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Ambergris

Sight Fishing Bass in Skinny Water: Leaders, Pressure and Tactics

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The thread about turning over a new leaf in setting a drag, and the responses (in that thread and others) along the lines of never seeing one's backing or rarely having a bass put itself on the reel, made me think about my experiences sight fishing on flats or sight fishing along the beach. More often than not, when I hook anything near and above a 30" bass on flats, I either see my backing or the fish puts itself on the reel. I'm wondering if I'm doing something terribly inefficient or something else is up.


So the question is, if you sight fish flats (casting to flats at night with 30lb test doesn't count :) ), and have connected with a fair number of decent size fish AND still haven't seen your backing in years or can't remember the last time a bass put itself on your reel, what is your typical setup for this type of hunting and how does the dance normally play out?


For me, I tend to fish 15lb or even 10lb test and I've lost a few really good fish in shallow water with firm hooksets to never to want to do that again. I'll normally let the hookset be a "kiss your grandmother on the cheek" type of pressure and in doing so allow the line to slip through my fingers with just enough tension to keep it all smooth before letting the more consistent pressure of the drag keep things in check. Once on the reel, if it's a decent fish, they tend to run at least 50-60 feet which is basically to the backing given the amount of line out for casting. If it's a smaller fish, the tendency is that it rarely has enough strength or experience to pull straight out to get to the reel; more often they go out, then to the side with a little bit of pressure.


Curious to hear some thoughts.

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I am not totally sure of your question...  Do you not want to see your backing?  


I will admit I have only hooked a few large bass in skinny water.  But I have got into a lot of other tropical flats species of the same size so maybe that counts for some experience.


With Bass I fish 15lb for sight fishing in the day and 20lb for everything else.  Same as you I dont set the hook to hard.  


I am of the school of setting my drag a bit on the tighter side and I try and fight and land fish as quick as possible.  So with that I dont see much of my backing ( except for Albies and Tarpon) very often.  For day fishing the flats if the weather is good I use a TFO BVK 8wt with a Lamson Konic reel..  If its windy or the fish are bigger a Sage Xi3 with a ross momentum lt reel.

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My personal best this year came from a very shallow flat. This day I wasn't sight fishing, but I was doing the same things I would have been doing if the light had cooperated, fishing a crab fly on the bottom. I knew the fish would be there, so I was simply blind casting. 15lb flouro, 3/0 hook.


The fish gave two VERY hard, fast runs, but I have always felt that if you put the brakes on a fish early, they get the hint and do not make long runs. Rather, very powerful short ones. This may be in my head, who knows.


I am much more nervous when I have a ton of line and backing out as far as losing a fish goes, so I put as much pressure as I could on this fish to turn him quickly. I saw maybe 10 yards of backing, but the fish was hooked nearly instantaneously after the fly hit the bottom on the end of a long cast. The fish in this particular spot travel the edge of a rocky drop off and this flat, so if you're not hitting that edge, they're not seeing your fly. You're really maxing out your range on every single cast.


I hooked another fish immediately after this one in the same size bracket that made nearly identical runs.


The water was about 2' deep. You may have seen these images before, my apologies if so!


1774670


1774671

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Well Going by your ? Only On sight fishing, if you're on the flats Using 10 to 15lbs tippet which is the norm for stripe bass even tho 10 is a little too light IMO, you wouldn't want to have the drag too tight especially on a good fish thats just the nature of the game,if its a small fish I just hand line it.I feel a 30" bass on the flats is a total different animal.

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(casting to flats at night with 30lb test doesn't count :) ),

 

As Emily Litella would say, "Nevermind."

 

Just to clarify, I put plenty of bass on the reel. Typically, that's a 28"+ striper. I let the fish make the decision for me. Also it's not always 30#. I used a lot of 25# and 20# this year. :-)

 

I have fished some of the same flats as you have in daylight, and I've never gone lower than 20#. Agreed: every flat and situation is different. YMMV. I come from the presentation vs. they see your leader school. I don't have all the answers...I just know how I like to fish. IHMO a 30" bass should not be taking you into your backing. IMHO many anglers are afraid to push their tackle. I was reminded of this last November when I was steelheading with guide Jim Kirtland, who told me, "don't let them breathe." Best advice I've received in a long time. I'd rather lose a fish than exhaust it to death.

 

Not wanting to see my backing is not a function of some misguided macho bravado. There is a strategy. Like Albieaddict, I think the more line that's out, the more things can happen, and most of those things are bad. Most of the bigger stripers I've caught from the shore -- we're talking between 25 and 30 pounds -- are good for two, maybe three runs. I want them tired after the first, exhausted after the second, and if they persist, broken after the third. I've only had one striper over the years that needed extensive reviving, a near 30 pounder on Block Island (on a flat at night, three runs and backing) but it all fairness that was a warm year and the water temp was unfavorably high.

