Bottom line is trolling can be rigged to give you the best shot at rockfish

OUTDOORS

November 14, 1993|By PETER BAKER

The tide had brought us together off a point near the Bay Bridge, the flood welling up on the rising bottom and sweeping us out toward the deeper waters of the bay.

In the other boat, one of three fishermen had a fish on, his light rod bowed deeply and a broad smile on his face.

"Yes," he said, to no one in particular. "Yes, this one is a keeper. I can tell by the way he shakes his head."

Around us a few among dozens of terns were diving into baitfish crowded to the surface.

"Yes. Yes," the man said as the rockfish was netted. "Yes. But we better measure it to be sure."

After some long seconds, another man in the boat said, "17 inches. An inch short."

The fish went over the side, the optimistic angler shook his head, smiled and cast again.

By chance we happened to be at the same place at the same time, and the fishing was entertaining before more boats moved in -- throttles open and one fisherman so eager to catch a piece of the rock that he cast too early.

The center console boat he was in, still traveling at more than 20 knots, was over his line before he could reel it in -- and I think I heard the ping as the boat's outboard propeller wound up the line and cut away the lure.

In any event, that same angler was not seen to make another cast until after the roar of engines had put the fish down and scattered even the persistent terns.

Earlier in the day we had opted to go trolling, bouncing bucktails and white twister tails along the bottom in 40 feet of water close to the edges of the main channel.

Only a pair of fish had been caught in two hours, a matching set of 16-inchers taken from what the fish finder showed to be an enormous school of fish hugging the bottom.

Trolling at this time of year is best done while holding your rod rather than placing it in a holder. And while it can be tedious holding a rod that is controlling a large bell sinker which is hitting bottom every so often, you need to be able to feel the rig do its work.

A basic bottom bouncing rig is made by using a three-way swivel, with one ring attached to the line from the rod and reel, a second ring attached to a 20-foot leader of 25- or 30-pound monofilament, which also holds the bucktail, and the third ring attached to a 2-foot length of slightly weaker monofilament and the sinker.

Snap swivels between the line running from the rod and reel and especially on the leader will take twist out of your line. A barrel swivel should be tied in midway down the leader to further reduce line twist.

The weaker monofilament used for the drop sinker should ensure that if the weight is snagged, the sinker will break away before the rest of the rig gives up the fight.

Snap swivels at both ends of the drop weight line will allow easy switching of weights as the depths being fished change.

Use only enough weight to keep your lure close to the bottom.

Fishing as close as possible to the bottom is necessary because, for the most part, rockfish seek the warmer water there at this time of year -- unless you get a warm, sunny day with a good moving tide.

When such a day happens along, as it did Friday afternoon, stow the trolling rods, look for the birds and break out the spinning or casting gear.

Smaller bucktails -- from 1/0 to 30 -- are a good choice for casting to schools feeding on or close to the top of the water. Spoons -- Kastmasters to one ounce, Tony Pets or Crippled Alewives in the medium and small sizes -- and rattling crankbaits or lead heads with 3- to 5-inch plastic imitations of baitfish such as the Sassy Shad all can work.

In picking the size of the lure you will use, try to find out what size baitfish the stripers are feeding on and then match it as closely as possible.

If your spoons or bucktails are catching smaller fish while other around you are catching keepers, try letting your lure settle for a few seconds before starting your retrieve because larger fish often lie beneath the smaller fish.

Perhaps most important when fishing on breaking fish, is boat position, and because rockfish feed best on a moving tide, boat position and the tide go hand in hand.

Idle within 100 yards of the birds, keeping the boat to the side of the action that will allow the tide to carry you toward it. Then cut the engine and be patient.

The tide will take you to the fish soon enough, the roar of the engine will not spook the fish or chase off the birds, and the short drift will allow time to set up your rods, select your lures and figure out the best place to cast.

Rockfish season closes next Sunday for recreational fishermen and charter boats.

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