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View From The Beach Renowned surf angler, Rich Troxler, shares his thoughts, tactics, tips and tricks for surf casting success!


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Old 07-30-2011, 02:26 AM
richtrox richtrox is offline
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Default Swapitus and how to cure it.

by Rich Troxler

Many years ago I lost a very large fish because of a “clip” failure. Can’t say exactly what happened, but all I wound up with was a bent up clip, and no fish. After that experience, I swore off the use of any and all clips, and have tied direct ever since. Now, this is not going to be a debate on whether to use clips or not, because the clips of today are vastly superior to the ones that I lost my fish on. The only reason I brought this up is because tying direct had a beneficial side effect that I only grew to appreciate many years later.


Tying knots in the middle of the night is a pain in the ass, plain and simple. So much so, that I would rather carry multiple rods with me, each loaded with a different profile, rather than tying and re-tying the same plugs at each stop. In effect, tying direct forced me to fish a select group of profiles much longer and harder than I would have if I were using clips. And over time an interesting thing happened.

I found that because it was such a PITA to tie direct, I spent a lot more time zeroing in on bait patterns and trying to make sure that I had a profile to match the bait that might be present. If I found YOY sand eels on the beach in June, then you could bet that I would have a SS 5 ” Needlefish plug on at least one of my rods. I might also have a large bottle plug tied on to another, simply because in June, adult bunker are always a possibility in the surf. Same for the fall with peanuts, adult sand eels, white bait, bunker, whatever. In essence, I became a bait hound, and in the process I learned to place my faith in a few well-chosen profiles, come hell or high water.

So what exactly is Swapitus. Basically, it is an affliction that affects many surf fishermen, both novice and experienced, to varying degrees. It tends to disappear during times of stupid, blitz type fishing, but quickly returns when the blitz ends. In most cases it is caused by a lack of understanding of the conditions they are fishing in, and results in an almost compulsive need to change plugs. I know that this may sound condescending and dismissive, but it is not meant to be so. Let me work it from reverse to see if I can clarify what I mean.

When people go fishing and do not catch anything right away, the first thing they do most of the time, is change their plug. And if that doesn’t produce in a short time they change it again. How many times have you heard “I threw the bag at them and they wouldn’t eat.” Where this might actually be true a small percentage of the time, many more times the reason they didn’t catch had to do with a completely different combination of factors, other than plug choice. So let’s take a quick look at some of the factors.

Location:

Let’s start with location, or a word that is synonymous with location, where fishing for bass is concerned, STRUCTURE. If you are fishing an inlet, canal, bridge channel, or other deep, fast moving water location, then you are probably fishing something that can get down deep quickly. This most likely means bucktails, or lead-weighted shad bodies. This is pure fishing bliss, as your options are limited and the only things you have to concern yourself with are finding the STRUCTURE that holds the fish and then selecting the “right” weight for the profile you are throwing at it. If you are not catching, then the assumption is the fish are not there, or the bite is not on. Easy squeezey.

Other locations are not so easy. When fishing the open beach, location can be all-important and yet it remains a mystery to many who fish it. One of my earlier posts (The Open Beach – What You Don’t See Matters), talks about reading sand beaches, meaning locating the STRUCTURE, and the role it plays in the consistent catching of bass. If you walk out to a spot on the beach and “throw the bag” then you are going about catching bass the wrong way. Catching bass is about “finding” them, and location has everything to do with that end. STRUCTURE is one quarter of a very simple formula for success, where catching bass from the surf is concerned.

Bait:

If you have no idea what bait is in the area that you are fishing, then your profile selection is the equivalent of duck hunting while blindfolded. You can hear them quacking, so you just start blasting away in every direction hoping to bag one. And a chance bagging of a duck while blindfolded, is probably the worst thing that can happen, as it enforces a mode of thinking that is basically non-productive. Simply rotating through your extensive plug selection until you catch a fish tells you nothing. Knowing what bait is likely to be in the area and selecting a few basic profiles to match it is a far better strategy than shooting blind. Bait is the second quarter of that simple formula for success.

The bite:

The bite. Here’s a concept that a lot of those new to the sport of surf fishing seem to have trouble understanding. We eat 3 meals a day, with maybe some nibbles in between, but we tend to eat at fairly specific times throughout our 24-hour day. Well why would anybody expect bass to be any different. In reality, they are somewhat different, but the basic concept remains the same. While we tend to maintain our eating habits throughout the year, bass change their eating habits depending on the time of the year. This is what the “bite” is.

