Know Your Baits and Flies
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service
ear in and year out there are many goals and objectives that we try to achieve in the sport of fly fishing and the winter is a good time to reflect on the success that you had in the previous season. Was becoming more proficient at fly casting your goal? Or maybe it was becoming a better fly tier, or how about learning to read the beach better to know where to cast your fly, or even maybe it was just catching more fish on the fly.
Each goal that you set and achieve with each season only adds to the enjoyment of the sport and brings with it plenty of personal satisfaction along with making your time on the water more productive. But there is one objective that every beginner fly fisher should set their sites on to bring their fly fishing experience to the next level. This would be to understand the nature and behavior of the prevalent baits that are in the area that you are fishing throughout the season and what flies to select or tie to emulate them.
This first objective would entail being able to identify what baits are present during a particular season that are in the water in front of you, and then to understand how they move and where they are most often found. So in essence you are studying the species and characteristics of color, profile, movement, and habitat of the bait.
When you understand and know your bait you can then go to the vise
and create an imitation that resembles the natural. When we look
at the sport of fly fishing I think the fly is the one distinguishable
element that lies at the heart of its roots. Yes the rods, reels,
and lines are important but there would be no need for them without
Knowing your baits is important because fly selection can be critical
at times. We have all heard it said in the freshwater world that
“matching the hatch” can be the key to your success.
We also see this many times in the salt throughout the season.
For example, if large sea herring are up on the surface as they
were several weeks ago then large bucktail deceivers get the nod.
If the baits are mostly small rainfish and finicky albies are around
we look for surf candies to fit the bill. And if weakfish are gulping
down grass shrimp we turn our attention to Popovic's ultra
shrimp. So matching the bait in profile (length, width, and height)
and color combined with the proper presentation and retrieve will
result in you hooking up the majority of the time.
So here is a beginner's primer to baits and flies that includes
the most common species and their imitations that we see and use
from April through December in New Jersey. This list is by no means
exhaustive and several other baits are present along our Coast that
makes up a viable forage base for stripers, blues, weakfish, and
false albacore. But with the ones mentioned below you can't
go wrong and should be your starting point as you accumulate and
set up your fly arsenal for the season.
Early Spring: April - May
For the most part the fly fisher will concentrate his early spring
efforts in our backbays and tidal rivers. It is in these locations
that the water will warm most quickly after following a cold winter.
Here one will find spearing being the dominant bait along with grass
shrimp as the spring progresses.
For spearing imitations one should carry an assortment of Popovic's
jiggies and surf candies, along with Clouser minnows, small Lefty's
deceivers, and Dave Skok's mushmouths. Tie these flies from
one to four inches long with and olive green back with a pearl underbelly
and silver center stripe. Keep them sparse as this bait is translucent
As more and more grass shrimp come out of the grass beds you should
add a Popovic's Ultra Shrimp one half to three inches long
to your selection. These should be tan to amber brown to greenish
in appearance. With either of these fly imitations, the spearing
or grass shrimp, don't rule out colors such as chartreuse,
white, yellow, orange, and pink. These colors have been productive
for us over the years particularly when the water is turbid and
off colored due to early spring run-off.
Late Spring - End of May - June
As the end of May and the beginning of June approach we will now
start to concentrate our efforts on the oceanside along with the
backbay. By this time ocean temperatures have risen in the upper
fifty degree ranges and stripers, blues, and weakfish are on the
prowl on the outside.
It is at this time of year that we will start to incorporate some
larger fly patterns as anadromous alewife and blueback herring along
with adult bunker are moving along the beachfront. The flies we
throw now to imitate these baits are six to twelve inches long with
a large profile.
The colors we incorporate will be greenish, blue, or bronze backs
with white or pearl underbellies. Flies that we use are Popovic's
hollow fleyes, bucktail deceivers, and cotton candies along with
large Lefty's Deceivers, half and halfs, and Skok's
mega mushy. Keep in mind that your smaller patterns mentioned above
will still be effective at this time of year and catch fish.
Mid –Summer July and August
By mid-summer the action can slow as water temperatures rise but
bass are still present and will actively feed. Now we turn our attention
to a different forage and that would be calico crabs. Bass will
feed on shedder crabs as they molt during these months and fishing
an imitation slowly along the bottom can often be deadly.
Here we look to imitations such as Popovics' Jersey Crab.
These patterns are about quarter size in diameter with elastic legs
and ride with the hook pointed up. They are tied with weighted eyes
and fished with sinking lines to keep them deep along the bottom.
Early to Mid Fall - September - October - early November
As we move into the fall several baits take center stage and we
begin our classic Jersey blitz season. Baits migrate tight to the
beach at this time giving surf anglers a shot at trophy fish. These
coastal migrations begin with three to six inch finger mullet that
make their appearance around the middle of September and then are
joined by larger seven to ten inch corn cob mullet. Both remain
along the beach for several weeks barring any hurricanes or Nor'easters.
