Volume 16, Issue 29 - July 17 - July 23, 2008

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The Deadliest Technique

Live-lining scores stripers

Hooking my wriggling Norfolk spot lightly, just in front of its dorsal fin, I sent it over the side into the softly running tidal current. As my skiff drifted, I was marking suspended rockfish on my sonar at about 20 feet down in 35 feet of water. They were bunched up, and I hoped they were hungry.

A four-foot 20-pound fluorocarbon leader was carefully knotted to my ultra-thin, braided line of equal test so there was little to hinder the frisky bait as it shot away from the boat and made for the apparent safety of the deep.

Thumbing my old casting reel lightly, I added a touch of resistance to the turning spool when I thought the baitfish was about halfway to the bottom. I hoped to force the little spot’s efforts into the frantic zone. Nothing attracts a hungry rockfish quicker than the signals and sounds put out by a panicked baitfish. I needn’t have worried.

As quick as a cat on a mouse, one of the predators lurking below pounced on the fleeing spot. My line twitched with activity. I felt the hit, then a pause, a turn, then steady pressure as the unseen striper moved off with its prize. Throwing the reel in gear, I let the line come tight, and then I struck. Fish on!

My light skiff swung around with the pull of a heavy striper as my rod arced and the reel’s drag began to hum a low, sweet note. Bliss on the Bay.

Live-lining the Right Way

Of all the ways to bait-fish, live-lining spot is probably the deadliest for catching big stripers in the summertime. But there are a few tricks to doing it well.

That six-inch Norfolk spot was extra lively, and I had kept him that way with a lot of effort. Not blessed with a built-in live well, nor an expensive aerated bait well, I had to give my low-tech, five-gallon bucket special attention for the baitfish inside.

Fish Are Biting

Good schools of rockfish are well distributed throughout the mid-Bay. Live-lining and chumming are the top methods, but casting and jigging with Bass Assassins and Stingsilver-type baits are working as well. The top-water bite for rock is erratic and unreliable as yet but more fun than any other way to catch fish. White perch and spot are everywhere and eager to bite. Croaker have dropped off during daylight hours, but nighttime anglers are cleaning up. Really small bluefish are here (nippers not snappers), so the bigger guys can’t be far behind. Crabbers are getting frequent limits, but right now it is as good it’s going to get. Their low numbers are evident.

I did that by exchanging the water in the pail every 10 minutes or so with a fresh gallon or two from the Bay and by not crowding my fish too much. Nine to ten spot are plenty for a five-gallon container. I also periodically threw a few handfuls of ice from the cooler into the bucket to keep the temperature down and to add the ice’s oxygen to the water.

Spot are relatively delicate and not nearly as hardy as white perch, the other Bay denizen commonly used for live-lining. Late in the summer, though, as spot become increasingly available, rockfish begin to prefer them to all other foods.

But they are excellent bait only if you keep them in top condition. An exhausted baitfish cannot swim to the depths where rockfish lurk, nor will it give off the vibrations a healthy, panicked fish transmits that trigger strikes.

Tackling Up

Next in importance to keeping baits fresh and frisky is keeping tackle impact to a minimum. Fluorocarbon leaders and thin, braided lines such as Power Pro, Tuff Line and Fireline give you a great edge.

Fluorocarbon is much less visible to fish than any other leader material, and the minimal resistance in the water of the new super-thin lines permit the baitfish to swim naturally and virtually unhindered. Fluorocarbon’s no-stretch quality transmits the slightest activity from down deep right to your rod tip.

Use enough hook, at least a 6/0. With its thicker diameter, a hook this size has to be razor sharp to penetrate, especially with light tackle. Owner hooks, particularly the cutting-edge model, are incredibly sharp, and will give a good, deep hookset. Mustad and Eagle Claw also offer effective, high quality models.

If you have to use weight to get your bait down deep, use a live-lining rig. This device attaches to your sinker and slides over your line, allowing it to pay out without resistance.

When a rockfish picks up your bait and swims off, this is an important consideration, particularly later in the season, as stripers become educated to the many artifices used to trick them to the dinner table.

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