 

If you catch and release, hook those fish and get them in fast. Push your tackle. Challenge yourself. You'll be surprised at what you can do.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Steve Culton

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Quote:
Originally Posted by mightyrime View Post

 

I am not totally sure of your question...  Do you not want to see your backing?  



 




We should all want to land the fish we don't plan on killing in the most efficient way possible. My question was based around the idea that many people mention landing a lot of bass without the bass ever putting itself on the reel or getting into the backing. I'm wondering if this translates to those who fish on on flats, and if it does translate to those fishing flats, how they're doing it because it naturally happens often to me.


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ah gotcha... 


i always try to get the fish on the reel as soon as possible.  For me there is much more control.  And to the striper backing thing I think I have only hit it a couple times.  



Though I will brag about this summer...  I was sight fishing from a boat on a perfect no wind day near Napegue LI..  I saw a good sized bass moving away at about 75'.. I honestly threw the best cast of my career probably about 85' and it landed 6" in front of the fish and he nailed it.  I am a good caster but this was beyond my general skill level... somehow my mechanics timed it perfectly..



The fish was not huge maybe 13lbs or so but hooking at that distance and in shallow water he took me into my backing and It was tough to gain control quickly.  Another challenge is when all your line is out, there is a lot of stretch so it seems like you are pulling harder on the fish than you really are.


that fish is one of my top five fishing memories for sure.

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Albieaddict View Post

 

My personal best this year came from a very shallow flat. This day I wasn't sight fishing, but I was doing the same things I would have been doing if the light had cooperated, fishing a crab fly on the bottom. I knew the fish would be there, so I was simply blind casting. 15lb flouro, 3/0 hook.


The fish gave two VERY hard, fast runs, but I have always felt that if you put the brakes on a fish early, they get the hint and do not make long runs. Rather, very powerful short ones. This may be in my head, who knows.


I am much more nervous when I have a ton of line and backing out as far as losing a fish goes, so I put as much pressure as I could on this fish to turn him quickly. I saw maybe 10 yards of backing, but the fish was hooked nearly instantaneously after the fly hit the bottom on the end of a long cast. The fish in this particular spot travel the edge of a rocky drop off and this flat, so if you're not hitting that edge, they're not seeing your fly. You're really maxing out your range on every single cast.


I hooked another fish immediately after this one in the same size bracket that made nearly identical runs.


The water was about 2' deep. You may have seen these images before, my apologies if so!


1774670


1774671





Excellent fish and thanks for re-posting the photos. Good to hear reaffirmation of faith in 15lb, I seem to pull a lot harder on it from a boat than I do on flats, probably a function of losing some good fish early in the learning process due to spikes in pressure.


Quote:

Originally Posted by The Fisherman View Post

 
 

I have fished some of the same flats as you have in daylight, and I've never gone lower than 20#. Agreed: every flat and situation is different. YMMV. I come from the presentation vs. they see your leader school. I don't have all the answers...I just know how I like to fish. IHMO a 30" bass should not be taking you into your backing. IMHO many anglers are afraid to push their tackle. I was reminded of this last November when I was steelheading with guide Jim Kirtland, who reminded me, "don't let them breathe." Best advice I've received in a long time. I'd rather lose a fish than exhaust it to death.

Not wanting to see my backing is not a function of some misguided macho bravado. There is a strategy. Like Albieaddict, I think the more line that's out, the more things can happen, and most of those things are bad. Most of the bigger stripers I've caught from the shore -- we're talking between 25 and 30 pounds -- are good for two, maybe three runs. I want them tired after the first, exhausted after the second, and if they persist, broken after the third. I've only had one striper over the years that needed extensive reviving, a near 30 pounder on Block Island (on a flat at night, three runs and backing) but it all fairness that was a warm year and the water temp was unfavorably high.

If you catch and release, hook those fish and get them in fast. Push your tackle. Challenge yourself. You'll be surprised at what you can do.

Thanks for reading.

Steve Culton


You're probably onto something that my feeling the need to fish lighter leaders daytime sight fishing is the result of denials coming from either less than ideal presentation or imperfect flies and the pressure factor comes from those few very large fish lost.


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Quote:

Originally Posted by mightyrime View Post

 

 



Though I will brag about this summer...  I was sight fishing from a boat on a perfect no wind day near Napegue LI..  I saw a good sized bass moving away at about 75'.. I honestly threw the best cast of my career probably about 85' and it landed 6" in front of the fish and he nailed it.  I am a good caster but this was beyond my general skill level... somehow my mechanics timed it perfectly..



The fish was not huge maybe 13lbs or so but hooking at that distance and in shallow water he took me into my backing and It was tough to gain control quickly.  Another challenge is when all your line is out, there is a lot of stretch so it seems like you are pulling harder on the fish than you really are.


that fish is one of my top five fishing memories for sure.