So why is this important? Simply because it doesn’t matter what you throw at them when their not feeding, you’re not going to catch, period. In early spring, the bite is typically all about the warmer water periods, deep in the bay and outgoing in my neck of the woods. In the summer, it can be all about the incoming around inlets because the cooler ocean water sparks a short bite. Or it may be during a specific stage of the tide, in the wee hours of the morning, on the beach under cover of darkness. Whenever it is, it is up to the person fishing to figure it out. The “bite” is the third quarter of this simple formula for catching bass

Presentation:

The last quarter in the formula for catching bass is presentation. Outside of stupid blitz fishing, a bad presentation of your profile will most always result in a fishless outing. Even with the other three quarters of the equation fulfilled, if you don’t fish your profile properly, the bass are not likely to commit to hitting it. Presentation is a bitch, because there are many pre-conceived notions about how to fish profiles that simply do not produce under many conditions. I will be doing a post in the near future specifically on presentation, presentation oddities, and misconceptions, so I’m not going to explore them now, but suffice it to say that presentation of any plug is VERY important.

So what does all this have to do with Swapitus? Basically everything. Regardless of where I fish, I operate on the very simple notion that fish are either looking up or looking down, and they are on either large bait or small bait. It’s a simple 2 X 2 matrix that will cover 95% of your profile choices. I follow the simple color rule of dark for dark nights, light for light nights, but I’m not even sure how much this is even necessary. Then I work my structure and presentations, and try to determine (if not known already) the bite. And I stick to my area and don’t run around chasing reports and second hand information.

So over the years I have come to carry a very small selection of profiles, all in basic light/dark color patterns, that have caught me more fish than I can ever count. Aside from bucks, swim shads, sand eel rubber baits, I primarily fish Bombers and SS Needlefish for small bait, and bottle plugs and metal lips for large bait and I have learned to fish these baits with a variety of presentation techniques tailored to the conditions they are fished under. Others may chose different profiles and develop confidence in them, such as tins during the day (and night).

And if I am on a structure and bait pattern that is holding fish, then I have absolute confidence in my ability to catch them with my chosen profiles. If you have found fish, and they are feeding, even if you are not sure of what they are feeding on, you should be able to dial it in quickly with a small selection of profiles, or what I call “test patterns”. And I feel that every minute that I don’t have a plug in the water, is a minute lost.

A couple of examples:

For several days this late spring, much of south shore of Long Island became overrun with big, nasty, teen-sized blues. I mean tons of them, stretched for miles of open beach. While I typically fish at night and don’t actively fish for them, it was too much fun to pass up, so everyday I was leaving work early and making the short hop to the beach, just to wear my arms out some and get a few for the smoker. It was retarded fishing and everybody was there, novice and experienced, smiles for all.

So one day I show up, chat with a guy in the parking lot as we both suit up, and he’s got the VS 250, the custom Lami, and equipped to the nines. We walk out to the beach and take our place in the line up, with him to my right. I happened to have a Gibbs yellow bottle plug tied on already, from my previous nights bass foray, and decide to leave it on.

First cast, I hook up. My acquaintance to my right is throwing a popper and hooks up about the time I’m releasing my fish. As the bluefish were running back and forth up the beach, the hits came in bunches, followed by short periods of inactivity. Every time there was a lull, or if I hooked up and he didn’t, he immediately went to his bag and started fiddling around changing plugs! These were Bluefish, they’ll hit anything.

So I estimate that in the hour we fished together, he spent AT LEAST 10 minutes, probably more like 15 minutes screwing around changing plugs. Several times when the fish came through and I hooked up, I’d glance over to see him messing around in his plug bag. The fish came through and he had missed his opportunity to hook up until the next time, this assuming he wasn’t still searching for a plug that would “work”. The message being, you can’t catch a fish staring into your plug bag and every minute you are out of the water is a minute that you won’t catch a fish. BTW, my Gibbs bottle plug looked like a toothpick with hooks by the end of the week LOL.

One night in late spring, I’m fishing with a friend in a back bay. I take him to a place that I am intimately familiar with. There were enough fish busting to know they were there, without being sure of what they were on, though small bait was the guess. New moon and a fog rolls in, the darkest kind of night. We set up on the spot and I go straight to a black Bomber, fishing it very slow on top, with lots of rod trembles to make the rattle dance. A couple casts in and I hook up a low teen fish.

