Friday, June 13, 2014

Spinnerbaiting Muddy Water Largemouths

Out on the road for my job, I thought of fishing Senkos at our neighborhood pond tomorrow, then the deluge came, and I thought at first only of water too muddy for that approach. Once I was home, the obvious solution hit. Most likely, a current of muddy water flowed from the inlet, the bass congregated. I tied a black spinnerbait to six-pound mono and walked to the pond with my St. Croix.

Not much current entered the pond at all, but at the outflow (photographed) water moved. Perhaps more water entered at the other inflow at the head of the pond where I didn't venture. At any rate, I caught three of my five bass associated with this muddy, moving water. Bass love to trounce on spinnerbaits with vibrations emitted through stain.

Of the five, one was about 2 1/4-pounds, two of them a pound-and-a-half or so, two about a pound. Two of these fish hit almost at my feet. It's important to complete a retrieve right up and along the bank, since bass are much less shy under cover of heavy stain.

A rewarding 20 minute stint. The bass are averaging the same size as two years ago. I wonder what happened to all those two and two-and-a-half pounders I caught and released.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Topwater Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass: Changing Light Advantages Predation



One day last August at 1:00 p.m. on Ringwood State Park’s Shepherd Lake, my son and I bass fished an even handed way—weightless Chompers worms 17 feet down along a weedline’s edge, the breeze light enough for control. We heard a whoop and watched an angler catch a good-size bass back in the weeds. It became apparent he fished topwater plugs. Another good bass struck. I looked at the sky to notice the sun had dimmed as clouds thickened and understood, feeling distinctly one-upped by someone else taking an odd approach. I pride myself on doing things differently because that tends to make the difference. I believed I knew why those bass hit, but hadn't thought to try topwaters.


Largemouth and smallmouth bass serve as an interesting academic research subject for an obvious reason: anglers want to know. I never believe a single fact explains an entire complex behavior, such as why bass feed early and late during summer, but sometimes a single cause seems to explain everything. The eye structure of both largemouth and smallmouth advantages them over forage fish in changing light. Bass see forage early, late—and with thickening or weakening clouds mid-day—better than forage see them.


Don't confuse this with the tapetum lucidum, walleye namesake, which advantages walleye over prey in any very low light or turbulent water, not particularly changing light. But bass and walleye may hug bottom for the same reason, although exceptions to this behavior exist. Walleye suspend over oxygen depleted depths, and bass sometimes cruise slowly in mid-column or near the surface right out in the open under intense sun. Usually they won’t hit because they are not staging to prey at all. They don’t seem to notice you just a few yards away because they are less aware than normal, as if in suspended animation. When feeding, bass usually stage at or in cover to ambush prey, or prowl the bottom, particularly among aquatic vegetation or rocks, with their eyes directed upward.

Forage fish naturally tend to swim nearer to the surface in order to evade predators on the bottom—they have little choice but to create safety in numbers. Not only do bass see them better than they can see bass given equal light, it’s darker near bottom where bass camouflage—and against light at the surface, forage make distinct silhouettes.  

For relatively shallow water—as deep as 12 feet if clear—nothing beats a surface lure now when light is changing. Bass know they have the advantage, are looking skyward for a mouthful, and catch sight of that commotion. You can just imagine the trigger response. So many strikes leave no doubt that bass put their all into the sheer thrill—whatever this is for a bass—of demolishing the target. From eye socket to spinal column—it’s a very short fuse and a hot detonation.

The typical opinion states that calm water is best for topwaters. I don’t really disagree, but it may not be true. This past May I arrived at Round Valley Reservoir on a lunch break without my lure bag, but I had a rod and my license. As soon as I parked, I reached into the glove compartment to find a big, white buzzbait. The sky was clouding. The wind drove the surface like buffalo herds.

Unlikely? I thought so. But not only did I catch three bass in 45 minutes, fishing the shoreline at Lot 2, one was a smallmouth that struck from at least 8 feet of water. I knew the breakline adjacent to a shallow flat was prime locale—but would a bass really come up with that much wave action above it? Perhaps it was crucial it was a big buzzbait.

For chopped surface—try to beat the commotion. You may not be able to do it with a musky plug, but choose larger lures and the type that creates the most commotion like buzzbaits, Crazy Crawlers, Jitterbugs, and the Devil’s Horse.

For a calm, mid-day surface, my preference may be for smaller plugs, and I especially like the clear plastic versions of Hedden’s Tiny Torpedo and the smallest Zara Spooks. Whether they make a difference or not, I’m curious about these choices and have caught bass by them.

Now is the time to begin to think about big bass in the thickest vegetation available. Often lunker bass are not at the outside edge of weeds along the deep open water, but just inside where thickest vegetation begins, and even further back in it as if they intend to hide from you. Try Money Frogs, Boohah Baits, or Phatrats—if you get a strike it will blow weeds wide open.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Big Striped Bass Bunker Drifting

My brother Dave with his very first striper, 25 pounds. He went out through Barnegat Inlet with my other brother Rick and with Dennis captaining his boat. They snagged bunker, tossed them in a live well and quickly dorsal hooked them, drifting.

