and feeding slicks are good indications of fish. Remember if you catch one bluefish, there will most likely be more in the area. Rarely do they attack alone.

Bluefish are coastal marauders who spread fear and paranoia among small fish for good reason. Once a school of bluefish gets on a school of bait fish, they savagely attack until the bait is decimated. Many times, this feeding frenzy attracts sea gulls that feed on the stunned bait fish. The bird activity makes the feeding bluefish easier to find.

Last year in my home waters, we had a good run of blues including some real alligator size fish. Many of these bluefish were caught in the shallows so my first stop at dawn was usually in skinny waters. I often found a good mixture of striped bass and bluefish in this skinny water stalking small bait. On many trips, my clients battled trophy bass and monster blues in the same area. As the sun climbed higher above the horizon, this bite was over. The fish more often than not moved to some near-by deeper water.

Top Water Techniques

Bluefish have a tendency to feed in large schools, and they aren’t known to be fussy feeders. At times they can be selective, but for the most part, they will attack just about any artificial lure, or bait offered to them. Catching them is often just a matter of putting a lure in front of them. If your bait is moving fast, blues will probably hit it.

Blues are very explosive surface feeders and will often be found feeding on top during enormous blitzes. These are the times that many anglers look forward to the most, and the sight of bluefish chasing bait on the surface gets the adrenalin running! The action can be exceptionally fast and a lot of fun.

When they are hungry blues explode on whatever is offered to them. One of the most exciting ways to catch blues is on surface plugs. When the bite turns hot, I turn to hard poppers. The action can be exceptionally fast. There is nothing more exciting than watching these bull dogs savagely attack and lock onto a lure.

On light tackle, blues will test your angling ability. When using top water plugs, I prefer fast retrieve spinning reels. Cast a popper right into the boiling fish and work the lure fast with a lot of rod action. Be sure to keep the rod tip high. Blues will often following, snapping at the lure so keep the lure moving until you feel the weight of the fish. To save on tackle and a finger or two, be sure to play the fish out before bringing it boat side.

Working the Structure

Even when bluefish are not schooling, they can still be targeted. Bluefish are territorial and may react to anything within range. This is the time when soft plastic jerkbaits shine. To entice fish to strike, these surface lures should be worked much slower than poppers.

Soft jerkbaits are great for prospecting ledges, rock piles, and other structure. Make several casts along all sides of the structure before moving on. The best way to work jerkbaits is to cast them out and allow them to rest a second or two. Lower the rod until it is parallel to the water and the tip is pointing at the lure. Reel half a crank and jerk the rod tip upward a foot. Keep repeating this action.  An alternate retrieve is to use a stop and go motion. When reeling, sweep the rod tip down at the same time and then allow the lure to rest.

At times, bluefish not unlike striped bass hold along quick drop offs near the shoreline and along ledges. If the fish are deep, bucktail jigs and soft plastic bodies rig on jig-heads will get attention. Just be aware that these toothy bluefish usually tear these plastic lures up quickly.

Rigging

No matter what lure is used, single hooks are a must when targeting bluefish. This often means replacing the treble hooks that are commonly found on many lures. The use of single hooks will simplify unhooking mean blues, which tend to flop and twist when lifted from the water. Also make sure you have a good fish dehooker to help in the process. A quick release will also help you to stay on the bite.

Use a short 20 pound test wire leader between your running line and lure. The use of long heavy leaders weighs down the lure causing unnecessary drag, which hurts the action. A shorter lighter leader will have little effect on the action, but it will prevent the bluefish’s sharp teeth from cutting you off.

The Long Rod

Fly rodders can also get into the bluefish action. Poppers and gurglers can be deadly, especially when the fish are feeding.  Since blues like a fast moving lure, the best method for retrieving poppers is to use both hands to retrieve the fly as fast as possible. Taking double digit bluefish on fly tackle takes a lot of skill and some luck. Last year, a client on my charter boat landed a bluefish over 17 pounds on a 7 weight fly rod. It was the thrill of his angling lifetime!

Use Common Sense

I often witness some really stupid and dangerous boat handling during bluefish blitzes. Whether it is the excitement of the melee that is happening or just inconsiderate behavior, some anglers feel the need to crash into the fish. Not only do they make it difficult for others to position their boats, but they also break up the school.

It is best to stay up-tide of the school and drift into the fish. Even during an all out blitz, blues will react to the noise of the boat engine. Be sure to shut the engine off well before getting near the school.

Dinner Time

Bluefish can provide some good eating if they are gutted and bled quickly and kept on ice. I like to keep one or two small fish for the dinner table, releasing the larger fish which I think have a stronger taste. However, not everyone shares my opinion. I have clients that like to grill the larger fish. Bluefish make a good chowder fish, and they can be smoked or made into fish dip.

Recent conservation measures seem to be working well, and the numbers of bluefish has steadily improved in the past several years. It is still important that we all fish responsible.

Handling Tips

  • Work quickly to release bluefish
  • Protect yourself and the fish by using a boga grip to handle bluefish
  • Use long nose pliers or a dehooker to remove hooks
  • Only grab the leader and not the running line to control the fish
  • Replace all treble hooks with a single sidewash hooks
  • If you need to hold a bluefish, a glove will help

 

Lighten Up To Get the Big Bite

Captain Bill Smith

 

DSC_0675Many anglers consider light tackle fishing to simply be downsizings in tackle from heavy trolling outfits to lighter spinning tackle. They are somewhat correct, but to me, it is much more than simply using lighter equipment. It is certainly more than using freshwater gear to target saltwater fish.

Light tackle angling is a new approach to how anglers fish. Many light tackle fishing techniques have long been used by anglers who stalk southern waters for bonefish, redfish, and snook. As a matter of fact, long before I started using light tackle in my home waters of Boston Harbor, I used it during my winter trips to the Florida Keys.

As the striped bass population rebounded in the late 1990s, the boom of light tackle fishing in the Northeast began. More and more fishing tackle manufactures recognized the importance of this market and started making specialty rods and reels that could stand up to our saltwater gamefish and the more rigorous saltwater environment. Lines were also improved and a bunch of new lures were introduced.

The Buzz: Light Tackle Techniques

There’s no question that there’s a time and place for every type of fishing. To be truly a well-rounded angler who can catch fish under varying conditions, you’ll need to be a master of many different styles of fishing. Trolling can help local fish. And at times, bait will be the only thing that will get fish to open their mouths. However, as a professional skipper specializing in light tackle fishing, light tackle techniques catch me a lot of fish, and it’s simply the most fun way to catch striped bass, bluefish, and a whole host of other species.

I might be a little prejudice, and I certainly do not want to come across like some holier-than-thou angler spouting the advantages of light tackle fishing. Yet, I believe that light tackle fishing requires a higher level of fishing skills. Luckily, these skills are easy to learn with practice. Whether fishing surface lures in shallow water or probing the depths, in the hands of knowledgeable anglers, light tackle can be very productive. I am equally certain that most anglers will find that this type of equipment is much easier to use than wire line, lead core, and other heavy gear.

Gearing Up

Trolling and bait fishing were long the norm when targeting striped bass and other inshore fish found in the Northeast including bluefish, fluke, tautog, and sea bass. The heavier outfits used in these types of fishing are often cumbersome and heavy. This gear is not really user friendly, especially for less experienced anglers.

Light tackle offers a whole new approach to catching more fish and enjoying it more. The sensitive gear used in light tackle fishing allows anglers to employ different techniques. With lighter rods, reels, and lines anglers can use a variety of artificial lures to make more natural presentations.

Light tackle is certainly a relative term. There is no set rule about what this tackle entails. Obviously, light tackle used to target flounders will be significantly different than light gear used to catch tuna. Just remember to use common sense when selecting tackle; your choice of gear must be appropriate for the size of fish you target.

This article focuses on light tackle equipment and techniques used to catch striped bass, bluefish, and fluke. I do not agree that light tackle gives the fish the edge, but I know that the use of this type of gear leaves little room for operator error. You’ll need to be on top of your angling game and know how to use this type of tackle to your advantage.

Time for a Change

Many tackle manufacturers are now marketing specially designed rods for light tackle fishing in saltwater. Some come with exorbitant price tags. Shop around; there are many rods that are reasonably priced that will do everything that you need.

Prior to the light tackle boom, fiberglass rods were widely used by striped bass anglers. Most of the rods were of medium action where the entire upper half of the rod bent. These worked well with large lures like big poppers and swimmers popular in those days, as well as bait. As light tackle became more popular, anglers found that the actions of these rods were too slow to cast the lighter line and lures that they needed to use. Fiberglass rods were also very heavy especially when casted for long periods of times. The new light tackle technique required rods that load quicker to deliver lighter lures with both finesse and accuracy.

Today, the typical light tackle spinning rod is built on graphite blanks. They are more sensitive and even lighter than the first generation of this space-age material. Today’s graphite rods are designed to cast greater distances by bending quickly to maximize the energy of rod. Many models use high frame guides to eliminate line slapping and decrease friction.

Rods from six to seven feet long are the preferred length. Most anglers choose fast action rods that load the line in the upper third of the rod. This allows the tip to bend and cast quickly with just a flick of the wrist. The rod also recovers much faster providing enhanced lure control.

The light weight of graphite makes them easier to use than fiberglass rods. Light tackle techniques often involve a whole bunch of casting and tremendous amounts of wrist action. This continuous repeated motion can case wrist fatigue and arm problems. The lighter weight of these specialty rods helps to prevent fatigue.

To move hooked fish from the nasty structure targeted by many inshore anglers, rods also need to be exceptionally strong. They need the backbone to stop and control strong fish. Manufacturers continue to improve graphite fibers and newer models have exception power for their size. They are also much more sensitive and are a great compliment to the new generation of fishing lines.

The Reel Deal

Once again, you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a decent light tackle fishing reel. Over the years, I have field tested many different reels for manufacturers and have found that most freshwater models just do not hold up to saltwater. When selecting a reel avoid reels without bearings and those with cheap gears or non-coated frames. Be sure to check the bail. You’ll be doing a lot of casting so you want the bail to be smooth and not trip prematurely. Also consider the line capacity of the reel; you never know when you’ll hook a monster.

When targeting aggressive fish, few anglers would argue about the importance of the reel’s drag system but when using light tackle it is even more important that drag be supper smooth. The drag has to be fine-tuned and set just right.

The sudden violent surging of a big fish puts a tremendous strain on light line. The drag needs to be smooth and apply the necessary pressure without stressing the line. Experience anglers know that when the drag does it job, landing very large fish on super light tackle is possible.

The Lure of Soft Plastics

In recent years, the evolution of soft plastic lures has greatly change saltwater fishing. Soft plastics have long been used by anglers targeting freshwater fish, especially largemouth bass. Saltwater anglers are now using these lures to target a variety of gamefish. Soft plastics have gained a lot of popularity because they can be fished at all levels in the water column.

The soft bodies are formed by heating plastic into a liquid and pouring the hot liquid into molds of just about any size and shape. Different compound mixtures like salt are blended in with the melted plastic to keep lure soft and increase durability. As the liquid cools, color, shiny flecks, and scents can be added for added attraction.

The original soft baits were mostly worms and grubs manufactured by small local companies. In the 1990s, the soft plastic lure market exploded and several major lure manufactures began to add many different types of soft plastic baits to their product line. Today, soft plastic lures come in countless styles and colors to mimic most any bait found in our waters.

Unleashing the Power of Plastics

Saltwater anglers have also dialed in how to work these lures to attract the attention of even the most selective feeding fish and get them to bite. To create a more natural profile, they often select the size and color which best matches the preferred bait. However, at times, this ‘match the hatch” approach just will not work. In this case, the fish need something different to trigger a bite. It’s time to try a smaller or even a larger lure than the actual size of the bait. Switching to soft plastics impregnated with scents might also get attention.

In the hands of knowledgeable anglers these types of lures can be deadly. Soft plastics offer many advantages over hard plastic lures and metal spoons. The most obvious advantage of these lures is how naturally they look in the water, like something fish eat. Another major advantage that soft-plastic lures have over hard-body lures is that they buoyant. They can be rigged a number of different ways to fish at all levels in the water column and to make more natural presentations.

These lures are also very pliable and have more of the texture of real food. When a fish strikes a soft plastic lure it feels natural. Fish will often hold onto it, giving anglers time to set the hook.

The Deadly Jerkbait

Jerkbaits are one variety of soft plastic lures that have become very popular with light tackle anglers in recent years. These specialized soft baits are meant to be fished on the surface. At times, these lures are referred to as twitch baits. But regardless of the name, they are a deadly top water lure that can trigger explosive surface attacks.

Most types of lures can only be retrieved in one specific way, but soft plastic jerkbaits can be worked in several different ways. These lures can be glided smoothly through the water or moved erratically, creating a darting motion that can excite fish into striking. When fish are aggressively feeding, they often prefer a fast retrieve. When fish are holding tight to structure, they will ignore lures that are rapidly ripped across the surface. A slow erratic retrieve will often be more effective when the fish are sulking.

Seal the Deal

Getting bites on the days when the fish are finicky takes much more than just luck. It might require a change in techniques. The angler’s job is to figure out how the fish want it. My best advice is to experiment and try different retrieves.

I find that jerkbaits can be especially effective on those days when fish are more discerning about what they want. Jerkbaits look like an injured bait fish, and they often attract the attention of even the most selective fish. They are my go-to lure when targeting the more selective fish in shallow water.

While some manufacturers claim that their lures have excellent built-in swimming action, even with a slow retrieve, experienced anglers know that jerkbaits are only as good as the angler makes them. These veterans know that to consistently catch fish on jerkbaits requires much more than just wiggling the rod. One of the best ways to make jerkbaits appeared like injured bait fish is to cast them out and allow them to rest a second or two. Then lower the rod until it is parallel to the water and the tip is pointing at the lure. Reel half a crank and jerk the rod tip upward a foot. Keep repeating this action. An alternate retrieve is to use a stop-and-go motion. When reeling, sweep the rod tip down at the same time and then allow the lure to rest.  This provides time for the fish to ambush the bait.

Jerkbaits are also great prospecting lures when use to locate fish holding along ledges, rock piles, and other structure. Make several casts along all sides of the structure before moving on. Soft plastic jerkbaits are a lot of fun to fish but require anglers to pay close attention to what they are doing.

