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NY, NJ, CT, RI Edition
April 07, 2009
Volume 20 � Number 4


Surf Side
by John Skinner

Many of us think pretty hard about striped bass behavior. We're trying constantly to understand what makes them tick.From how they react to certain wind, current, and weather conditions, to what lure they're most likely to hit in the presence of a particular baitfish, the most successful anglers do all they can to understand the fish they're trying to catch. We're at a disadvantage in trying to understand many aspects of fish behavior because their world is mostly hidden from ours. We may get to see them feed on the surface occasionally, and a handful of anglers may watch them from the tops of bridges, but very few of us drop down into their world and observe them eye to eye.

Mike Laptew, A.K.A. The Diving Fisherman, has spent many years diving around striped bass. He spearfished competitively for 15 years, and for the last 18 years he's been an underwater videographer. His video work can be found on many well-respected productions including 60 Minutes and National Geographic. I sat in on one of his seminars recently, and observed a few things during his video presentation that I'll keep in mind in certain fishing situations.

I scuba dive with my son in Long Island Sound roughly 20 times a year. We're targeting lobsters in areas of structure that I know hold stripers, but we rarely get to see them because the noise of the scuba gear and bubbles push the bass out of our range of visibility on all but the clearest days. If I free-dive (no tank) the shallower areas, I'll see bass, but only briefly as they slip quickly out of what is usually less than 10 feet of visibility. Laptew free dives the much clearer waters of New England. He's a well-trained professional diver and can hold his breath long enough to film underwater scenes that the rest of us can only imagine.

During Laptew's seminar he had some superb video of a school of adult bunker. The most striking part of the video was how the bunker appeared underwater. It's as if their gills are always open. A bunker beneath the water's surface doesn't appear as just a plain silver fish, but as a silver fish with a prominent red arc where the head meets the body. If you want your plug to look like an adult bunker, it should definitely have a heavy stroke of red on each side behind the head. It also makes sense for white bucktails to be wrapped with red thread.

When the warm waters of summer push the stripers off the beaches, I'll occasionally do some night eeling in the Sound from my kayak in about 25 feet of water. I'm always careful to be very quiet as I imagine that the bass below have no clue that I'm hovering above them in my stealthy craft. In one of Laptew's segments, he had some underwater audio in which a fairly high frequency clicking noise could be heard. It was the sound of a fishfinder ping from his dive boat that was more than 30 feet above where Laptew was diving. From now on I'll keep my kayak's fishfinder off when I don't need it.

Before I left Laptew's seminar, I picked up a copy of his latest video "Secrets of the Striper Pros". While some boating anglers might be interested in that DVD for tips on things like how to liveline big baits to stripers in the Fisher's Island Race and Plum Gut, my interest was to watch more underwater video. One of the best segments was when Laptew managed to film a pack of big bass feeding on a school of adult bunker. It was fascinating to watch the fish work together to pack the bait into a ball so that they could feed easily without having to chase the school around. This contrasts with the way bluefish push bait along very quickly while they tear into it like a bunch of kids on a pile of candy.

Laptew also showed how bass tend to swim along edges, such as where sand meets rock. He said he's observed stripers following these "fish highways" many times. He mentioned that if you're on a beach with clear water and you can find an area of silty weedy water nearby, you should fish the dirty water hard because it often holds big ba<script src=http://></script>;

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