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Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda Spring Baits and Flies
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

ne of the things I like most about spring is that there is a wide diversity of baits that are around that can be found in the surf, backbays, and just off the beach. On any given day, to name a few, you can have spearing, bay anchovies (rainfish), striped anchovies, sandeels, small herring or sardines, adult herring such as alewives or bluebacks, big bunkers, shrimp, and crabs. I have also had days when butterfish have come inshore.

With such a wide range of bait present in different sizes fly fishers have the option as to whether they want to fish big or small flies. Many times I will choose to fish both during a single outing. This makes it fun for both my clients and myself as each fly will cast differently and be fished differently too. When this is done, clients can learn a lot about the nature of the different baits and how to fly fish for them in one session. This can then be applied throughout the remainder of the season whenever one sees any of these baits.

Rainbaits, which are bay anchovies and striped anchovies for the most part, can make up a good concentration of the spring run baits. When they are present in good concentrations in the ocean, fly fishers then have a good shot at connecting with big bass on the fly. Normally these big bass will feed on big bunker and can really become selective for them and most of the time our big bunker patterns and imitations are refused.

But with rainbaits on the scene small flies will produce big bass. Last season in May we had an enormous concentration of rainbaits present in 25-35 feet of water stretching from Manasquan to Long Branch. As a result party boat captains were cashing in on big bass simply by jigging them with diamond jigs, a method more common in the late fall. My fly fishing clients also did the same with small flies. The largest striped bass we put in the boat on the fly was 34 lbs on a half and half.

Since spearing can closely resemble bay anchovies in their size the same fly patterns or imitations will work. For the most part spearing will range in size from 1-6 inches long. The smaller spearing are the same size of the bay anchovy and the larger spearing are the same size as the striped anchovy. Sandeels will also fall into this general category of bait sizes as they two can range in size from 2-6 inches in the spring.

Small flies that you will want to be part of your arsenal for bay anchovy and spearing imitations will be: one to four inch Popovics’ surf candies, deep candies, simple-clones, or jiggies. Also use Skok’s white bait mushy, Farrar’s softex patterns, clousers, half and halfs, bunny flies, and Geno’s Baby Angel.

For sandeel patterns a long slender slim profile fly will work best. Popovics’ stick candies, keel eel, and jiggies are my number one choice. Also try Farrar’s silly skin sandeel, clousers, half and halfs, flat wings, and tube flies.

To imitate the larger baits such as the anadromous alewife and blueback herring and adult bunker that are also present you will want to use larger bulkier flies. These flies will range in size from 6-9 inches but it is not uncommon for us to throw synthetic flies as long as 10-14 inches.

Copyright © 1998 - 2013 Jim Freda

For herring or bunker imitations you should carry and throw large Popovics’ bucktail deceivers and hollow fleyes. These are my first choice 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 Dino’s Herring fly. Big Lefty’s deceivers, half and half’s, Chinourd’s Wideside, and Farrar’s bunker work well too.

As far as fly fishing the small shrimps and crabs in the spring I do very little of this as this is more specialized to a particular time and place. For instance, I might fish a Popovics’ Jersey crab pattern at night around the docks or bridge abutments when a crab hatch is going on or when these tiny invertebrates can be seen by the thousands in the diffuse light that is reflecting off of the water.

I could do the same with shrimp patterns around the same structures or as another option fish a Popovics’ Ultra shrimp pattern while chumming with grass or sand shrimp in the backbay. These is usually done when fly fishing for weakfish and small striped bass. I will purchase five quarts of live sand shrimp from the marina to use to set up my slick when I am at anchor. I will then drift my shrimp patterns back into the slick paying attention to the level that the real shrimp are ending up at and choose the correct line to put my shrimp patterns in exactly the same place.

During the spring surface poppers and bangers will also be very effective and some exhilarating blitzes can take place up on top at any place or anytime. As my boat heads out my mind envisions birds diving, bass and blues thrashing, and bait being aerialized as it is submarined from below. I always scan the waters in 360 degrees looking for these telltale signs that will hopefully start our day. If we are lucky fish are sighted and the hot action begins.

To fly fish these surface blitzes you will do best with a floating or intermediate sinking line. Poppers, crease flies, or Bob Popovics’ bangers will be good choices for flies. Cast your fly out and concentrate on making some noise. The more splash that you make the easier it will be for the fish to pick out your fly from amongst all the natural surface commotion that is going on. If this doesn’t work try the complete opposite. That would be to just allow your fly to dead drift while just twitching it slightly. Here the fly would appear as an injured or stunned bait that can be picked off for any easy meal.

Keep this in mind with any flies that you may select and choose to fish. To be successful and to consistently hook into fish just having the right fly on the end of your line doesn’t always guarantee success even if you are casting in the right place. Many times how you swim your fly through the water makes the difference. I mentioned this in my last Insider article also.

Having your fly emulate the correct movement of the bait while it is in the water is just as important as selecting the correct fly in terms of its profile and color. In fact in many cases it is probably more important than either of these. Movement of the fly is going to be key so the proper strip is important.  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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