Pat where I work also caught one off Sandy Hook over the weekend, drifting three miles out over 50- foot depths, his 40 pounds. He looked just elated as Dave in the photograph.

Pat uses a cast net and practices throwing it in his backyard. Technique is involved, but once you have it down, it's a lot easier than weighted treble tossing from a boat. You can get 30 bunker in a single net throw, then just load the live well, and you're set all day drifting

Big stripers are still around. Whether or not they will be at the end of the month is yet to be seen. They've blitzed beaches as late as early July in the past. Since spring really took awhile to get underway, just maybe bass will linger late this year.

We're headed for the Manasquan dog beach June 20th and I haven't looked it up online yet, fishing or not. If not, maybe we can get some casts off the inlet rocks, maybe not. Whether or not my son and I are headed out on Dennis's 30-foot boat this spring or summer, no definite word as yet. But I intend to buy Dennis a cast net, if he will learn to use it.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Alternatives to Lead Fishing Sinkers

Lead alternatives good for the Highlands environment

By Bruce Litton


          “That’s a half ounce sinker?” Joe Landolfi said. He sat opposite me in one of Dow’s rental boats, reaching across to look closely at the duck egg shape. I was rigging for hybrid stripers with live herring on Lake Hopatcong.

          “It’s steel,” I said. “Some of them are rusted a little, makes them feel homey.”

          Joe has an acute eye. Steel egg sinkers are not really outsized, although they do have about half the density of lead. Why use them?

          Our lakes and reservoirs, some of the rivers, are frequented by diving birds like loons, bufflehead ducks, and mergansers, which ingest stones from the bottom to help their digestive process. Statistics show a great many such birds die from lead poisoning, the result of swallowing lead sinkers instead of stones. Even bald eagles die from the lead poison in smaller diving birds they eat. Everyone loses sinkers to snags, so for the health of the environment, it’s a good idea to use alternative weight such as steel, tin, brass, bismuth, or tungsten.

          Alternatives are new on the scene, but many states have already passed legislation against the use of lead weights. For more than 5000 years, lead has been used for fishing beginning with ancient Egyptians, so the change is nothing less than revolutionary from an historical perspective. After what mankind has done to the Earth, we are entering an age of unprecedented environmental appreciation.

          Fish have always fed people and symbolize human spirituality; spirituality is nothing if not connectivity to the planet. We anglers participate in a practice older than European origins—a form of endeavor upon which civilizations are based. America began with fishing. The Northeast seacoast, particularly George’s Bank, was exploited before settlements took root. And the following example is my favorite: a tax levied on the sale of striped bass paid for the first Colonial public school in Plymouth, MA, 1670. I wonder what kind of sinkers. Nets need them too.

          Lead alternatives don’t make sinkers a big, bulging eyesore, and tungsten is twice the density of lead and a much harder metal. Tungsten is expensive, but cool stuff. If you want to punch through surface vegetation with a worm weight, nothing is better than a tungsten bullet sinker pegged at the hook’s tie loop. If you love jigging, why not invest in tungsten jigs to get a margin of more distinct feel? The metal makes harder contact against rock or sunken timber. It doesn’t make much difference, but that would be the whole point, just to see if you can appreciate the subtlety. And if you do, then it seems to be a big difference indeed.

          Alternatives on the market cover everything now: spinnerbait heads, bladebaits, jigs, egg sinkers, split shots, tungsten putty, tiny cylindrical weights, and slip weights of all kinds. Like anything else, they need and deserve a critical eye to discern right uses. When I fished the Salmon River for steelhead with my son a few years ago, I weighted my float rig with shiny, tin split shots. A helpful angler approached who told me take them off I wanted to catch any. Steelheads are extremely visual fish and apparently get spooked by split shots that reflect light.

          So Boss Tin of Colorado came up with solutions. By mixing tin and bismuth, the company has produced a line of dull toned split shots that are better than fresh lead to avoid scaring sight-wary trout and steelheads. They also have a complete line of fly leader sinkers that look like little sticks and bits of stone to camouflage the presentation, really ingenious stuff. Likewise, Bullet Weights has a complete line of alternatives from the famous bullet weight for bass, to split shots, to bottom bouncers—dozens of types.

          Just Google lead alternative fishing weights and handfuls of companies come up. Water Gremlin was a household name in the 1970’s when we used to crimp lead split shots with our teeth—never a good idea, nor necessary. The EPA put out a warning to home-made tackle buffs against making lead weights, jigs, spinnerbaits, etc. When melted, lead produces airborne particles that can spread throughout a house, contaminating it just like a gas chamber. Lead can be very bad news in unexpected ways.

         For the ultimate in environmental consciousness, Envio-Weights produces tackle made from reprocessed landfill steel and resin: buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, as well as split shots and other sinkers. Who would have thought that perhaps the New Jersey Meadowlands might become the source for a buzzbait cutting across calm, pristine looking Oak Ridge Reservoir at dawn?