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Trophy Tactics
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

anding a trophy bass on the fly rod is the ultimate quest for many saltwater fly fishermen. Hours upon hours of casting and retrieving, long sleepless nights, and a lot of money invested in gear and tackle are all forgotten when that familiar thump connects with the end of your fly line. But when you add up all of the above factors the hours probably add up to years and the money adds up to a small fortune. Nevertheless, the flyrodder is out there with a passion hoping for a date with destiny. As a flyrodder the term “trophy” needs to be redefined. The twenty, thirty, or even forty pound fish which roam the surf will no doubt fulfill your ultimate quest, but the probability of hooking into one of these fish is low. For the flyrodder any fish over ten pounds should be considered a real trophy.

But what is a flyrodder to do when such a fish strikes and the battle ensues. Fighting a trophy fish requires all of an anglers’ wits and skills, and a little bit of luck also. Here are some of my trophy tips for landing that linesider on the long rod.

First, be prepared with your equipment. Fish with at least a ten weight rod and disc drag reel. The line type is your preference and will most likely be dictated by the surf conditions, but make sure your tippet is not anything less than thirteen to fifteen pound test. These tippets will hold fish in the twenty to thirty-pound class. What you will need to worry more about is that the knots you have tied will break before your tippet ever does. Take extra time to make sure that you pull the knot with a large amount of force testing its breaking strength. If you can break it a bass will be able to also. Don’t forget to wet the knot before you cinch down on it.

Secondly, fish your flies with confidence. Believe that a trophy will hit each time you shoot the line into the suds. If you put your time in on the water one eventually will.

Plan a landing route before hand. This is particularly important if you are fishing from a jetty. You should know the path that you want to take and the direction that you would like to lead the fish before it strikes. After the strike this may not be the case if the bass is really big. But it is better to have a plan than not to have one. Any big fish will require that you walk off of the rocks and land the fish on the beach. If you try to land the bass next to the rocks it will be next to impossible. First off you will not be able to get close enough to the water to reach it and even if you do you risk the chance of being knocked off of the rocks by a wave.

When a trophy bass hits there will be no doubt that you have hooked a fish quite different than the ones you probably have been catching. The initial thump and following run will be explosive. The best thing to do is to remain calm and don’t panic. This is easier said than done. Adrenaline will surge through your body and you will experience excitement levels that could only be imagined by the greatest thrill seekers and daredevils of all time.

Large bass will strike out and hit your fly very aggressively but don't be fooled into thinking that the hook is properly set. To insure a good hook set it is critical that the angler sets the hook with a strip strike driving the hook home into the hard palate of the bass. To do this pull back on the line while raising your rod at an angle to the horizontal. Lay back on your rod with considerably force while delivering a hefty bend in the rod. Never point the rod tip directly at the fish when striking for it will undoubtedly result in a break off. Keep in mind that when setting the hook your line will stretch to some degree before the tippet or your knots that you have tied will break. This along with the bend that you impart to the rod will act as cushion ensuring that the hook is driven home.

A break off will result if the angler holds the strip strike for too long. So knowing when to allow the line to be pulled from your basket is very important and is a feel which is acquired through experience.

Now that the fish is deeply hooked it is time to let the fish run while keeping the rod at a slight angle to the vertical. This rod angle will reduce the amount of pressure on the tippet. Clear the basket completely and get the fish on the reel. Clearing the basket will no doubt be done by the bass and rather quickly I might add. Lightly guide the line through your fingers, as is flies out of the basket. This will help to prevent any tangles and reduce the chances that the line will get wrapped around the first stripping guide.

Once on the reel let the fish run. Let the disc drag and rod do the work on the fish. Don’t make any attempts to reel at this point or to try to turn the fish. Follow the fish wherever it goes. If you are on the rocks hold the rod up high so the line will clear any rocks that are out in front. As soon as the initial run of the fish is over see where you are on the rocks and try to pick a path to move into a landing position.

Now is the time to try to get some line back on the reel. Gain line back on the fish only when it is not running. Pump the rod towards you and then reel down on the fish as you lower the rod toward the water. Do not allow any slack to be created in the line when you are reeling down. Continue this action until the fish begins its second run.

The second run of your trophy will be shorter than the first but will still delight you in the same manner. Keep focused and enjoy the run. To improve your chances of landing the big fish pay attention to the direction that the fish will run from this point on. If the fish runs to the right, turn your rod to the left. If the fish runs to the left, turn your rod to the right. In both cases keep your rod tip almost parallel to the water. Applying side pressure in this manner will not only force the hook more deeply into its mouth but will also apply more pressure on the fish than if the rod is held with the tip up. Be careful not to pull right when the fish goes right. This will have a tendency to pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth or create slack in the line.

When the bass stops gain line back in the same manner as before but now try to also turn the fish's head. To do this keep the rod parallel to the water and try to control the fish from here. Apply constant pressure on the fish until you feel the fish turning toward the beach. Do not let up on the pressure or you will give the bass time to recuperate and gain back some energy. A large bass will swim parallel to the beach to do just this and you may be presented with a stalemate for quite sometime.

At this point in the fight you will begin to struggle with a mental battle as well. You know for a fact that the longer it takes you to land the fish the greater the chances are that it will break off. You start to question whether or not you should tighten the drag and apply more pressure in order to get the lunker linesider to move in your direction. If your drag is set properly from the start any changes you make now would be a mistake. Another explosive run will definitely break the already stressed tippet or knots because less force is now required to do so. Remember, the total drag on the fish is not just a function of your reel drag but also the friction generated by the rod guides on the line and the actually amount of line that is laying in the water.

Stick with the fundamentals keeping a constant pressure on the fish, pumping and reeling down, and turning the fish’s head toward the beach and eventually the fish will tire. A technique you can use to apply slightly more force is to move the fingers of your stripping hand up the rod between the first guide and the grip. Use your fingers at this point to act as a fulcrum to shorten the lever arm of the rod. This will generate more force.

Once your fish has started to move towards the beach you can sense that the battle is nearing its end. However, another problem now evolves. As the fish moves inside the surf break the crashing waves can quickly put an end to your battle as they pound the fish. Here is where a little luck is needed. Look for a wave to help push the fish into the beach. When one does, reel as quickly as possible taking up all the slack. Lean back on the rod again re-setting the hook. An important consideration now arises in that this large fish will now try to fool you. Just when you think that the fish is subdued you realize that it was just playing possum and will make one last run to survive. This is usually the kiss of death for the inexperienced angler. The quick jerking of the fish can cause the tippet to break or have it sliced on the rocks. Be ready for this valiant effort as the final saga in your battle.

In the end the fish will be close enough to use a final wave to help push the fish up the beachface as you pull along with it. Keep the fish's head pointed up the beach at all times. Be aware of an energetic backwash that may exist as the final obstacle that you will need to overcome. If the fish is swept back towards the water quickly use your free hand to feed line to the fish. This will help to reduce the amount of tension on the tippet. Let the next wave push your fish further up the beach this time and your trophy should be there for the taking.  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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Saltwater Fishing A Tactical Approach Fishing the NJ Coast