Plain and Simple

If you are like me, you are always looking for situations that give the angler an advantage. Take the time to learn how to better use light tackle and you’ll have some new tricks for catching more fish. Besides, many inshore species are great adversaries on this gear and light tackle is just more fun to use!

Now is the time to get ready to do battle this coming season. What are you waiting for? For more action, add light tackle to your arsenal.

Secrets From A Pro

  • Elicit more action by varying your retrieves and adding more rod action
  • Convert those short strikes to hook-ups by fishing soft plastics
  • Maximize the cast by following through and aiming the rod tip at the water
  • Use a loop knot to give the plug the most action
  • When retrieving use a slight pause to give the lure time to settle
  • Fine tune drags and keep them well oiled

This article written by Captain Bill Smith was originally published in the New England Fisherman and is reproduced with permission on the author.

Ed Nowak: The Fishin’ Pole

When the editor of this publication put out the call for winter articles that would profile famous fishing characters and local legends, I knew just the person for this article. I also knew that I had to write it. The editor readily agreed that an article on Ed Nowak, The Fishin’ Pole would make an interesting read.

 

I am sure that most readers recognize the name Ed Nowak because The Fishin’ Pole has definitely been an icon in the New England fishing community for as long as I can recall. He is a prolific writer and a very talented photographer. Over the years, Ed has written thousands of outdoor features, newspaper stories, and columns. He is also an accomplished radio broadcaster. In this work, Ed has had a great impact on regional fishing and those who know Ed will verify that he is certainly a character!

 

I must start with a disclaimer about this article. I usually approach a topic with an open mind but when it comes to Ed I definitely have my opinions. I have known Ed for almost 30 years, and he is much more than a friend. He has been my second father, always willing to contribute ideas and offer advice. Ed has shared some wonderful times on my boat. He also shared in the joys of the birth of my children and my grandchildren. Ed has been my mentor, sponsoring my initiation into the Outdoor Writers Association.

 

Growing-up in the Depression

Ed inherited much from his family. He is the son of a Polish immigrant who was raised in a strong Catholic tradition by his widowed mother. His father volunteered to fight for this country in World War I. Despite being seriously wounded, his father continued to perform his duty as a courier and carried some important information about enemy strength back to the regimental command. After returning to the States, Ed’s dad put himself through Burdett Business College, became the news editor of a Polish newspaper, and later formed his own successful business.

 

Ed always had a hankering for fishing and he remembers well growing up in Winthrop. Back then, a few cents bought a couple of fish hooks which Ed put to good use fishing from the shore at Point Shirley and off local piers. Later, he expanded his hobby, fishing the Graves to Nahant from the family’s sailboat. In those days, there were no striped bass so Ed targeted the huge schools of pollock which often blitzed the Harbor waters. Many of these brutes were in the 12 to 20-pound size.

 

When not chasing fish, Ed worked hard delivering 250 newspapers each morning before school and setting up bowling pins at the Winthrop Yacht Club at night. He also played varsity center on the Winthrop High football team where he earned an All Scholastic Honorable Mention. After high school, Ed worked as a stock boy for the prestigious hardware firm, Bigelow & Dowse and attended Boston University until being drafted during World War II.

 

The Call To Duty

Ed told me that the most important historical event of his life was his military service which spanned over 3-1/2 years in China, Burma, and India. It greatly influenced his ability to problem solve and to work hard to achieve important goals. These ethics were also what his family instilled in him as a youngster growing up during the difficult times of the Depression.

 

Rather than accept an appointment to Officer Candidate School, Ed wanted to join the fight overseas. He was first sent to the Air Force School of Photography at Lowery Field in Denver, Colorado where he was a member of the first photo class that included enlisted men. Prior to this time, only officers were trained as combat photographers. While there, he even managed to do some amateur boxing and represented the Air Force well, winning the middleweight division in the Inter-service League. After graduating, Ed was assigned to the 21st Photo Reconnaissance Squadron of the 14th Air Force division in China. There he served as a war time photographer for the Flying Tigers under General Chennault. Ed worked on a photo essay for Life Magazine about the famous Flying Tigers, gaining national recognition as a photographer.

 

With the war ended in Europe, Ed was reassigned from his combat position in Asia to the staff of “YANK”, the military monthly as a military photographer. He tells of working with some great journalists while honing his skills as a photojournalist. He fondly remembers working with Bill Mauldin, World War II’s most famous cartoonist and a two time Pulitzer Prize political cartoon winner.

 

A New Career

After his military time, Ed’s boyhood hobby became his livelihood and helped support his growing family which included his wife, a daughter, and four boys. Ed returned to work as a salesman for Bigelow & Dowse. Operating out of its Franklin Street location in Boston, Bigelow & Dowse was the largest hardware distributer in all of New England. In those days, there were few sporting goods retailers so distributers like Bigelow & Dowse were full service wholesalers supplying not only hardware, but also kitchenware, garden tools, and even sporting goods to a wide variety of retailers. Bigelow & Dowse was also the direct importers of fine Sheffield cutlery so sporting goods was a natural extension of their trade, and Ed was the person to grow this business. Fishing tackle was always Ed’s forte, and he quickly developed new territory working his way up to general sales manager.

 

A few years later, Ted Williams, Boston’s most famous baseball player of his time, started a fishing tackle company but was struggling to market his gear. Ted Williams Tackle Company lost a lot of money during the first years of operation. Ed was brought in to revive his company and improve sales and profit. As sporting goods sales manager, Ed worked with Williams’ development team to expand the line to include fishing equipment specifically designed for kids. Ed also helped develop fly rods and spinning rods to match-up to Williams’ famous fishing reels. Within three years, Williams’ company became a very profitable venture.

 

Ed was part of the cutting edge of saltwater fly fishing in the late 1950s into the 1960s, and Williams shared this same passion. Ed enjoyed his time working with Ted and tells many stories of his fishing trips with this famous sportsman. Ed’s relationship with Williams continued until Sears & Roebuck, the retail giant of the time, made an offer that could not be refused, and Williams sold his business. While Ed moved onto a sales position servicing military exchanges, Ted stayed on with Sears to promote sporting goods.

 

Outdoor Writing

Ed continued to prosper as salesman but after his second heart attack in 1990, he retired from traveling and began a new career. Again, he decided to cash in on his fishing hobby, but this time as a writer and photographer. He began as a contributing editor of a new magazine, Offshore New England. Ed tells of how he finished writing his first article in long hand as they waited to take him into the Mass General’s Operating Room for open heart surgery. Offshore New England quickly grew to become the Northeast’s largest boating magazine, and Ed’s column was a big reason for its growth.

 

Ed’s fish tales, feature articles, and outdoor photos were soon in demand. The Fisherman magazine was just at its infancy and the editor, Tim Coleman liked Ed’s writing. Tim offered Ed a position with the magazine; Ed began writing weekly fishing reports and feature articles. Later as a field editor, he helped to solidify this publication as the best source of up-to-date fishing information. Over the years, Ed has won many awards for his photography and his writing from several outdoor writers organizations. Most recently, Ed won a first place award for the best outdoor essay of the year for an article he wrote on the legendary local angler Charlie Smith.

 

As the senior field editor, his talent with words and camera continue to grace the pages of The Fisherman. Ed is known affectionately to his readers as the Fishin’ Pole which is both a play on his heritage and recognition of his long involvement in the fishing industry. His fishing advice has helped mold my fishing and many other anglers. Ed is a tough old guy not afraid to speak out on important conservation issues. He also has a very big heart, especially when it comes to kids; Ed has long been a strong support of getting kids involved in the outdoors.

 

Ed’s Radio Face

While on assignment covering a protest over the proposed MWRA sewer discharge, Ed met Ed Perry the station general manager and owner of WATD 95.9. After the protest, the skipper of the boat, Captain Roger Jarvis decided that some fishing was in order. Perry and the WATD crew learned a lot about fishing that day and enjoyed listening to the Fishin’ Pole’s tales. That’s when Perry asked Ed to join Rob Hakala’s South Shore Morning Report and tell his stories to the thousands of listeners who tune in for the morning news .

 

For the past 15 years, the Fishin’ Pole has been a regular feature on WATD. Ed can be heard on this FM station and on the internet every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from the spring through the fall. His spots are much more than just the typical fishing reports. They are full of suggestions and advice. Ed’s broadcasts also feature local anglers and their accomplishments. Known as the Old Gaffer to his loyal listeners, Ed signs off each broadcast with his well-known Na-zdrowie!

 

And The Beat Goes On!

Even at 93 years of age, Ed is still very active in writing and even gets time to fish. Many of my clients and friends are loyal followers and tell how they look forward to reading Ed’s weekly column in The Fisherman. As his readers and listeners can attest, Ed is among the few gifted outdoor personalities who can really tell a tale.

 

There is no denying the impact that Ed has had on New England fishing. From big game fishing to stalking ultra-shy trout, Ed has done it all and written about most of his adventures. He continues to be one of the most popular, knowledgeable, and influential outdoor writers ever to pen a page about New England fishing, but more importantly he is a person that really cares about the fishery. As an outdoor writer Ed continues to be a voice to be reckoned with. He has never been afraid to speak out on controversial issues. Public access for sportsman has been one of his special causes and no one has worked harder in keeping water and land open to the public.

 

Ed is an amazing individual who continues to be the voice of the local angler. His influence in the New England fishing community goes well beyond his written words.  His life has been all about challenging oneself to be the best you can be. This is something that he continued to instill in me as I worked to build my charter business. Ed has certainly helped me and many others to become better fishermen and more importantly to be better people.

 

 

 

Beating the Summer Doldrums

By Captain Bill Smith

 

There is no denying that summer is a transitional time here in New England. I see no reason for anglers to approach summer as a time of hard fishing. I am going to go out on a limb by saying that there are a lot more myths and misconceptions associated with summer fishing than facts.

A review of my fishing logs over the past several seasons is enough to convince me that I catch fish during the “Dog Days of Summer”.  My records show that while my charters might not catch as many stripers during the summer months as they do in the spring, anglers catch more fish over 36 inches than during any other time of the season. Also, more 40-50 pound bass are landed on my charter boat during August than during any other month.

How can this be possible? What about the summer doldrums?  Experience has shown me that it’s not the fish that slow down. Rather, it’s usually the anglers that slow down. During the hot, muggy days of summer, most areas see marked decrease in fishing activity.

When targeting trophy-sized bass, I find it easier to fish the summer months. My days on the water start earlier, but I am back at dock before the real heat of the day hits. To me, it is a more relaxing time to be on the water, and since there are far few anglers, I have less competition. I also find that fish are more predictable. They limit their activity to more concentrated areas. They also feed in more predictable ways.

Learn More about Season Changes

Where I fish in Boston Harbor and the surrounding waters, there is often a greater variety of bait available during the summer than any other season. And yes, stripers feed better in the summer than any other time. They just do it differently.

Stripers might not be found in the same locations as they were in the spring. They might not feed at the same time and in the same manner as they did just weeks before.  But anglers who have a basic understanding of the fish and make the necessary adjustments can be very successful.

Changing in Feeding Habits

There is no denying that the heat of the summer has an effect on the behavior of striped bass. All fish are cold-blooded creatures, and to some degree, they can adjust their body temperatures to that of their surroundings. Stripers have a definite upper and lower temperature range which they can tolerate. They will also adjust their behavior to maximize their efforts to maintain comfort.

This often means that they are most active during the cooler hours of the day. They also move through the water much slower to conserve energy. This is the reason that big bass and also monster blues will be found lazily swimming on the surface while hunting their meals in low light conditions.

Many anglers would have us believe that striped bass do not feed during the summer. All research shows that it is physical impossibility for a fish to stop feeding during hot weather. In fact, when pogies and other big bait is available bass feed more during the summer months than at any other time. The problem is the feeding is generally limited to early morning or late evening. If you’re not on the water early or late, you struggle more often than not.

Where Do They Go?

When I first started charter fishing, I assumed that in hot weather bass always go to deep water. This only seemed logical because everyone told me striped bass found the cooler temperatures of deep water more to their liking. After spending a lot of time working the depths, often with little to show for all these efforts, I began to reassess this approach. It was then that I began to explore and learn a bunch more about fish and fishing.

What tricks many fishermen into thinking that the bass more to deep water to wait out the summer is actually a result of how they fished for stripers during the spring. During the early season, large schools of bass are often encountered on the surface during the middle of the day, where they are easier to find and catch. Before the sun warms the water, these schools of fish can be difficult to locate. In fact, stripers most often are found the deepest and are most inactive during the coldest part of the season. The reason is that the depths are actually warmer than the mid-range and shallow zones.

Over the years, I have found that stripers and bluefish move into shallower water when they are actively feeding. Believe it or not, they actually move out of the deep channels and ledges into relatively skinny water to feed. Finding fish in less than 10 feet of water becomes easier as the season changes from late spring to summer.

Stripers and bluefish make the jaunt into the shallow areas and onto the shelves along ledges during low light when the temperatures are more moderate. Their sole reason for doing this is to hunt for food, something that they are well adapted to do. Once the sun is higher in the horizon, the fish move out into deeper water…but necessarily DEEP water!

To better dial in on the fish, anglers must first understand that depth is a relative term. To someone who trolls the Great Lakes, deep means hundreds of feet of water. To those fishing the coastal waters of the Northeast, it means something quite different. Here depth is measured in tens of feet.

Where the water is very clear, stripers will position themselves at greater depths than in the more commonly stained water that most of us fish. My experience has been that stripers tend to spend their days at mid-level depths. Escaping from the heat is not a huge problem for a bass, and they do need hundreds of feet of water. I often find good concentrations of both bass and blues in 10-20 feet of water. Considering all the deeper water that I pass over, these depths cannot be consider deep water.

Putting It Together

I love to slight cast for stripers and blues. And there is a time and place for this, even in the summer. So what should anglers look for to find fish holding water? Most importantly, look for deeper water in close proximity to shallow area. Next, look for structure that bass use to position themselves to more easily feed. And, finally, locate areas that have some current flow.

When the fish move out of the shallows, it is time to use your electronic eyes. On my charter boat, I have the best electronics available including side scanning sonar, and I know how to use it. A good sonar unit will help pin-point areas that hold fish. Be sure to monitor your electronics to locate pockets of fish, schools of bait, and likely structure.

