Striper Tackle: The Bait Angler’s Arsenal
Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 12, 2012
When it comes to bagging stripers while using bait, there are a broad range of rod and reel combinations capable of catching fish, ranging from a light trout outfit on one end of the spectrum and a stiff tuna stick on the other.
Having said that, choosing the proper rod and teaming it with an appropriate reel will not only maximize your effectiveness in terms of hooking and landing fish, but it will also enhance the pleasure derived while slugging it out with a determined bass.
When fishing bait from a boat, conventional bait-casting rods and reels are way to go. A sensitive graphite rod between seven and eight feet long is ideal. The rod should feature a fast action, meaning that it should have a sensitive, flexible tip that quickly gives way to powerful middle and butt sections. The rod must be capable of handling sinkers weighing up to four ounces and should be rated for 12- to 17-pound test monofilament line.
Your rod should be teamed with a level-wind bait casting reel equipped with a smooth, drag and a bait clicker. In general, you don’t need a ton of line capacity, but you do want a unit capable of holding about 200 yards of 15-pound test monofilament.
This brings us to choosing the line we’ll spool onto our reels. For years, monofilament was the only choice for bait anglers, but more recently braided super lines have burst onto the scene. Both lines have positives and negatives, and naturally there are some hardcore bait anglers who swear by monofilament while others wouldn’t think of spooling up with anything but braid.
I love braided line, and Spiderwire Ultracast is my absolute favorite. Braided lines offer several benefits. First, braids have virtually no stretch, making for exceptional sensitivity and positive hook sets. Braid also has a strength-to-diameter ratio far superior to monofilament. For example, 65-pound test braid has roughly the same diameter as 14- to 17-pound monofilament.
Anglers who favor monofilament maintain that it offers adequate strength, is fairly cheap — especially when compared with braid — and line stretch isn’t a huge issue when fishing with bait. Delta skipper Barry Canavero of Fish Hookers Sportfishing is a P-Line pro staffer. He uses braid for some applications, but he swears by monofilament when bait fishing for stripers. When I first met him he was using 15-pound test fluorescent yellow P-Line CXX. These days he has gotten even more daring and is using 12-pound CXX.
If I were going to recommend a brand of monofilament to use when bait fishing for stripers, P-Line CXX would be my first choice. My second would be Trilene Maxx. Both of these lines are abrasion resistant, and I can tell you from experience that they both perform well when the going gets tough.
Okay now that you’ve selected your rod, reel and line, it’s time to consider the nuts and bolts of bait fishing. I’m talking about end tackle. When you hit the tackle shop in search of end tackle, the first thing you should select is a plastic compartment box for storing all the components you’ll need.
Effective delta bait anglers use sliding sinker rigs almost all the time, so you’ll need a dozen plastic slider sleeves, known locally as “slidos.” A slido is simply a plastic tube with a snap attached to it. Your main line goes through the tube and your sinker goes into the snap.
Next you’ll need some snap swivels with at least a 40-pound rating. Lock snaps work, but they can be tough to operate with cold hands, so some anglers prefer McMan-style snaps. They squeeze open and are a lot easier to work with when it is cold or dark.
Having the proper hook for any given situation and various baits is a critical component for bait-fishing success. Hooks are one area where angers often try to save money, which can be a huge mistake when dealing with large, hard-fighting fish like stripers. I use Gamakatsu hooks exclusively. They provide superior sharpness and strength. When bait fishing I tie on a Gamakatsu and forget about it, because I know I’m using a hook that performs flawlessly 100 percent of the time.
The workhorse hook for the bait angler is an octopus-style hook. You’ll want these in 8/0, 9/0 and 10/0 sizes. You don’t need to have a huge number of hooks in your gearbox when you hit the water, but you don’t want to run out during a hot bite either. You can get by with six of each of the hooks listed, but a dozen of each is better.
Okay, I know we are running up a healthy tackle bill, but we’re almost done. The last few items you’ll need include a spool of high-quality, abrasion-resistant 25-pound test leader material, a bunch of 1/4-inch plastic beads, a spool of elastic Magic Thread for securing fragile baits to your hook, and some sinkers. For sinkers you’ll want round flat “dollar sinkers” in 2-, 3- and 4-ounce sizes.
Last but not least you’ll need a Spartan selection of fish-attracting scent. “Adding scent to your baits is very important,” Captain Canevaro says. “Baits with scent on them catch more stripers, that’s the bottom line. My favorite scents are anise and threadfin shad in that order.”
Like Canevaro, I am also a big believer in scent. Both of us use Pro-Cure scents. Pro-Cure Super Gels are sticky and stay on baits for a long time. My favorite scent is also anise. Over the years I’ve had great luck combining anise and crawfish scents. You can certainly get by with only anise, but you might want to pick up two or three more flavors, since it’s fun to experiment. When the water is muddy, I know several anglers who swear by using garlic scent.
This week’s how to column is an edited excerpt from my new book, The Delta Fishing Handbook. The book is at the printer right now and will be unveiled to the public at Hap’s Bait in Rio Vista on September 27. The 162 page book with over 100 photo illustrations is the comprehensive guide to targeting the fabulous California Delta’s stripers and sturgeon with bait.
Subjects covered in the The Delta Fishing Handbook include tackle selection, bait selection, proper rigging, locating fish, playing the tides, proper execution, caring for and cooking your catch and much much more. If you are new to the delta fishing scene or if you are an experienced delta angler that wants to catch more and larger stripers and sturgeon, this is the book for you. Anglers that embrace the tactics and tips within the Delta Fishing Handbook won’t hit the water hoping to catch fish. They’ll motor away from the dock with the confidence that comes from consistent success!
The Delta Fishing Handbook retails for $17.95, but as a special promotion for Fish Sniffer readers that call to pre-order the book and mention this article I’ll knock $1 off the cover price. To order your personally autographed copy of The Delta Fishing Handbook give me a call at (530) 320-0368. – Cal Kellogg