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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 the flies.

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.

Surf CandyFor 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 in appearance.

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. Ultra ShrimpThese 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.

Lefty's DeceiverThe 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.Siliclone Fly

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.  End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

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 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.

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