The Longest Yard
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service
he “Longest Yard,” you remember that movie right? The one with Bert Reynolds as he quarterbacked the prisoners of Allenville Penitentiary against the guards in an in-house football game and in the end came out victorious. The last scene showing the scoring of the final touchdown to win the game is probably the most memorable as the slow motion effects had me on the edge of my seat.
Well when I think of this drama I can compare it to those last several yards when you have that trophy striped bass in the surf and you are just about to land it. Those last several yards in the wash when your heart is pounding, and your mind is racing. Just a few more yards to go. In my mind this is truly the longest yard for the surf fisherman.
Success in the wash can be had if you are cognizant of several factors and are always prepared for the unexpected. In other words the combination of your experience and what you anticipate might happen will put the fish on the beach, just about every time.
If you have never landed a trophy bass in the surf than hopefully this article will help to prepare you for that ultimate thrill that I never get tired of experiencing no matter how many times it repeats itself. Each big bass is different and will fight differently. But each fight will increase the level of your experience and fine tune your predictability curve in terms of how big bass fight.
If you are still waiting for your first big bass to hit don’t worry it will eventually happen. Just put your time in and with some luck it will hopefully happen sooner than later. Just remember to mentally take notes as the battle is going on and put into practice these tips and strategies that I have learned over years of experience.
I said earlier I am only going to concentrate on those last several yards just as you are getting ready to land the fish on the beach. Each day will be different in terms of surf conditions and the set up that you are using so there are many factors and variables that can factor into your success.
For example, how big is the break, where is it breaking, right on the beach or several or many yards out? Is there any sweep along the beach trough? That is the area that can suddenly drop down just as you step into the water. What does the beach face behind you look like? Is it a steep slope, gradual slope, or flat? This will be important in determining what type of backwash is being generated as we will see later. What pound test line are you using? What is the power rating of your rod? Are you using conventional or spinning gear?
When it comes to your bass some of the questions you will want to think about are how big is the bass that you have hooked? 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, or 40+ pounds. How long did you fight the fish? Does it have anything left to make a last gasp run or is it just about bellied up?
To answer all these questions could put me into the makings of another book so rather than do that I will highlight some of the key considerations and thoughts that always run through my mind when I reach that longest and last yard.
If I could sum it up in one word it would be head control. Having ultimate control of your fish will depend on how you control its head. If you want to turn it right or turn it left head control is the key. This is important because ultimately you will need to steer a big fish in the direction that you want it to go in the last yard by pulling on it.
How much pressure you can put on the fish will depend on your rod rating, your leader and knot strength, and how well and where you have your fish hooked. Also how strong your hooks are is also important because many times cheap hooks will bend and your fish will be gone right at the end of your fight.
All of us have lost a fish in this last and longest yard by putting too much pressure on it. Knowing your tackle and its capabilities is of first importance but equally as important is having a properly set reel drag, one that is smooth and does not have a high coefficient of friction to get it to start moving. A drag that does not start up quickly and easily will be the kiss of death for causing your line or knots to exceed their breaking strength and part ways.
When a drag is set properly it will give or do what it is suppose to do, and that is let the fish out, when too much pressure is applied. Rarely do I ever adjust my drag during the course of a fight and never in the last yard. Usually once it is set I am done. I know exactly what it can do and how it is suppose to perform. You can use a spring scale attached to the end of your line and pull to adjust your drag to where you want it according to the drag setting rules but I choose to do it by feel.
One of the things that I do when I feel that my line is on the verge of breaking is I will feed line to the fish from my reel with my left hand. I do this by simply pulling on the line that is just above the reel bail. One, two, or three pulls is usually enough to quickly reduce the pressure on the line that is just enough to keep it from breaking.
During this last yard I am always aware of the wave action that is present. I am looking for a wave that will help me push my big bass onto the beach while I constantly maintain head control. I like to think of it as I am steering the fish while it is getting pushed from the rear.
It is very important that all the while that this is happening that you keep the slack out of your line. This will mean that you will have to reel down quickly to keep up with the line that is coming in at you. Doing this will do several things. One, it will prevent your hook from possibly coming or falling out of the fish’s mouth. The longer you fight the fish the bigger the penetration hole in the fish’s mouth will become. Any slack will allow gravity to pull down on your lure and as a result the hook may just fall out.
The other thing that staying tight to the fish does is it will help to keep the fish subdued once it hits the beach. Many times if the fish no longer feels that resistance it will think that it is free and start to flop around.
With the proper timing an incoming wave can push your fish up onto the beach. Keep in mind however that you never want your hooked fish to get caught in the break. If the waves are breaking right on the shoreline, we call this a shore break; keep your fish from getting caught in this spot. If a wave breaks on the fish more than likely you will lose it.
It is also very important to be aware of an energetic backwash that will put a lot of pressure on your fish pushing it back towards the water once it is on the sand. The steeper the beachface is behind you the faster the water will accelerate on its return to the ocean. If your fish does happen to get caught in this backwash quickly pull line from your reel with your left hand as described above. Do not open the bail and let the line free spool. All that will result in is a big mess. If you are fishing with a baitrunner just quickly flip it on and your line will go out under control.
With your fish now sitting on the beach quickly walk down to it to pick it up, reel up the slack in your line as you do. Don’t however reel in all your line as you will need some slack so you can bend down, grab the fish, and then stand back up without getting hung up. Remove the hook after you have walked up the beach a little to dry sand so as not to risk getting fouled hooked in the wash.
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