Anglers who regularly fish tidal flats recognize the benefits of current flow. Current is especially important in hot weather because it adds to oxygen levels, has greater cooling effect, and moves bait. Tide flow and current can be an angler’s best friend, but learn to use it to your advantage.

Good locations are large submerged ledges, long underwater points, and river channels. Again, search for features near deep water and with sufficient size to support a diverse bait supply.

Adapt

As with any change of season, anglers need to adjust their fishing tactics. One dimensional anglers will often struggle because their approach, which worked just weeks ago fails them now. There is no need to park the boat and wait until fall because there are several methods that will catch fish during the so called “dog days” of summer.

With the water temperature coolest early in the day, the bass are most active when normal people are sleeping. In the cooler water, the bass are most likely to be hunting for food. To be successful, anglers might need to change their sleeping habits and be on the water before the sun comes up. I often catch my fish long before anyone else is on the water. An added advantage of fishing early is that there will be less wind to contend with.

Although I prefer the dawn patrol, another way to beat the heat of the summer is to fish at night. Once the sun goes down, most boat traffic dies. The surface water rapidly cools and fish will become active. Savvy anglers know that their chances of catching big stripers and bruiser size bluefish increase under the cover of darkness.

Finding bait is the key to locating hot weather bass on a consistent basis. The shallow waters that I fish during the summer are fairly small and do not support large schools of fish. I find mostly singles and small groups of fish in the eel grass flats and along the mussels beds I hunt. Recognize that this is a game of size and not numbers. If a few bass are taken and the action stops, it’s time to move.

If you find the right conditions, the fishing can be very fast. But, just as suddenly, it may be all over. What is probably happening is that the bait has moved. Some bait does not handle warm water well and prefer the cooler depths. If the bait is not in the shallows, the bass will follow its food source. So be ready to search for bait.

When the bait is exhausted so are the bass. They become less active and quite lethargic for most of the rest of the day. This does mean that they will be impossible to catch but expect tougher conditions. With the right lure and a little luck, you might get a reactionary bite or too.

Warm Water Techniques That Produce

Choosing the right lure or bait when the fish are in the shallow can be a little tricky. When fishing the shallows you will need an active lure to attract fish but not one that will spook fish. Personally, there’s one lure that I go to during my time hunting fish under these condition. My go to lure is a soft plastic jerbait pulled with a slow erratic retrieve. I find that the erratic action of these soft baits worked over eel grass and along other shallow structure can be deadly during the early morning or late evening when fish are most likely feeding. This type of lure can get a big bite even when the temperatures are blazing. The life-like action of jerkbaits best imitates an injured bait fish, getting the attention large stripers and even bluefish working in this skinny water.

It can be a little more complicated selecting the correct lure to get the attention of stripers later in the day when they move to deeper water. The biggest requirement is that the angler gets down to the fish. I know anglers who use deep diving swimmers and catch fish. Some also use metal spoons to vertically jig. To me both of these types of lures limit how you can fish the depths. My go-to-lure is a jig. I can control depth by choosing the correct weight, and I can also have control on how the lure is worked.

Now You Know

Don’t have tunnel vision. Learn to adjust your approach. One great truism of saltwater fishing is that “finding them is the hard part’, especially in the summer months. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t catch your fair share of bass and bluefish. You just need to know where to look and modify when, where, and how you fish.

Unless you are looking for a well-planned excuse to stay indoors under the air conditioner, fishing in the summer months can be as hot as the weather. Learn more about the waters you’re fishing and the bait patterns that attract fish. Mesh the two together, and make a few adjustments to how you approach fishing. You’ll have the ingredients for beating the summer doldrums.

 

Tips for Hot Weather Bass

  • Fish smart and have a plan
  • Maximize time by fishing periods of low light
  • Start by working shallow and gradually moving deeper
  • Work areas with strong currents
  • Search for good sources of bait
  • Be observant and learn to use your electronics
  • Remember schools out…more often, you’ll be targeting single fish

Duel at Dawn

By Captain Bill Smith

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have trained my clients to meet me at dock and be ready to sail long before dawn. My clients are not often casual anglers: they are true bass-aholics willing to forsake sleep in order to stalk bass in the shallows in the wee hours of the morning. When I first meet new clients and announce the start time, I can tell very quickly if they are serious anglers by their reaction.

And I’m serious about leaving dock long before most normal people would ever think of stirring from a night’s sleep. It’s not that I do not like crowds … and I don’t. But I know that the prime time to catch big bass in skinny water is when the sky just begins to pinken in false dawn and for the next few hours. Sure on cloudy or overcast days, this bite may last longer, but on most mornings, the shallow water bite is short lived. Dawn is a very special time to be on the water, and this early morning bite can be very productive year-round.

Fishermen armed with even a cursory knowledge of the behavior of big bass know that low light conditions provide opportunities to encounter trophy fish right on the surface. On many mornings, my clients will be stalking and casting to several jumbo bass long before the sun begins to heat the water. There is also very little boat traffic to spook these fish. For the most part, I know most of the other boaters, at least enough to say good morning. I am sure that if you join the dawn patrol with any regularity, you too will become familiar with many of the players.

Dawn is the time I explore the numerous shallow bays, small coves around the Inner Harbor Islands, tidal flats, and the mouths of the rivers. The best areas provide quick access to deep water. To catch big bass regularly, take the time to learn these shallow waters and how these fish move in and out. To the novice, all these areas look similar. However, veterans know that bass use finger channels to slip into the shallower water under darkness in search of food.  These anglers look for feeding lanes along bars, mussel and clam beds, points of land that drop-off from the shore, and other structure that tend to hold large numbers of baitfish, shrimp, and crabs. Many of these use the shallow waters to incubate their young.

My best advice is take the time to explore shallow areas during outgoing tide. As the structure exposes, it is often much easier to identify primary feeding zones and finger channels that bass use to move around in the shallows. Do some homework. Use nautical charts to determine contour and water depth. These charts will also reveal detailed information about vegetation and bottom structure.

Be sure to pay close attention for any signs of fish. Many times bass move very slowly along the surface waiting and watching for movement of baitfish. These fish will be barely recognizable to the untrained eye. Many inexperienced anglers unintentionally look down into the water rather than scanning the surface. I use specially tinted polarized sunglasses to aid in my search. Look for fins or any noticeable movement on the water. At times, bass will be found herding the bait and trapping it on the surface. However, I often see bait fleeing and jumping clear out of the water, long before I pickup on the bass.

When approaching shallow water, be sure to do so slowly and keep the noise to a minimum. As a number of my brighter clients like to point out, sound travels much faster across water than it does through the air. While I can not explain the physics behind this as my clients can, I can tell you that even the slapping of waves caused by the wake of a boat will often spook these fish. Remember that bass hear much better than you so if you can hear noise, there is no doubt that they will pick up on it.

Once fish have been located, use the wind and tide to position the boat. Set up drifts far enough away so that the fish do not see the boat. Cast lures or flies well ahead of cruising fish so that your offering lands in sight of the fish. Allow lures to rest before beginning the retrieve. Bass often hear the splash of the lure hitting the water and quickly begin to focus on it. Fish use their eyesight and lateral line to track it as you retrieve. A well placed cast and the correct action in the retrieve will result in success.

Fly fishers should come prepared to cast a floating line with long leaders. I prefer an 8-wt. rod that delivers the fly with some delicacy so that it does not make a big surface commotion. In my homewaters of Boston Harbor, I tend to use sliders rather than poppers. I find that these create just enough surface movement to get the interest of most bass but do not spook them. If I am using a popper, it will be a small soft-body fly. I have also had great luck with white snake flies in sizes from 2-4/0 depending on the size of the available bait. When the fish are keyed in on particular bait, such as shrimp, I will match this bait and present what they want.

Those anglers who prefer light tackle have plenty of choices to make. The first and the most important is line. I use 10-12 pound monofilament rather than one of the newer brads. I find that this line will deliver longer casts that are necessary in this type of fishing. I also use a flourocarbon leader connected directly to the mono with an Albright or Uni-knot.

When stalking bass in shallow water, I have switched almost exclusively to using soft plastic baits such as Bass Assassin Shads, Slug-Gos, and Fin-S Fish. These lures land on the water more softly than traditional wooden and hard plastic lures. I also find that bass will come back time and time again to attack these lures. I believe that these lures have a more natural feel to them. I also find that soft plastic lures can be worked in many different ways. Whether it a slow jerk, the walking the dog technique, or a quick pop, soft plastic baits are very versatile.

As the sunrises higher in the sky, bass will move into deeper water. To consistently catch fish during these transitional times requires changing tactics. Fly fishers will need to change lines to get flies down into the water column to reach these fish. I favor the Clouser Minnow and the Half ‘N Half patterns fished on sinking lines. Light tackle anglers will have better luck working leadhead jigs. While many prefer traditional bucktail jigs, I have had great luck with plastic swimming jigs such as Harrison Hoge’s Vivif lure and Storm’s Shad. The depth of the water will determine the amount of weight needed.

It is very possible to catch trophy bass in very shallow water year-round. The trick is to get on these fish when they are most active… at dawn. Stalking big bass as they hunt the shallows is not easy but will often be reward with some explosive action. Proper boat handling and skillful casting are necessary. Increase your success by taking the time to learn the basics of shallow water fishing and making the commitment to get on the water early. You too will find yourself among the regulars who duel at dawn with trophy bass.

 

Working The Net

By:  Captain Bill Smith

computer2 (2)Much has changed in the world of fishing in the last ten years. There have been many new lures introduced which have lead to new fishing techniques. Space-age materials have made rods and reels stronger and lighter.  However, nothing has changed fishing than the internet. While many use computers for business, to keep in touch with friends, and even simplify buying, anglers have discovered its fish-finding potential. It is the net that opens up a variety of opportunities for anglers.

This new technology was not widely used by too many anglers just a few years ago.  The use of the internet raises the eyebrows of some skeptics who are put-off with all this modern technological “hoopla.”  It even angers others who grew up fishing in an earlier era and still believe in the fisherman’s code of silence.  I must admit logging onto a fishing site’s chat room was at first alien to me.  I had cut my teeth as a young lad running the beaches ofCape Codin search of bass.  Secrecy was often associated with success, and the unwritten rule was “reveal little and ask even less.”

Veteran surfcasters like myself often spent time hiding from others.  We learned the rules of the beach and secrecy was of primary importance.  One rule was never to drag a fish up from the surf to your buggy unless you wanted to throw off others.  Sneaky beach fishermen looked for those telltale drag marks in the sand as they cruised the beach.  However, if you wanted to mislead others, stop at some other location on the way off the beach and drag a fish back to the surf a few times.  Another rule was that during the day never ride the beach with lures rigged, a sure sign of how you are fishing.

Boy how things have changed!  On the website fly fishing the salt.com, there is an actual link to secret shore fishing spots onCape Cod.  Now how secret can these be!  This web page provides specific informationon areas to fish as well as directions to get there and tips on how to fish these hot spots.  I have fished several of these areas and this information is quite accurate.

Some websurfers think that all there is to fishing is to click on the internet and you’ll be on the fast tract to red-hot action. However, veteran surfers rely on their knowledge of fish, water, and related conditions to sort out the junk from solid leads.  Like spies, they collect the best available information and are able to read through the lines.

Having visited many fishing sites, I can verify that people on the net tend to speak feely about what they did.  Regulars use cyber log-on to keep themselves in the loop.  After awhile, you will recognize the internet names of many who post regularly much like you do the voices on the VHF, and you’ll be able to better determine the value of the information.

Many anglers love to brag about how many fish they are catching.  Be suspicious of these reports.  Others devised clever ways of sharing information without letting the cat out of the bag.  Much like serious anglers who pass this information to their friends over the VHF, these individuals use coded language.  Break the code, and you will have collected some useful information.

For years, I have kept detailed logbooks tracking locations, tides, moon phases, weather conditions, catches, and techniques.  This information gives me a good starting place by looking at general patterns over time.  This will not pinpoint the exact areas, tides, and baits that fish will be feeding on, but it provides a good starting point.

Smart net surfers will use their logs to sort out and validate internet reports.  Many use these reports to find tune their fishing plans.  It is also very useful to know what is happening in surrounding areas.

Today anglers have learned to use the internet in many creative ways.  It can provide tide information and up-to-date weather conditions.  I make it a practice to check forecasted winds on iwindsurf.com before calling clients that night before charters.  Weekend warriors may find it beneficial to check the forums for information on where the fish are biting and what is working.

Each year I take one fishing vacation usually to a new area that I have never fished before.  In the past few years these have included severalCaribbean Islands,Mexico, and this yearHawaii. Long before these trips, I used the net to do my research.  I use the net to gather information on what fish will be available, equipment requirements, and techniques.  As a professional Captain, I also use the net to hire a local guide.  It’s the best way to get a great introduction in fishing unknown waters.

Most anglers can catch fish when the birds are diving and the fish are chasing bait out of the water.  However, such ideal conditions exist rarely.  Doing your homework by reviewing logs and gathering the most up-to-date information can increase your chances for success.  So, get wired into the internet.  If nothing else, the internet can be quite entertaining.

 

Tips for Taking Better Pictures

By Captain Bill Smith

I started chartering long before there were digital cameras. In these early years of guiding, I didn’t take many pictures of my clients or the fish they caught. To me, it seemed like too much work. The pictures that I took were crude. I simply posed the angler with the fish and shot a picture.

Digital cameras have turned me into a decent amateur shutter bug, and photo editing software has really taken my photos to a new level.  I don’t just take pictures.  I try to take good photos that will help to relive the moment and be shared with others.

No one would consider me to be a professional photographer.  However, over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to fish with some gifted outdoor photographers. One of my greatest mentors has been outdoor photographer, Ed “Fishing Pole” Novak, who taught me a lot about taking fish pictures.

The focus of this article is not on how to take professional quality photos. Rather, I hope to provide some useful tips that will help anglers to take better pictures on the water and capture memorable times.

Equipment

Many anglers consider digital cameras to be an essential part of their fishing gear.  The quality of digital cameras continues to improve each year. Today’s models are a lot more powerful and include more features than ever before. And surprisingly, the price continues to decline.