These baits have more of a rounded or cigar shaped profile and are
grey to steel colored on their dorsal surface with pearl underbellies.
The most productive fly to use during the mullet run is a Popovics'
Siliclone in white, blue, chartreuse, or yellow. The rounded head
of these fleyes creates a nice wake and dimpling in the water when
retrieved. This nicely imitates the mullet's movement near
the surface. A Bob's banger is also very effective as are
wide bodied deceivers.
Bay anchovies, striped anchovies, and spearing will also migrate
and move along the beach from mid September through October. Bay
anchovies commonly referred to as rainfish will be one to three
inches long while their larger cousins the striped anchovies will
range from four to five inches. Spearing can be present in different
sizes ranging larger in size than in the spring, from four to six
inches long. For either use Popovics' Surf Candies, deep candies,
or jiggies, Skok's mushmouth, and clouser minnows. Tie an
assortment of different lengths.
By mid October through November peanut bunker will be the prime
forage as these tasty morsels exit our backbays and rivers. These
baits will range in size from three to six inches and have a flat
broad profile. Their backs will be silver but they will have different
hues of green, blue, purple, and gold mixed in. Their underbellies
are pearl to white.
For these baits Geno's Baby Angel, originated by my partner
Capt Gene Quigley, will be your one of best bets. This all angel
hair design gets the attention of any bass due to its light reflecting
properties. Other flies that are very effective are Popovics'
bucktail bunker, Lefty's deceivers, Chinourd's Wideside,
and Farrar's baby bunker.
Late Fall - Early Winter - Late November - December
The two baits that we look for that will make or break the end of
the season are sandeels and sea herring. If either bait appears
than our season can extend well into December. Sandeels are recognized
by their slender body with a pointed snout. They have a long dorsal
and anal fin and are deep blue green to bronze on their back with
a white belly. They can grow as long as fifteen inches but are commonly
found in the four to six inch ranges.
For flies, a long slender slim profile fly will work best. Jiggies,
Clousers, and Half and Halfs will do a nice job to emulate the sandeel's
slender profile. The weighted heads of these flies will also put
these flies deeper in the water column, which will be important
during the middle of the day. Other flies such as Popovics'
Stick Candies and other epoxies, flat wings, and tube flies will
also be effective patterns that will emulate the bait.
The sea herring are the edible baits that are normally jigged in
the winter around our inlets and then pickled and canned. They are
steel to greenish-blue on their dorsal surface fading to silver
on the sides and belly. For flies, large Popovics Bucktail Deceivers
and hollow fleyes are my number choices as these flies are easy
to cast and present a wide and long profile in the water. Big synthetic
bunker flies or other herring patterns will also work such as Skok's
mega mushy or Lefty's half and halfs.
Make it a goal of yours to tie or get these flies. You can bank on the fact that these baits will be there.
The only difference this time will be that you will now be prepared with a genuine imposter.
Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved
Articles by Captain Jim Freda
- A Quick Lesson for a Little Night Flying
- A Word to the Wise...Wader
- August, More than Meets the Eye
- Bang'em Up
- Beach or Bait? Perspective on Surf Fishing & Beach Replenishment
- Bunker and Trophy Bass
- Bunker, Bunker, and More Bunker and Big Bass Too!
- Busting the Blues
- Clams, Bunker, or Herring for Springtime Trophy Stripers
- Coldwater Stripers, Dredging with the Fly
- CPR for the Fly Fisher - Color, Profile and Retrieve
- December’s End, Watching or Catching?
- December's Grand Finale
- Fall's Surf Smorgasbord
- Fly Fishers-Pick Your Tools Wisely When Getting Started
- Four Baits to Know For Your September’s Surf Success
- Get'em with Sand Eel Imitations
- Getting Started in the Salt
- Know Your Baits and Flies
- Jump to the Back for Early Spring Stripers
- Longest Yard, The
- More Lines Less Flies
- My March Madness
- New Jersey’s “Striper Bounty”
- November Trophies
- October' Harvest in the Surf
- Peanut Bunker Blitzes-Jersey Style
- Running and Gunning, Proper Boating Etiquette
- Saltwater Fly Fishing Perspective
- Saltwater Fly Fishing in the Surf
- September Surf
- Shooting the Suds, Albies on the Fly
- Simplifying Fly Lines
- Slack Water Explained
- Springtime Big Bass
- Spring Baits and Flies
- Stretching into Spring
- Striped Bass Game Plan of Summer
- Striped Bass Game Plan of Summer (Part II)
- Stripping for Success
- Surf Scanning
- Tackling Big December Bass on the Fly!
- Take Me to Your Leader
- Ten Degrees of Blitzes
- Tips and Tidbits
- Trophy Tactics
- Trophy Weakfish on the Fly
- Try for that Trophy Bass on the Fly!
- Wind Direction and its Localized Effect on the Striper Bite
Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast,
has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen,
with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.
Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and StriperSurf.com. Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.
As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.
He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.
For more information, please go to Shore Catch Guide Service www.shorecatch.com