Admittedly, most of the bass with which we are confronted, or at least the ones we think we know about, pull your offer down if they are feeding in range. Yet, there are a lot of times we don’t know about when our quarry came for our bait or lure and aborted the take. When it happens in daylight, surf men attribute the failure to a miss. However, sixty years of striper fishing has taught me that they don’t miss. If they want that bargain basement junk you are casting, they can get it. They have to want it.
Fishing With Owls
Where things get complicated for striper surfmen is that those who know what they are doing are doing so at night. Thus, we only rarely see well enough to know what is going on. It’s a feel thing, and those who don’t pay attention miss a lot of cues from the striper surf. It took years for me to come to the realization that linesides commonly abort efforts to hit. For some reason they change their minds at the last minute and drop off the chase. True, it can happen without arousing any suspicion; but at other times you feel something strange on your offer that did not happen in earlier casts and is not repeating. Something funny is going on, and those who are thinking about breakfast usually miss it. Remember that when things are as dark as a closet, we don’t know much. It’s a feel thing.
While rigged eel fishing, we have often felt something weird during the retrieve. You will be pumping the dead bait to mimic life and get a sense of movement in the offer that other retrieves failed to exhibit. You know it’s not natural because it does not happen every cast. There is something odd going on that you just know in your gut. Why would a bait telegraph motion one cast and not another? Of course if it is not repeated on the next cast, we tend to dispel it as another of those many mysteries of fishing. Nonetheless, at least half the time, if you throw the rigged eel right back a bass will hammer it. When such experiences happen enough times one learns that this stuff is striper behavior and your BS meter becomes attuned to it. If it happens enough times, you end up watching for it and you know what is happening. Casual surfcasters don’t know about this stuff, do you?
We’ll never know if such unhooked striper swipes are intentional misses or are aborted takes that bass just didn’t trust when it grabbed their attention. It’s bad enough that you can’t see night fishing but getting into a fish’s head is way over the line. Be satisfied with knowing there is something out there that saw your fake offer.
There is also a difference in feel between a rigged eel and plug attack. Some offers, bait or lure, telegraph the attack motion more effectively. I’m not sure why but my wife and I get many more motions detected with rigged eels than we do with plugs. The comparisons generate a lot of speculation.
We did a lot of daylight fishing for Atlantic salmon during the striper moratorium. As a result, we got to see a lot of how fish respond to what passes them because it was daylight fishing. Often the salmon were sleeping and did not respond to a passing fly. Other times they would lunge at the fly as if trying to scare it. Also, way less often, they would roll or bump it without taking. Less than that the salmon took the fly with impunity. We were convinced that if a salmon wanted the fly, it would succeed. Like stripers, the salmon that wanted the fake offer did not miss. They don’t miss! Back to stripers.
My wife and I do a lot of fly fishing in outflows where stripers hold in the current waiting for bait to drift out from the upstream estuary. Our method is to start short at the top of the outflow, then extend the fly line cast a foot each cast scribing a series of concentric arcs out to a comfortable cast distance. We then follow down tide a step at a time that covers every foot of the holding current. The bass hold on the bottom with their noses in the current while our flies swing past. It’s easy, and most of the time what is there just gobbles your fly. Still, once in a while we feel one of those weird movements on the fly that is startlingly similar to those aforementioned rigged eel rejection motions. The buggers are at it again! Now if you are not paying attention or dispel it and step down tide you are walking away from a certain take. Fool, you should walk home after that one. It is imperative that you repeat, without change, the drift where it happened. Without moving our feet we stand right there and crank in any line that might be hanging then go right to the reel to mark the location. The striper likely fell right back to where it was lying when the first contact was made. If the line is the same length, and you cast the same distance, the fly should swing on the same path it did earlier. Usually, but not necessarily, that fish is laying right there. It should either actually take the fly, or it might, just might, do another motion thing like before. Harass the bugger with more swings; break him down.
With no tangible results, we sometimes shorten the drift by a foot to pass higher, more upstream; then we shorten up another foot and drop two feet to the original position. If that doesn’t work, we drop to a foot below the original contact spot. If you didn’t prick him with your fly hook, he is still there. You really should have him by now because they can be dumb. Of course some holding fish may not do anything, which does not permit any proof of them being there. You have to go through the motions of showing your offer. That’s about all you can do when you can’t see. All the same, it works.