Winter Sudsin’ Scale Down Stripers - The Fisherman

Winter Sudsin’ Scale Down Stripers

2018 12 Scale Down Stripers Catch
Four seasons of the year the author puts his time in pounding the surf, and he’ll readily admit that December is a great month for quantity at the Jersey Shore, for folks willing to go light.

Tips for daily double digit catches in the December surf. 

Last December, bass of 18 to 27 inches were omnipresent in the Jersey surf. In fact, every single one of my daily December 2017 surf logbook entries along the central New Jersey coast entails one common thread – double digit catches of striped bass caught on light tackle.

There were no 40- or 50-pound cows being beached like lifeguard surfboats being hauled onto the shores, but tons and tons of small stripers – schoolie to shorty size from 14 to 27 inches, with the occasional 28- to 35-inch bass also showing up in the mix. Surely, you can target larger fish during December to hunt for the random big boys hanging about, but if you want action – and a lot of it – heavy gear won’t get you into it. You need to dial it back for more consistent success.

A Light Start

My go-to all-around surf rod for the Jersey Shore winter suds is a St. Croix Tidemaster TIS76MF rated for 8 to 17 pounds matched with a Shimano 5000 Stradic reel spooled with 30-pound Power Pro braid. For the simple lure casting rig, I prefer a 50-pound Spro barrel swivel, then a 30-inch section of 25-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, to which a 40-pound Duolock snap is tied for interchanging lures. Roughly 18 inches up from the snap, tie a dropper loop to affix a white 2/0 bucktail hair teaser, Vision rainfish, Tsunami sand eel or Felmlee eel. That set-up is capable of landing thousands of those shorty bass while still being capable of muscling in 36-inch bass and 15-pound bluefish, as has been proven time and time again.

The joy of fishing light is that you can get away with throwing smaller, lighter lure offerings, i.e. ones that mimic small sand eels, spearing, rainfish and peanut bunker, so that you keep a tight and electric connection to your lure. It is paramount to feel every wave and motion of the lure you are throwing. Any bulky stick or weighty reel set up that is larger in a big gun approach sacrifices the intimate connection to your lure and its action and thus severely limits the amount of stripers you will catch.

2018 12 Scale Down Stripers DOUBLE
In the final days, stripers may be on smaller, thinner baits, so be sure to tie a dropper loop to affix a white 2/0 bucktail hair teaser or plastic imitation; it could even net you a double-header.

Lighten Your Load

With your lighter setup, you can handle lures more effectively in sizes from 1/4 up to 1-1/2 ounces but no more than that; otherwise you are just dragging lures that don’t work properly. For lugging gear, do not overgun it by hauling a virtual rucksack on your shoulder. My December mobile bag arsenal is loaded like this: it’s a six-plug Canyon shoulder bag with two of the tubes removed, providing excess room to house a 25-pound skein of Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, pliers, a nail clipper and a little five-space Plano box. The small Plano is filled with an array of 1/4- to 3/4-ounce leadheads and bucktails, and a variety of 4- to 5-3/4-inch FinS Fish in Arkansas shiner white, bubble gum and rainbow trout colors to mix and match on the leadheads.

In those four remaining tubes, I place my tried and true lures: Bomber A Salt plugs in black, chickenscratch, wonderbread and blurple; 4-inch Mambo minnows and Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows; 1-ounce Crippled herrings Ava 007 to A17 jigs naked or with green, orange or black tails; 3- to 4-inch Storm or Tsunami swim shads; Tsunami rigged sand eels; a 4-inch Stillwater popper or two; and a #4 Deadly Dick. That’s all that I carry and all of those offerings will dial you into December shorty bass, with capability to also land larger fish.

The Lure’s Dance

Light tackle gives you the ultimate in feel and sensitivity and you need it when smaller bass short bite or tail slap the lures, which many times they do in the cold water months. When casting, a slower retrieve works best. With metals, drag the lure on the sand bottom to present the illusion of a sand eel unearthing itself during the dawn hours. When plugging, a super slow retrieve, like one crank of the reel every second and a half is the proper approach. For poppers, a lazy slow pop is preferred instead of a hard chugging pencil popper like you present in the spring or during the height of the fall run.

Light tackle allows you to feel those subtle bumps; then you can stop the retrieve for a second, then speed it up for a split second to get the bass reinterested. Remember to never give up on a bump. If you know you got hit, immediately reel in and cast directly to where you just had that last bump, and the fish should still be there to hit it again. That’s the beauty of December bass, they are always waiting again for the next cast so long as you pay attention to where they are hanging and how they are hitting. Both daytime and night hours will produce, and in the dark, the intimate connection using light tackle helps to feel the subtle hits from nocturnal bass.

2018 12 Scale Down Stripers NIGHT BITE
Black, purple or “blurple” lures retrieved slowly in the night surf of December can result in a few drag marks when you time it right.

In the Wash

More than 75 percent of the shorty bass you fool with in December hit right in the wash, meaning 20 yards out from the undertow. You don’t need to launch out to the horizon with any lures at this time, but the light lure approach produces in any conditions from 4- to 5-foot Northeast surf to West offshore winds in flat, glassy seas. Never give up on a retrieve as bass will follow the lure right to your feet many times, whether it is a low tide slough or in a deep cut. That light lure connection ensures that you feel the subtle strike and connect, whereas a heavy duty set up misses the tiny bumps.

Yes, of course, big bass can be around during December, but more often than not, the smaller fish are in town, and you can never go into a battle overmatching the fare you intend on targeting. Scale down all your offerings from the rod and reel to the lures and you’ll be the guy posting pictures of hundreds of bass to be the December Instagram hero.

Take it from me, follow at @nickhonachefsky for the daily photos!

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