Using the right equipment can make good shots even better. Many point-and-shoot cameras take excellent shots on water. The advantage of the point and shoot models is their simplicity. There is no need to worry about focal points or setting shutter speed. These and other features are control by the cameras automatic settings. Their built-in, automatic flash is also very helpful so you don’t have to worry about exposure, whether the pictures will be too dark or too light. They are also auto-focusing. This makes it easier to concentrate on other things.

Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras take photography to an entirely different level. They include many more features than the little brothers, the point and shot cameras. Their main advantage is the ability to quickly change lens. With the optics available for DSLR cameras, you can capture professional quality photos without being a real pro.

Another advantage of DSLR cameras is the ability to add screw-on filters to lenses.  I always use a polarizing filter to reduce glare when taking photos of fish at water level.  These filters enhance the depth of colors, especially on sunny days. Polarizing filters are great when used to capture sunrise pictures. They also create some interesting contrast to the sky and make the clouds stand out.

Be Prepared

Get in the habit of taking a camera on all your trips. Also, be sure that the camera is accessible and not stored in the bottom of your gear bag.  Before each trip, make sure that the camera is working properly and that the batteries are charged. You never know when you will want it.

Be careful where you store digital cameras. Condensation is a real enemy so cameras should not be stored on boats. The changing humidity can cause the camera to fog up and worse, cause the camera to malfunction. Moisture plays havoc with sensitive circuitry of digital cameras, shutting them down just when you need them.

Experiment with Your Camera

Modern digital cameras are powerful tools with many features that are easy to use that help to capture interesting shots. However, many people never take their camera off the auto setting.  Take time to learn what your camera is cable of doing. Be sure to read the manual, and experiment with the various settings.  You don’t have to learn everything but knowing the basics can greatly improve your pictures.

Most digital cameras, even the point and shoot models have a number of different preset program modes that you can use to enhance pictures. These extend the auto settings so that you can take better action shots, landscapes, portraits, and close-ups with a turn of a dial. When using these modes, the camera determines correct exposure and controls all the camera settings to capture the scene. Many cameras also have advanced presets that are geared for those who know more about photography and want greater control of their cameras.

Pictures Tell a Story

Fishing pictures can do much more than provide photographic proof of catches. They can help to create memories and tell the story of the adventure. Too many pictures taken on the water are simply boring. Be creative and take time to compose shots.

Creative shots are not complicated to take. I have learned that no matter the quality camera that is used, cameras don’t take good outdoor photographs. Quality photographs can only be captured by the person behind the lens with an eye on what is happening.

The best shots grab attention and draw viewers in. Think about setting up pictures so they capture the entire story. Creating the right picture takes some thought and preparation. Sometimes, getting the shot requires patience.

The best pictures of the fish will be taken while they are alive. Their color is more natural so work quickly. Fill the frame with the angler and the fish in the foreground of your shot. Use the background to help create the overall image.  Remember that you want a picture of the angler and the fish.  The right background adds to the picture, but too much background will draw attention away from the real subject.

Learn How to Pose

It is important that anglers handle fish carefully, not only to take better pictures but also to protect fish from injury. Have the angler hold the fish with two hands in front of him. Holding the fish with one hand actually makes the fish look smaller. Be careful not to cover the fish’s face with the hands. It is best to position hands behind the head and in front of the tail. Keep the hands on the backside of the fish and out of sight of the camera.

Pictures taken horizontally in the landscape mode allow you to capture more of the image. It also best to hold the fish horizontal to the camera. If the fish is tilted too far back, the belly will dominate the picture. The shot will lack detail and provide little perspective of size. Point one side of the fish at the camera, and square the fish up so that you see an equal amount of belly and back. This view will show the real dimensions and highlight the fish’s features.

Too many pictures loose the “wow factor” because they lack any perspective as to size. If you take the photo with the fish lying on the deck of the boat without anything else in the photo, it would be impossible to judge size. A trophy bass could look like a 20 pounder.  When the angler holds the fish, a better perspective of size is created. If you are alone, you can add a common object, like a rod and reel to create this perspective.

Maximizing the Use of Light

Digital photography is about getting the proper exposure for a sharper image. This requires the correct amount of light. Decide the best angle to take the picture so that you use the sun to your advantage. The best pictures are often taken early in the day and again late in the afternoon. This is when the sun is closest to the horizon which enhances the colors.

Many pictures taken on the water are overexposed. When direct sunlight hits bluefish and even striped bass, the sun tends to wash out their colors because of all the silver on the body of these fish. While some photographers tell you to keep light from the sun at your back, I disagree .When shooting on the water with the sun at your back, shadows of the photographer and angler are difficult to avoid. Besides it is hard for the angler to look into the sun, especially with a glare off the water.

If the sun is in back of the subject, there might not be enough light, and the picture will be too dark. Even when using a filler flash to illuminate the subject, details of the angler and the fish may wash out. Unless you are using an auxiliary flash, it is best to avoid this angle.

When taking pictures on a boat, I find that it is best to shoot with the sun at an angle on either side of angler. With the sun in this position, less compensation will be required. The colors will be more vibrant, and you will have enough light to get the details of the shot.

Ed Novak is an outdoor photographer who specializes in outdoor portraits. He always reminds me to use a shiny reflector to maximize backlight. This will help to remove shadows, especially of your subjects’ faces. Simply cut a piece of shinny card stock and tape it above the flash.

Add Drama to Your Shots

Since you are using a digital camera, take several shots. Do overthink what they look like, just keep shooting. You can always erase what you do not want when you download them to your computer.

Use different angles. Get a few with straight-on views and then some from each side.  Take a few without a flash, and then some with a flash. Use a wide-angle lens and hold the fish close to the camera. Change the focal point and use the macro setting. Take some shots focused on the fish and some on the angler.

Keep the Memories

Every fisherman knows that bragging rights must be backed up with photographic proof but make your pictures interesting. Great pictures rarely just happen, no matter how big the fish is. They are created, and it’s your job as the photographer to make sure that everything comes together to capture the moment. Have fun and do not be afraid to try something new.

8 TIPS FOR TAKING BETTER FISH PHOTOS:

•        When shooting an image, use natural light from the sun whenever possible

•        Use the surrounding background to frame pictures

•        When using digital cameras take several shots from different angles

•        To capture the true colors, take pictures when the fish is first landed

•        To tell the story behind the fish, plan your photo to move beyond a standard hanging fish shot

•        Include fishing rods, reels, or other anglers to provide perspective of size

•        Remove sunglasses and hat of the person being photographed to show the person’s face

•        Keep the fish fresh to preserve colors

 

Faking Out Trophy Bass On Flies

By:  Captain Bill Smith

Does a hungry striped bass really care what is thrown at her? Many experts have written volumes on this topic.  Heaven knows that I have discussed, debated, and even argued this topic over hundreds of cups of coffee.  Yes, there are days when the fish are so aggressive that it seems you can catch fish on anything that is cast to them.  However, those days are few and far between.

The secret to successfully faking out big bass is to truly understand their feeding habits.  Throughout the season, I have to fish through several distinct bites.  What I really mean is that the bass are keyed into different baits at different times of the year.  Where I fish in and around Boston, mackerel and herring are the primary bait during the early season.  Next, the bass move onto silversides.  During the heat of the summer, the bass will often begin to feed on the bottom enjoying crabs, shrimp, clams, and even a lobster or two.  Peanut bunker is the preferred bait from late summer and continuing into the fall.

Finding big bass is only the first step and many times getting these fish to unzip their lips can be much more difficult.  If you are able to make the right connection and match your fly to what the bass are feeding on, you will catch more fish.  While an exact imitation is not often necessary and even possible, matching the approximate size, shape, and color that creates the life-like silhouette will set you up for success.

Every year, I seem to acquire a number of new fly patterns to add to my arsenal.  The number of available patterns and various size/color combinations can be mind boggling.  With all of these flys to choose from where do you begin?  When selecting the appropriate fly, I factor in the time of day, the season, weather and sea conditions, the depth of water, and of course the availability of bait.  Using this knowledge, I begin to fine-tune my pattern of choice until I find the correct size, shape, and color that fake-out big bass.

Your decision is made somewhat easier because striped bass are opportunistic feeders.  They tend to pursue the bait that is most plentiful and easily attainable.  It’s the angler’s job to make the fly standout from the natural bait and get bass to eat.

Deadly FliesThere are no hard fast rules, but I have had more success fishing full body flies during the early season when bass are aggressively feeding on herring and mackerel.  This is the time to fish big flies, 5 to 7 inches and sometimes even larger.  I tye these flies in the natural bait colors including black/white, blue/white and olive/white.

As the season progresses, the available bait becomes smaller. Bass begin to feed on silversides, shrimp, and crabs.  During periods of low light, I use brightly colored flies that allow my offering to stand out.  I switch to more natural flies especially translucent smoke colored patterns during the light of the day.

When peanut bunker invade Boston Harbor in late summer and throughout the fall, I add a lot of flash to my flies.  This bait tends to bunch up into huge balls and a fly that appears to be a little different will get quicker attention. Using metallic flash gives the fly the reflective quality of escaping baitfish when the sun hits the fly and helps it to stand out.

I must admit that when the fishing gets tough I am partial to a smaller number of flies. Some time has passed since I wrote an article titled “Give Me Five” for the Fisherman.  However, these patterns remain my go-to flies.  I have the confidence in these patterns to trigger a bite under most any condition.  My favorites include the Deceiver, Clouser, Half ‘N Half, Poppers, and Gurglers.

Lefty’s Deceiver is without a doubt the most popular and probably the most versatile patterns ever tied.  The Deceiver combines the national movement of feathers and bucktail. I tie these flies sparsely in sizes 2-3 inches to imitate silversides and much larger and fuller to create a large profile fly to duplicate herring and mackerel.

The Clouser Minnow like the Deceiver is a universal pattern that I use when bass are feeding below the surface.  It too can be tied in many different sizes and colors to represent a variety of bait.  The Half ‘N Half combines the best qualities of a Deceiver and a Clouser.  The addition of the saddle feathers to a weighted fly creates a larger profile while incorporating the darting action of a Clouser.

The fish I tend to remember the most are the cows that I catch on the surface.  Poppers, sliders, and gurglers create the surface commotion that often gets quick attention when bass are feeding on the surface.  These flies are equally effective in the calm waters of shallow water flats as they are in turbulent waters in rips.

Too often, I have seen anglers select the right fly that correctly imitates the bait but fail to connect with many fish.  These anglers often do not move the fly in a way that attracts bass.  Sometimes no retrieve is needed and allowing the fly to dead drift with the current is all that is needed.  However, most of the time the fly needs action.  The way the fly moves and pushes water is equally as important as selecting the correct pattern.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnglers can use the rod and line to duplicate the movement of the bait that they are trying to imitate.  Use the retrieve to control depth, speed, and motion.  Many anglers tend to retrieve the fly too quickly with little action.  A simple adjustment in the speed and manner in which the fly is retrieved can often make the difference from casting and catching.  Experiment with length of the strips from long to short as well as the power at which the line is retrieved.

Use the tide and current to intercept feeding fish.  These funnel the bait to the fish.  It’s my job as skipper to maneuver the boat so that my anglers have opportunities to present their flies in the most natural way.  Striped bass have an eye structure similar to the human eye that allows them to see well so it’s important to keep the boat out of their strike zone.

Take the time to learn more about the feeding habits of bass and you too will be able to fake out the big ones.

 

Tips from the Pros for Catching More and Bigger Flounder

By Captain Bill Smith

Photos by Captain Roger Brousseau

Winter flounders have made a strong comeback, and spring is the prime time to target these fish in our warmer inshore waters. During this early season, flounders put on the feed bag in many coastal area waters throughout the Northeast.  Since flounders are found in many protected waters, fish are readily available from small boats and even from the shore.

I was fortunate to have grown up in Boston and have pursued winter flounders in my home waters of the Harbor since my childhood.  I learned much from the old timers that took me under their wings. I am also fortunate to be friends with some of today’s great flounder fishermen, like Captain Roger Brousseau, the “Godfather” of Harbor flounder fishing. My mentors have helped to refine my knowledge of the fish and their habitat. They have also taught me more effective ways to catch more and bigger flounders.

Best Time

In the spring, flounders become active once the water temps get to their comfort range of low 50’s. As the water continues to warm in May, fishing can be fast and furious.  As the water temperatures continue to moderate , the fish start to move then offshore. The spring season usually lasts through mid-June. For years, there was also a good fall season, but the fall run of flounders seems to more of a past memory.

One of the things I like most about fishing for flounders in the spring is that you don’t have to wake up at in the middle of the night to get in on the hot bite. The fishing is usually best mid-day, after the sun has had an opportunity to warm the water. This is especially true during the early season when the fish tend to be more lethargic.

I also tend to concentrate my spring fishing during the outgoing tide rather then an incoming flood tide. Ocean water is typically much cooler than inshore water this time of year. As that cooler water pushes into the shallower waters of local bays and harbors, the change in temperature turns the fish off. Once that water has a chance to be warmed by the sun and begins to flow back out on the dropping tide, it often triggers flounders to feed.

Tip #1: Learn to fish the wind. Bluebird days with calm winds are not usually the norm here in the Northeast. That’s okay because often the best flounder bites occur on bright sunny days, with a steady chop on the water.

Captain Roger 3 pounder

Captain Roger 3 pounder

Best Areas to Find Big Flounders

Flounders can be found in many area bays, river systems, and shallow estuaries. These fish are perfectly suited for life on a variety of different types of bottoms. The pigmentation of their upper body allows flounders to blend into mud, sand,  and broken bottoms as they wait in ambush of prey.

While many anglers rely on a trial and error approach, the pros concentrate their efforts in water depths of 6 to 12 foot range. They look for the slightest changes in depths. These small depressions and drop offs are often overlooked by less knowledgeable anglers.

Tip #2: In the early spring, muddy bottoms of shallow bays are prime fish holding locations for good reason. The sun has a far greater warming affect on darker colors than it does on lighter ones. Mud bottoms and bottoms with lots of loose pebbles or shells will hold more heat than sandy bottoms. Shallower water also allows plenty of sunlight to infiltrate and warm it.


Tip#3: Flounders like holes and channel edges near shallow flats where they can wait in ambush. Bait is washed off the flats, and flounders hiding in these deeper pockets of water can pick off an easy meal.