After landing, my friend asks what I got it on, and I tell him, along with the odd way I fish it. He clips on a Bomber, makes several casts, doesn’t hook up, and goes straight to his plug bag. I tell him be patient, that these fish are running back and forth over this hole in the channel, but he goes to another plug anyway. So a few minutes later, I hook up again, same sized fish. He changes his plug yet again.

The short version, this went on for a little while, and then we moved down the channel, and history repeated itself. At least two of the fish I hooked that night came while he was swapping plugs. And he is an experienced fisherman with many 40’s under his belt. My take on this experience was that we were fishing an area he was not familiar with, so he was convinced that he didn’t have the “right” plug, even after I told him what was working for me. A little competition between friends, probably, but old habits die hard.

A fisherman contacted me and related this story. He said he observed two guys standing next to each other, catching bass from the beach. He didn’t want to make a pest of himself by asking what they were using, and was nice enough not to crowd them. So he set up about 40 yards to the east of where they were (in “nice” white water), threw the bag, and didn’t catch anything. He was convinced that he didn’t have the “hot” plug. My reply to him was that he was probably casting onto the top of a shallow point, and the guys to the west were fishing the point edge where the bass were holding. Location, location, location.

Scenarios like this have repeated themselves over the years for me many times. I have observed this many times with less experienced guys who I have elected to take fishing with me, as well as experienced friends, like the above example. And yeah, it still happens to me on occasion when I loose my mojo, or find myself out of sync with the prevailing patterns. Lack of confidence = Swapitus.

So what’s the cure?

1) Pick a small selection of profiles that match the matrix mentioned above, in basic colors, and learn how to fish them. Learn what conditions work best for each type plug and learn to vary retrieve speeds with the amount of light and/or current. Learn every nuance regarding your profiles, and trust in their ability to catch fish. Don’t get distracted by the latest and greatest, as learning to fish a small selection of plugs well will produce far many more fish, than fishing an entire tackle store half ass. It’s all about profile and presentation.
2) Bass are where you find them, and when you do, they are usually not too difficult to catch. Learn to identify structure and bait patterns and keep good records. Structure without bait is nothing but water and no plug will produce a fish under those conditions. When you’re on the open beach, move around, don’t expect the bass to find you.
3) Become a bait hound. Learn the bait patterns for your chosen area and match your profiles accordingly. If you see sand eels washed up all over the beach, then select your profile, stick to your guns, and figure out what stage of the tide the bite in on. Then show up 40 minutes later the next night (or day), with the same plug tied to your line. Same for your other bait/profile combos.
4) Learn when fish feed, as it varies throughout the year. What works in spring will likely not work in the summer. Regardless of the season, any location “bite” revolves around the stage of the tide, the time of day (or night), and the prevailing bait pattern.

In conclusion, when you are not catching fish, try to resist the urge to “throw the bag” and consider ALL of the possible reasons you are not catching. It very rarely comes down to slight variations of color or a little different “wiggle” from a different plug. It can, such as times of cloudy water, where colors like chartreuse and parrot seem to make a difference, but I’m talking the rule here, not the exception. Learn to fish a select group of profiles and spend your time locating structure and identifying bait patterns and bites. There can be other factors, like wind, which I didn’t discuss, so always keep good records of your efforts.

Someone once said, “Behind every simple truth lies a complex reality.” I guess he must have been a fisherman.
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  #2  
Old 08-01-2011, 04:01 PM
Mass.Hysteria Mass.Hysteria is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

Quote:
Knowing what bait is likely to be in the area and selecting a few basic profiles to match it is a far better strategy than shooting blind.


I need to narrow my field of vision. I'm good with "location" in Southcoast Mass and RI both in terms of access and structure but I'm having trouble concentrating. So, I am going to pick two locations . One in the upper Mount Hope Bay (relatively shallow but strong tide currents) and the other near Newport (steep rock structure dropping quickly). The former is at the mouth of one of the rivers facing an easterly direction and the other is on a point with a southern exposure.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can get a handle of the the type of bait that might be present throughout the changing season in these two very different locations? Thanks.
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Old 08-01-2011, 08:08 PM
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Doublerunner Doublerunner is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

...
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Old 08-02-2011, 05:06 PM
Mass.Hysteria Mass.Hysteria is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

Hi, John.

How about this. I'm in the upper Mount Hope Bay location I mentioned in early June, in the morning just after after sunrise, it's in the 50's, cloudy with a wind blowing out of the north about 5-10 knots after a clearing storm, the tide turned an hour earlier and it's outgoing.

