Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: Artificial baits and lures work well to catch stripers, bluefish
In times when live bait such as mackerel and pollock become scarce or hard to catch, hour upon hour are often spent in frustration trying to get enough bait to go after the game fish. But a small minority “in the know’’ will not waste that time but will immediately target their stripers and bluefish with artificial baits and lures.
There are enough very productive artificials to match whatever the gamefish are feeding or at the very least, will incite the stripers or bluefish to strike and get caught. Trollers have quite an arsenal of artificials to use effectively. Niner rigs, often referred to as umbrella rigs, are a deadly addition to any serious striper or bluefish angler. These rigs can be customized to fit about any angler’s choice, using a variety of hook baits and have the option when rigging them for using a single hook to several hooks. This method of trolling calls for heavy leaders and powerful rods and reels.
Right now our waters are full of squid, which are striper candy. Trolling rigs that imitate squid will bring smashing hits and both shore and boat anglers have good luck casting and retrieving the smaller versions, often rigged themselves. The key to fishing the artificial squid lures is a speedy retrieve with plenty of rod action to activate the tentacles of the lure to best imitate the live squid.
When gamefish are busting baitfish, several methods can produce for both boat and shore anglers. Soft baits such as plastic shad and the very versatile Sluggo and Fines Fish lures are deadly. Casting them into the feeding area, your retrieve can vary as much as a dead drift to a slow, twitching invitation for a fish to grab the lure.
Surface poppers and swimming lures are also deadly during a time when gamefish are feeding on the surface and also are great for prospecting for fish that are on structure, waiting to pounce on baitfish that are being swept by with the currents. Again, as with the soft baits, vary your retrieves until you find what works. One real deadly retrieve which is not commonly used because of a lot of anglers choice to pop or reel quickly is to cast across and down current and just let your lure be pulled across the current very slowly. Strikes on this kind of retrieve can be arm jolting and spectacular, especially when using the larger surface swimmers.
Drift jigging with lead-head bucktails or lead head rigged soft baits works well when the fish are not actively feeding within sight but are near the bottom. When in a boat, set up your drift to give your jig a chance to get down near bottom before you are over the structure you think the fish are on. An easy lift and free fall drop action is all you need to attract a hit. Some anglers swear by adding a strip of pork rind or a soft plastic lure to their lead-head bucktail. And some just use them clean.
Besides drifting over structure, when fish are set up in a current shear or in the backwaters of a current rip, casting the bucktail jig across the current and letting your lure sink while you give it the lift and drop action can be very effective. Also a similar approach for targeting stripers or bluefish suspected of setting up a feeding zone in the down-current protection of bridge or dock pilings works well. If fishing from the bride or dock, just drop the bucktail into the dead water behind the piling while boaters can bring their boat up behind the piling and drop the jig into the dead water.
Last but not least, the tube and worm rig, which is kind of a combination of both lure and bait is a very popular and productive way of both trolling and can also be used casting in some circumstances. Most tube and worm anglers have tried unsuccessfully to fish the tube without bait. Don’t waste your time. Angler after angler have told us that it just doesn’t work. But if you don’t have access to sea worms to use on the hook, a bit of clam also will work well.
So don’t feel your day is busted when you can’t load up with live bait. There’s so many very effective ways to use artificials to catch stripers and bluefish that it’s a fools errand to waste hour upon hour in your search for bait.
Dick Pinney’s Guidelines column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.
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