Saltwater Sportsman - - Top Shot - BY RIC BURN­LEY

After three hours of trolling with­out a tuna bite, Capt. Ja­son Snead or­dered the mate to put out the spoon. A few min­utes later, we were tight to a buck­ing yel­lowfin. When Capt. Gene Quigley can’t con­vince striped bass to take a top­wa­ter plug, he de­ploys huge bunker spoons and slow-trolls for lunkers.

Red­fish won’t bite? Capt. Ryan Lam­bert re­sorts to tiny lures and line as light as sewing thread. If the bait shop sells out of crabs, tar­pon guru Capt. Bouncer Smith doesn’t worry. He catches live pin­fish for bait in­stead.

Some­times even sharks don’t want to play. So, San Diego guide Capt. Con­way Bow­man turns his at­ten­tion to inshore species.

When Plan A doesn’t work out, pro guides al­ways have a backup plan. Be it chang­ing lures, switch­ing tac­tics, or tar­get­ing a com­pletely dif­fer­ent species, these guys are ready to make the call that saves the day.

The same ap­proach serves pri­vate an­glers well. Tie your day to one spe­cific species and you ei­ther win or lose. But hav­ing a var­ied arse­nal of tackle — or strate­gies — al­lows you to adapt to dif­fer­ent quarry and sit­u­a­tions. So when­ever Plan A falls flat, your odds of mak­ing your day on the wa­ter a suc­cess­ful one are con­sid­er­ably bet­ter.


Walk onto any char­ter boat in Ore­gon In­let Fish­ing Cen­ter and you’ll see fish­ing rods hang­ing from the ceil­ing, lin­ing the walls and stuffed into the cabin. In ad­di­tion to a dozen 50-pound trolling rods, skip­pers fish­ing the di­verse wa­ters off North Carolina’s Outer Banks pack 80-pound tackle for blue mar­lin, 30-pound tackle for dol­phin, spin­ning rods for top­wa­ter pop­pers, jig­ging rods, kite rods, bail­ing rods and more. “We have to be ready for ev­ery­thing,” Capt. Ja­son Snead of Dream Girl Sport­fish­ing says. One of the most im­por­tant rods is ded­i­cated to pulling a planer

and spoon. “When we mark tuna deep but can’t get a bite, we put out the planer.” When set up to pull a No. 4 planer and No. 4 Hunt­ing­ton Drone spoon on a 50-pound out­fit with a tight drag, the planer al­lows Snead to troll 6 knots or faster. The spoon and planer are sep­a­rated by 70 feet of 130-pound monofilament leader. The planer is at­tached to the leader with a har­ness. When the an­gler reels the planer to the rod tip, the mate re­moves the planer and the an­gler con­tin­ues to crank the wind-on leader onto the reel. Snead runs the planer off the right cor­ner rod holder and fills the other spots in his spread with skirted bal­ly­hoo. “Some days the planer rod pro­duces the only bite we get,” he says.


“I don’t have a Plan A,” says Capt. Ryan Lam­bert of Ca­jun Fish­ing Ad­ven­tures, where red­fish are al­ways his tar­get. Lam­bert reads the wa­ter and weather and makes his plan when he ar­rives at the dock each morn­ing. “Since I’m sight-fish­ing, I can see if fish are there or not.” He can also judge his tar­get’s mood. If he casts at a school of tail­ing reds and they turn

1 off his ⁄ 4- ounce jig head and 5-inch soft plas­tic, he knows to change his lure. “First, I down­size,” he says.

Lam­bert switches to a light-ac­tion rod and 2500 reel spooled with 12-pound braid. He has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with Ned rigs, a 1 ⁄ 8- ounce rounded jig head and 1-inch float­ing soft­plas­tic tail. “I’m catch­ing bull reds on crap­pie tackle,” he claims.

The jig rests on the bot­tom with the tiny tail stick­ing up se­duc­tively. The pop­u­lar large­mouth bass tac­tic has gained Lam­bert’s con­fi­dence. “Bounce the lit­tle jig in front of a school of red­fish and they can’t refuse it,” he says.


Capt. Bouncer Smith has 60 years of tricks in his tar­pon bag. He laughs in the face of ad­ver­sity. The first prob­lem: no bait at the bait shop. “Some peo­ple would say no crabs, no tar­pon,” he says. But faced with a short­age, he catches pin­fish, grunts and sand perch on nearshore rock piles. He drops a No. 6 Sabiki rig baited with shrimp. “Tar­pon even eat live lizard­fish,” he ex­plains.

Smith hooks the live bait in front of the dor­sal fin with an 8/0 VMC non-off­set cir­cle hook. “I use a non-off­set hook to en­sure I hook the tar­pon in the cor­ner of the mouth, which pro­tects the leader from

abra­sion,” he ex­plains.

