The day started as the alarm sounded at 4 a.m., well before dawn and a leftover light rain falling from thunderstorms that rolled through the evening before. So far so good, as cloudy and overcast is always preferable when it comes to fishing and filming. Anyway, I was looking forward to a great day of bass fishing with the boys from Causeway Bait and Tackle (www.causewaybait.com or 516-785-3223) in Wantagh, Bobby Turturello and Greg Keegan.
I'd been after Bobby Turturello of Causeway for three years to do a television show with me on the art of bellying bass along the sod (marsh) banks of the South Shore. Bobby is a well known "pro" at this technique and well respected on the bay. We tried this show last season, but had to cancel three times as bad weather and a blown engine were the culprits.
Bobby doesn't like using chum pots for his bellying and was taught by some of the old timers on the bay the fine art of "squeezing" bellies for big bass. Anyway, this trip was long over due and I was excited about the possibility of learning a few new tricks for catching large bass with Bobby and Greg.
METHOD. Chumming with clam bellies is a technique of catching bass where you can see high numbers of bass and sometimes-BIG bass as well. It's also a controversial method of striper fishing because if you're not careful you can "gut" hook fish on occasion. It's been around for many, many years, but in the last 10 years or so, it has reinvented itself. Clam bellying for bass is easy, there's a ton of fish around and anybody can do it. You can chum bellies at any bridge, inlet of marsh bank and one thing is for certain is it works.
The key is anchoring up tide of a bridge, cut in the bank or hole along side the marsh and float bellies back into the "strike zone." Many old timers don't use chum pots, but rather squeeze their bellies while many of the newcomers prefer the chum pot. If you prefer to squeeze, take your bellies and place them in a 5-gallon bucket. Take a handful of bellies and squeeze them over the side, breaking them apart and releasing whatever is left into the current. Keep doling them out and the fish should respond within minutes most of the time.
The advantage to squeezing bellies is you can control how much bait you put in the water. You can get the fish boiling in the water behind you or find them laying way back in the slick. If this is the case, increase the chum in the water to bring them closer. If they are being caught close to the boat, slow down the amount of chum so you don't overfeed them. Meanwhile take a whole skimmer clam and place it on your hook and float it back in the current with the chum you've been putting out. It is important you release your baited clam no faster or slower than the speed of the current. Too fast and there is too much line in the water and you won't feel the strike and too slow the bait will fight the tide and rise to the surface. Don't let bass run with the clam bait, when you feel the bite set the hook!
RIGGING. We used a 36-inch stretch of 30-pound leader material tied to our running line with a 90-pound barrel swivel and a 5/0 or 6/0 black, Daiichi Octopus Wide (model D18Z) hook tied to the business end of the leader. We do not use circle hooks in bellying bass because we want to set the hooks ourselves as the fish were biting "light" on this trip. Circle hooks are fine when current is very strong or the rod is placed in the rod holder and the hook will then set itself.
Some anglers may opt for fish finder rigs which is fine, but in this art of presenting clam bellies to bass, we want to make sure our clams were not tied to the bottom, but drifting just above it in the current. We also used a small rubber core sinker just ahead of the barrel swivel to get our baits deep in the current and the amount of weight is to be adjusted as to the depth of the water, strength of current and bay conditions. Each person on the boat should use a different weight rubber core to search the water column. The fish will let you know where they are. After catching a few you can all switch to the correct rubber core weight.
TACKLE. The best tackle for chumming bellies is a rod with a soft tip for presentation, but with enough backbone to set the hook into the maw of a big bass. I've found the (heavier) Seeker BA85-7 or (lighter) Fenwick 708M to be the perfect rods for this type of fishing. For a reel to compliment my rod choices, I use the Ambassadeur 7000 level wind reel or the Ambassadeur 6500UC. Don't go smaller than the 6500 or similar sized reel and spool with 25 to 30-pound Berkley Big game line or 50-pound Whiplash braided line
I had a great time and loads of fun with Bob & Greg, ending our trip in a howling northwest wind of 25 knots, the tide petering out and the fish with a serious case of lockjaw in the high pressure system that had now taken hold. It was a slow pick, but that happens every now and then and between the three of us we had a five fish day with two keeper bass and a 10-pound bluefish. You can see all the fun we had along with the techniques and the fish we did catch this Saturday on "The Fishing Line" television show as Bobby and Greg join me on WLNY TV-55 this Saturday June 9th at 9 a.m.