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Flounders Use Scent to Ambush Prey

The real pros will tell you that a chum pot is an absolute requirement. Some local bait shops sell frozen logs of chum that fit into chum pots. Chum often consists of ground up mussels, clams, and even mackerel. One of Boston’s Pros mixes corn kernels with cooked rice as the base of his chum. His secret is to flavored this mixture with fish oil.

Tip#4: The secret to attracting flounders is to chum and chum. Don’t be stingy with the chum. Many of the flounder sharpies use multiple chum pots at the same time. The more you chum, the more fish will be attracted and the better the chances you’ll have of catching big blackbacks. From time to time, you will need to bounce the chum pot to stir the bottom up and keep the chum flowing. To maximize the advantages of chum,  be sure to fish close to the pot.

Special Techniques

Flounders are attracted by movement. Some old timers say the flounders look for bottom disturbance thinking that this is cause by fleeing bait fish. Others say that this disturbance might be caused by other flounders invading the turf.

Moving baits has an additional advantage. Crabs can be a real nuisance when fishing for flounders. Keeping the bait slowly moving discourages attacks from these pests.

Tip #5: Use a duck decoy anchor attached to a cord to periodically stir the bottom up. A heavy bank sinker can be used in the same way to stir the bottom.

Flounders are notorious bait stealers so it is essential to keep control of your line at all times. Flounders often just tap the bait. Other times they grab it and slowly swim into the current with it. Keeping  the line taunt with all slack out will greatly improve hook-ups.

Tip#6: Flounders will not rise to attack baits very often so it is best to keep the bait right on the bottom. The Pros recommend dead sticking one bait rod by keeping it in a rod holder but holding another rod. They also save that moving the held rod slowly along the bottom produces more strikes.

Gearing Up For Flounders

Tackle used for flounder fishing runs the gamut from hand-lines with a bank sinker and a long-shanked flounder hook attached, to boat rods with conventional reels and everything in between. However, using light sensitive tackle will help to increase catches. I prefer a fast action spinning rod. I load the reel with low stretch braided line, which helps to get my bait down and detect bites.

The traditional wire spreaders are still used by some. However, more anglers are using monofilament dropper rigs. Serious flounder anglers make their own rigs. They use fine wire, chemically sharpened hooks such as Gamakatsu or Owner live bait hooks. Small hooks in size 8- 9 are the preferred size.

Tip#7: Since flounders, like many other fish are attracted to color, high rods often hand paint their sinkers in bright colors.

Know Your Baits

Flounders are not fussy about what they eat. They are opportunistic feeders and their diet includes most anything found on the bottom. Anglers who target flounders most often use bloodworms and sandworms. However, I know a number of Pros who fish grass shrimp at the beginning of the season. Others say that they prefer pieces of clams because they catch bigger fish. No matter the bait that you choose, be sure that it is fresh!

Tip #8: Use small pieces of bait and scale down the hook size. When using worms or strips of baits, keep the overall length to about 2 1/2 inches. Allow a small piece to tangle from the hook.

Change Up

Flounder fishing requires more than simply dropping a baited hook to the bottom. Successful flounder fishing requires knowledge of habitat, tides and currents, fish behavior, and techneques. It takes some detective work to find the right combination. Success depends on not only finding flounders but getting them to bite.

Tip #9: Remember to remain flexible and adapt to changes.

Keep In The Strike Zone

Don’t get complacent. If your spot doesn’t produce, make a change. At times, flounders can be elusive, and it might take some adjustments to get on the fish.  Often a change in depth or bottom structure is all that is needed. Other times, a change in tactics will be needed.

High Resolution sonar allows anglers to cover more water faster with increased accuracy. Use sonar to get a clearer picture of the bottom below the surface. The bottom lock feature found on most sonar units zoom-in on bottom structure. Side scanning sonar increases the odds of staying on fish.

Charplotters can be used in conjunction with HD sonar to better pinpoint good structure. Use the backtracking feature on your chartplotter to stay on those areas holding the greatest concentration of fish.

Tip #10: Do not wait for the fish to come to you. Cover as much water as you need to and take advantage of the new technology availabile to anglers.

Flounders are back and spring is the time to target these prized eating fish. Here in the Northeast there are plenty of blackbacks and lots of big ones to provide some great early season action for light tackle enthusiasts. Flounder fishing is a great way to kick off  the new season.  Try these tips from the Pros and you too will be on the flounder bite.

 

Cleaning and Preparing Flounders

It takes a little practice, but it is quickly mastered. Follow these few steps below:

  • Be sure to use a sharp knife.
  • Placed the fish dark side up on the cutting board.
  • Sliced the head off behind the fin and remove.
  • Clean and rinse the body cavity.
  • With the tail facing towards you, cut along the center of the backbone.
  • Starting at the body cavity, cut along the outside right edge of the fish.
  • Remove this fillet.
  • Repeat on the left side.
  • Turn the fish over (light side facing up).
  • Fillet this side starting from the body cavity to the tail.
  • Remove the skin from the three fillets.

 

Boston Harbor Revisited: 2014 Edition

By:  Captain Bill Smith

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It has been awhile since I wrote the Boston Harbor wrap-up for The Fisherman magazine, a traditional piece I did for many years beginning in 1994 when Tim Coleman was editor of this publication. Boston Harbor is notorious for its variety of fish catches. It has the bait to attract gamefish as well as a diverse structure to hold fish. Striped bass, winter flounders, black sea bass, bluefish, and tatog are all seasonal visitors to the Harbor.

From spring to fall, Harbor fishermen had a variety of opportunities to experience the many faces of this exciting fishery. As many of Draggin’ Fly veteran clients will attest, the 2014 season was quite different than past ones. It was a year filled with many memories and several career bests. But it was also a year where we worked hard for every bass we hooked.

Stripers were available throughout the season in decent numbers and several over 30 pounds were caught on light tackle and flies. Bluefish were not as numerous as in the past nor were our black sea bass. Flounders showed early and remained in the inner bays longer than past seasons.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Early Season                                                                

Striped bass pushed in early, but again last year, the weather in early May was less than cooperative, making it difficult to get out to even the more sheltered waters favored by flounders. While most anglers chased early arriving schools of bass, dedicated bottom fishermen found excellent numbers of winter flounders in their regular spring haunts throughout Quincy Bay, Brewster Spit, Hough’s Neck, and inside of Hull Gut. North Shore bait fishermen did equally well in Lynn Harbor and Nahant Bay.

By the third week in May, the striper season got into full swing. Last year, there were not as many big fish in the mix but we had large schools of small schoolies, which we had not seen many of for the past several springs. The surface bite was exceptional.

By early June, we began to see bigger fish that were attracted to the massive schools of herring making their way to their spawning grounds in the Harbor’s rivers. While the Cape and the South Shore continue to struggle to rebuild their herring runs, Boston Harbor’s rivers and estuaries continued to see good numbers of returning herring. The Back River was exceptionally strong. Drop back herring and herring fry continued to provide great bait sources for striped bass later in the season.

Our Summer Season

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Later in June when mackerel finally made their annual appearancr on the ledges just outside of the Harbor, fishing for cow bass got into full swing. Even through bluefish remained south of the Canal, not as many mackerel were found in our area waters. Throughout June and into July, anglers worked hard to find mackerel. Only a few times were we able to get on those legendary mackerel bites off of Grave’s Light and Nahant’s Egg Rock. It seemed that these schools, which we had come to expect in Boston, pushed off shore to areas around Stellegen Bank…where it’s illegal to fish for them!

Bluefish finally made their appearance in August. My first encounter with them was off of Point Allerton. For two weeks bluefish massacred bait from Boston Light to Hull Gut. Some days, schools of blues even pushed in through the Gut into Hingham and Hull Bays. These fish were very aggressive and much larger than normally encountered north of Cape Cod Bay.

August provided challenging striper fishing for Draggin’ Fly’s clients. On many trips sight fishing was limited. To catch fish, we moved to the jig and anglers who were patient caught several very large bass during the month.

Transitioning to FallOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Most falls, The Draggin’ Fly spends a lot of time outside the Harbor chasing schools of bass and blues in the deep water, but last year this area was barren. In the past, we also have done well fishing the North Shore but not last year, when it was hit and miss. Much of our efforts were concentrated on stalking bass inside the harbor in shallow water.

Draggin’ Fly anglers spent much of the fall casting to bass along the airport flats and its finger channels. The shallow water of Quincy Bay was also productive. I believe that the success that my clients had during this part of the season was directly related to their commitment to be on the water long before other anglers, and sticking with the strategy of working jigs.

It seems that the season ended as it began with bass still available, but the weather being the limiting factor. After some great weather in early and mid-September, one cold front after front seemed to target the area. The Draggin’ Fly finished charter trips back in early October. If you didn’t fish Boston Harbor last year, you missed some exciting fishing.

Spring Break on the South Shore

By:  Captain Bill Smith

Regional fishing publications including the Fisherman feature numerous articles on fishing the waters of Cape Cod. Even Boston Harbor has been receiving a lot of press in recent years. Yet, little has been written about the South Shore, where fishing has been an important part of life since early times when Native Americans worked these fish rich waters. In spite of limited catch restrictions and tough economic times, all the local harbors on the South Shore maintain an active commercial fishing fleet.

Don’t let the lack of press fool you. The entire coast from Cohasset to the Cape Cod Canal provide many opportunities for both boat anglers and shore fishermen to stalk striped bass and bluefish, which are common seasonal visitors. Flounder, pollock, and mackerel are available during much of the early and late season. Fluke, tautog, and black sea bass are also caught but in more limited numbers.

 Although I was born and spent my childhood in Boston, I have lived most of my adult life on the South Shore of Massachusetts and have battled fish from both the surf and boat in these waters. I know most every bay, beachfront, and river system intimately. This article explores what I have learned about fishing the inshore waters from Cohasset to Humarock.

The Attraction

South of Hull’s famous Nantasket Beach, the coastline line changes dramatically. Much of this area is rocky and several ledges extend far inshore. While this stretch of water can be intimidating to the unfamiliar, it is a magnet for game fish.

Minot’s Ledge is the area’s most recognized landmark. Its offshore lighthouse which was built in 1850 continues to guide boats through some of the most dangerous waters found anywhere on the East Coast. However, as veteran anglers know well, stripers and bluefish love this type of structure. When the water is cold, cod and pollock also favor this hard bottom.

Some boat anglers use the launching ramps in Weymouth, Hull, and Green Harbor as a base of operation, but these require long runs. Most anglers use the state launching ramp in Scituate Harbor when fishing the South Shore. This all tide facility offers plenty of parking, and the fishing is often good just outside the breakwater. Besides, there are no parking or launching fees. There is also a town ramp in Cohasset, but parking is for residents only.

Hull to Cohasset

Working from north to south, Gunrock Beach at the tip of Hull and Black Rocks Beach on the northern end of Cohasset are often plummeted by spring Nor’easters, but when the weather cooperates, they are prime striper haunts. The water drops off quickly, and their rocky bottoms attract lots of bait. Stripers can dine on lobsters, crabs, and smaller baitfish trapped in among the rocks. Trolling worm and tubes on monofilament lines is very productive here. The key is to get the bait tight to the shore and troll very slowly. Light tackle and fly fishers have excellent success casting flies and top water lures right along the rocks.

Two channels leading into Cohasset Harbor, Eastern and Western Channels, are separated by several rock piles and ledges. This rocky structure holds bass throughout the season but fishes exceptionally well in the spring, when huge schools of mackerel and sea herring are found along the channels. The trick when fishing this area is to get out early before the boat traffic and before bait dunkers anchor up in all the areas you want to fish.  Another common obstacle to be avoided are the hundreds of lobster pots that are strung through-out the area.

The West Willies off Eastern Channel’s number 1 can is a constant producer as is neighboring Jack’s Rock. The Grampuses is a shallow water minefield of rocks and a favorite haunt of striped bass.  Boat traffic can be intense making it very difficult to fish these waters, especially on weekends during the warm months. Dawn is the best time to work this area, especially for those anglers looking for top water action.

Further offshore, the western edge of Minot’s Ledge provides excellent early season striper and pollock fishing along the ledge all the way to Hogshead. In late May and June, mackerel move in as the water warms, and trophy bass are sure to be on the prowl. Last year, anglers live-lining mackerel right along the rocks score on some very large bass. Bluefish join in the mix by late June. The worm and tube is another deadly combination here.

To the east, Stellwagen Ledges, not to be confused with the offshore Stellwagen Bank, is also a favorite early season hot spot. In the spring, stripers will be found feeding on the abundant crabs and passing schools of herring. Nearby, Smith Rocks and Bates Rock attract stripers in late spring. Since this is deeper water than the surrounding areas, fish often hold here well into the summer months.

Scituate

Just south of Cohasset is the small coastal community of Scituate which provides more shore access than its northern neighbor. Town beaches and parking areas are off limits during the days, but those who fish early morning and evening tides will find good access. In the past, the town sold a permit which allowed non-residents to park in town lots from May through early June and again in the fall. Check with the police station.

The first spot to explore is the Glades, which is a fairly shallow stretch of water bordering Cohasset and North Scituate. Again, this area has plenty of hard bottom and rock structure with easy access to deep water. Add in a good bait supply, and you have some great opportunities to stalk stripers and bluefish for much of the season. The Glades is one of my favorite areas to fly fish and to work poppers on light tackle.

The jetty at Cedar Point in Scituate Harbor is very popular with both shore and boat anglers. Flounders and the occasional tautog are the early spring season targets. Later, bass and blues are caught as they move in and out of the harbor. While most anglers dunk bait or live-line eels, swimming plugs work well at night and poppers produce at dusk and dawn. I have stopped here many times on my way out of the harbor and taken my first bass of the day, especially if I am ahead of the traffic.

Shore anglers can access Scituate’s famous Cliffs by parking at Peggoty Beach and hoofing it. While Second Cliff is almost impossible to fish from the shore, the sea wall that protects the houses along Third Cliff from Nor’easters is a good spot from which to fish. The boulders all along the cliff hold many big bass. Most anglers float bait in the deep water around the rocks.

The New Inlet at the mouth of the North and South Rivers is legendary for producing trophy fish. It can be accessed from shore by walking the seawall along Third Cliff and crossing onto a sand split. The Spit in the North River is a sand bar along the Scituate side of the North River with deep water right off its banks. This is a party spot during the heat of the summer, but during the spring and fall it is a great place to fish for striped bass.

