50-Pound Stripers On Big Wood Plugs

For most, the timing couldn’t have been worse. On the eve of Boston’s biggest striped bass tournament, the bread-and-butter conduit to the cows had done a disappearing act. Mackerel, which local anglers consider the ticket to a top fish, had vanished seemingly overnight, leaving a fleet of forlorn fishermen wondering what on earth they would do. But not all were in the grip of doom; Captain Russ Burgess simply shrugged his shoulders and steamed out confident he had in his possession something that was even better than the real thing!

The myth, born from the realm of the fly-fishermen, is that to be successful an angler has to “match the hatch.” The obvious logic is that artificial that mimics what’s for dinner will improve the chances for catching. Even the majority of those who obsess about the beloved striped bass subscribe to this theory. However, my friend, Captain Russ Burgess, emphatically disagrees.

“Mackerel are fast and tough to catch,” points out Burgess. Smaller fish will hurl themselves at them, consuming calories in the process without a guarantee that they will be able to dispatch their evasive quarry. Those biggest of bass – 50 pounds and up – achieve great size by being stealthy predators that weigh the risk/reward factor of every assault. This is one of the reasons those fish go about the business of hunting mainly at night, when their senses give them an overwhelming advantage over their prey.

Rather than worship at the altar of the Sabiki, Russ eschews the time consuming live bait pursuit and employs a far simpler and arguably more effective tool – big wooden plugs! Hardly a bass chaser worth his or her stripes does not possess wooden plugs, but comparing your garden variety metal-lip to what Russ wields is like comparing a pellet gun to a howitzer. At the terminal end of his heavy-duty conventional setups are Gary Soldati’s 10-inch, 7-ounce Big Water Lures Trollers. The first time I ogled one of these plugs, I expected to see the words “Louisville Slugger” branded on its side.

James Steinwachs 51-pounder was taken on a GRS troller and won the recent Boston Harbor Striper Shootout.

James Steinwachs 51-pounder was taken on a GRS troller and won the recent Boston Harbor Striper Shootout.

“Those big bass lie in wait for an easy mark, which most mackerel are not,” explained Burgess. To which he added, “Along comes this extra-large baitfish that wobbles, rolls, and appears to be an easy meal.” Imagine in the midst of a school of mackerel, all uniformly swimming with subtle flicks of the tail, this rolling, wobbling monstrosity comes through. It is just the opportunity that a 25-year-old predator is waiting for!

2)Not to be outdone, Captain Russ Burgess caught this 53.5-pounder the very next night on the same plug!

Not to be outdone, Captain Russ Burgess caught this 53.5-pounder the very next night on the same plug!

Of course, you can’t catch a cow if they’re not where you are fishing. Essential ingredients are a cooking current and structure. A 50-pound bass will not give chase. Its stalking window is but a few feet at best, so if you’re not practically ticking the bottom, you’re not going to catch those big fish. From experience, Russ has learned that with 50-pound monofilament, trolling as slowly as the average boat will crawl sinks the big GRS plug to about 14 feet. If he’s found some interesting structure in 25 feet of water or beyond, he’ll fish the plug on lead core or even wire line

Believe it or not, brown has been Russ’s best fish-catcher, but not far behind has been black on top fading to gray, and of course mackerel. There are other options out there for metal lips, such as Gibb’s Deep-Diving Danny and if you snoop around I’m sure you can turn up some terrific alternatives to GRS trollers. It cannot be overstated that you have to get to know your plug and how deep it dives under given conditions.

Russ trolls his plugs about 100 feet back, paying attention to the throbbing motion of the rod tip as an indicator that the plug is running true. One strand of eel grass can be a deal breaker and ruin the plug’s moves.

Another option to consider is to anchor. Inner and outer Boston Harbor is alive with rips; in fact if you really pay attention while on the water and ogling charts, you’ll discover dozens. Anchoring upstream of a rip and free-spooling the plug into the maelstrom of moving water can be a deadly technique and is user friendly since that rolling, wobbling plug will do all the work for you. Big bass will usually hunker down and move little during the teeth of the tide, making the initial and final stages of the tide the best. If Russ had to check off any period of the tide as the best, it would be as it is waning just before slack. This technique is certainly not Boston specific but will work most anywhere super-sized stripers swim.

The tradeoff is time for glory. Understandably, not everyone is fond of spending six hours in ink-blank conditions in pursuit of a striper. And odds are you won’t be having fast action like the fleet chasing surface feeds during the day, but then again not everyone will be able to hoist up a 50-pound striped bass in their lifetime.

