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Anchovy Angst…

Pictured above: A school of stripers whip the water to a froth as they feed on bay anchovies. Photo by Shawn Hayes-Costello

Some of the most visually impressive fall striped bass blitzes are fueled by the smallest baitfish that swim through New England waters. The slow-swimming bay anchovy is a favorite food of migrating striped bass, and one of the most difficult baitfish to imitate.

Follow the Wind, Find the Fis

Follow the Wind, Find the Fish. Photo by captain Jim Freda

Follow the Wind, Find the Fish

Wind was the make-or-break factor for surfcasters last fall. Anchovies are weak swimmers, and are easily pushed by the wind and current. Onshore winds push the anchovies into the surf, where the bass trap them against the shoreline, leading to great fishing from the beach.

The Bay Anchovy

The Bay Anchovy

The Bay Anchovy

Bay anchovies are small herring-like fish with an underslung jaw and a prominent snout. Anchovies feed on plankton, and spend most of their lives near the surface. When threatened, they form dense schools that look like patches of muddy water. Bay anchovies reach a maximum age of about three years and a maximum size of about four inches, but most are between 1 and 3 inches long. In the Northeast, bay anchovies migrate east to west, moving to the continental shelf in the fall and winter, returning to estuaries in the spring. They are an important food source for a variety of predators, including false albacore and juvenile striped bass.

S&S Bucktails Slim Fish

S&S Bucktails Slim Fish

Anchovy Imitations

The small size and nearly translucent coloration of bay anchovies make them difficult baitfish to imitate. The following list of small, slender lures are close matches and will take not only stripers, but albies as well.

Tsunami 3-inch Split Tail Minnow

Tsunami 3-inch Split Tail Minnow

Lighten up Leaders

Lighten up Leaders

Lighten Up Leaders

On bright, sunny days, fish can see everything. If you’ve ever sight-fished the flats, you know long and light leaders are mandatory to avoid spooking fish. The same applies when matching small baitfish like the bay anchovy.

Deceiver

Deceiver

I use a small 35-pound-test barrel swivel between my braid and leader. This rigging reduces the amount of lost fish and twisted line, but remember to tie directly to the lure to cut down on snubs from weary fish that follow. In clear and calm conditions, I use a 3-foot,15- to 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. In turbid water, I shorten my leader to 2 feet and use 30-pound-test monofilament. On the fly rod, my 9-foot leader consists of 3 feet of 40-pound monofilament, 3 feet of 30-pound monofilament, and 3 feet of 15-pound-test fluorocarbon.

Stay at the right speed for finicky striped bass feeding on bay anchovies.

From the shore or boat, a high rod tip with a cadence of one turn of the handle per “Mississippi” keeps me at the right speed for finicky striped bass on bay anchovies.

Retrieve

One day, while casting into a school of bass, I kept hooking into false albacore. With the fish going crazy in front of me, I found it difficult to slow down my retrieve enough to entice the bass to bite. Anchovies are not fast, but false albacore respond to a fast presentation on most occasions. The same with the fly rod—a slow strip is hard with fish going gonzo in front of you.

Epoxy Anchovy

Epoxy Anchovy

From the shore or boat, a high rod tip with a cadence of one turn of the handle per “Mississippi” keeps me at the right speed for finicky striped bass on bay anchovies.

A fly rod that you can punch into the wind with is perfect

A 9-foot, 9-weight rod with floating or intermediate line that you can punch into the wind is perfect

Tackle for Matching Bite-Size Baits

When throwing small lures that imitate tiny anchovies, I always use a 7- to 8-foot rod with a matching reel spooled with 15- to 20-pound-test braided line. This lighter setup allows me to cast much farther.

Zonker

Zonker

When fly-fishing, a 9-foot, 9-weight rod with floating or intermediate line that you can punch into the wind is perfect. Rio’s Outbound Short or Airflo’s 40+ lines will get the job done.


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