Am I Fishing for Stripers or Largemouth Bass?
NY Angler regulars know me and my “eccentricities”, but for those of you unfamiliar with me, my NYA handle is Roccus7 and I live and fish along Maine’s magnificent Midcoast. I cut my teeth on striper fishing on LI’s North Shore from Stony Brook to Rocky Point many years ago, so many years ago that I used to buy bait and tackle at Ralph’s Fishing Station when it was in the back of Mt. Sinai Harbor off of Shore Road! Ralph himself was my salt marsh Striper Fishing Guru, guiding me to use June Bug Spinners w/sandworms along the eel grass banks of Mt. Sinai Harbor at night, switching to using Creek Chub poppers to drift along the banks when the sun came up. My “Happy Place” is having a striper crash my popper in the placid waters of a tidal marsh at first light.
Regrettably a career in the Midwest tore me away from my salty heaven for what seemed to be an eon of 27 years. I did fish some in the Midwest but with the exception of Great Lakes salmon fishing, which meant trolling, a technique that I’m not a fan of, and the rest of the fresh water “sportfish” proved far from “sporty.” I was especially disappointed by the hallowed and vaunted Largemouth Bass. After countless Saturday mornings watching Billy Bob, Ray Bob and Bubba grunting while battling “Hogs”, I assumed that an encounter with one of these fish would be a battle royal. You cannot believe the disappointment I had when I caught my first one, a more than respectable 4 lb fish! After the hookup, the fish took 3 quick jumps and then was spent, lying belly-up on the surface. In flabbergasted disappointment I screamed at the fish, “Is that ALL you got??? There goes years of Saturday mornings I’ll never get back!” From that moment on, I’ve referred to Largemouths as “Bubba Bass” and that’s no complement, more of a sarcastic recompense attempt for recouping some of that time watching Bubba et al. fishing on Saturday mornings. This and other similar encounters had me basically giving up on fishing in fresh water.
As it became time to consider retirement locations, being landlocked was not an option. You can take the boy away from the salt water, but you can’t take the salt water away from the boy; and this boy decided it was payback time!! We found a lovely piece of land on a tidal river in Maine. The deal was closed when Poseidon intervened and dictated for me to buy this land by having a school of bass tearing up bait along the property at the time of our first visit. Six years later we moved into our new Maine home.
Ah but Poseidon is a fickle deity, he must have figured that I needed to suffer 30 years because my first 3 years in Maine were fishless as the stripers did not move past Portland along the coast, shutting me out. I’ve always felt Hell was “personalized” and my version was facing a school of large bass just out of casting range for eternity. During those 3 fishless summers I was wondering if I had really died and gone to Hell, since this was very close to my vision of Hell. Fortunately, one June 2013 evening off my dock I happened upon a surface blitz of wheeling terns, diving cormorants, feeding seals and some feeding fish, which at first, it seemed only to be mackerel. What lure shot out on that first cast? Well a ¾ oz Creek Chub Striper Strike of course!! It was my goto lure since my teens! About the third cast something strange happened, I was sure that I saw a swirl behind the lure. I immediately recast and then BANG; my mind went, “This is NOT a mackerel so don’t lose it” and soon my first Maine striper was soon flipping my dock.
During the ensuing 7 years I’ve been pounding away at stripers, catching over 750 in each of the past 3 seasons, and just about every fish was caught on “Old Faithful”, a Blueflash Striper Strike 2500. I’ve tried other lures, but it seems I always did best with the popper, as did my fishing colleagues. Since the waters we fish are usually calm and rarely more than 10 deep, I feel that the popper is a perfect “fish finder”; if there are fish in an area they will be attracted by the noise and come over for a look. With extensive use, one can even tell if a well submerged fish is following a popper in these calm waters as the hydrodynamics of the fish make distinct, yet subtle changes in the wake of the plug. It’s fun to have an inexperienced friend along fishing and when that wake change comes up, “You’ve got a follower, two quick pops NOW!” and CRASH they get hit. There’s nothing like having God-like omnipotence, at least to their inexperienced eyes.
Fin-s Rubber Shads
So why exactly are we talking about Stripers and Largemouths in the same treatise? Let me recount what happened to me this past September. Fishing had been going gang busters since the end of May, but as mid-August rolled around, the expected two-hour fishing trips with double digit fish catches started to disappear and, horrors of horrors, the dreaded SKUNK raised its ugly head every once in a while. A fellow Striper Maniac praised the fish-catching virtues of albino white 7” Fin-S rubber shads rigged Texas Style. My distasteful encounters on the Midwest Freshwater scene allowed me to understand this bizarre rigging, but that’s a “Bubba Bass Rig”, not worthy the noble striped bass. Crap, I hadn’t used a rubber anything in salt water since Jellyworms during the late 70s LI weakfish blitzes. My reticence was reduced when I realized that I often say, “The day I think I know everything there is to know about fishing is the day I’ve officially stopped fishing!” so I picked up a pack of the Fin-S lures, dug up a 5/0 offset worm hook from my meager freshwater tackle tray, rigged up a Fin-S, and tossed it on the boat’s dashboard, figuring I’d never use it.
Now fast forward to mid-September when the fishing became spottier and more frustrating. One evening while pounding my favorite spot, a rip around a small ledge, in the perfect tide, outgoing, at the perfect time, about an hour before sunset, I was at wits’ end as I hadn’t had a fish even sniff at my popper!! At that point it seemed that using the Fin-S couldn’t be any worse than what was currently going on, so I clipped one on the line and tossed it out, twitched it twice and BAM, big hit!! I was so startled and shocked that I missed setting the hook, but I did scream out, “I can’t believe it!!!” One must understand that before I took that cast I would have bet my entire 401(k) that there wasn’t a bass within 1000 yds of that spot.