Small boats can be launched from the unimproved ramp at the Driftway in Scituate. There is a mixture of hard sand and packed gravel all the way down to the water with plenty of depth to launch small boats. This area is also a great place to launch a kayak and provides some good shore access along the Herring River leading into the North River. The ramp at Mary’s Livery on Rte 3A, affords additional access to the lower stretches of the river and motor boats are also rented by the hour. During the day, boat traffic can be very heavy so plan your trips from dusk to dawn.

In this area, anglers fishing from boats often compete with shore anglers.  The waters drop off quickly and the fish hold tight to the shoreline. Trolling along the rocks and live-lining bait will get the attention of bass and the occasional bluefish throughout the season. Drifting eels is a favorite way to fish this area, but I have also taken numerous stripers and blues on flies and lures. The water moves fast through this stretch so fly fishers will need to use fast sinking lines and large profile flies to get down to fish

Springtime Time

The waters of Boston’s neighboring South Shore have plenty to offer anglers. From flounders to stripers, anglers have many fishing opportunities from both shore and boat. When the fish first enter the cool inshore waters of the South Shore in the spring, this is the best time to fish this area. Get out and explore this unique fishery of the South Shore.

Beating the Odds

By Captain Bill Smith

While I am sure that the ultimate goal of most recreational striped bass anglers is to catch a trophy cow bass, I’m not sure if there is anyone that is more obsessed with the pursuit of monster bass than I am. While it is a lot of fun to catch 10 to 20 pound fish, I am always looking for a challenge. My personal goal is to catch that elusive 50 pound striper on light tackle. Although fish over 40-50 pounds are much more rare than in past eras, there are still plenty of fish over 40 pounds to keep me interested.

Ask most any angler and they have their own thoughts about how and where to catch big bass. There seems to be as many suggestions as there are fishers, and most ideas are quite different. Some anglers are so convincing that it’s hard to figure out what is fact and what is fiction.

Many anglers fish for big bass much like they play the lottery. They believe their chances are slim but still play the game. They think that if they cast enough times, they will someday hit the jackpot. In my younger days, I caught some big bass by accident while drifting along a piece structure casting away and not paying much attention. But this approach has not often work for me. I have never been a good gambler; besides my personality will not allow me a wait and see approach.

The Way I Look At

Over the years, my approach to fishing has changed and is quite different than most recreational fishers. I call it precision fishing, and it is all about fishing smart. Rather than using a random trial and error approach, I have specific plans for getting on fish. I also concentrate my fishing in high percentage areas, using proven big fish tactics to efficiently cover these areas.

Hunting monster bass takes much more than luck. The secret to successful angling is not really a secret. It is about putting all the pieces together. These include being in the right place at the right time, having the right lure, and making the right presentation based on the conditions of the day. Find the right combination, and you will be in for a big trill.

Now, let’s take a closer look at what it takes to catch trophy bass.

Experienced is Earned

My approach requires knowledge and careful planning. This knowledge comes from a lot of hours on the water and a lot of daily preparation. During the season, I wake up every morning by 3:00 AM, check the weather on my computer, and head to dock. On the way, I begin to find tune my plans for the day. I’m going over the wind, tide, air pressure, availability of bait, and whatever else I can think of that might give me an edge.

Big bass can be very elusive and quite resilient. Some say that they are smarter and more wary than their smaller offspring. I agree and also recognize that their habits are also more puzzling. However, as I began to keep a running log and started to really pay attention to the weather, bait, and related fishing conditions, I began to see patterns and realized that big bass are somewhat predictable.

This realization has helped me to narrow my search and make quicker decisions. Surprising, I often witness boats steaming past the areas I am fishing in an effort to get off-shore, while other anglers wander aimlessly without a clue of where to fish.

Places That Consistently Hold Trophy Bass

There is no doubt that big fish can be caught in many different areas. And there is no denying that if you fish enough, you will occasionally come across big bass. However, if you can dial in on high percentage areas, you will have a better chance of catching a big fish and maybe a real monster. There are certain spots that attract these fish on a more consistent basis. These are my go-to-areas, which I work hard to catch jumbo bass.

I am too old to play the game of hide and seek that many others use. Rather, I use what I have learned about fish behavior and areas that hold big bass during different parts of the tide. Unlike smaller school bass, cows are more selective feeders and do not like to travel far for their meals. These fish are old and need to conserve energy to get the most from their meals.

Cow bass use the structure to their advantage. Knowledgeable anglers know that big bass will be found in areas that provide protection from strong currents and tides, and where there is a good bait supply.  I will go out on a limb and say that I catch at least 75% of my fish from areas where there are quick changes in water depth. These include channel edges, shoals, underwater ridges, tidal rips, and rock piles which are adjacent to deep water. These areas have what big bass need most-cover, food, and escape routes.

Use water temperature to find likely hotspots

Offshore anglers often rely on sophisticated temperature charts supplied through paid subscriptions to weather services to locate ideal surface temperature breaks. Inshore anglers need less sophisticated information. Big bass like water in the 60-70 degree range. If surface temperatures are well above or below these preferred temperatures, chances of finding big bass are slim. And even if you find them, your chances of getting them to eat are limited.

Go with the flow

Current plays heavily on where bait will be found. Find good sources of bait, and you’ll likely find fish holding here. Explore tide lines along outlets and narrow passages where bait is pushed with the tide. Let the boat drift with the tide and try putting live bait down in the moving current on a deep rod. At the same time, jig the bottom with another other rod.

Rips are major hangouts for schools of bait and some of my favorite haunts for big bass.

Strong currents often form along rises in bottom structure. Bait is often pushed and confused in these strong currents. When the tide is flat, fish tend to hold on the up-current side of the rip. When the tide is pushing, they’re more likely to be found down-current or even in the rip.

The best time to fish

Obviously, it is best to fish when bass are most likely to be feeding. You might have many sleepless nights because bass feed best in low light conditions. This is the reason I push off dock well before dawn. Fishing at night can be very productive. I have caught some of my biggest bass at night and know that darkness increase chances of catching a cow bass.

I often do best at low water. While many anglers believe that big bass move to deep water on the dropping tide, I have had excellent results hunting shallow water areas during these tides. I only work stretches of water where bass have a way to escape. They need these deep water trenches to move in and out of the skinny water. Bait is easier for bass to find at low water in the shallows so I am always looking for signs of bait as well as signs of feeding fish. Big bass also become more active when the tide is running so I try to avoid slack tides.

Simple adjustments can give you an advantage when fishing for monster bass

I do not believe that there is one single approach to catching big bass. There is little doubt that many times live bait will out produce most any other technique. Although I have caught several bass over 40 pounds on live and rigged bait, I like the challenge of stalking big bass on artificial lures. I have had success catching cows casting swimming lures, working jigs, and popping on top, depending on the type of water where fish are holding.

I have learned that my success with lures is directly related to what bass are eating. Big bass feeding on mackerel, herring, sand eels, and small bait fish can be targeted with artificial lures. If the fish are feeding on pogies, live bait might be the only thing they will be interested in chasing. The weather, seas, and boat traffic will also factor into how bass react to lures.

During the past few years, I have narrowed my arsenal of lures way down. I now use mostly plastics and jigs while fishing for big bass. I think my chances of catching that big cow are increased by using slow moving baits. Plastics and jigs allow me to stay in the strike zone longer, giving big bass more opportunities to take the lure. I will change to swimming plugs and even poppers when I cannot get a bite.

One of my top producers for catching big bass is soft plastic stickbaits, rigged on oversized off-set hooks.  I use a quick downward pull of the rod tip to twitch these lures across the surface. I also pause between pulls to allow the lure to react like an injured bait fish. Many times, bass strike on the pause. Other times, they track on the lure and attack at boat side. If they miss, they will often resume the attack because the feel of the soft plastic is more natural than hard plastic lures.

It’s no secret that big bass spend a lot of time along bottom structure and in rips. Lead head jigs with soft plastic bodies are the perfect lures to get attention. I keep several rods rigged with different size heads and combinations of bodies. Jigs with swimming bodies are really simple to fish. Toss the lure to likely structure, let it set a moment, and slowly work it back toward you.

How to stack the deck in your favor

Learn to read the water and be very observant. The ability to identify and understand subtle changes is the key to success. These changes include changes in structure, bait, tidal flow, and wind.

Look for visual signs such as flocks of birds. It’s not always about what the birds are doing…sometimes it’s about what they are not doing. On several trips last season, I saw hundreds of birds just sitting on the water. I knew that I either was late for the dance or I was at the beginning of something big. I spent time using my electronics and was able to find suspended fish.

My active personality, some would say it borders on ADD, does not allow me to troll for long. I need to hunt for fish. But I also realize that this technique can be effective and allows anglers to cover a lot of water. Use it to your advantage.

Success comes with time on the water and the ability to put the pieces together

As my time on the water has increased so has my knowledge and equally as important, my patience. Just when I think I have everything figured out, I find that the fish are not playing the same game. When this happens, it’s time to go to my backup plan, and I always have one.

Accept the fact trophy bass don’t come easily. Be persistent and don’t give up. Next season, pay close attention and fish smart. And you too will be telling a big fish story!

 

Tips from a Pro 

  • Fish instinctively and remain flexible
  • Use visual signs to find fish
  • Watch closely for subtle changes on the water
  • Learn to fish structure
  • Discover all you can about currents and tides
  • Use your electronics wisely
  • Above all else: do not be afraid to explore new areas and try new techniques

 

 

 

The 2013 Urban Story: Boston Harbor

Captain Bill Smith

Boston Harbor’s well-deserved reputation as one of the Northeast’s premier fishing destinations was not in jeopardy during most of the season. From spring to fall, Boston Harbor fishermen had a variety of opportunities to experience the many faces of this exciting urban fishery. From the rocky shorelines of the North Shore to the sandy beaches of Wollaston, the fishing pleased Harbor regulars and visitors alike. Again last year, weather was a limiting factor during the early season and again in the fall.

Stripers were available throughout the season in good numbers. Trophy bass over 40 inches were caught on light tackle, flies, and bait throughout the season. Bluefish were certainly not as numerous as in the past seasons; even during the fall migration few were found in area waters. However, black sea bass, a relatively new seasonal visitor invaded the Harbor early and remained throughout the season.

An Early Start to the Season

 May is historically the month of cold fronts and this year, it certainly lived up to its reputation. The wind blew and the rain came, putting a damper on the early season. When these spring fronts hit, they usually drop water temperatures and bring in strong winds. The fish go deep and weather conditions also limit accessibility. It can take 3-4 days to get them back on the bite. As the weather improved so did the fishing.

Striped bass arrived early and the season was in full swing by the second week in May. This year there was a big mixture of sizes of fish. For several years, the 18-22 inch fish (3-4 year olds) never came into the Harbor or the areas that I fish on the North Shore. This led to a lot of speculation about the healthiness of the stock. This year there were thousands of this size fish throughout the Harbor and in its estuaries. At times, it was difficult to get a lure or fly to the bigger mama bass that could be found in the same waters. The smaller fish were very aggressive and much quicker to attack.

While most anglers chased early arriving schools of bass, dedicated bottom fishermen found some legal-sized cod on the Harbor’s outer ledges when they could get out. Catches were certainly not in the numbers of past years, a sure sign of change. I use to be able to catch lots of cod right in the Inner Harbor at Deer Island, Faun Bar, and even Nantasket Roads. This has become a memory of past years, as the fish have not shown in catchable numbers for quite some time.

Three and One-half Fathom Ledge and Thieves Ledge held the best concentration of cod. The ledges to the south in Scituate and Cohasset had limited numbers of cod. North Shore bait fishermen who targeted the deep water rock ledges and wrecks east of Nahant found some bigger cod.

Winter flounder were found in their regular spring haunts throughout Quincy Bay. Perennial hot spots like Portegee Cove at Peddocks Island and Hospital Shoal were again productive this past season. Other traditional favorites like Hingham Harbor, Hough’s Neck, and inside of Hull Gut also fished well. The Deer Island Flats and Dorchester Bay also held good numbers of blackbacks and were far less crowded. Anglers managed to land their limit of these delicious table fares throughout the month of May and well into June. The numbers of winter flounder seem to be down a little but sized increased.

 

Summer Season Sizzles

While huge schools of mackerel were found just outside the Harbor throughout late May and during the entire month of June, most times there were few bass feeding on these schools. Boston Harbor’s rivers and estuaries had an ample supply of herring to attract fish. Bass moved into bays and rivers throughout the Harbor attracted to the massive schools of drop back herring and fry-of-the-year. There was so much herring and smaller silversides that the bass did not have to travel far for a meal.

As herring thinned out at the beginning of July, the bite turned more to mackerel. For almost three weeks in July, the fishing was truly awesome and anglers had opportunities to stalk large bass throughout the Harbor. Bass chased mackerel from Minot’s Ledge to Grave’s Light to Egg Rock off Nahant. Massive flocks of sea gulls were the tell-tale sign of feeding fish. These surface bites often attracted a lot of action with many boats competing for the same fish. Even charter boats specializing in trolling often shut down and had their anglers cast lures to these aggressive fish.

When the fish were feeding on the surface, soft jerkbaits and fully dressed flies continued to be productive. The best action was early in the morning before the crowds got onto the massive schools of bass. As the sun came up higher in the sky, live lining mackerel or drifted freshly rigged mackerel consistently produced. At times, jigs were also effective. Much of the action was just outside the Harbor and along Broad Sound. At times, anglers on the Draggin’ Fly did well in the shallows of Quincy Bay, which held a lot of silversides. There was also far less completion from other boats.

From July through early August, much of my effort is usually concentrated on fishing the shallow waters of the Inner Harbor. I normally spend much of my time casting to bass along the airport flats and sight fishing the skinny water of the inner bays. This year, I found very few fish in these areas. There was so much bait just outside the Harbor that bass had no need to hunt bait or grub for crabs and shrimp in the shallows. This was a big change in my normal summer fishing.

Action continued into August. Surprisingly, mackerel remained in the area in big numbers. These schools stayed in local waters because the bluefish never came into the area. The fishing held up until mid-August and then dropped off dramatically. The mackerel also disappeared. Historically, this is the part of the season that Harbor anglers transition to using pogies, but this year there were few of these bait fish available for local anglers.

