Word on the Bite: January 2016

Northport Charters
Capt. Stu Paterson used a Daiwa SP minnow to drill this big bluefish, along with several more and some stripers, while working a Daiwa SP Minnow on a bright, October afternoon. Photo courtesy of Northport Charters.

Northport Charters

This past fall’s run of stripers really made for some interesting action. While there were some great innings and, occasionally, even a great week, many Long Island and Connecticut anglers reported mixed results. Even when the fish were around, the traditional methods and lures didn’t always click with the bass.

“Alot of guys went the standard route with tins, poppers, soft plastics and bucktails,” noted Capt. Stu Paterson of Northport Charters. That worked okay at times, but some of the best catches last fall were racked-up by anglers tossing hard-bodied plugs – even during the daytime.”

According to Paterson, the bass were so locked on peanut bunker this fall that simply matching size and color didn’t get the job done. The fish wanted a near perfect match of the swimming action, in addition to getting all the other factors right. Specifically, they wanted a tight wobble from a pattern retrieved at a fairly slow speed. The answer proved to be hard-bodied plugs, a lure type most saltwater anglers reserve for the late-night shift.

“It was pretty amazing how the bass were so focused on the peanuts that a close match wasn’t always good enough,” said Paterson. “On the waters of Long Island Sound, especially, they wanted that wobble to be really tight, the profile to be thin and lure size to measure between four and five inches in length. That left a lot of anglers shaking their heads this year as most don’t carry an assortment of small plugs during the daytime.”

Those who did – and actually used them – them, however, scored on a regular basis from early October through early December, often with keepers mixed amongst the hordes of schoolies that fell just shy of the magic 28-inch mark. It’s a point to keep in mind heading into the New Year, and a reason to add a couple of extra selections to your standard plug bag and tackle box while taking in the winter shows or picking up reels and rods dropped off at a local tackle shop for maintenance and repair.

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FALL’S BIG WINNERS

The big winner for Long Island Sound bass this past fall, according to Paterson, was Yo-Zuri’s Mag Darter in the 4-1/8- or 5-inch size with brown back/white belly scoring best in the day and blue/black doing the damage at sunset.

“You can cast this lure really far,” noted Paterson, “because it has a magnetic weight transfer system. It also has a unique inverted cupped facet that gives it the appearance of a surface lure at first glance, even though it rides up to three feet beneath the surface. It has a tight, rolling yet erratic ‘darting’ action when retrieved slowly, which is what worked best last fall. Toss it on a 7-foot spinning rod with 30-pound test braided line and a five-foot fluorocarbon leader.”

When the fish were present and the Mag Darter was on the line, the results were often better than expected. One day in mid-October, for example, Paterson was surf fishing at Crab Meadow Beach at mid-day under a bright sun. In just two hours, he drilled five bass to 30 inches plus five bluefish to 15 pounds using a straight, steady and unbroken retrieve.

“Those plugs were all the bass and blues wanted,” that day, said the Northport charter skipper. “They weren’t even hitting live baits!”

An oldie but goodie that also worked well for Long Island Sound anglers last fall during daylight hours was the 5-inch Cotton Cordell Redfin. Again, slow and steady was the key, with no added rod pumps or exaggerated action required. Redfins accounted for solid scores both day and night this fall for anglers fishing around Wading River, Sound Beach, Riverhead and on out to the North Fork. This lure also works well around sand eels, making it a very viable choice in late spring if the luce slide up onto the flats.

“Both of these lures work very well right out of the box,” explained Paterson, but to really make them stick it’s a good idea to sharpen the hooks with a small file. Especially if the fish are a bit finicky, that extra- sharp point can make all the difference in the world when it comes to hook-up ratios. The bumps you miss do to dull hooks aren’t always shorts.”

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LATE-NITE KING

Interestingly, it was a hard-bodied plug that also took top honors along Long Island’s South Shore for anglers fishing after dark this year. Daiwa’s SP Minnow had the size and shoulders to match up well with adult bunker in the surf, inltes and back bays, and reports of its success was evident in reports filed throughout the season.

Like the Mag Darter and Redfin, the key this year seemed to be working this lure straight and slow. While most SP fans favored the surf, a few also quietly used it to put away keepers while working inlet areas and bunker pods in back-bay coves under the cover of darkness. Again, sharpening the hooks seemed to have a big impact on success ratios.

As is generally the case along Long Island’s South Shore, the larger versions took the biggest fish, with a 6-inch black over white, purple- black, lazer shiner and yellow pearl among the top color choices. While the Mag Darters and Redfins were more a fall phenomon than anything else, the SP Minnows seemed to produce right out of the gate and well into November so it’s probably a good idea to carry at least one or two color patterns for each.

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