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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)

Ask any surfcaster it they have ever lost a trophy striped bass and you’re sure to get an affirmative answer. Ask them how and why they lost it and you’ll hear many different reasons.

What constitutes a “trophy striped bass”? This is a relative question depending on the surfcaster you ask. A surfcaster that has never taken a bass over 15 pounds might well consider his first 25-pound bass a trophy. Dyed-in-the-wool surfcasters with years of experience may consider a trophy-sized striped bass as being over 30, 40, or even 50 pounds. For the sake of this discussion we’ll consider anything over 40 as a trophy.

Experienced surfcasters will tell you that the more trophy bass you hook the better you get at landing them. There is no truer statement as there is no substitute for experience. As I look back 30 years at my experiences surf fishing for striped bass I can relate the critical mistakes I made that caused me to lose any number of trophy striped bass. Consider that when I first started surfcasting it took me 5 years to land my first bass over 40 pounds. I had no doubt hooked others during that period, but through bad luck or my mistakes I never landed them.

PANIC!
The leading causes of lost trophy bass are angler panic, incorrect drag setting, old line or line that is too light, inadequate tackle for the task, environmental conditions, and other variables such as pot buoys, obstructions, etc.

Panic creates mistakes. You finally hook the bass of your lifetime and your adrenalin is flowing and heart pumping. The bass is taking line like a freight train, but all you can think about is how you don’t want to lose it and want to land it as soon as possible. Trying to slow it down you tighten your drag—pop goes your line. Or you finally get the bass into the wash and try to horse it in while it’s still green with fight—you pull the hook/plug or snap your line. We’ve all been there. Most panic will go away as you gain more experience. My advice is to relax, but that is easier said than done.

Purchase the best quality tackle you can afford. When hooked up to a trophy bass your equipment will determine whether you have the bass or the bass has you.

IMPROPER DRAG SETTING
Know your equipment and set your reel drag below the breaking strength of your running line. Experience will teach you the right setting for your equipment. Breaking off a bass should be a rare event and most break-offs are caused by angler error. You may lose bass by other means such as getting cut off by structure, hooks pulling out, straightened hooks, etc, but you should never break a fish off through a faulty drag setting. Keep your drag washers clean!

LOAD FOR BEAR
Purchase the best quality tackle you can afford. When hooked up to a trophy bass your equipment will determine whether you have the bass or the bass has you. With light tackle you don’t have control and a larger fish will be able to swim wherever it wants. You might be able to get away with using light tackle on a sand beach but not in rocky environments. Use a rod with lots of backbone and a quality reel. A surf stick built with a blank similar to the Lamiglas GSB1201M or GSB 1321M is ideal. Match it with a heavy-duty reel capable of holding at least 250 yards of strong 20-pound mono or 50-pound braid.

Using this heavy tackle and strong line will increase your chances of landing a trophy. Heavy gear will tire a large bass more quickly and allow you to control its movements in snag-filled areas like boulder fields or near pot buoys and other obstructions. Heavy gear will also provide added insurance during the critical time when beaching your prize. A long, heavy surf rod with lots of backbone will allow you the leverage to swim your prize bass through weed-filled boulder fields while keeping your line above obstructions. Heavy gear can sometimes be tiring to use, but those who use it are not generally targeting small bass.

I would also suggest that you change your running line often, at least a few times per season, especially when using monofilament. If using braid watch for weak spots or frays in the line—cut them out or re-spool. Use at least three feet of heavy monofilament leader, say 40- to 80-pound test. The leader will also provide insurance in rocky environments where cut-offs on underwater structure could cause you to lose a trophy. Use high quality terminal tackle on your leaders. Many varieties exist—I use Sampo swivels and Coastlock snaps of 150-pound test or stronger. If you’re plug fishing use quality treble hooks that are at least 3X strong.


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