 

 Late Season Challenges

 As August turned to September, the fishing showed little signs of improvement. Normally the bait and fish move back into the Harbor in early September. For years, the Harbor would load up with peanut bunker that would trigger massive bites. For the past few seasons, peanuts and even the fall numbers of bay anchovies have been way off. When compared to previous seasons, fishing during this time was very challenging. Few bass were found on traditional late summer structure including their favorite haunts along Faun Bar, Lower Middle, and Rams Head.

By the second week in September, mackerel returned to the North Shore in big numbers but not to Boston. Bass fishing from Lynn to Marblehead improved rapidly. The rocky shorelines of Nahant and Swampscott fished exceptionally well through the month and well into October. Many trophy fish were caught on my charter boat during this time mostly on live bait but at times, the fish would attack lures and flies.

Throughout September and October, Boston Harbor and surrounding waters were hit hard by cold fronts. Little rain was associated with these fronts but most had big winds. Easterly winds limited the days that local anglers could make the run north. Later in September, the remaining herring-of-the year began to drop out of the Harbor rivers. At times, bass were found chasing dropping bait way inside the Harbor by the Charles and Mystic Rivers. There was also some protection from the wind.

Anglers fished Boston and surrounding waters until mid-October and even then bass were still available. But the weather, let’s just say it was not often angler friendly. There were many windy days that made fishing difficult. The offshore swells created challenging seas that made for an impossible ride to the better fishing on the North Shore. There was no way of fighting Mother Nature. Most knew that it was time to pull the boat and get her ready for the winter.

 

This article written by Captain Bill Smith was originally published in the New England Fisherman and is reproduced with permission on the author.

Fishing CPR: Catch, Photo and Release

By Captain Bill Smith

As a professional captain and an outdoor writer, a camera has always been an important piece of equipment for me. More and more anglers are also using cameras on fishing trips. Yet, with a little imagination, today’s digital cameras can do so much more than simply document the catch. They can be used to tell a story of the fishing adventure.

Looking back over my photo albums, it’s easy to see how my fishing has changed over the years. Many of my earlier pictures were of happy anglers displaying dead fish. Today, I approach fishing differently. A common practice on my charter boat, especially when targeting trophy stripe bass, is CPR… and I’m not talking about giving the fish mouth-to-mouth resuscitation!  After Catching a fish, my clients often take a quick Picture, and then Release the catch.  CPR is an important practice especially when a large breeding cow is landed. My clients enjoy stalking fish, presenting their lure/flies, and fighting the fish in a sporting manner. In the past, some of these anglers might have kept their catch, but with the availability of digital photography, they are more likely to snap a high quality photo and return the fish to the water. Guests often tell of the personal satisfaction they get knowing that the fish will live to breed as well as “to fight another day”. To these anglers, CPR adds to the fun factor!

There is no denying that catch-and-release makes good sense no matter the species that are targeted. Given the most recent Young-of-the-Year (YOY) indexes and the rapid spreading of the potentially deadly mycobacteriosis, catch-and-release is especially important for preservation and rebuilding striper populations. I am not advocating that anglers release all their catches. But I am strongly opposed to harvesting more fish, regardless of the species than what will be consumed. I also believe that all bass over 34 inches should be released. These larger bass are females; the release of the strongest breeders is essential to the perpetuation of healthy stocks. Catch-and-release will provide more fish for more anglers to catch.

National statistics show that many freshwater anglers who target bass and trout release much of the fish they catch. Catch and release is also a common practice of most fishermen who stalk bonefish, permit, and tarpon in our southern waters. To these anglers, it’s not a question of how many fish are in the cooler; rather it’s about the sport and having fun.

Striper fishermen are beginning to see the wisdom of this practice. Gone are the days when marinas used “kill boards” to displayed pictures of hanging fish before they went to the fillet table. Today, more and more striper fishermen are limiting their catches. It has become much more popular now for anglers to bring a camera and tape measure to re-live the memory.

However, for catch-and-release to have the desired impact on bass stocks, it is essential that that it be done in a manner that ensures the survival of the fish.  If fish are not handled properly, the fish won’t survive after being released. I have witnessed many anglers ripping hooks out of unwanted fish and literally dumping them back into the water.

Anglers need to be prepared for the release by having a camera and measuring tape ready.  It is best to grab the bass by its mouth and carefully remove the hook while the fish is still in the water so that you don’t injure the fish’s gills or internal organs. A Boga Grip or a Norton Fish Grip will help to safely land large fish without damaging the fish or any fingers. When taking a picture, it is best to support the fish under its belly while continuing to hold it by the lower jaw. There are also many new tools available to help extract hooks including the ACR Dehooker, which I have used for the last several years. If the fish has swallowed the hook or the hook is deeply embedded, it is still best to cut the line rather than trying to force the hook out.

This is also the best time to measure the fish. Be sure to get both the girth and length, which can be plugged into several on-line calculators to get an accurate estimation of the weight. Biologists do not recommend hanging the fish to weigh it, which can cause serious internal injury. And don’t just dump the fish back into the water. Rather, carefully place the fish back into the water and slowly work it back and forth. When the fish is revived and can swim freely, release your grip.

Remember all research shows that stress fish experience during the capture is the most common cause of fatal injury to the fish. Anglers can minimize stress by landing any fish quickly, long before they fight themselves into oxygen deprived exhaustion. This is the reason it’s important to match the tackle to the size of the fish that is being targeted. Also, avoid handling the fish as much as possible to protect the mucous covering on the fish’s body. This is the fish’s main protection from infection. And, never hold a fish by its gills.

Every angler, especially those practicing catch and release should carry some sort of camera with them to capture a picture of that special moment when it happens. A trophy fish can be hooked at any time. Having a camera to capture a picture will provide years of special memories.

The good news is that photographing the catch-and-release has never been so easy. Digital photography has revolutionized anglers’ ability to document catches. Since a digital camera does not use film, these cameras allow anglers to take quick photographs and to see the pictures instantly. Later, the digital images can be easily downloaded to a computer for editing.

For years, I shot a 35mm SLR camera using slow speed slide film on my boat. I prefer SLR models because of the better optics and the wider zoom range available. I now use a Nikon SLR digital camera with a 28- 200 mm zoom lens. It has a large capacity internal flip-up flash and true through-the-lens viewfinder. This camera also has a large LCD, which provides all the exposure information so that I can really maximize each shot. However, I also have a point and shoot digital camera ready just in case I need to take a quick picture.

For most anglers, today’s compact digital cameras are perfect for those who want something that packs easily, weighs little, and has good image quality. All controls are integrated into the camera so compact digital cameras basically are point and shoot. Most of these cameras also have small but powerful built-in flashes.

Anglers can brag about their catch and show proof of their day’s action almost instantly. It’s always fun to bring home a photograph of the day’s catch. I have many clients who take photos of their catch with their cell phones and immediately send them to friends and family to share the experience or show them what they missed.

Today’s technology has revolutionized the way many anglers approach fishing. Just a few years ago, few anglers carried cameras as part of their fishing arsenal, unless they were traveling to distant waters. But digital cameras have changed this. In this day and age, many more anglers are carrying a camera with them while fishing, just in case!

 

Tips to Taking Better Pictures

Frame the picture: Fill the picture with the fish and the upper image of the angler! You do not need a full portrait of the person, which might even detract from the overall perspective of the catch.

Get closer: Have the angler hold the fish close to the camera, until it fills the frame. If available, use the wide angle setting of the camera to emphasize the fish’s size.

Try other poses: Most professional photographers recommend a horizontal shot unless the fish is too big to hold that way because it is more natural. However, I often experiment to get the best shot. At times, I use a released away from the camera or a head-on shoot of the fish for impact.

Tell a story with the photograph: Highlight the fish’s characteristics, the size and coloration. Also, try to capture the scenery of the area in the background.

Take the picture as soon as the fish is caught: The best pictures capture the peak of excitement.

Use a fill-flash: This will help to remove facial shadows and highlight the face of the happy angler. The flashes of most compact digital cameras are small so get as close to the angler as possible and still be in focus. Removing sunglasses will also help to improve the overall quality of the picture.

And be sure to smile!

This article written by Captain Bill Smith was originally published in the New England Fisherman and is reproduced with permission on the author.

 

Many Faces of the North Shore: From Winthrop to Lynn

By Captain Bill Smith

Much has been written about Boston’s great fishing. Yet, very little has been written about the waters north of Boston. Don’t let this lack of press fool you. Each year, clients aboard my charter boat catch many trophy bass and bluefish as well as our fair share of flounders in these waters.

The entire coastline from Boston to New Hampshire offers countless fishing opportunities from both shore and boat. With almost 100 miles of coastline, the North Shore has a great variety of structure to attract fish year-round.  From the bolder fields of Winthrop Head, to the sandy beaches of Winthrop Shores and Revere, to the grass flats of Lynn, to the rocky outcrops further north, this area has it all! And all of this structure provides good protection for bait fish, crabs, and lobsters, which in turn attract many game fish.

Spring is the time I especially like to fish this area. The water is cool so the fish are in fairly shallow water; there is plenty of bait to attract and hold fish. Best of all, it is also rare to encounter many other anglers.

In the spring, I launch my center console boat at the public ramp in Weymouth on the Back River and often fish my way north. There are also paved launching ramps in Winthrop, Lynn, Nahant, and Marblehead that provide quicker access to the North Shore. However, be sure to check them out before launching. Although the state has updated these facilities, low tide can put some off-limits until the tide rises.

This first installment focuses on the waters from Winthrop to Lynn. Let’s begin by looking at the south side of Deer Island. Just off the MWRA water treatment plant you will find Faun Bar. While this stretch of water is best known for excellent striped bass fishing, it produces some great opportunities to catch very large flounders.

Before the collapse of cod stocks, the hard bottom between the bar and the North Channel produced some nice cod fishing each spring right into June. I often caught double digit-sized cod on soft body jigs while probing the deep water along the channel for early arriving stripers.

Just to the northeast is Broad Sound, a fairly large deep body of water. In the past, I have taken many small legal-size cod and good size flounders from the humps along Broad Sound. Productive areas are not difficult to find in the Sound. A good starting point is to locate hard bottoms on your nautical chart and take time to explore these spots especially on incoming tides. This area fishes best with bait, and seaworms often out-produce clams.

Spring is the time to search the shallow coves of the North Shore for flounders. I must admit that I have not spent much time chasing black backs in this area, preferring to work the shallow waters closer to my homeport near Quincy Bay. However, several friends who live on the North Shore tell me that I am missing out on some excellent fishing. And I have caught enough flatties while drifting worms for bass to not doubt their claims.

I am sure that you will encounter flounder seekers throughout Winthrop in the spring. Be sure to check out the stretch of water between Faun Bar and Yirrell Beach. The deep water southeast of the tidal fat at the Five Sisters is another favorite flounder haunt.

My friends tell of catching limits of flounders along the flats at Point of Pines at the end of Revere Beach and from Western Channel on the way into Lynn. So be sure to save some seaworms to catch your limit of these delicious table fares before heading back to dock. And remember, flounders are a lot of fun on light tackle.

As water temperatures moderate, school bass begin to arrive. The first fish to arrive are usually schoolies, but there are enough big bass in the mix to keep my interest. For the past few years, big bass moved up the coast by-passing the beaches of Cape Cod and other traditional spring haunts. Unlike waters to the south, Boston and the North Shore have had the bait to keep these bass occupied right into the summer.

By late May, large schools of aggressive striped bass will be encounter almost on a daily basis along the main channels to Boston and throughout Broad Sound. Some days schools of big bass are close to Revere Beach, and the next day, they’ll move to deep water of the sound and along the North Channel. Most often they will be dining on herring. While most herring runs in the southern part of the state have been experiencing major problems, the rivers surrounding Boston continue to hold spawning herring.

Increasing numbers of bass will be found following the schools of mackerel that invade area waters later in May and can be found well into June.  It is not unusual to find jumbo bass chasing mackerel throughout Broad Sound and along the beaches. For the past two years, mackerel have stayed in this area for much of the season in numbers not seen in the past two decades.

It takes bluefish some time to make their way to the North Shore, but when they do, the Grand Slam is very possible. For years,  there was a great run of bluefish in early June. These schools would move up the coast on their way to Maine. However, for unknown reasons, this run has failed to happen for past several years. This could be the year that they return!

And talking about the Slam, there’s also the possibility of the Super Slam if you land the more illusive tautog. While blackfish are common south and west of the Cape Cod Canal, they are rare in the areas I fish. Yet each season, especially in early spring, tautog move inshore to spawn and take up residence among the submerged rock piles and ledges along with cod. My first encounter with Tog on the North Shore occurred several years ago while drifting seaworms for cod. The take was unlike that of a cod, soft and direct. Then the fish bulldogged right into the rocks and fought harder than any spring bass that I have caught. This was the first of many big tautog that I have taken over the past several years. I have caught tautog up to almost ten pounds from boulder-strewed bottoms along Faun Bar, Lynn’s Black Rocks, and other unnamed North Shore rock piles.

The waters form Winthrop to Lynn offer year-round fishing. Spring is a special time to fish this area. Whether it is striped bass, flounders or cod that you are after, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to catch your favorite.

 

This article written by Captain Bill Smith was originally published in the New England Fisherman and is reproduced with permission on the author.

Many Faces of the North Shore: Nahant to Swampscott

By Captain Bill Smith

In this second installment, we will take a closer look at fishing on the North Shore from Nahant to Swampscott. This section of the North Shore more closely resembles the rugged coastline of Maine than the sandy beaches to the south. There are many inshore ledges, rock piles, and wrecks to explore.

Fishing has always been an important part of life on the North Shore. Sadly, anglers were driven from these waters by major industrial pollution and the dumping of raw sewerage. However, Federal and State regulations and reclamation projects have cleaned up these waters.

Fish have returned to this area in very big numbers and so have fishermen. As I began to explore the waters north of Boston, I learned that the entire coastline from Boston to New Hampshire offered countless fishing opportunities from both the shore and boat.

When cod and bass are mentioned, many anglers think about the offshore waters of Stellwagen Bank, the Race, and the Dumping Grounds. To many, Egg Rock and Nahant Bay are foreign places. Yet, fishing has been an important part of life on the North Shore since early times, when Native Americans worked these fish-rich waters from their canoes. Even today, many of the local harbors on the North Shore maintain a small commercial fleet.

