Soundings - - Contents - BY LENNY RUDOW

Se­abirds hov­er­ing over a striped-bass blitz can mean a hook-up is im­mi­nent; that is, if you know how to work the feed­ing frenzy ef­fi­ciently.

Few things are as ex­cit­ing as spot­ting a cloud of gulls on the hori­zon, div­ing and dip­ping over break­ing fish. Those work­ing birds in­di­cate a feed­ing frenzy, which can lead to some of the hottest ac­tion of the sea­son. The fish are of­ten so charged up that it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to come away empty-handed. Al­most.

While even a novice can usu­ally man­age to get a bent rod when fish are break­ing wa­ter, dif­fer­ent an­glers have dif­fer­ent re­sults when they com­pare pic­tures or cool­ers at the end of the day. A few sub­tle tac­tics can help you take full ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion.

The way you ap­proach a school of break­ing fish is im­por­tant be­cause it can im­pact the suc­cess of your catch. Don’t go blaz­ing into the fray at full tilt. Do so and there’s a good chance you’ll drive the school down or break it up. Slow down and come off plan­ing speeds when you’re 100 yards or so from the frenzy. At half that dis­tance, slow to min­i­mum idle. Re­mem­ber that re­gard­less of en­gine noise your pro­pel­ler makes a whine un­der­wa­ter that’s di­rectly re­lated to the speed at which it’s turn­ing. Painful though it may be to creep to­ward the ac­tion and de­lay your casts, in the long run, slow­ing down will pay off.

Your re­la­tion­ship to the wind and cur­rent is an­other im­por­tant as­pect of the ap­proach. If you’re down-cur­rent of a school and you pull up to its edge, af­ter a cast or two you’ll have drifted right back out of cast­ing range. In­stead, cir­cle around the school un­til you’re on the up­wind or up-cur­rent side. Then shift into neu­tral at the school’s edge and you’ll be able to cast for a much longer pe­riod of time as you drift down the pe­riph­ery of the work­ing fish.

Trollers, mean­while, will do best to work the pe­riph­ery of the school. Trolling right through the mid­dle may be a sure­fire way to hook up, but it’s also a method that of­ten breaks up the fish and kills the ac­tion.

Although the frenzy you see is right at the sur­face, don’t fo­cus all your ef­forts at the top of the wa­ter col­umn. Fish­ing deep un­der work­ing birds can put you on sig­nif­i­cantly larger fish. With some species—in­clud­ing stripers—the largest fish of­ten sit be­neath the frenzy and wait for a bait­fish that got in­jured in the fray to come drift­ing by.

Ex­pe­ri­enced an­glers know there are no real rules in fish­ing, or at least none that don’t change in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. There will be oc­ca­sions when the largest fish you catch from the break­ers hits a top­wa­ter lure. Yes, this di­rectly con­tra­dicts what I just wrote about larger fish of­ten lurk­ing be­low the frenzy. But these are fish we’re talk­ing about; some­times they do what we least ex­pect.

If go­ing deep doesn’t pro­duce the lunkers, try chug­ging a large plug across the sur­face. It could pro­duce a fish that’s big­ger than the one you catch with sub­sur­face lures like jigs or spoons.

One note of cau­tion: Small fish will hit that top­wa­ter plug, too. If there are a lot of throw­backs in the school, you’ll want to clip a tine off the tre­ble hooks, crimp down the barbs or re­place the tre­bles with sin­gle hooks. Yes, this will lead to a slightly lower strike- to­hookup ra­tio. But oth­er­wise, you’re des­tined to in­jure and per­haps kill a large num­ber of the fish you re­lease, be­cause reg­u­lar tre­bles of­ten cause a lot of dam­age.

Some­times an an­gler will pull a lure through a chaotic sur­face blitz, yet the lure goes com­pletely un­touched. What gives? Of­ten, lure size is the cul­prit. When fish are in a frenzy, they’re go­ing af­ter schooled bait, not in­di­vid­ual fish. And schooled bait­fish are com­monly the same size. So, if a pack of preda­tors is tear­ing through a shoal of bay an­chovies that are no more than 3 inches long and you’re cast­ing a 6-inch jig, they may ig­nore it com­pletely.

Color mat­ters, too. When you’re not get- ting as many hits as you should while work­ing a feed­ing frenzy, even af­ter try­ing dif­fer­ent size lures ( or spot­ting the bait to make sure you’ve matched size prop­erly), try a new color.

And here’s one last tip for when you’re fish­ing un­der birds: Keep your casts low and side- armed, as op­posed to high and arc­ing through the melee. Make those high casts and there’s a good chance that sooner or later a bird will fly into your line and get tan­gled in it. You’ll have to spend valu­able fish­ing time try­ing to free your an­gry feath­ered friend.

Gulls div­ing into break­ing fish in­di­cate there’s a feed­ing frenzy in progress.

The largest fish, in­clud­ing stripers, may lurk lower in the wa­ter col­umn.

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