John Skinner is the author of Fishing the Bucktail and A Season on the Edge. He’s the creator of the fishing log software FishersLog. He’s a consistent producer of trophy striped bass and holds the current New York State false albacore record.
Now that I have lots of fishing video on my computer I find myself watching it when the winter weather is at its worst. It probably has something to do with my desire to be fishing in stormy weather during the fishing season. Maybe I just want to look back at warmer times. I really have no use for this cold and snow. Below is a video of catching a 33-pound bass on a pencil popper under the nicest of conditions. It was a challenge to land this one because of nearby submerged rocks. To make it tougher the fish hit near the end of a long cast so I had a lot of line out even before it went on its initial run. Two minutes after the fish was hooked, it was hung in the rocks. Since braided line came out all those years ago I've had a very good track record pulling big stripers out of rocks. The key to winning this one was realizing that the fish was nearly out of steam when it hung. I made a guess that I might be able to pull it off if I just applied firm and steady pressure. The problem is there's always the chance that the line's been compromised by rubbing against the rock. Amazingly, this is usually not the case as the braid often comes out undamaged if you don't put excessive pressure on it. In this case I was using 30-pound-test Spiderwire Stealth, which I have a lot of confidence in given this type of situation. It's extremely abrasion resistant, and I was pretty sure I could lean on the fish a bit without it getting cut off. One good thing I had going for me was that I was standing on flat bottom and could just walk backward and exert steady pressure without pumping the rod. As I walked back, I felt the rubbing stop and the bend in the rod soften and I knew the fish was out. These fish know where all of the rocks are, so it wasn't long before it hung me again. I knew the fish was weaker the second time, but feared the line might have been too. I walked backwards again to get the fish out of the second hang. If you watch the video you'll see weeds hanging off the barrel swivel and plug from the snags. I was lucky the fish didn't catch the free treble hook on the rock and straighten the one point of the rear treble that was the only thing connecting me to the fish. What you saw in the video was a little different than most of my big fish hangs. Often you'll feel that sickening line rub when the fish is running hard. I've had this numerous times with fish over 40 pounds and the best thing you can do is just back down on the drag pressure and let it run. Braid is hard to cut if it's not under pressure. The fish will stop when it tires, which seems to be helped along by the friction of the line against the rock. Once the fish stops, you need to just keep pumping line onto the spool carefully and hope for the best. The hard part is when you get the fish all the way back to the rock and have to pull it off. Usually the fish is too tired to protest at this point, and because fish are slippery, even the big ones can slide over or around the obstruction. OK. Thinking about all of that was more fun than shoveling, which I guess I better do now.
While spending a couple of hours shoveling snow today I couldn't help but think not too far back to fish and nicer weather. The most significant aspect that I think about concerning the 2013 fishing season is that this was the first season post-Sandy. That was an unprecedented storm for most of us, and the impact to the fishing was a major focus going into the season. In the end, the access situation probably worked out better than most anticipated. When I saw the destruction in the immediate aftermath of the storm, I certainly didn't think I'd be driving my truck from Smith's point to Moriches Inlet anytime soon. As it worked out, the spring had plenty of beach to drive, and it was only the piping plovers that kept anyone from driving there, legally at least. After the birds flew, almost the entire beach reopened to driving. Overall I think it was a tough spring for most anglers. A bright spot was the reappearance of weakfish. It was nothing like the dependable runs of decades past, but it was a step in the right direction. I thought the bassing in the bays and inlets could have been much better, although there were some good opportunities. I was disappointed in the lack of sandeels in the eastern half of Long Island Sound for the second year in a row. The quality fluke in the usual boat spots came and went in a hurry again, and I couldn't find any sandeels on the beach to fuel any kind of a dependable bass bite. If you did well surf fishing during the summer, or even through September, pat yourself on the back. It was a very difficult stretch for a few months in which even boat anglers were having a tough time. The sandeels bailed many of us out in most of October and November. A coastal storm in the second week of October got the fish going for a sizable stretch of Long Island's South Shore, and the sandeels really dug themselves in over the following weeks. Unfortunately, not all of the Long Island shoreline shared in the good fishing. The western South Shore did not have the bait concentrations that the eastern portions did, and Montauk was uncharacteristically slow from about the third week of October on. I was surprised by how the beach structure recovered from Sandy. I found the 6-mile Smith's Point stretch to be even more interesting than in previous years. It was disappointing, though not surprising, that the big concentrations of adult bunker that South Shore boaters found throughout the summer and early fall made little more than cameo appearances on the beaches. It's still a great thing for those bunker to be out there though because that excellent forage base can only work in the favor of striped bass stocks. We're into show time now, and these provide great opportunities to take in some seminars while stocking up for the season ahead. These shows often feature some beautifully crafted custom plugs, and sometimes you can find used plugs at very low prices. Somehow I just never got into the custom plug craze, so you're more likely to find me rummaging through boxes of $5 plugs than you are to see me standing on line for the $30 lures. That said, someone gave me a Beachmaster metal lip swimmer in partial compensation for my first-ever fishing seminar, and I can tell you that I paid $28 for a back-up model a couple years ago because the first plug was terribly beat up and I had only one other newish one. Zeno gave me that second one for no other reason than he's a good guy. So I do fully understand the attraction some anglers have for the lures made by smaller lure building operations. Nonetheless, some of the most productive lures in my bag are yard sale or flea market finds from standards such as Gibbs and Cordell. Below is a video I just posted on fishing Gibbs pencil poppers. The plug in the video was bought from Mr. Cash for $5 at one of the Willy Young Amityville shows. Cash had the booth next to mine and picking through his merchandise occupied quite a bit of my time. My favorite annual show for surfcasting presentations and merchandise is "Surf Day" put on by the Jersey Shore Surfcasters. It's held in Linden NJ, which really isn't very far from NYC, and isn't a terrible drive from LI. I've been to several of these and often see plenty of Long Islanders there. This year's will be held Saturday, February 22nd. Here's the link for the show
Enjoy the pencil popping videos. This is one I just uploaded on wooden Gibbs pencils. It beats looking at snow.
Here's one I posted earlier on plastic Cordel Pencils.