Three Herring Approaches for Fall Hybrid Stripers and Walleye
By Bruce Litton
The bite persists until ice arrives, thereafter by other methods, and using herring is a rival approach to vertical jigging that pays off better sometimes. Bundle up if it’s cold and bring a coffee filled thermos and sandwiches to burn calories. The elements can take it out of you, so fish hard.
Last year I discovered steel bottom walker rigs that get around snags and click audibly, if clicks make any difference to fish, possibly not at all. Drifted deep along drop off edges, herring on size eight treble hooks tied to 40 inch, eight pound test fluorocarbon leader swim over rocks as the heavy gauge wire extension trips on catch surfaces, the steel weight avoiding wedging. The treble hook increases the chance of swifter set and prevents a single shank hook turning in upon the head of the herring. Hook herring through the nose. If you buy a walker with a swing arm, it prevents line twist and tangle.
Fishing a walker is simple and certainly riles up walleye that live among submerged stone palaces, as well as hybrids that frequent the bottom also. Keep your hand on the reel seat and index finger on the line, bail open, to give a little line before setting the hook. Some use several rods in holders with drag set just tight enough for the fish to hook itself, but more hits may be missed this way. Watch the graph and if a lot of fish are marked suspended, try the second method I have to offer. But fish right on bottom usually can’t be seen on the graph, and they are down there.
I fished last year with Lake Hopatcong veteran Joe Landolfi, who showed me how to drift herring in the mid-range column. Until then, I had always fished right on bottom, typically along the break between flat depth and the rising rocks of a point or other drop-off. Summer hybrid fishing means weightless live-lining, but now I know using a ¾ ounce steel egg sinker, and the small treble, is effective for suspended fish, plenty of them. Simple, easy for me to have overlooked, herring usually school mid-range in the water colume. Even walleye may rise up and get them.
This is a great way to kick back, tell stories, and enjoy the weather compared to the rigors of vertical jigging. Setting rods horizontally so that guides lock them in place against gunnel edge allows you to hang back, let the wind blow, and relax. Set the drag just tight enough for a strike set.
Catching the right wind angle is necessary. Some points may come right up on you as wind drives you directly towards them, but if you have an electric motor, so long as wind isn’t too heavy, you can vertical jig instead.
Or you can anchor and try the third approach. Last year we came upon Marty Roberts fishing the deep edge of a drop-off, anchored. He had a school of two to three pound hybrids right under his boat, and dropped herring on lines weighted by large split shots 29 feet down, cranked twice, and awaited strikes that came left and right—he fished two rods, standing or seated between them. Double anchoring doesn’t help, according to Marty; he likes a little swing to cover some space. But if the wind blows like an arctic invasion, double up.
When anchored and fishing directly under the boat, chumming is effective. Keep and freeze any herring that die for this purpose, mash, and mesh them, tying off a bag with thin diameter cord. You can buy mesh online and at hobby stores. Placed a few feet under the boat, a snapping turtle won’t get it this time of year. But the boat rocking in the chop will release tiny herring pieces and oils, striper attractants.
For all three methods, that break between flat depth and drop-offs is the primary edge of concern this time of year, all the way down at the deep end of a drop-off. But it’s no absolute that all fish travel the line, nor do those suspended necessarily hang over it. They might not even be on or over a drop off, but off structure by 50 or a hundred feet or so, suspended at sporadic depths over 45 or 50 foot depths, or whatever. But they are not all over the place or just anywhere. Marty swore that if he placed bait at any depth other than 28 to 29 feet, he’d get nothing. And when the anchor drifted a little, he didn’t catch any. What I never understood was why the school stayed in place so long. But a lot of things mystify me. It’s an absolute, though, that fishing’s a pursuit, and when you do find fish, you should feel good about it.