As I'm walking among the small rocks in the shore water towards the area I want to cast from and I have a lot of little green crabs running around my feet. I start casting and within an hour and a half have "swapped out" four lures and am on my fifth, a short RM Smith popper. Three casts, three hits, he took it on the third and I landed my first striper, though not quite a keeper!

Questions. What do small green crabs and short yellow poppers have in common?! Is there a common denominator? What would you have been casting under those circumstances? Thanks for the help.

Kevin
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Old 08-04-2011, 08:56 PM
richtrox richtrox is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

Hi Mass.Hysteria
Quote:
Do you have any suggestions on how I can get a handle of the the type of bait that might be present throughout the changing season in these two very different locations? Thanks.
I think Doublerunner pretty much summed up a decent approach to finding bait. I like to check the dock lights at night, as well as always looking at what is on the beach. Also, you don't need to know every bait, just the dominant general patterns.

Sand eels, when in periods of abundance, are fairly easy to identiy. In my neck of the woods I look for the juveniles to be washed up on the beach late June and early July, and look for the adults in the fall.

The other small bait gets lumped into a group called "white bait", and primarily of bay anchovies, spearing, and to a lesser extent, certain types of sardines and other pizza toppers LOL. The primary white bait for me is the bay anchovy, and they mass around inlets before making the jump into the ocean in the fall. They can fuel some great bites along the beach.

Other baits like Mullet are targets of opportunity when they are abundant also, and they can usually be seen leaving the inlets, sticking close to the rocks in vee formations. They also stick close to the beach, near the surface, and in that vee formation. For my area, they are always traveling west along the beach and make their presence in the wash known by that vee wake.

Also, talking to your local B&T guys can be helpful.

Quote:
Questions. What do small green crabs and short yellow poppers have in common?! Is there a common denominator? What would you have been casting under those circumstances? Thanks for the help.
Small green crabs and yellow poppers have nothing in common and may not have been the primary forage the bass were feeding on. You were about mid-way into the tide, and you had been moving around. You may have come upon a location (meaning beach structure) that had some other type of bait present (other than those crabs) that was not apparent to the naked eye. This happens frequently and is when I go to my "test patterns". Anyway, you may have happened on to a bait / location / bite scenario right at the right time, resulting in a fish.

Good questions.
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Old 08-04-2011, 09:35 PM
richtrox richtrox is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

I just read through my initial post again and there are parts in it that may sound a little presumptuous and condescending. I know a lot of good fishermen who do a lot of swapping and I wasn't trying to dismiss them, or anybody else's fishing methods, and say mine is better. So if I offended anyone, I apologize.

What I was trying to say is that if you are not catching fish at the time, try to consider the whole picture of why you might not be catching, instead of just rotating plugs. Mass.Hysteria made a point of asking about the crabs and a yellow popper, and why would that plug catch. My guess is that there were probably any number of plugs that would have caught that bass, had they been presented properly, at the time when the fish was present and ready to eat.

There are soooooo many variables that can result in success or failure when fishing for bass, so I try to focus on a few of the main variables and work from there. Many new to the sport get absolutely overwhelmed by the seemingly endless combinations of "things" that are needed in order to catch bass. From the right rods and reels, lines, leaders and plugs, to the myriad conditions, weather, bait patterns, water temps, tides, etc.

What I try (and will try) to do is offer a way of grouping these "things" into related chunks, and prioritizing them by importance, so that the entire process of fishing becomes more manageable. By sticking with a basic few, tried and true, profiles and paying attention to a couple of simple conditions (finding bait and structure), I put myself in the best position to catch fish, most of the time. There will always be exceptions and we all get skunked from time to time LOL.

So what I was trying to do is offer a fairly simple, structured approach to becoming more consistent in catching bass. I am not saying my way is the only way, nor even the best way, but it is one way that has worked for me over a long period of time. I certainly did not intend to paint those of you who do own a lot of plugs, or fish a lot of different plugs, in a bad light, and if it came across that way, then once again, I do apologize.

Catching fish from the surf is a life-long learning process, and it never stops, so if you have anything that differs from what I might suggest, please offer it up, and I thank everyone for their contributions so far.
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Old 08-05-2011, 05:05 PM
Slug1959 Slug1959 is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

Well for instance Zeno talks of throwing the bag in the book. It boils down to one thing, results. Two .300+ career hitters, two different stances.

