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Billy the Greek on Striped Bass

A Striped Bass Fishing Legend

Big Bass of the 80’s. They were sure few and far between. Who can forget the iconic striped bass photo of Billy "The Greek" Legakis? Walking down the beach with two trophy-striped bass hanging over his back. This was at a time that the striped bass were in serious trouble. The few big striped bass that were caught, were fooled by local New York sharpies. The Greek is one of them.

I first met The Legend in the early ’90s as we were working hard to help rebuild the fishery. For anyone that has either read his book, seen him at a sports show or maybe even in a classroom, they know he’s willing to help all he can. He’s not afraid to give up techniques or his thought pattern. He’s eager to help and he’s knowledgeable, and he is a super nice guy.

Billy has caught numerous fish over 50-pounds! And when striped bass are on the feed Billy won’t be far behind.

Billy the Greek on Striped Bass Fishing

"I don’t want to be the guy that follows the fish. I want to be the guy that’s catching them." – Bill Legakis

Bill Legakis has become an angling legend on Long Island’s waters for his seemingly effortless ability to catch striped bass, but as the saying goes, "Making it look easy is the hard part." His abilities have been the subject of a book — "Night Tides: The Striper Fishing Legend of Billy The Greek Legakis" by Micael G. Cinquemani and he has been recognized as an expert in the art of fishing for stripers.

The following are excerpts from an interview with George Scocca on a podcast posted on September 26, 2019. It has been edited for clarity and continuity.

Fall Fishing for Striped Bass

THE GREEK: This is the time these fish are moving. Late September means they’re going to start leaving the bays, especially after a good, strong Nor’easter. The first Northeast wind that’s over 18 to 20 miles an hour kicks in the fall run. It moves more baitfish than any other wind and it’s usually the third week in September when we start to get those strong Northeast winds. With that, the bait knows it’s time to go. This is the time you should really concentrate on the inlets and the beaches close to them.

This will go on for a couple of weeks and then the pattern will change a little, but for this transition time, you’ll be doing yourself a big favor if you target fish that are leaving the bay. Target them with any small, minow-style lure. I won’t get into the brands because everyone has their favorites and they all catch pretty well. And there’s bucktails for fast-moving water. They’re hard to beat.

When to Target the Fall Strped Bass Run

THE GREEK: A moon tide will set up fast-moving water. I’m a big believer in the moon tide because it moves the most fish. I especially like the new moon. The night under a new moon. But any time you can fish is better than any time you can’t. So, your job as a fisherman at this time of year is to get out when you can.

The pattern will be pretty consistent for a while. It might be a day bite and a night bite. Usually at this time of the year though, with the bait moving out, you get a pretty good early morning bite, and you can get a late afternoon bite. You have to go by your tides. If you’re out there you want lures that will cover water fairly quickly, and you can move around, too. You find the fish and then you can lock in.

Striped Bass Big & Small

THE GREEK: If you want to try for bigger fish, get away from the small stuff. You know, some guys will catch 8-, 10-, 12-pound fish one after another and they’re thrilled. But you don’t need to catch anymore. You had a good time, and now you want to look for bigger fish, so try using a much larger lure and see if there’s anything bigger out there that’ll take it. There’s not a lot of big fish mixed in with those little fish, but there’s always a couple. 

Using Bait for Striped Bass

THE GREEK: Live bait is tough to fish because you have to keep it alive. Beach fishermen can’t do that, so it’s pretty much boat fishing. If you’re fishing eels, they’re really productive and are probably your best bait because you can keep them alive and use them all night or all day. If you’re going to chunk, you should be close to the inlets because there’s going to be alot of bass starting to exit and gather around inlets. So, position yourself behind the backside of the inlets or on the beaches in front, right next to the inlets. All of that will start producing during this transition time. When you chunk or fish dead bait, you need to be there when bass are feeding, and you should have a fish right away. You don’t need 3 hours in the same spot. You need 15 to 20 minutes, and if you don’t catch, You don’t have to move much. Maybe 50 yards to 80 yards. And keep moving. You know, most fishermen do not read the water well. You could be 10 yards away from a good spot and not know it. If you move, you might catch fish. If you keep casting the same bait in the same spot all the time, which is what most guys do, you’re hoping the fish will find you. That’s not a good scenario. You want to find the fish. 

Let me put bass fishing in the right perspective. When you go bait fishing, whether live bait or dead bait, you should have a pretty good idea where the fish are because bait is the hardest way to target them. Put the bait down and hope you catch something? That’s just not a good thing. A good fishermen is out there to find the fish, not wait for the fish to find him.