  1. warren

    That size fish should be put back, they produce millions of eggs, and are not the best tasting. If you want a trophy!!!!!! Then take a picture and have a mount done.

    Catch and release angler!!

    Reply
    • scott

      Honestly, the real problems with the NE Atlantic fisheries starts and ends with the giant trawlers off the coast gobbing up metric TONS of menhaden and herring. So sad to see that there are NO cod or pollock in the Merrimac River any more, or whiting.
      They don’t come in any more, because the bait is gone.

      Sure, a big striper will indeed lay tons of eggs, but so will a medium sized one. The thing that no striper, cod, fluke, blue, whiting or haddock cannot overcome is a lack of food.

      They’ve collapsed the whole food chain and we’re LUCKY to have little schoolies and big stripers at all.

      Reply
      • Marcuswelby

        Scott, your first sentence says it all. That is a problem that needs to be addressed real soon.

        Reply
      • Moe Demers

        U r correct. No bait in the Merrimack. Not like the old days…trawlers are killin the fishin

        Reply
        • Moe Demers

          And another thing. Keep the monsters! How many do you think these trawlers catch???

          Reply
          • Funky call Medina

            Trawling boats kill many small fishes,and people are worrying about ONE MONSTER FISH this man caught…I would,ve probably kept it too…but then again,maybe not…

      • William Davin

        My father was a tug boat chef out of New York harbor and would tell me about schools of mackeral between NY and Boston twenty miles long and three miles wide.

        Reply
        • John

          I remember as a kid fishing with a drop line off the A st pier in hull catching mackerel from seemingly endless schools,also catching pollock ,flounders ,smelt ,where have all the fish gone in the colder months there was cod to be caught in the surf at night around Boston and in the mouth of the Merrimack ,the harbor was full of porgies where have all the fish gone where lucky to still have the great striper fishery mostly due too sound management through out there migration

          Reply
      • Kim Zetterberg

        The absolute honest truth. Besides putting menhaden on the brink of extinction for cat food and fertilizer, cleaning out the oysters in the Chesapeake (also a filter feeder!) has resulted in water qualities there becoming so poor that this unique spawning ground no longer is the God-send it once was (not to mention the Hudson) – a double whammy. It’s going to take a concerted effort to restore this essential baitfish. All serious fishermen owe it to themselves and future generations to read H. Bruce Franklin’s book “The Most Important Fish in the Sea;” it will scare the pants off you. ALL need to take an active part in going after our lawmakers; to hold them accountable, and to put an end to the slaughter of our baitfish, once and for all!

        Reply
      • Joe Gray

        ^^^^absolutely that’s the real issue that needs to be dealt with in a global level

        Reply
    • Gary

      A fish that size .. I agree set it free .. You know how long it takes for a striper to mature that big .. A long time

      Reply
      • bob aiello

        It took a long time to get that big but that means it is old and won’t last much longer. Keep the thing as long as you put it to use and it doesn’t end up in the dumpster

        Reply
    • bob aiello

      It took a long time to get that big but that means it is old and won’t last much longer. Keep the thing as long as you put it to use and it doesn’t end up in the dumpster

      Reply
  2. joseph haffty

    I agree with you Warren. Why are they keeping these big breeder fish. They are better to eat in the 28 to 32 inch range. Have a replica mount made.

    Reply
  3. Andrew

    I agree a bigger fish like that needs to be release. My home state of Connecticut at one point had a cap on the size of stripers you could keep along with a minimum they need to reinstate that in all New England states it did wonders here it CT for our striper populations.

    Reply
    • JD

      I get your point, yet, aren’t all these fish migratory and oblivious to State Boundaries? Federal water prohibitions makes a better sense to me! It’s not the residence of a true fisherman, it’s the poachers who are the problem. Catch and release each and every, unless or course your circle hook fails not to impail! Tight Lines for All!

      Reply
  4. Ronald rockel

    Yes, any striper that size should be put back to make more stripers.??

    Reply
  5. youareallidiots

    its the tournament that needs to change. They end up killing them getting them to the scale

    Reply
  6. John Howland

    Easy People Know the Biology of the fish.. 5o lb stripe Bass are past their prime as far a reproduction.. males peak between 2-4 years old females 3-4.. that where the highest egg count is.. so to get to the 50 lb class those fish are well over 4 years old…You should be more concerned of the poachers and the lack of justice when caught.. single guy taking a trophy fish.. I sure this man has released more than any of you have ever caught so please be kind .. take some time to write you law makers instead of bashing this guy..

