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By Rich Johnson

   Surf fishing the last week I saw my first gannets. You may ask what is a gannet? It's a sea bird larger than the largest gull with a large wingspan, that circle high in the sky and dive bombs into the water with a terrific splash. They are the first indicators that herring are present along the beaches and making their way into the inlets and bays of the Long Island region. It feeds mostly on herring and many use the gannet as a barometer of the final weeks of the surf season and as a signal it’s time to jig them up and use them for bass bait in the inlets.

The Atlantic Herring (Clupa harengus harengus) and the blueback herring (Alosa Herring Caught Striperaestivalis) are the main angling attraction for those plying the planks of local docks and piers during the winter season. However, they are also the main culprits sought, when late season bass anglers are looking for cow linesiders! These ocean running fish storm into our inlets just about the time bass are ready to leave and as you can imagine, this is not a very good scenario as far as the well being of the herring is concerned. The time all this happens is now and using them as bass bait can give even a novice angler a true shot at a trophy bass. These are such good baits, herring can and will catch some of the largest bass of the entire season, if you know how to fish them correctly.

PIERS. The piers or docks that get most of the attention of anglers looking to catch herring for bait are Magnolia Pier in Long Beach, the pier at the Conservation & Waterways in Lido Beach and of course, the Jones Beach Piers at Jones Beach Field 10. These are great places to catch herring and many anglers don’t realize that you can fish these herring live or in chunks, right from the pier where you caught them. The rig we use is basically the same as the live bait rig we use on the boats. Also look to the Captree State Park overlook pier or any of the local South Shore piers. If in a boat and want herring for bait, fish these same areas and you will find birds picking and diving over herring as they come through the inlets.

HERRING RIGS. Most herring rigs used are the store bought variety with my personal preference going to the Kattakuri and Atlantis herring rigs produced by the FJ Neil Co. right here on Long Island. The rigs are dynamite and produce lots of herring when all others fail. The great thing about the Kattakuri herring rig is that you attach it to your line then simply pull the card and the rig unfolds without knots or tangles! Simply hang drop the herring rig to the bottom and jig until the herring “tree” fills up.

BASS RIG3-Way bass Rig w/live herring baitsFish Finder Rig. When fishing live herring for bass from piers or boats, the rigging is
very important. It must be tied correctly, with enough length in the leader to allow the herring to swim naturally thus inducing strikes. You want the herring bait down in the strike zone where the bass are and acting naturally! The rig I use is hand tied and is a combination of a cod and eel rig. Using a three-way swivel, tie one eye to the line on your reel. To the other eye attach a length of 15-pound test line of about 2 to 3-foot in length. Put an overhand loop on the other end to place you sinker and an overhand knot in the middle of this length of line and you’ve got a breakaway sinker rig. This light, 15-pound test sinker attachment with knot in the middle allows the sinker to break free if caught on the bottom with a fish on. You lose the sinker, but you get to keep the fish.As for the hooks and rig to use, opinions vary greatly but they all seem to work. In a call to Joe Gullo, owner of West End B&T (516-889-4393) in Long Beach, I learned he has two thoughts on this matter. First his preference is either a #2 treble hook or a Daiichi 6/0 short shank tuna (live bait) slipped through the bottom of the chin and out a nostril, or through both nostrils of the herring and fished very close to the bottom. Joe uses an egg sinker (fish-finder) rig fished on the bottom or the three-way rig described above, but with his sinker loop only inches off the bottom.

I like to use a 7/0 or 8/0 Daiichi “Octopus Wide” offset hook. I prefer to fish these 18 to 36 inches off the bottom. As you can see, the styles differ, but the results are the same…big bass. However, both rigs have one thing in common, both insist on long leaders to the hook. Finish this off with a 5-foot length of 50-pound test leader material, slip on a live or chunked herring and hold on! Either rig you choose is a winner! Fish this rig with live herring on a drift, as you would when drifting eels.

GET OUT THERE. There’s nothing going on important enough to keep you indoors and I keep my boat in the water well into December. We’ll continue to catch bass using herring baits till Christmas and depending on the weather, throughout the winter for catch and release striper action. The key is to be on the water. With Thanksgiving here, it’s this week and the Thanksgiving weekend where I’ve caught some of my largest bass of the season using eels or herring, day or night. So make plans to be on the water these next two weekends and forget all the stuff going on for the landlubbers. You have to be on the water to experience this fine fishing, so find someone with a boat and hitch a ride or ply the planks of your local pier and get in on the great and what could be a last shot at trophy bass for the season.

Have a great winter and we’ll see you at the boat and outdoor shows this off season. Be sure to get the latest techniques and other important fish catching tips at my seminar series at the NY National Boat Show at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan January 6 through the January 14 and at the Nassau Coliseum Expo the last weekend of January. Both Seminar Series will have a large line up of local and national fishing experts and is always a fun time as we go through the our own "hot stove" season in the fishing industry. Be well and happy holidays!


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