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TROLLING WORMS FOR SUMMER STRIPERS

The night was clear and the moon bright, as the trolling motor skimmed us across the glassy back stretches of the Cold Spring Harbor. I could see crabs scurrying about just below the surface while I peered through the translucent, boulder strewn shallows with Captain Mike McInerny at the helm. We were fishing this evening for summer stripers and I�ve known for years the success of worm trolling and how well this technique works when temperatures soar during the hot summer months and bass become the nocturnal creatures they truly are.

This age-old method was getting more and more play in the fishing reports and I figured it was time to give it a go, but with my vessel out of commission I was in search of someone who fished as much as I do and wouldn�t mind getting up at any hour to do so. I contacted Capt. Mike who is a five time winner of the Huntington Anglers Conservation Award and a heck of a nice guy to boot and agree to meet me at his boat late that evening. Capt. Mike has lived in Huntington Station for 10 years or so and is constantly fishing the nooks and crannies of the North Shore bays and the sound. Mike releases all his bass and contributed over 350 scale samples to the DEC�s cooperative striper survey last year alone.

As we left the dock with the start of the ebbing tide around 2 a.m., we passed an �old timer� rowing his dory around the innermost spots of Cold Spring Harbor and upon our questioning replied he had already had a couple of bumps, so things were looking up for us this trip. The only change we would employ in this old fashioned method of fishing, would be the use of a trolling motor, to save us some energy and back pain from rowing Mike�s 18-foot whaler around the North Shore.

EQUIPMENT: We were using a trolling motor with 33-pounds of thrust, strong enough to buck the current and of course hooked to its own battery supply. Most trolling motors are freshwater oriented, but will work fine as long as you rinse it off and take care of it. The harshness of the brine will do in most of these if not properly cared for, but there are many saltwater trolling motors on the market to choose from. To gauge the trolling speed for our readers, we were cruising at half throttle and sometimes slightly less, which would be about as fast as a leisurely row of a smaller boat. This gave us just the right speed and depending on the size boat you use, would decide what throttle setting you would want. You could use your existing motor by kicking her in and out of gear to get the proper speed, but stealth is the name of the game and electric motor will out produce gas engines most of the time.

TACKLE. Light tackle was best suited as we expected mostly schoolie size bass, but in case we were fortunate enough to tackle a real linesider, we used conventional reels filled with 12 and 15-pound test line. The rods were six feet in length and had a soft tip but with some backbone. If you favor spinning gear then by all means go ahead, but remember summer months have the warmest water and the least amount of dissolved oxygen. Using conventional tackle allowed us to get the fish to the boat quicker, still enjoy the battle and release the bass unharmed and in better shape than a prolonged fight on light spinning tackle.

As for the terminal end of the rig, we used size 1/0 gold, bait holder hooks and plenty of them. There were a half a dozen bass we cut off since the hook was taken a little too deeply to remove. In the dark of night, if there was any doubt about hook removal, the bass was cut free. All these fish swam away unharmed. We used no swivels or terminal gear other than the hooks the worms were on. One trick used was to double the line to the hook to act as sort of shock leader. This little hook and the worms made a terrific combo and we proceeded to catch 25 bass over the course of this night trip.

LETTING IT ALL HANG OUT. Reaching into the flat of these giant sandworms took bravery since it was dark and tough to see just which end you were grabbing. I�ve been nipped before by sandworms, but when I saw the size of these, I envisioned stitches should I get nabbed by one of them! Mike for the most part, prefers to use a slightly smaller worm but since this is what we got, we went to work. Taking a worm, we slid the point of the hook just a half-inch or so down the mouth and out the side. This is the toughest part of the worm and reduces break offs on short strikes by bass. We doubled up on the worms to give the bass an irresistible offer and this played out great. The smaller size of the hooks allowed these sandworms to really �hang out� and some trailed off the hook by as much as 10 inches.

TECHNIQUE. When worming for bass, outgoing water produces best although there are a few spots that will yield results on incoming water as well. Mike likes to fish Huntington Harbor and Northport Bay on rising tides and fish Cold Spring Harbor and Northport on falling water. If you can work the tides in the wee hours of the morning you will have a better shot at much larger fish. As the trolling motor pushed us along, just as in chunking for tuna, we would count �pulls� of fishing line as it was let out. A �pull� was simply just the pull of a foot or two of line off the reel. This allowed us to narrow down the feeding zone in the water column and discover just where the fish were.

While we fished the shallow edges of the harbor, the angler on the inside (shore side) pulled out 25 times and the angler on the outside let out 35 pulls. On average we were fishing 50 to 70 feet behind the boat. We set the worms adrift behind the boat and let out he lines, put the reels in gear and just moved along slowly waiting for our quarry to find our offering. Mike�s experience really paid off as we were soon into fish. Mike explained when the first bump hits, drop the rod back to the fish, let the line come taut and set the hook. This method worked so well we had very few missed fish this trip. The tackle we used gave fish a chance to give a good account of themselves and we were able to quickly catch and release the fish with little stress involved. Once we tired of small 20 to 25-inch fish, we made a move to the outside along Caumsett beach working our way towards Lloyd Neck looking for larger bass before the sun came up.

Once around the point, we let out our lines in the twinkling just before first light and trolled a while before our next hook up. We were approaching the rocky point at the eastern part of Lloyd Neck and saw a couple of surf fishermen working plugs and poppers to no avail. As we made way to a little deeper water we had a doubleheader with bass to 24 inches. We proceeded to take five bass or so as bluefish awakened with sunrise and pushed sand eels along the surface.

We thanked our lucky stars there were no snappers around and the bluefish wanted sand eels and not worms. Mike had mentioned earlier that with either of these fish in the area, you can go through a lot of worms in a hurry. Porgies are another problem when worm trolling. The smaller snappers and porgies make quick work of the back tails of the worms and this method of trolling for bass doesn�t work so well when all you have left on the hook is a four-inch stub of a worm.

As we packed it in for the night, which was now 8 a.m., two weary, bleary eyed, but happy anglers set our tackle into our trucks and headed off for breakfast, knowing the blazing, orange ball in the sky indicated it was going to be another summer day for those that had to work.

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