Hookin’ It Up!!! Winter Pastime!!By
The snow from the recent blizzard here on Long Island is no sooner melted away then there is forecast for another storm this weekend. The south shore bays are all sporting ice across large portions of them. The boat is stored away, rods and reels are cleaned and awaiting spring. Winter is firmly entrenched in the Northeast region. Winter pastimes for me include visits to the nearby beach areas watching the deer and seals, visiting the various boat and fishing shows in the area and tying hooks for the coming season!!!
I tie all the hooks and rigs used aboard the boat during the fishing season. Each off-season I place a single order for ALL the hooks I prefer and then spend time tying the dozens upon dozens needed for the upcoming season. All my hooks come from manufacturers such as Mustad, Gamakatsu and VMC. With that said let’s jump into the specific hooks used aboard Maybe Tonight Charters in search of the stripers, bluefish, weakfish and fluke swimming in the Great South Bay estuary.
Let’s take a moment to speak about the “leader material” I use. To be sure there will be those who would argue the merits of using fluorocarbon leader material for its invisibility in the water. I would not dispute that fact. In clear water fluoro would by my choice as well. However, as anyone who fishes the Great South Bay here on Long Island would tell you, water clarity is a non-issue in this area. We are generally lucky to have visibility of a couple of feet into the water and most times a lot less than that. For this reason I tie ALL my hooks and rigs using clear Berkley Big Game monofilament. I will use 30lb mono for the live bait rigs fished when live-bait fishing for fluke or weakfish and up it to 50 or 60lb for striped bass and bluefish duties. With the exception of the rigs used for large live bait such as bunker and hickory shad all are tied with a standard hook snell knot.
So, without further adieu, let’s talk hooks!!!
When targeting stripers with small live baits, such as spots or snapper bluefish, as well as live eels I use Octopus style hooks from Gamakatsu and/or VMC in the 6/0 or 7/0 size. These are sharp as needles right out of the box and are extremely strong. I tie these with at 5-6ft leader to give the bait room to roam away from the banana drail sinker while drifting along near the bottom. There are times when the eels are fished without weight and left to their own to swim to the bottom. In this situation I have the leader shortened to 3-4 feet in length.
During the summer months live peanut bunker are a great bait for big fluke. These baits generally range in size from 3-6 inches and they are fished on the same Octopus style hooks sized down to 3/0. While a large fluke would have no problem engulfing the same 7/0 hook I feel the smaller hook size helps keep the bait frisky longer. The one downside to the smaller hook is it is sometimes difficult to reach the hook for removal if the fish was very aggressive in it’s take of the bait. A long-nose pliers goes a long way here.
The Octopus style is also involved while chunking bunker. Here the hook size is stepped WAY up to a 10/0 and it is snelled to a length of 60lb leader 2 feet long. In fast moving water the leader may get shortened even further to help prevent the chunk from spinning in the current while bouncing it back to the piece of productive bottom. There are times and conditions where we want to cast the bait to a piece of structure while keeping the boat in safe water and the short leaders help casting distance by preventing the “helicoptering” effect of the bait around the sinker during a cast.
For quite some time I would hook my larger bunker/shad live baits through the roof of the mouth and out the top of the head using large Siwash hooks and later the 10/0 Octopus hooks and it worked fine. That is until I tried a rig developed and made popular here on Long Island by the famous and long-time charter skipper Capt Al Lorenzetti. This rig consists of a live bait hook (I use Mustad #94150 in 8/0) teamed with a Duo-Lock snap. A small hole is made in the bait with the hook and the snap is then clipped through this hole. The presentation is very realistic as the bait is now able to swim in a very natural manner. Due to the way the snap lays along the shank of the hook, snelling the leader to the hook is not possible so these are tied using an Improved Clinch knot to secure the leader to the eye of the hook. Hookup ratios are improved as well since the entire hook rides fully exposed on top of the baits head.
Moving to the soft baits (clams, worms, etc) employed for striped bass brings us to the bait-saver hooks. Mustad #92641 is the model number in various sizes. In the spring when drifting worms on Hi-Lo rigs a 1/0 or 2/0 size hook is tied to 30lb leader. I have found that using a larger hook size with the worms leads to them constantly breaking off where the hook exits. The smaller size hook has alleviated this for me. The smallish hook size is not really a concern for me as the early spring fish are generally the smallest of the year and I have never felt under-gunned in the hook department.
As the season progresses, clams and chum become a very productive tactic. The same model hook is used but the size is stepped up to a 7/0 or 8/0. This allows a bunch of the soft and slimy clam to be threaded up the hook shank where the slices on the shank of the hook can help hold the bait in place. In the real world you may want to consider using some white thread wrapped around the bait to hold it in place better. I personally don’t bother as the clam is generally just dropped back into the chum slick and allowed to drift downtide so there is never really a lot of water pressure built up to pull the bait off. More important is to make sure the bait is not spinning as you drop it back!!!
Leaving out the hooks on the various plugs, bucktails, jigs and leadheads used during the year that about wraps it up except for the snag hooks. There are always TONS of snaggers aboard as there is nothing more fun then rolling up to a school of bunker getting blasted by stripers and bluefish, casting your snag into the school and foul-hooking a baitfish and leave it to swim with the school before getting picked off by a hungry striped bass. The spring and early summer of 2010 provided amazing action on BIG stripers using this very method and without snaggers one would be left as a sorry spectator. I pour my own with a mold and the hook is an 8/0 treble. The finished snag hook out of the mold is right around 2 ounces.
So, with plenty of the 2011 winter remaining there is still time to grab a box or two of hooks, a big spool of leader material and tie some up.