Pictured above: This striper swiped the trailing topwater plug of a popper/teaser combination.
Add a teaser to your plug ignite the predatory instinct in saltwater fish
It was a sunny October afternoon on Matunuck State Beach in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. I could see the distinctive brownish hue of tiny bay anchovies at the water’s edge. Suddenly a pack of migrating striped bass began swirling at the bait as surfcasters and fly-rodders scrambled to the shoreline. It seemed odd to me that only one angler consistently hooked up, until I went farther down the beach and saw his rig. Like most everyone else, he was tossing a good-sized offering, only he had a very small fly ahead of his popper – a teaser. Those bass were fully keyed into the small baitfish and recognized the larger lures and flies as imposters. By fishing a small olive-and-white fly in conjunction with a larger lure, the angler was able to match the hatch while still attracting the attention of the stripers feeding in the dense schools of baitfish.
Two is Better than One
Being able to present small baits to selective fish is just one of the reasons to employ a double offering. Another reason is that anglers who present two baits simultaneously can more quickly determine which baitfish the fish are feeding on. In a given scenario, there are often multiple food sources present. For example, during the spring season when striped bass enter rivers and estuaries, available bait usually includes small brown mummichogs and large silvery alewives. Casting a blue-and-silver 9-inch swimming plug with a brown bucktail teaser fly covers both baitfish options.
Bonito and false albacore seem to prefer bay anchovies, silversides and small peanut bunker, yet if tinker mackerel are present, these battlers will feast on them as well. This became evident to me one day at the West Wall in Jerusalem, Rhode Island.
That September afternoon, a youngster was tossing a 1½-ounce popper at albacore, to the amusemed chuckles of several fly anglers. I had seen spin-fishermen cast good-sized poppers to bonito and false albacore before with dismal results, but on this day tinker mackerel were present – and the youngster’s popper had a vivid mackerel finish. He connected twice while the fly anglers were duped. I am certain if the fly anglers had recognized the value of a two-fly rig and had tried a mackerel pattern and a silverside imitation fished in tandem, their chances of hooking up would have exponentially increased.
Even if fish seem to be feeding on only one food source, casting two different size and color baits that still mimic the food source can help the angler figure out if a particular color pattern or size is more effective at that particular moment.
Another major advantage of a teaser setup is that the larger lure or fly will cause schools of small baitfish to part. For example, if small sand eels are in tight schools, it’s tough for one small sand eel lure or fly to catch a fish’s eye. Even if the angler tries to work the offering on the outside or underneath the bait patch, it can still be tough to draw attention to the counterfeit. However, if a meaty fly or plug is preceded by a small sand eel imitation, the large fake will cause the sand eel school to temporarily disperse, making the teaser a vivid target.
Perhaps fish attack a two-bait rig because it looks like a bigger fish chasing a smaller fish, igniting some predatory instinct in gamefish. They may strike the teaser out of perceived competition with the trailing bait, or perhaps they will strike the trailing bait while it appears to be distracted in its own pursuit of food.
Spin Fishing with a Teaser
When rigging up to fish two offerings to fish at once, you’ll want to keep things simple and as tangle free as possible.
Lures to fish with teasers should cast relatively well, since the added wind resistance from a free-swinging fly or small lure will cut down on casting distance. Allow the location and positioning of the fish in the water column to determine the main lure on a teaser rig. On open beaches and when fish are hanging deep, metal lures are a favorite choice for fishing with a teaser. They cast extremely well, sink quickly and can be worked at any level in the water column. In shallow water or when fish are hanging near the surface, a swimming plug or topwater plug will put the teaser right in their line of sight, and the commotion and vibration made by these lures will draw attention to the smaller, more realistic teaser.
Teasers should be crafted on strong, single hooks. Bucktail and other natural materials such as marabou are a good choice because of their non-stop action in the water, even at rest. If bluefish or bonito are the target, a synthetic like Extra Select Craft Fur provides more durability without sacrificing too much in the way of action. Small plastic or rubber lures such as Red Gills or Eddy Stone Sand Eels make very effective teasers.
When rigging up a lure and a teaser for spin-fishing, you’ll want to determine how much distance you want between your lure and your teaser. I have found that 2 feet is a good starting point, and I will adjust the distance based on the bait, water clarity and wind. Other anglers prefer to put a bit more distance between their lure and their teaser. One school of thought is that you’ll want enough space between the lure and the teaser so that a fish can inspect the teaser without getting hit or spooked by the lure.
There are a number of ways to set up a teaser rig. The simplest, although not the prettiest, is simply to leave a long tag end when you attach your leader material to your main line or swivel. This is especially effective when attaching the leader to a monofilament main line by way of a blood knot. A small snap like the 50-pound-test Tactical Anglers clip can be tied to the the tag end to make teaser changes quick and easy. Another method is to tie a teaser to a 6- to 8-inch length of fluorocarbon or monofilament with a perfection loop at the opposite end. This allows an angler to easily add or remove a teaser when conditions dictate without having to cut and retie. Tying a dropper loop into your leader is another way to attach a teaser. The teaser can be looped onto the dropper loop, which will be stiff enough to keep the teaser away from the leader and free from tangles.
Fly Fishing Double-Headers
When setting up your presentation for fly-casting with more than one fly, you’ll want a leader that can turn over a heavy two-fly presentation. The two best options for this are a pre-made tapered leader or a knotted leader with a braided butt. A braided-butt leader has always appealed to me because it is more flexible and kink-resistant than the single-strand butts, but is still forgiving and capable of turning over heavy presentations.
I prefer to start with a 7½-foot leader tapered to a 12- or 15-pound-test tippet section, off which I’ll cut two feet. I do not discard this two-foot section of tippet, however. After tying my first fly to the shortened leader, I’ll tie the two-foot tippet section I previously removed to the bend in the fly’s hook.
A fly tied onto a circle hook is best used as the first fly in this two-fly presentation because it is next to impossible for the knot to slip off of a circle hook. The second fly is attached to the end of the two-foot section of line with a clinch knot.
Saltwater fly-casting is often done in windy conditions, and having the flies tied in tandem, versus having one dangling on a dropper line, makes them easier to cast. Equally important is the fact that flies fished this way track straight, lead to better hooksets, and rarely foul during the cast. The downside to this system is that if a toothy fish attacks the first fly, the second fly may be lost.
With two flies, anglers can present two different colors or patterns at the same time, increasing the odds of finding what the fish are interested in. This is particularly useful for finicky species such as false albacore or bonito. Fishing a topwater fly, such as a Crease Fly or Gurgler, in front of a small anchovy or sand eel imitation is another effective use of a two-fly system. The commotion created by the surface fly will attract attention to the more realistic and appropriately sized trailing fly.
The teaser system for spinning and fly-fishing tackle isn’t the solution to every angling puzzle, but it deserves a place in your bag of tricks. Creating and fishing a well-thought-out teaser rig often gives anglers a distinct advantage over tossing one lure or fly.