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Clam Bellies for Stripers
By Rich Johnson

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 is also a controversial method of striper fishing because if you’re not careful you can "gut" hook many of them. It has 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 are 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, it works. Clam bellies to bass is like candy to a baby…irresistible.

BE PREPARED. When it comes to bellies you can use fresh, but most of us use frozen clam bellies. You buy them at your local tackle dealer in various size containers and if you are fishing an entire tide, it’s best to get the frozen 5-gallon can. Ask the dealer to take them out and set them aside early in the day so they’ll be somewhat thawed by the time you head out after work. You would be surprised how long it takes a 5-gallon block of ice to thaw, but after all it does depend on the temperature of the day. You can use smaller cans if you wish and you can use a chum pot.

METHOD. The key here is to anchor up tide of any structure you’re fishing. You want to float the bellies back into the structure whether it’s a bridge or sod bank because that is where stripers lay in wait of an easy meal. Many of the old timers don’t use chum pots, but rather squeeze their bellies while many of the newcomers prefer the chum pot. If new to the game, use the chum pot and fill the pot with the contents of the frozen clam bellies. Tie off the chum pot to a rope and place under your boat. This now releases scent and pieces of clam back into the structure getting the fish roiled into a frenzy below the water’s surface. You then use a fish-finder rig with a 24-inch length leader and fish right in behind the boat on the bottom. Stripers come out of their hiding place and follow the scent right up to the boat. This action can be fast and furious with boats catching up to 50 bass per trip on a good day.

If you prefer to squeeze you bellies, here’s how we do it. Take your frozen clam bellies and place them in a 5-gallon bucket. Add to this seawater and allow to mix to together. Then you ladle out the "soup" you’ve created giving them just the juice and no clams. You want to fill the water with scent and drive them crazy. Meanwhile take a whole clam belly and holding it over the side, squeeze the fluids out of it and let it go. Dole out some more juice and when the first clam you placed in the water disappears do the same with another. What you’re doing is getting them worked up with the juice, then tempting them with only one or two clams at a time.

After releasing a few clams, place one on a hook and release it back into the current. To do this correctly it is important you release your line with the 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. When you feel the bite strike back. Don’t let bass run with the clam bait, if you do the bass will swallow the bait and hook and you now have a gut hooked fish and probably a dead bass even after releasing what you think is unharmed.

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 Seeker BA85-7 or Fenwick 708M to be the perfect rods for this type of fishing. These are one piece seven-foot rods, made by the Seeker Rod Co. of California and Fenwick of the Pure Fishing Co. in Spirit Lake, IA. Right off the rack these rods are superb. The Seeker is rated for 25 to 40-pound test lines and the Fenwick for 12 to 20-pound test lines.

Chumming bellies is a way light tackle anglers out there can enjoy bass action, but remember if you are fishing around bridges there is a lot of current and even if you do manage to land the fish, you may tire him out needlessly after a tough and prolonged battle. Save the light tackle for open areas like marsh banks or inlet bars and eddies. Around bridges you may also have to use six or seven-ounce sinkers and add the fact you have to "turn" the bass your way, gain complete control and keep the fish away from structure, you’ll be glad you stepped up in tackle. For a reel to compliment my rod choices, I use the Ambassadeur 7000 level wind reel, spooled with 25 to 40-pound Berkley Big game line for the heavier rod and an Ambassadeur 6500 UC for the light tackle.

RIGGING. Many anglers may opt for fish finder rigs and some of the real sharpies prefer to just use just slip sinkers and hooks. The hooks I have found most effective now are the Daichii hooks. These hooks absolutely blow away the competition no matter what brand you use. They are constructed of 80-carbon steel and remain sharp no matter how many fish you catch. The two models I would recommend are the Daichii Circle hooks in model D82Z or a live bait hook like the D18Z in sizes 3/0 to 5/0.

Why two styles of hooks? Well circle hook shave been proven to produce less gut hooked fish because the hook turns inside the mouth of the fish and hooks them in the corner jaw. The only drawback to these hooks is you’re not supposed to set the hook with them. Just put the rod in the holder, tighten the line and sit back, when the rod bends the fish is hooked. That is the reason I opt for the later style D18Z because I like to hold the rod, feel the strike and set the hook myself. These hooks do cost a few pennies more but are well worth the money.

 

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