Surf: Bouncing Clams - The Fisherman

Surf: Bouncing Clams

The author was a 49-inch striper that ate a drifted clam.

Clams are a staple food source for stripers and fishing them from the surf can result in fish of all sizes!

For the seafood lover who loves a bucket of fresh, hot steamers, you’re not alone. The same can be said for striped bass. An angry sea tossing clams around in the surf. A dredger working its way through a cut. Tumbling clams, cracked, and spilling their insides, offer easy pickings for hungry bass. Most tackle shops will carry clams of some variety, fresh, frozen or salted; and while many bait-dunker’s go-to may be something more associated with chunking, like bunker or mackerel… a clam is impossible to resist.

Early in the season, some clam fans will do the simple chunk and dunk from the beach, waiting on a bite from a migrating fish. While that will surely produce, be it bass, crab, flounder or other, I learned many moons ago that bouncing clams in current can be so much more rewarding, not only in the target species of striped bass, but in breaking up the monotony of sitting and waiting for a bite on a washed-out bait.

My first exposure to bouncing clams came many years ago, when the bass were in full recovery mode from the dark days of the late 20th century, but the bigger specimens were still not as widely spread, and for a kid who primarily tossed poppers and Bombers for bluefish and bass, chunking just wasn’t going to get the juices flowing. Then I heard from a friend about big bass he was catching from a Northeast river inlet where big bass were falling for clams. The herring run had faded and now bass were eagerly taking clams drifted in the river, and he invited me along to give it a go.

Our first stop was at a renowned tackle shop where they consistently carried fresh (and frozen) clams, and we picked up a couple pints. Once at the river, he showed me his rigging, which was your basic bait hook, with a 3-foot section of leader material, attached to a ball bearing swivel, and a 3-ounce egg sinker above it on the main line. Slung over his shoulder was his surf bag, which no doubt reeked from the clams stuck in it, a method I would improve upon years later. The dropping tide was running hard, with two hours until dead low, and the footing required great care wading out at the river-mouth from the shifting sands; but the fish were indeed hungry. For the remainder of the tide, the bite was steady until we were left trying gob whatever slimy remnants we could scrape off the bottom of the bag onto our hooks.

Since that initial outing, I’ve put the simple, but effective, method to use in many different locations. All you need to get started is a map, and the ability to identify inlets, and similar locales that might harbor clams. My gear has been modified specifically for these types of fishing expeditions, where I leave the surf or tackle bag behind, substituting with a soft-sided small cooler, with a hard plastic shell insert. This holds the clams, an ice pack inside a Ziploc bag, and a bait knife. In the outer pocket of the cooler, I store my terminal tackle, rubber bands and maybe a lure or two in case I run out of bait.

The plastic insert provides a cutting surface for the clams, as you should be able to get a two-to-a few baits out of the better-sized globs. The rubber bands are helpful to keep the clams on the hook, which is going to be a circle hook anywhere from 6/0 to 9/0 depending on the size of your bait and the size of the fish. The rig is still the same, egg sinker (weight chosen according to the current) threaded above the swivel, and then 3 feet of leader before the hook. You’ll want to cast up-current and be able to feel the bait bouncing, giving line when the bait comes tight to extend the drift and still bounce bottom. Retrieve and repeat when the bait has swung out of the strike zone.

Last year, in mid-June, discreet reports told of big bass coming from a favorite inlet. Conditions were perfect for bouncing clams. The ebb tide would bottom out mid-morning. Overcast, a slight drizzle, relatively calm winds, and fresh clams picked up from a nearby bait shop. I waded knee deep to the edge of a bar, with the current breaking directly in front. A few bounces in and I had my first fish, a sub-slot but respectable specimen. A half-hour would pass until my next hook-up, when my 9/0 circle hook found purchase. My rod arced under heavy weight, and it was soon apparent this was no slot-sized fish. When I finally worked the fish into quieter waters, a beautiful 49-inch bass lay in the shallows. After a couple pics, and a careful release, my thoughts turned to future endeavors and that next “bucket o’ steamers”. I’ll see you in the suds!


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