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Tackling Big December Bass on the Fly!
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

ith December upon us here in New Jersey there is one thing that comes to mind and that is big bass. Big burly stripers that will average in the twenty pound range with legitimate shots at fish over thirty pounds. Each year at this time these cows are dropping down from the North and will move by our coast. Now they do go by believe it or not but maybe not right in front of you.

Right now we are in the first week of December and these fish have been pulling a Houdini Act as none have appeared on the scene. As a matter of fact since Thanksgiving our striped bass fishing has taken a real nose dive and very few fish are present in our area. We are not seeing the bird play that we expect or even a good number of small bass being caught. It is rather disappointing right now. This is due to some hard south winds from several coastal storms that we have had in the last couple of weeks.

With water temperatures presently at 49° - 51°F and the fact that there is still plenty of bait around we hope that this will change soon. A big push of new fish is what we need to bring us some pre-Christmas presents both from the beach and the boat. If this doesn't happen it would be one of the earliest ends to a season that I can remember in quite some time.

Several years ago our season ended quickly right after Thanksgiving but this was due very strong northwest winds that brought in some very icy air that plummeted air temperatures below freezing. This is turned dropped water temperatures very quickly and thermal shocked the fish out of here. Such is not the case however this year because we have yet to fall below freezing along the Coast.

So we still are keeping our hopes up that we will get another push of fish real soon. Usually we are good for catching bass right up until Christmas and many times beyond. In my log book I have numerous seasons with recorded dates of Jan 5th, Jan 10th, Jan 15th, and the like. What would really help right now is if sandeels would move in from offshore and root along the beach. Also a good run of sea herring would be nice. Both of these late season baits will bring the bass with them and some big ones too.

I can now edit the above to say that as of this past weekend, Dec 4th, the sea herring have arrived on the scene and the action exploded for blitz conditions for boaters. This took place anywhere from 25-55 feet of water. Most of the bass were small from 20 - 26 inches however there were acres and acres of them that 100 fish tallies were common for most boaters. Some bigger teen size bass were also present for some lucky boaters with the largest bass reported bass tipping the scales at 42 pounds weighed in at Reel Life Bait and Tackle, Point Pleasant.

So let's look at this optimistically and anticipate a shot at big bass before you call it quits for another season. Getting them on the fly rod is something that you will never forget as the strength of these fish is transferred directly to your hand as if you had the fish by the tail.

This opportunity for big bass on the fly presents itself twice a year here in our New Jersey waters. The first opportunity is in the late spring when the adult bunker congregate along our beaches. The second opportunity is now from the end of November right up to Christmas time.

There is a marked difference in the way these two opportunities present themselves and unfold. In the springtime the bass are usually consistently bigger in size ranging from 20 to over 50 pounds while in the late fall we see 15 to 35 pound bass that make up the bulk of the run. In the springtime these bass are very difficult but not impossible to catch on the fly while at the end of the season they will strike out at just about any fly that is tossed their way.

The spring run of large bass has been absolutely phenomenal in the last several years as large concentrations of adult bunker have served as the impetus to hold these northwardly moving bass in our waters for a period of time to feed. Once these big bass zero in on the bunker that is just about all they want. We have thrown flies at them but most of the time they are refused time and time again. An occasional taker however a bass that is usually on the smaller side of the range can be caught.

At the end of the season however dropping water temperatures serve as the impetus to put these big bass on the feed. And feed is what they will do devouring just about anything that comes in their way. Prime temperatures to look for over the course of a couple of weeks are water temperatures dropping from 53° to 48° degrees.

As for locations the action can take place along the beach if bait is present in the form of peanut bunker, spearing, or sandeels. If no bait is present then the end of the season will most likely be a bust on the beach. By boat you can almost guarantee that you will hook into these fish as one can quickly move around to locate the bait and fish.

Even though the bass that we see at the end of the season are somewhat smaller in size than are present in the late spring they will still test a fly fisher's ability when the steel hits home. A 20 Lb bass on the fly on a ten or eleven weight rod will be a trophy experience even though many spin anglers don't consider that sized fish as anything to brag about.

So what is a fly fisher to do when one of these big bass does hit the fly? I thought it would make for some interesting reading to end this article to hear what some of the top fly fishers and pros in our area had to offer as helpful tips for fighting and landing these big bass. Here goes…….

“When dealing with a big fish, generally speaking, at the time of the hook up, make a good set and allow the fish to run but under "some " pressure. When the initial run is over, get to work. Pull harder and against the direction the fish is moving using side pressure. Pull with both hands when fighting, not just your dominant hand. Reel as needed but be sure to remain in contact with the fish, no slack. Fight using the butt or lowest section of the rod. Never allow the fish to simply hold to a stand-off, either the fish is coming in or going out, do not relax! As the fight nears conclusion, it's critical you maintain control of fish's head and be ready for any sudden surges or bolts. A slightly loosened drag may be helpful as the use of finger pressure can be used for quicker reaction time. Many fish are lost due to lazy or tentative fish fighting. Aggressive fish fighting will result in success more often than not.” - Bob Popovics

“Tackling big bass on the fly is all about commitment and patience. First, you have to be committed to targeting trophy stripers when they are in your waters. That means giving up opportunities to catch many smaller fish in an outing. Second, you need to be patient. During the June striper run along our coast there will be anglers around you catching many more 25 to 40 pound fish on live baits. Anglers need to be disciplined and patient enough to stick with the fly rod, even if it means going home fishless for the day. When fly fishing under tight adult bunkers schools big bass will roam the bottom of the pack looking for dead baits that have fallen from the top. Fly anglers should position their cast up wind and current of the bunker school and let big bunkers flies sink all the way to the bottom of the pack. The key to success is not to move the fly at all. Once the bass picks up the fly and the line starts to move, drive the hook home.” - Capt Gene Quigley, Shore Catch Guide Service

“When battling 20 pound plus stripers on heavy fly gear, the most important thing is not to use too much drag! This is even more important when fighting in heavy current or rips. On conventional or spin gear, you could set the drag with a hanging scale and leave it, but when fishing fly gear, you alternately reduce drag to strip line off the reel, then increase it by feel for fighting. I saved three flies as a reminder that have stout hooks straightened by lost monsters.” - John Field, former photographer for ESPN's Larry Dalhberg's Hunt for Big Fish

"“Make sure your line is clear of snags, use a stripping bucket or basket to keep it from fouling. You must get on the reel as soon as possible if you want to land large on the fly.” Capt Terry Sullivan, Guide Service

As for this flyrodder landing a big bass is always exciting regardless of whether it is on the beach or in the boat. My tip that I will add comes when landing a bass in the surf. Many times a big bass is lost after a long battle right when you are bringing it onto the sand with the help of a cresting wave. A crashing wave can quickly unhook your catch. Try to time and pick a wave that will push your catch up the beach.

Also as the bass hits the sand you will need to be cognizant of an energetic backwash that could pull your fish back into the water as it rests there before you get a chance to pick it up. If conditions like this are present and this does start to happen be quick to pull line from you reel with your stripping hand as the line draws tight so your hook does not pull from the bass's mouth. This would leave you watching it slip back into the sea.

In other words give line but keep it under control so as not to put any slack in the line. If the bass does slide back into the water and starts to run again you can experience a quick jolt that could snap the leader or pull the hook out if slack is present.

The thrill of catching a big bass on the fly is a memory that can be replayed over and over again in your mind without losing any of its intense feeling. It is only replaced by the next big one that you hook up. It's a great way to end your season. Good fishin…fly fishing that is! 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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