Look for Underwater Structure

THE GREEK: Striped bass are structure oriented fish. Anything other than flat. If you’re in an area where the beach is pancake flat and the water breaks on the shore line and rolls out 50 yards, there is zero structure there, so the bass there bhave to be cruising past, not lined up and ready to feed. But, if you have a hole in the middle of that flat, that’s in structure. If you have a hump, that’s structure. If there is no structure, but the beach has a pitch to it, the structure is right at your feet where that wave breaks on the shoreline and digs out a 3- or 4-foot a trough. The fish will travel through that trough, looking for food. They won’t stay there, but they’re going to come right through there. So instead of casting as far as you can onto a flat desert, you need to fish the trough maybe just 15 feet in front of you, and you’ll catch fish.  

Other than that, you can see a sandbar just by looking, especially as the tide drops. You’ll see the white water breaks over the bar and then there’s a flat spot that’s deeper. Always fish the edges where the bar meets the deep water because the fish are always on those edges.

When you’re fishing bait, cast out and see how long it takes for the sinker to hit bottom. If it hits right away, you’re in very shallow water. If you count a second or two or three as it sinks, you’re in deeper waters. You always want to be on those edges.  Transitional edges present structure and structure is simple. If it’s a bad structure, it might hold one or two fish. Good structure will hold alot more. But, any structure is better than no structure. It’s that simple. 

Angling Tactics

THE GREEK: You need to cover the water. You need to fan your casts. Guys that fish bait –  cast it out, reel it in every 2 minutes until it’s at your feet. Change the bait and do it again. That way you’re covering water.

It’s the same thing with lure fishing. If you cast as far as you can and reel straight in, you really need a lesson in fishing. You should be angling your cast 15 degrees from the shore on both sides. Fan that area from the shore out. Move 15 or 20 feet down the beach and do it again. That way you’re covering every inch of the water. 

The art of fishing is to find the fish. That’s your first job as a fisherman. And to do that you need to cover water. You need to cover the tides. You always want to cover the outgoing, but the incoming, too. See when the fish are biting the most. Is it a day bite? Is it a night bite? If you only fish one section of the tide at one time a day, that’s a bad scenario. When you have a buddy, one of you fish day and one of you fish night until you find the bite. If you’re fishing together, fish two different styles of lures until someone catches, then you both fish that lure. You should never start off fishing the same thing because you have no variety. We go for breakfast today. I want to have eggs and bacon. You want to have pancakes. Fish aren’t any different than us in that sense. One minute they’re feeding on bunker. Next minute they want sand eels, then they want porgies, they want want blackfish.  They change and you have to find out what they want.

So that’s why it’s important to cover water. You could be on gigantic schools of baitfish with no fish on them yet. That could go for a week or two or three. You wouldn’t want to sit there with bait, hoping something found it.

You want to cover water and lures cover water the best. In my opinion the freshwater guys have their act together better than the saltwater guys. Those guys have six rods with six different lures. They fish the surface, the middle depth, the deep depth. They fish fast. They’re reading the water and they’re thinking about depths and everything. There’s a whole different philosophy. First of all, you’re in a condensed area, which is a lake. So there’s only so many of patterns to learn and sooner or later you’ll get good at it. In saltwater, we have tides and we have an infant amount of water to cover, as well as other things. If you went to a spot yesterday during a northeast wind and beat the fish up, you’ll go right back there tomorrow because you caught fish. But the wind changed to northwest. There won’t be anything there because they’re not there on a northwest wind. 

Keep a Fishing Log

THE GREEK: When I finished the Great South Bay area of Long Island, there was one area where I caught a lot of big bass, but as soon as the wind came from the east, you couldn’t catch a fish. There could have been hundreds of them the day before. Yet, 2 two miles away, it was loaded with the fish because the wind was in the right direction for that spot.

You could have bite on the outgoing tide, but the fish are only feeding at night. Or you could have a time bite. A time bite is rare, but I’ve seen it at beaches where the only time you get a bite is a half hour before the sun goes down. That’s it. 

And that’s a good reason to write everything down.  I have to give this new generation of fishermen credit because with their computers and all, they can keep track.  Me, I write everything down. The tide, the moon, the wind direction, the color of the water, the clarity, the bait. But these guys can now, they can write it all that down like I do, but they could put it in a computer and the computer will spit out a thing that says you caught 38 fish on this stage of these tides at this time. And, they’ll start to put patterns together.

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