Smith drifts the baits along the beach, let­ting the wind carry him from shal­low wa­ter to deep, or deep to shal­low. If the wind dies, he uses a float rig to keep the baits sus­pended off the bot­tom. He uses a rub­ber band to pin a sail­fish float 12 feet above the hook. Rain or shine, wind or calm, Smith runs tar­pon trips ev­ery evening. “Fish­ing from 5 p.m. un­til 9 al­lows us to cover day­light to dark,” he ex­plains. “If there is a tar­pon in the area, it’s go­ing to bite at one of those times.”


Capt. Con­way Bow­man is world-fa­mous for best­ing giant South­ern Cal­i­for­nia sharks with fly tackle. But even a man-eater gets full. “Some­times I can feel we’re go­ing to have a bad day,” Bow­man says. When the wa­ter cools or big sharks aren’t hun­gry, Bow­man turns to­ward the beach. “We have phe­nom­e­nal inshore fish­ing for yel­low­tail, bar­racuda, mack­erel and bonita,” he says. Bow­man runs to the kelp beds that hug the coast and breaks out lighter 8-weight fly tackle rigged with a sink­ing shoot­ing-head and a Clouser Min­now or Lefty’s De­ceiver. To pro­tect against bar­racuda teeth, he adds 6 inches of 20-pound sin­gle-strand-wire bite tip­pet. He also packs an arse­nal of 20-pound spin­ning gear armed with cast­ing spoons.

Since his pri­mary tar­get is big sharks, he al­ways has chum on board.

“When we find fish or mark bait, I’ll dump over the chum bucket to keep their at­ten­tion,” he says. Bow­man times his day to make the most of the con­di­tions. “Some­times I’ll start with Plan B,” he laughs. Bow­man likes early-morn­ing, calm con­di­tions for inshore species, and rougher, windier con­di­tions with high sun to sight-cast for mon­ster sharks. When all else fails, he goes to Plan C, head­ing into the back­wa­ter for sand bass and hal­ibut on light spin­ning

1 gear with a ⁄ 4- ounce jig and scented soft plas­tic. “We’ll

fish,” he says.


While cast­ing top­wa­ter lures to a school of feed­ing striped bass of­fers peak ex­cite­ment, it isn’t al­ways easy to lo­cate a feed­ing frenzy in the open ocean.

“Find­ing the fish in their nat­u­ral preda­tor mode is al­ways Plan A,” says Capt. Gene Quigley out of Manasquan In­let, New Jersey. Prob­lem is, Plan A isn’t al­ways on the striper’s sched­ule. “I spend most of my day read­ing the bunker schools,” Quigley says. If he doesn’t find a sur­face party, he switches to live bunker. “Since I added a side-imag­ing sonar, I see bass hang­ing around the bait schools,” he says. With any luck, Quigley will have a baitwell full of bunker the school. If he doesn’t have live bait, he turns to sna­gand-drop. Quigley ties on a weighted 12/0 tre­ble hook and snags a bunker out of the school. Then he lets the bunker drop through the wa­ter to the striped bass feed­ing be­low. On the tough­est days, when the bait holds deep and the bass are scat­tered, Quigley goes to trolling big spoons with lead-core line. “Trolling is the best way to cover a lot of wa­ter and put meat in the box,” he says. He uses 30-pound trolling tackle spooled with wire or lead-core line to pull a 12inch, me­tal spoon. Re­cently, in ad­di­tion to the spoons, he started pulling a heavy tan­dem para­chute jig rig called a Mojo. With an 18- to 24-ounce jig on the bot­tom and an 8- to 12-ounce trailer, Quigley fishes the Mojo off the tran­som where they bounce along the bot­tom. “The spoons will be 300 to 350 feet from the boat, and the Mo­jos are di­rectly be­low the boat,” he says.

OP­TIONS OPEN: Red­fish get picky too. Be flex­i­ble and ver­sa­tile to make the best of the day.

BACKUP PLAN: When tar­pon get a case of lock­jaw, change up your tac­tics. Give them what they want.

1. An 8 mm plas­tic bead on the leader rests against the out­board side of the knot join­ing the fish­ing line and leader. 2. A rub­ber band on the leader keeps the float in place and al­lows for ad­just­ments to main­tain the de­sired dis­tance from the bait. 3. Size leader to hold the bait at cho­sen depth. 4. Live bait re­mains free to swim at de­sired depth. 2 4 3

1. Tie 70 feet of 130-pound mono to the wind-on swivel at the end of the braided fish­ing line. 2. Crimp short sec­tions of 130-pound mono to the leader. 3. Af­fix snap swivels on two short teth­ers for the front and back of the planer. 4. Clip snaps to the mono loops on the leader. 5. No. 4 planer is now de­tach­able when it reaches the rod tip. 4 5 3 2 1 3 4 1

1. Set the first bunker spoon 350 feet back. 2. Set the sec­ond bunker spoon 300 feet be­hind the boat. 3. Troll a pair of Mojo rigs much closer, main­tain­ing just enough speed to keep them bounc­ing along the bot­tom. 2 1 2 1 3 3

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