If you want to succeed as a surfcaster, one of the hardest, but most important things to learn is lure selection- what lure to use at what time and under which of the many different conditions that contribute to the success or failure of your plug. In my experience, one of the most important things that dictates what plug I use is the bait present in the location I’m fishing.
Along the north east striper coast, some of the most common forage includes Bunker, Sand Eels, Mullet, and Mackerel- four very different fish with very different profiles. Under many different conditions, especially at night, feeding fish are not looking for the color of the forage, but rather for a particular profile. Accordingly, matching the profile is very important. For example, when bunker around, an experienced angler will take the time to find out what size they are. With bunker, that can range from 3 inch Peanut Bunker all the way up to a 14-15 inch adult Menhaden.
An easy way to find out the size of the bait is to observe it jumping. If they’re not jumping, you can look at the surf line for dead bait fish. Absent some observation, you will need to experiment until you find the size that works. After you identify the bait and
its size, it’s time to find out where the forage is concentrating. Unfortunately, much of the time the bait is not jumping. The approach I like to use is moving along the beach from cut to cut and point to point making long casts. if I get a couple hits or catch a fish in one general area, I target that area and work the area with casts of varying lengths. There is certainly no point in making repeated 300 foot casts if the fish are only 50-100 feet out. On the other hand if they are far out, for example over an outer bar, that fact limit some of the lures that make sense to use. In that case you probably would not want to use a metal lipped or minnow style plug as they don’t cast well as others you could choose. So the first factors you need to determine in lure selection are profile and casting distance required.
The next factor in lure selection is to determine in what part of the water column the bait is. You could have the perfect profile and distance characteristics but if your plug is popping on top and the bait is on the bottom it’s likely you won’t see any action. If you know there are fish along the beach but they are not showing, it is likely they are orienting towards the bottom.
So if you encounter a situation where you are unsure what bait is around and where it is, you need to initiate a logical plan of experimentation. This may require changing lures frequently until you find what works. A great tip when changing lures frequently is to make sure you are using Tactical Anglers Clips. These really come in handy by both saving you a lot of time and giving you the versatility you need to experiment effectively. When I get on the beach and am not sure about what I’m going to encounter as far as bait, I carry a variety of lures to cover the different layers in the water column of the water as well as the different bait profiles. When it comes to color, I like White or Yellow in the day and Black and Purple at night. Of course various degrees of light will dictate this as well.
I hope these tips help you catch more fish the season. Please remember- only keep a few to eat and be a good steward of our Striper resource. We want plenty around for future generations. Tight Lines and Live the Passion!