Nice to have that imprint on the brain! One of, if not the first sight casting fish I hooked was big, maybe 30lbs, and it broke a 15lb leader just turning its head while I held the line like an idiot in disbelief it actually ate. That was the start of thinking, "just kiss your grandmother...a little peck with the hookset"

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In Maine, we don't get the flats pressure that you guys down south do. There are some flats we fish (albiet with smaller fish) that never get fished and never see boat traffic. They're just too far away, too much of a PIA to get to, etc. I don't hesitate to fish 20lb leader and routinely fish 25lb on big fish spots because of one experience losing a truly big fish as he ground his face into the rocks.


My order of sight fishing importance:



1) Finding fish willing to feed (some fish just won't eat, are just moving through, etc)



2) Correct presentation



3) Fly


A distant fourth is leader. I don't know if that is different further south, I'm just speaking from experience from my area. Many people with more experience may disagree on all of those topics... who knows. But, I will say, I always hit them hard. A strong hookset is important, and I certainly have lost more fish by hooks popping out than breaking leaders. Again, just my experience.


Sight fishing is the most fun you can have standing on two feet. I already can't wait for May.


AA


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Sight fishing in skinny water is one of my favorite things to do and there are two things I do that work for me. The first is I always use a 20 lb test leader and never have an issue in my mind with fish spooking because of the leader and the fish being leader shy. I always fee if a fish spooks it is because of pilot error and a bad cast more than the leader or a fly spooking a fish, On many occasions if a fish does not show interest, I have been able to get the fish to eat on a second presentation.

 

To me leader is just not and issue. I like the thought of being able to grab onto a leader that can handle a fish and not snap because of a sudden jolt because it is to light and also one that is not so thin that it can easily cut me. Those are two things I can do without.

 

The second thing is with regards to drag I have my drag set to the point that a big fish when it hits and goes that it will not backlash me and just get into a smooth transition onto the reel and then into backing if the fish is so inclined to take it to that extreme. At that point the drag can safely be tweaked if needed. I think many people forget as the drag goes out the drag increase as the diameter of the spool gets smaller and should not change or tweak it to quickly.

 

Many people I think are missing out on one of the joys and I do mean one of the joys of fishing when you get to hear the drag sing. A drag set in a responsible manner is good for the fish and good for the fisherman. I hate it when a drag is set to light and I watch someone fight a fish for a long time just so they can watch the drag go all the time

 

The other extreme is to crank a drag down so tight that a fish cannot take drag to me is a macho thing and will result in lost fish when it could have been landed. That just does not make sense to me in any way imaginable and I can only think of fresh water Bass tournaments when the big bass get ripped across the top of the water and flipped in the boat before the bass knows *** just happened.

 

For me I think my tippet selection and drag settings are both very practical and responsible.

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We should all want to land the fish we don't plan on killing in the most efficient way possible. My question was based around the idea that many people mention landing a lot of bass without the bass ever putting itself on the reel or getting into the backing. I'm wondering if this translates to those who fish on on flats, and if it does translate to those fishing flats, how they're doing it because it naturally happens often to me.

 

I fished around different flats in Cape Cod Bay a good bit this summer and I think what Ambergris might be referring to is the tendency of fish hooked in shallow water to run away hard and fast. They can't go down, so they go out. That has certainly been my experience with stripers, bluefish and false albacore. This year my best flats bass was 36" and it ran hard into my backing a couple times, and I was fishing 20# tippet with my drag pretty firm. My best bass of the season was 38" and considerably beefier than the 36" flats fish, but the 38" fish was hooked close to the surface in 26' of water--it went down more than out and just barely got to the backing though it fought harder and was tough to lift off the bottom. One day on Brewster Flats I ran into 10 to 15# bluefish in 2 to 4' of water and they ran very hard and fast. I hooked a dozen or more, but only landed six--everyone of them got to my backing in a hurry and often jumped and threw my hook or broke me off. They couldn't go down, so they went out. Conversely, I hooked an albie in 60' of water back in September and it never did get to my backing. That's the one and only time that ever happened to me with an albie. It just went deep and circled under the boat until it tired enough for me to lift it to the surface--I don't think it ever got more than 75' away.

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I have really never considered striped bass to be runners in the same sense as albies, big blues, salmon, and steelhead. I catch plenty of 30"+ fish every year and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I see my backing on a striper. I usually get one or two good shorter runs and then the rest of the battle is a slug fest with head shakes and shorter and shorter tug of war runs. This season I saw my backing twice on a bass, and one of those times was a 32" fish hooked at the base of a dam with over 6000 CFS of flow. When I see backing it is typically not very much. I can only recall about a half dozen stripers that took me deep into the backing. Tyoically any fish 26" or under are hand stripped. I mostly let the fish decide if it goes on the reel or not, but there are some times when I put the fish on the reel intentionally. Fishing off of jetties is one of those times. I use 20# for 99.999% of my striper fishing.

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I have found that often whether a bass takes you into the backing can be a function of how far out the fish takes the fly. If the fish hits your fly 80' out and makes a 40 foot run you are going to see backing. If the fish hits 30 feet in front of you and makes a 40 foot run you are still on the fly line.

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