Several of my regular fishing companions have been urging me to pass along some of the techniques we have learned and been using for years. OK, this is the first in an occasional series of tips.
Use your line hand
The line hand is the hand not holding the rod. When fly fishing, make an "O" with the thumb and forefinger (basically forming a large rod guide) to let the shooting line run through. Then clamp down with the line hand once the cast is completed - or even to stop a cast from going too far. This way you control the slack fly line and are instantly ready to strike, and strikes as soon as the fly touches down are not uncommon in almost all form of fly fishing.
Likewise when a fish strikes, I almost always set the hook with a strip strike, i.e., a pull down and back with the line hand and strike up and back with the rod. This is not overkill; I adjust the sharpness of each movement according to the situation. For example, the rod strike may only be a gentle lift with a fine leader and dry fly, whereas I'll use considerably more force to drive home a 3/0 hook into the jaw of a big striper.
Also use the line hand when spin fishing. Always close the bail manually, not by reeling. Then give a quick, forward tug on the line to prevent slack or a loop. This technique is particularly critical when using braided lines, light lures of heavy mono. (A tip of the hat to Ken Penrod)
Bait and Switch
This old technique is standard practice in almost all my fishing and requires having two rods rigged and ready. When a fish swipes at a lures or hits and is not hooked, do not cast back with the same lures of fly. Cast with another lure, usually a slower moving, "dying action" type. Joe Bruce uses these combinations when fishing for bass, pickerel, snakeheads and other species: The first lure is a Swimmin' Fluke; the follow-up lure if a Super Fluke of Bullethead Darter fly. Joe claims a success rate of about 90% hookups with this technique. What seems to happen is that the fish, charged up by the first lure but a bit wary, briefly hovers in place, then will attack a second lure or fly with a different action.
It's hard to top Joe's choices for the second lure. But some other combinations in first lure, second lure order are: Buzzbait then soft plastic; spinnerbait then jig; popper then plastic worm; dry fly then soft hackle or unweighted nymph; frog then Senko type; "walk-the-dog lure then popper.
More and more fishermen are learning how noise frightens fish. Move quietly and have all tackle ready when approaching a fishing area. Turn off the depth finder and electric motor. Try to use wind or current to cover the last distance to a spot. Anchor quietly. In aluminum boats and canoes, it is critical to muffle sound with some kind of sound absorbing mat or rug. Even loud talking can be detected in the water.
When moving from spot to spot by rowing, paddling or use of an electric motor, trolling is a proven method for finding and catching fish. In shallow water, use a shallow running crankbait, like a floating/diving Rapala. In deeper waters, use a deep-running crankbait. One surprise lure for deeper, open water is a big inline spinner, such as a #4 or #5 Mepps Spinner attached via a strong snap swivel. Harry Pippin and I found in conversation one day that we had both discovered and had success with this technique. Not only have I taken some big bass this way but taken some in surprising places, e.g., I caught a big smallmouth in 40 feet of water in Triadelphia Reservoir trolling a crappie jig that couldn't have been running move than a couple of feet deep.
Bubbles for bass and other fish
Fish, including baitfish, need oxygen. In fishing rivers, like the Potomac, look for lines of bubbles where water runs through shallow riffles then slows down into channels and pools below. These oxygenated water areas are ideal holding spots for smallmouth bass and all kinds of aquatic life.
The mid-Atlantic offers a diverse menu of fishing opportunities. Yet some standard tackle can work for a wide variety of fishing. For conventional tackle, use a 6 1/2-foot, high-graphite, fast-action rod, add a quality spinning reel with two spools. Use 8-pound test, green monofilament on one spool; use 15-pound test braid with a 15 to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader on the other. This combination can be used for largemouth and smallmouth bass, pickerel, perch, panfish, catfish walleye and most light tackle saltwater fishing for species such as stripers, trout, perch and flounder. Though a bit heavy and stiff for trout, it will do the job.
For fly tackle, use a 9-foot, high-graphite 7 or 8-weight rod. Add a moderately-priced reel with a good drag and also with two spools. Use a floating line on one spool and a fast-sinking line on the other. Leaders must be customized for the species. This combination will work for most of the aforementioned species. Though a bit heavy for trout, it can be used for streamer fishing, and 7-weights are popular in many Western rivers. An 8-weight is better for saltwater poppers, but, in fact, most saltwater fly fishing is with streamers and sinking lines.
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Drop down for stripers
Usually, not always, when a school of stripers or mixed school with stripers is located, the bigger fish are deeper. Let your fly or lure drop down to get a chance for these fish.