Last edited by Slug1959; 08-05-2011 at 10:24 PM. Reason: poor english.
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Old 08-06-2011, 02:20 PM
cdubz14 cdubz14 is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

Nice write up buddy, thanks for the confidence and helpful information as i continue my life full of fishing!
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Old 08-11-2011, 02:07 PM
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Capt.Paul Capt.Paul is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

Good Story Rich.

Sometimes I get stubborn Surf guys on my boat. They won't use the lure or have a similar one but not the same one I am catching Muiltiple fish with and they are standing right next to me scratching there heads.

I say to them when you gonna switch, How many do I have to catch before your convinced lol. Usually after 3 or 4 fish they go to my lure but this one guy was so stubborn he watched me catch 12 Stripers and he finally got 1.

Anyway good story as usual
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Old 08-12-2011, 01:54 PM
richtrox richtrox is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

Thanks guys, and thank you for your posts.
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Old 08-14-2011, 01:49 PM
mikeyreef mikeyreef is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

i AGREE RICH, ZERO IN ON THE BAIT AND FIND THE PLUGS THAT MOST IMITATE THEM , AND GO FROM THERE. IF I COULD SPEND THE NIGHT FISHING WITH 1 PLUG AND NOT CHANGE THAT WOULD ALWAYS BE MY PREFERENCE
MIKE
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Old 08-16-2011, 10:41 PM
richtrox richtrox is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

Yup, I'd rather cover 6 miles of open beach with a needlefish and a bottle plug, than a quarter mile with "the bag".

At least that's how it shakes out for me. It may help to look at it in mathematical terms, so let's take a quick hypothetical. Test terrain is as follows:

6 miles of open beach, it can be sand beaches with a fairly consistent set of offshore bars, or a rocky shoreline with various points and coves, doesn't matter, take your choice. Let's say that in that 6 mile stretch, there are 12 locations that have "prime" structure, be it deep troughs in tight, near cuts in the bar, or rocky points with excellent perches bordering deep coves.

Now let's apply a few generally accepted constants (blitzes don't count here LOL).

1) The bass are not going to be spread uniformly across all 6 miles of beach.

2) The bass are most likely to be found where bait is present.

3) The bass prefer to use structure of any form to feed.

4) The bait (be it large or small) is not likely to be spread uniformly across all 6 miles of beach.

Now let's see where this leads.

Scenario 1 - Show up to an arbitrary location and fish a quarter mile of the beach, within that 6 mile stretch, and throw the bag.

Possible outcomes.

1) You hit the nail on the head and land on the combination of structure and bait necessary for holding the fish, and at some point you pull the matching profile from your bag while rotating through it.

Probability - unlikely. First off, even if "uniformity" or linear existed in nature, and it doesn't, you would have at BEST, a 3% chance of landing on the proper conditions to produce fish.

2) You don't catch anything because you landed in the 97 percentile and casting the bag has no effect on the outcome.

Scenario 2 - Select 2 basic profiles that cover small and slender (a wide variety of white bait) and a larger fatter profile (damaged ground fish, bunker, etc) and cover 6 miles of beach, stopping at every prominent structure and fishing both profiles.

Possible outcomes.

1) At at least one stop, you catch fish on one of the the two profiles.

Probability - likely. You have basically matched 85% of the likely bait profiles with two plugs and have covered 100% of the known structure that is likely to hold bait and bass.

2) You don't catch.

Probability - unlikely but possible. Chalk it up to one of those rare times when the fish are picky and a subtle difference in color may actually matter. It does happen and I will never claim it doesn't. That's why it's called fishing.

So once again, my main point is reduce fishing down to a series of priorities, a manageable way of understanding what is really important, and what is less so. Fishing can't be reduced to a mathematic matrix, but math can be useful in understanding what factors give yourself the best probability of catching fish.

Einstein said "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results."
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Old 08-27-2011, 04:43 AM
pieapple pieapple is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

Well for instance Zeno talks of throwing the bag in the book. It boils down to one thing, results. Two .300+ career hitters, two altered stances
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Old 08-27-2011, 03:32 PM
richtrox richtrox is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

Well for instance Zeno talks of throwing the bag in the book. It boils down to one thing, results. Two .300+ career hitters, two altered realities. Maybe more than two.
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Old 08-28-2011, 06:27 PM
mikeyreef mikeyreef is offline
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Default Re: Swapitus and how to cure it.

ok rich here is an interesting question
mullet move on the first moon in september after a storm
is it possible being the events of the last 48 hours new moon and major storm, plus the proliferation of broken clams we should see on the beach that we should see good activity on the beaches next few days
mike
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