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HOOKING (AND LANDING!) A SURF TROPHY

Sealing the deal on your trophy bass can be toughest part of the game, here are some tips and tricks that will help to sway the odds in your favor.
By Dennis Zambrotta
Tags: surf, general
HOOKING (AND LANDING!) A SURF TROPHY
Once you have the fish in the wash you really need to grab the fish and head for shore. Keep your hands off the leader and don't unhook the fish until you return to shore. (Photo by Earl Evans)

THE HOOK-UP
You finally hook what you think is the bass of your dreams. It thrashes on the surface trying to rid itself of the hooks. Try to keep a tight line because many bass will throw the hooks at this point—especially treble hooked plugs. If you manage to keep the bass attached the next part of the fight will be the initial run which is generally powerful and can last what seems like an eternity. Your drag setting is critical at this juncture—it should be fairly tight but less than the line’s breaking point—you want the fish to work for the gained line by pulling it from your reel. This will slowly tire the bass and also allow you some control. Too light a drag setting or tackle which is too light will allow a trophy bass to swim unimpeded.

Bass will often drag your plug across bottom and the exposed trebles will foul on rocks and weed causing the treble hooks to straighten. If you’re lucky you’ll get your plug back covered with salad. Unlucky and you’ll break off. Multi-treble-hook-plugs also present another problem—when multiple trebles are hooked into a large bass they will often work against each other causing them to bend and fail. Stronger trebles will help combat this problem but never underestimate the amount of torque that a large bass can create when hooked up. This problem was a very prevalent when using multi-treble needlefish plugs during the big bass runs of the 1980s, so much so that a few enterprising casters developed the “stubby needlefish” which was fitted with an extra strong single hook. The stubby single hook needle withstood the tackle busting capabilities of those large bass. Your odds at landing a hook-up with a trophy bass will improve dramatically by presenting an offering with a strong single hook.

A GAME OF INCHES
Many trophy bass are lost at one of the most critical moments of the battle—those moments while trying to land her, just before she’s yours. Many things can go wrong at this juncture and I’ve lost more than my share of cows at this time and witnessed countless other heartbreaks. Losing a trophy here generally means you get to see it—then see it swim away, an experience that takes a long time to get over.

Trying to land a bass with a very short line decreases the shock absorbing nature of a long line—especially when using monofilament which has a modicum of stretch. Your rod will normally also be flexed to its max at this point giving you little margin for error. Novice surfcasters will try and force the issue by trying to drag the bass to higher ground not realizing that the bass is already laying on the bottom at the water’s edge. Lines will often snap or hooks will pull free because of the short leash to your fish. DO NOT grab your line and try to drag your trophy onto the beach or shore! Your line may snap from the weight—grab the fish.

If surf or waves are present a smart angler will use them to help “slide” the trophy onto dry sand or rocks then rush down to claim the prize before the next wave takes it away. This is a delicate maneuver that takes practice. As your bass is at the water’s edge wait for a wave to push onto the shore—as it does increase pressure on the fish and use the wave to help push the fish toward you while walking away from the water. Stop pulling as the wave recedes and hopefully it will leave your bass high and dry. If the bass starts to slide back with the receding wave you must follow it back to keep your line from snapping. Repeat the process until you get just the right wave—experienced anglers will often slide a trophy right to their feet. This method of landing fish is very popular on the outer beaches of Cape Cod. You can also use it on rocky shores with a gradual shoreline grade at the water’s edge.

SCOPE IT OUT
Other areas with steep shelf like rock formations similar to Newport, Narragansett, and Jamestown, Rhode Island will require different methods of landing a trophy depending on surf conditions. Many of these areas have deep water right next to shore. Many locations here have no areas where you can wash a trophy ashore with the help of waves. In this case you may need a long-handled gaff to safely retrieve your trophy. Caution must be used in these areas as you can lose your life trying to land your trophy.

Before you begin casting scope out the area and have a location and a plan to land your fish. Jetties and breachways can also be tricky when trying to land a trophy as a caster may have to climb down into the jetty rocks. Some experienced casters will carry a section of strong rope for this purpose. They climb down, thread the rope through the mouth and gill cover, and then drag it up to their perch. Having a partner will greatly improve your chances of landing a trophy in these types of challenging environments.

Hook-ups with a true trophy striped bass of 40 pounds or better are a rare event for most surfcasters. When you do get that special hook-up the tips I’ve mentioned will help put the odds of landing her in your favor. When you land your trophy enjoy the accomplishment. And if she’s not your personal best consider a live release. She made your day—now return the favor. Good luck.


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