    Reply
  7. Aaron

    I fish from kayak and the GRS plugs are my main tool in the spring. They are a great time saver from catching live bunker… and i agree with the author, they stand out in a school of live baits and can be fished SLOW.

    Reply
  8. Bo_Tempo

    Can anyone recommend a Boston Harbor or Hull location where one can catch flounder or black sea-bass?

    -BoTempo

    Reply
    • Mike

      I caught a nice black bass at hull gut. Fishing off land. They are out there. It was like 2 a.m.

      Reply
  9. pirate

    every body has there own way of fishing. just go fishing & have a good time. not everybody gets a 50 lb fish to keep it if u want.

    Reply
  10. Treehugger

    I agree with Ronald and others here. Lots of folks say huge female stripers are past sexual prime and imply that they therefore produce fewer eggs than the little ones. That’s not what I hear from experts on this subject or any other fish species for that matter. (Maybe those other commenters heard the eggs-per-pound ratio goes down as a female gets really big, which I haven’t heard, but still wouldn’t more eggs per fish overall be worth preserving? Or is there striper menopause that I didn’t know about? Is there a marine biologist in the room please?)

    Anyway the following paragraph is from the MA fisheries page: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dmf/recreational-fishing/species-profiles-striped-bass.html

    “The number of eggs produced by a female striped bass is directly related to the size of its body; a 12-pound female may produce about 850,000 eggs, and a 55-pound female about 4,200,000 eggs. Although males reach sexual maturity at two or three years of age, no females mature before the age of four, and some not until the age of six. The size of the females at sexual maturity has been used as a criterion for establishing minimum legal size limit regulations in recent years.”

    This is just one source but it’s based on scientific research, which I have to trust over amateur fisherman like me!

    Also, I’ve read that the size of largemouths and other species, just like people size or dog size or tree size, is at least partially a genetic trait. Obviously they have to be fed enough and not killed long enough to get big, but under the same conditions most specimens just don’t have the genes to ever get really big. “Big” is a relative term, after all, and not everyone can occupy one far end of any curve. So, the idea is that if you take the “big” traits out of the gene pool by killing big fish and preventing their reproduction, you may be contributing to smaller average size of future generations. Maybe that idea is relevant here.

    Like most folks here I’m not the expert. This website is great and I hope it has or will soon have a staff marine biologist or other fisheries expert–not a charter guide or commercial fisherman or amateur angler–to give us the straight dope on this stuff.

    Bo: if you want winter flounder (not the bigger and more aggressive summer flounder aka “fluke” that are more common south of Cape Cod) try the Deer Island Flats from shore or a boat in May-July with sand worms on the bottom. It’s late in the season for those winter flounder now because the water’s too warm but maybe hit the fluke/summer flounder south of the Cape with jigs or small stick baits near the sandy bottoms. Snapper blues are good bait I hear too. This website seems good about fluke reports. Call bait shops for local reports and give business to the ones who do right by you.

    Reply
  11. Dave Tottenham

    I did read that the sexual peak is about 6 years! I released more 20 pounders this year than in the last ten! So catch and release is working! Oct. And Nov. The Striper God’s have been good in the creeks of Chatham! Other than one distraction by a fishing snob that thinks he owns a certain creek! My Brother the rookie and myself landed thee 35 pounders and kept two of them! And they where delicious! Caught 20 schoolies last week! God bless the Striper Fishermen! ” merry Christmas!

    Reply
  12. Chris O

    It doesn’t matter where you fish; fresh or salt waters. If you get a really nice fish, unharmed, take a picture, then release it. Use barbless hooks. Crimp ’em yourself with pliers. If the fish is fatally wounded, of course you should harvest it. It’s no secret that numbers are depleting all over the place. I remember fishing on Cape Ann when I was much younger and catching plenty of Cod, Haddock, and Whiting on the party boats with 30 or so folks fishing straight down a couple feet off the bottom with clams. It was fun and I still head there every year, but it’s just not like it was, not even close. Blame whoever you want, but the numbers speak for themselves. Im heading back in a couple weeks, and I an taking two different charters, one in Gloucester and one in Rockport. I’ll also hit the beaches for some Stripers…hope the camera works.

    Reply

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