Surprisingly, while the off-shore cod fishery has all but collapsed, the in-shore fishery continues to produce, especially on the North Shore! I first stumbled onto North Shore cod while chasing bass off of Nahant’s Egg Rock. For several days, I had been working a school of big bass near the Egg, but on this particular day, the fish had disappeared. However, my sonar indicated fish were holding along the bottom in deep water. And to my surprise, what I found were lots of market-sized cod. The shocking part of this story is that it was June. Over the years, I have discovered several other areas that hold good numbers of cod.

Broad Sound and the North Channel leading to Boston are separated by several rock piles and ledges. This structure holds bass, cod, and flounder throughout the season. The Broad Sound side of Nahant has excellent rock structure with plenty of deep water to fish. Nahant Rock and Flip Rock are good places to begin the hunt for spring fish. They are marked by NOAA channel buoys making them easy to find and are accessible by small boats launched from Lynn and Nahant. Like many of the inshore areas I fish, sea worms will often out-fish clams. Besides, there is always the possibility of catching a tautog on this same structure.

Before making the turn from the Sound into the Massachusetts Bay side of Nahant, be sure to explore the waters around Shag Rock, not the rock pile next to Boston Light but the one off Nahant. There is plenty of hard bottom and rock structure to hold fish. This is one of my favorite areas to target both spring cod and bass on light tackle.

Small boats need not venture too far from Nahant since the water drops off quickly along much of the shoreline. Just off Nahant’s Castle Point lies a lone rock edifice. This is Egg Rock which stands guard to Nahant Bay and some excellent fishing. The water east of the Egg is a perennial hot spot. There are some excellent rock piles and ledges that all hold fish. One of these, Saunders Ledge not only produces plenty of cod, but by in-shore standards, they are big…often exceeding 10 pounds. There are also many old wrecks in the deep water to hunt.

Anglers who target flounders will have little difficulty catching their limits. Consistent producers on the Broad Sound side of Nahant are Swallow Cove just to the east of Nahant Harbor and the protected cove at Bass Point. After rounding the corner into Nahant Bay, the cove at Short Beach also fishes well.

Anglers fishing Swampscott do well drifting the water between Outer Gut and Dread Ledge. In season, bass are attracted by the abundance of crabs and passing schools of herring. To the east of this ledge, anglers will find some excellent flounder fishing. Be sure to fish Lincoln House Point on the outgoing tide. But be aware of the lobster pots strung throughout this area.

Once the mackerel arrive by early June, anglers begin to target striped bass and for good reasons. This area of the North Shore produces outstanding bass action from June through the summer. Large schools of striped bass will often be found chasing bait from Egg Rock to Shag Rock. At times, the bass chase schools of bait right into Nahant Bay. Massive flocks of sea gulls often pointed the way to this surface bite.

The coastal communities of Nahant and its neighbor, the city of Lynn both provide more shore access than other North Shore communities. In the early 1900s the Metropolitan District Commission purchased several private properties along the Lynn and Nahant shoreline to protect this area from additional development and open it to the public. Most of the existing structures were removed and two abutting recreational areas were created. The MDC is long gone being replaced by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)  but the Lynn Shore Reservation and the Nahant Beach Reservation continue to provide public access for recreational use.

From the Lynn Shore Reservation anglers have excellent shore access along King’s Beach and the Nahant Beach Reservation provides additional shore access along Long Beach. These areas provide some excellent shore fishing especially in the spring and in the fall. While parking can be quite difficult in the heat of the summer, there is plenty of parking in the off-season. Kayaks can also be launched at both of these recreational areas.

The waters from Nahant to Swampscott offer excellent spring fishing. From cod to stripers, anglers have many fishing opportunities from both shore and boat.  Get out and explore this unique fishery of the North Shore.

 

This article written by Captain Bill Smith was originally published in the New England Fisherman  and is reproduced with permission on the author.

Sight Fishing Northern Style 

By Captain Bill

I have been fortunate to have fished for bonefish, permit, and tarpon on the flats of Florida, Caribbean and Mexico many times over the years. Shallow water fishing in the North East is every bit as exciting as flats fishing in these exotic areas. There’s something special about hunting shallow water for the ghosts of the flats. It is probably the most peaceful way that you can pursue fish. This is as exciting fishing as you will be sighting fish in very shallow water. You can often watch fish follow and take your lure.  And experience shows that stripers and blues tend to fight much harder when hooked in shallow water.

I have spent much time exploring the shallow waters of Boston Harbor where we have large expanse of shallow water that hold big bass during the season. I find hunting fish in skinny water to be one of the most productive ways to fish, weather permitting.  Unlike the legendary flats of Monomy on the Cape whose clear water and light colored sand facilitates sight fishing, the Harbor’s muddy bottom and grass flats make sight fishing more challenging. Yet, my charters target the big bass that cruise the shallows eating crabs, shrimp, silversides and other bait fish. This is probably the most exciting type of fishing you will ever do. Like most fish in skinny water, these bass can be very difficult to catch.

Over the years, I have learned a lot about how to fish shallow waters. Those who take the time to really learn the structure of the shallow water they target will also be rewarded for their efforts because this pattern consistently repeats itself, tide after tide. I know that both the bait and the predatory fish follow a predictable pattern of movement in skinny water. Small bait fish such as silversides and spearling often slip into this area with the tide. Many of the shallow areas I fish have the hard bottoms that attract lots of crabs and small lobsters. I target areas that also have adjacent deep-water channels. At low water, bass will hold, waiting in ambush baitfish along the deeper water. As the water begins to flow into these areas, baitfish move into the shallows through these finger channels seeking protective cover.  Bass and blues will use these same troughs to move into the skinny water in search of food. At higher tides, I often encounter trophy fish really tight to the shore in inches of water. On out-going tides, the fish will use the same roadways to depart so I position my boat to intercept fish as they wait for the baitfish to get flushed out to the deeper water.

The idea time to stalk fish in the shallows is incoming low tides, especially at dawn and dusk. Stripers and blues move into shallow water in search of food. While most flats fishing in other parts of the world relies on sun for optimal sight fishing, those of us fishing north of the Cape use low light conditions to our advantage. Here we look for fins as the fish cruise the skinny water and swirls, tell-tale signs of feeding fish. First and foremost, trust your observation of the water.

I especially like to hunt the shallows during the spring when herring are in the Harbor and again during the summer when schools of juvenile herring close into the shallows. Once the peanut bunker moves into the Harbor, bass change their feeding habits. They will move out of these holding areas and follow these massive schools of bait fish.

Fishing in depths of water less than 3 feet requires strong casting skills, which combine distance and accuracy. This is especially important for those who will stalk fish with a fly log. There can be nothing as frustrating to both the angler and the guide as finding a big cow in skinny water and not being able to reach them or worst, spooking them with a bad cast. The best advice that I can offer is to practice and practice casting but not in your lawn. Go to a pond on a windy day and cast into the wind. Learn how to load the rod to get maximum performance.

At times, shallow water fishing will test your patience. It often is a game of determining how to turn a fish and get the reactionary bite. Sometimes the fish want the fly or lure to move fast across the surface and you need a fast retrieve. Other times a fast moving object will spook them. Skilled anglers will do best using the current with a dead drift. There will still be times when big bass are jumped but refuse to hit anything that is offered. They will often track on the fly or lure only to turn away.

Although shallow water techniques are similar to those used by our southern cousins, the way we approach flats differs in several ways.  Even though more and more flat bottom bay boats are showing up in the Harbor, few, if any, local skippers pole their boats as they do in the South.  Rather, most skippers use engines to position their boat and use wind, current, and tide to move them to the fish. This drifting approach requires anglers to use commons sense and to respect the rights of other anglers.  Never motor into the shallows.  It is much more effective to approach quietly and shut down a good 50 to 75 yards upwind of the area.  When setting up a drift, give other boats the same distance as you would like.  Especially give wading anglers a wide berth.

When stalking fish in skinny water, anglers need to learn how to use the wind and current to their advantage. Wind can be bitter sweet to shallow water anglers. A little wind can be helpful while drift in skinny water. It helps to position the boat and work through the area without the need for a motor. However, too much wind can ruin the day by making it impossible to sight fish. Most of these areas offer little protection when the wind blows hard. The only option is blind casting and in my experience, this will not often be as productive as sight casting.

When the conditions are right, some really trophy-size fish can be stalked and caught in very shallow water.  Take time to really learn the shallows at low tide and use common fishing sense of where fish will hold at certain parts of the tide. In time you will know where and when to fish work these areas. With a little practice and patience, you too can catch trophy fish.

 

This article written by Captain Bill Smith was originally published in the New England Fisherman  and is reproduced with permission on the author.

Ambush in Boston

By Captain Bill Smith

I love to fish for striped bass and do so from May when the cover comes off the Draggin’ Fly until late October when it is time to put the boat to bed for the winter. Obviously, being a full time guide allows me to fish all parts of the season; each provides new and exciting adventures for both my clients and me. By the time fall rolls around, I have already logged almost 100 days on the water. Yet, I still get excited about the fishing that lies ahead. Where I fish in Boston Harbor and the surrounding waters, September and October can be explosive. A check of my log books confirms that more trophy bass have been caught during this time period than during any other part of the season. Additionally, IGFA records prove that more world class bass have been caught throughout the fall migration.

I have fond memories of hunting stripers on Martha’s Vineyard with the legends of surf fishing. However, I no longer make this trip because of my charter schedule. I have also learned that fall fishing is as good as it gets on my home waters of Boston Harbor. As many anglers will attest, you can catch world class fish right here in my backyard. Boston Harbor and the adjacent waters have recovered nicely from the environmental pollution that decimated the fishery in the 1970s and the 80s. Fish stocks have also rebounded. Today, the Harbor can boast of world class striper fishing. And fall is the time to experience the best of “Harba” Fishing.

When inshore, striped bass tend to feed along changes in bottom contour. Their favorite haunts include rips,coves, bays, tidal estuaries, and around rocky shorelines.  Boston Harbor has all of these; great water to hunt bass. On any day, you can fish for stripers along the sandy beaches of South Boston or Nantasket Beach and explore the rocky ledges in the Outer Harbor islands. On windy days, you will find shelter on the flats of Quincy Bay and backwater estuaries. There are several rivers to explore, as well as brackish waters of many different bays. All are prime hunting grounds for big fall bass.

 

During the fall, both the inner and outer harbor and every connecting body of water will be teeming with juvenile peanut bunker and silversides. For this reason, this fall urban fishery does not require big boats. The fish will often be very close to shore. This abundance of bait attracts huge schools of bass and bluefish from September through October. Stripers feed furiously, at times around the clock bulking up for their home migration. They will frequently move right onto the shore to avoid being attacked by both bass and blues.

Some of the better spots to explore in the inner harbor include the shore lines along the Inner Triangle, which are easily accessible from boats launched in Dorchester, Winthrop, and the Mystic River. This area gets its name because you can draw a triangle from Thompson’s Island on the west to Castle Island on the north and Spectacle Island on the east. The entire area is also a magnet for this bait. You will often find striped bass and bluefish feeding aggressively throughout this area, especially on outgoing tides.  It is not unusual to see schools of fish in inches of water along Carson Beach, in the Sugar Bowl, and even in Pleasure Bay. Shore anglers will often get in on the action from the pier at Castle Island and along the seawall at UMass/Boston.

On incoming tides, Governor’s Flats and Deer Island Flats often provide fast action for both light tackle enthusiasts and fly rodders. Both areas are fairly shallow with deep water channels providing quick access to both fish and anglers. The tell-tale sign of the presence of feeding fish will be huge flocks of sea gulls crashing the water as they feed on the scraps of baitfish pushed to the surface during the feeding frenzy.

Peanut bunker will also move into Quincy Bay, and it will often be found in tight bait balls along Hospital Shoals or in along the shoreline of the nearby islands. The coves on the north side of Peddocks Island are the place to look especially early morning. The problem here is the numerous moorings that area yacht clubs place for their members. The east side of Rainsford Island is another good location as is the entire shore line of Long Island.

If the wind has blown from the East for a time, peanuts will often be pushed inside of Hull Gut creating some great fishing along the inside of Hull. I have seen bait pushed up inside of A Street and all the way to White Head Flats at the WBZ towers. The bar on the south side of Bumpkin Island is a favorite haunt for big bass on the prowl especially when the water is moving across it.

Bass and blues will also be found in the Outer Harbor especially along the approach channels. Nantasket Roads from Boston Light to George’s Island often holds big schools of fall bass and blues. On the other side, President’s Roads from Bob’s Triangle to the rip off of Deer Island can also be productive. When the fish have the bait trapped in the deeper water, the peanuts will bunch up together into massive bait balls. This is easy to find as the color of the water changes, and these bait balls create much commotion on the water. And if it is easy for anglers to find the bait, it is even easier for bass and blues to find it.

Plastic shads available in a wide variety of colors are the choice of many fall anglers. Storm Wild Eye Shads and Vivif Jigs can be sized to match the bait. The 4 inch, half ounce lures seem to be the favorite weapons of many. If I am fishing a jig, I prefer to rig a 5” Berkley Jerkshad or 6” Super Twich by Hurricane on a Kalin Ultimate jig head. I match the weight of the lead head to the depth of the water I am fishing and the length of the cast.  These lures are soft and life-like so bass will not often let go of them. They also have a vibrant wriggle to their tails which seems to attract more strikes when the lure is retrieved through the water column.

My real workhorse is a soft plastic jerk bait. I especially favor Bass Assassin Shads. During the summer, I use the 7’’ model to trigger a reactionary strike. During the fall season, I often use the smaller 5’’ shad to match the size of the peanut bunker. I work these lures two different ways. When the fish are crashing into the peanut bunker, I work them quickly across the top of the water, much like a popper but with more of a side-to-side action. If I am seeing fish, but they are not aggressively feeding, I work these lures with a slow erratic jerk by twitching down on the rod.

Boston provides a unique backdrop to some of the best striped bass and bluefish angling available on the East Coast.  While many anglers put away their tackle right after Labor Day, September and October provide real opportunities to catch jumbo bass and bluefish. No matter how you prefer to fish, Boston has an adventure waiting for you. The Harbor has a variety of structure, favorable water conditions, and the bait to attract huge schools of these game fish. And fall is the time to experience the best of this fishery.  Make plans now so that you can experience this unique fishery.

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