OK, one cast and one hit mean nothing, right? Let’s try another cast, and of course, another hit and a nice 25” bass was unhooked alongside the boat. After I caught another pair of fish, the “Miracle of the Fin-S” needed to be validated so back out went the popper. The next 12 casts were totally ignored with no signs of bass life, but as soon as the Fin-S was cast back into the rip, it was fish on again!! When the tide and light started to peter out, the score was Fin-S: 5 stripers boated and 4 missed hits, Creek Chub: NOTHING, not even a disinterested swirl. I was dumbfounded, but “edumacated” for sure!
That’s the ticket
It goes without saying, that John, the person who espoused the Fin-S, had achieved god-like status in my eyes. A couple of weeks later he told me of a hot spot in the next river over, a place that the Admiral (Wife) and I would often cruise around in. It was a place that looked far from “fishy” to me, but who was I to question the word of “Saint John?” The next morning we met at “The Spot” and he told me to work a shoreline between a dock and a “split pine” with the Fin-S. “You’re telling me to fish like I would in a lake for largemouth bass?” “Yup, that’s the ticket!”
At this point I’d believe anything John told me so I proceeded to the designated spot and began casting. Suddenly there was a flash of silver as I saw a striper grab my worm in the gin clear water. The fish took off on a nice run, harder and longer than I expected by my visual guesstimate of the fish’s size. I began picking up line, but the fish took off on a second, long run, further confusing me. I slowly retrieved the line from the second run, but the fish surprised me with a third determined run. At that point I realized that the 3rd run meant I had hooked a substantial fish and I began fumbling for the net. When I finally wrestled the fish boat side I realized that it was indeed my best fish of the year, a fine 32” striper.
I continued to alternate between the Fin-S and Creek Chub as the season ended and the results were staggering, Fin-S: 22 fish, Creek Chub: 1!!
OK, so now it’s time to tell you how to rig this game changing lure. I start with a 5/0 offset worm hook. Right now I’m partial to large gap ones like the ones pictured below, but you have many choices. From left to right they are a Harmony Tackle hook, my favorite because it’s a bit beefier, a Gamakatsu, and no-name hook, with a 1/8 oz piece of bismuth as a bird-friendly, and cast-friendly bit of extra weight. I have not tried using a standard lead jighead for rigging the Fin-S as of the writing, but my initial reaction is that this lure will not be well presented by such a rig.
I rig my hooks in advance using a 18 – 24” length of 30 lb Pink Fluorocarbon leader. I tie the hook onto the fluoro using an Improved Clinch Knot and tie a good quality barrel swivel to the end of the leader using a Palomar Knot. My reels are all filled with 30 lb braid and there’s a quality snap swivel tied to the end using a Palomar Knot. All my lures are pre-tied with the fluro and swivels so I can easily change lures when fishing.
Rigging may seem a bit intimidating at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. You can look for videos on line if the following description baffles you. After tying the hook to the leader, thread the hook through the front of the Fin-S point DOWN, pushing the point through wall the separates the “nose” of lure from the slit of the “body cavity”
Now it’s time to twist the hook so the point if facing up, and put a bend in the lure.
Proceed to force the hook point through the top of the Fin-S without hooking yourself.
I like leaving the hook out as shown above so the hook is more available to the fish. However if I’m fishing in weedy conditions I have it lying parallel to the body of the Fin-S, making it close to weedless.
So now that you’ve got it rigged how to you fish it? I’m still playing with technique, but my basic and successful MO to date has been fishing it so it rides about a foot under the surface with varied quick twitches. You’ll see how the lure darts and twists as you twitch it. Because you need a firm hook set you don’t want to fish this with a willowy rod. A rod that works well for poppers will work well here. When you do get hit, come back quickly and firmly to set the hook, but do not PANIC if you don’t hook up. Unlike hard plastics, a bass will come back at the lure if it didn’t feel the hook, so give a few quick twitches after a missed hit and be ready for another hit. I cast these in all the salt marsh places I fish with poppers, with the addition of working shorelines that I might have ignored previously because they don’t seem to have any current or structure.
Now for the “gotchas”:
- The lure corkscrews in its motion and even with two swivels in my rig, the line twist does build up and those lovely “wind knots” rear their ugly heads, so run your line out with nothing on it to untwist it at least after 3 trips.
- Color and size are a matter of choice.
- Conventional wisdom is light colors for daylight and dark at night. I’ve yet to play with color because white has been so successful during the day, but it’s on the “To Do” list next year.
- The 7” has been quite successful here, but on the final trip of the season, when the fish were smaller, my neighbor was hooking up using the 5 ¾” size, while my hits were not getting hooked.
- As is the case for all rubber baits, repeated casts and catching of fish start tearing at the lure and they don’t stay on the hook well. While some will use toothpicks pierced through the bait and eye of the hook to avoid the problem, Harmony Tackle has a “Bait Strap” which works great and a year’s supply is less than a package of the Fin-S lure. They are very effective, especially in that they allow you to real haul off on casts without the worry of having the lure slide down the hook every cast.
That’s it in a nutshell. Because of the lack of weight, you can’t be expecting long casts so this technique is best suited to boats and kayaks, and will also be effective if you’re fishing any beaches where distance isn’t critical, especially areas like bolder fields. So unleash that inner Largemouth Bass fisherman and add a few Fin-S rigs to your tackle box. Better yet find a dedicated fresh water fishing friend and take him out striper fishing. He’ll have no problem mastering the technique, but will be shocked at what a real fish feels like. You may make a convert out of him!!