The Big Ones are on the Bottom

In his book, The Trophy Striper, Frank Daignault muses over how fishermen often claim, “The big bass are under the schoolies,” or, in another variation, “under the bluefish.” The common thread, he said, is that the biggest fish are on the bottom.

Of course, there are exceptions. Fishermen catch giant stripers on pencil poppers, surface swimmers, and walk-the-dog baits every year. There’s nothing I’d rather see than a big bass beating the surface into a foam chasing my topwater, but for every surfacesmashing cow, I believe there are more (and larger) bass that do their hunting along the bottom. And, in order to catch them, that’s where your lure must be.

I was reminded of this a few years back when I saw, firsthand, how a 1-ounce difference in lure weight led to a 30-pound difference in fish size.

I was fishing a current-swept sandbar with my friend, Dave. In the darkness, I assumed we were both throwing the same lure—a 7-inch, 1 ¾-ounce Super Strike Super ‘N’ Fish in yellow. The fish were making us work, giving only a couple hits an hour. As the tide was just beginning to move, I hooked a 20-pounder. About 40 minutes after that, when the current had picked up speed, Dave hooked a much better fish. The fight was one for the ages involving a screaming drag, a wrapped rock, and absolute certainty that the fish was lost when it swam at the beach so quickly that Dave’s line went totally slack. Battle over, the fish weighed 51 pounds, and after releasing it, Dave sat back and savored the moment.

I cast feverishly while Dave sat. After a halfhour, and zero hits, Dave began to fish again. On his first cast after the 51-pounder, he was tight to another drag-screamer that grabbed the lure at the edge of the sandbar and fled for Portugal.

I caught one more fish when the current slowed, and Dave had a couple more, but it was clear that the big fish had come and gone with the strongest part of the tide. Eventually the tide died, the fish left, and so did we. Back at the trucks, Dave set aside his plug for retirement, and that’s when I noticed that instead of the standard black eyes, it had red eyes—the color that Super Strike’s Steve Musso uses to differentiate heavier “loaded” needlefish from standard ones. Dave’s plug actually weighed 3 ounces, and was clearly sweeping closer to the sand—and the big stripers—than mine.

Larger bass are more reluctant to swim off the bottom for their meals. While fast-swimming baitfish like mackerel and bunker may inhabit the top half of the water column, slower-moving morsels like lobsters, scup, and blackfish stick to the depths. The largest of the big bass can find plenty to eat while keeping their bellies on the bottom. So, if you’re goal is catching one, that’s where you’ll need to get your lure.

Jigs are the obvious choice—but make sure you choose one that is heavy enough. Sometimes a jig that is too light will fail to get below the smaller, more aggressive stripers swimming near the surface. When looking for large fish, choose the heaviest jig that you can fish slowly without dragging bottom. The same goes for sinking plugs like needlefish. The heaviest plug that stays out of snags will give you the best shot at a big bass.

Most floating swimming plugs like darters, bottles, and metal lips cover the surface to 5 feet down very well, but only certain models reach depths beyond that. The demand for deeperdiving plugs in recent years has led to a surge in the popularity of “troller” metal lips. These plugs are designed to be trolled from boats, reaching greater depths, and swimming true in stronger currents than standard swimmers can handle. Fishermen can also “tune” their metal-lip swimming plugs to reach greater depths by bending up the line tie or swapping out the belly treble with a larger, heaver hook.

20 on “The Big Ones are on the Bottom

  1. LOU


    1. Tony

      Hey Lou can you illiterate fool. First stop typing in all caps it is an instant display that your a blabbering fool. Second he clearly he stated he threw his fish back. Who the heck goes fishing in an attempt to catch the small ones, oh wait Lou does.

    2. Andy S

      Stop it dude. That’s not what this is about. That’s a big reach… it says that they released the fish. Grab a beer and relax.

    3. Jeffrey B Krushinski

      Another moron heard from. Try reading the word as they are written instead of making up your own story.

    4. Joe

      Lou: You are right one with that comment. It’s people like Tony that feel they have to insult people,that have a different view then Therese.

      Tony: get a grip on yourself.


  2. Barry

    So instead of keeping a True Trophy fish, we should wipe out the 28 -30 ” fish that are the offspring of that 50# er, So they do not get a chance to get Larger

  3. Don

    There must be a slot fish reg. To save the bass.It worked with redfish in the south

  4. Robert L Pazdan

    It seems to be a catch 22 , your damned if you do and damned if you don’t.. On one hand if you keep the bigger fish ,you wipe out the breeders .
    On the other hand , if you take the smaller fish there won’t be any fish to grow up to be breeders . From what I HAVE SEEN you won’t stop the over fishing , or control the size of the ones people take . There’s just not enough law enforcement out there to cont rol it , the government should spend more money to hire more fish and game officers.

  5. Aurelio Pabon

    ????????I have been fishing the Canal seen 1996 and they are so right they are in the bottom. I have set free a lot of fat cow, last year I set free 59 of them they pull like a Mack Truck .

  6. Robert Brady

    Get yourself some eel pots, freeze the eels rig them to go deep and jig them on bottom…. Hold ON!

  7. Benjamin

    No one ever seems to comment on any of the by catch fish wasted by commercial net boats. When are regulations going to be put in place to keep net boats outside of 3 miles and bays ????

  8. Captain Ross D. Goslin

    What makes the most sense is a slot limit of 2 fish 26 to 30 inches and a license with a single “Trophy ” stamp. You could retain 1 large Trophy per year.

  9. Patrick Aponte

    This is a very cool article. I release every fish I catch. If I want to eat fish, I go to the fish market. That being said, I would never try to make someone else feel bad about keeping their legal limit. As long as youre not abusing the resource or breaking the law, I am good with that. Im also good with all the sportsmen’s regulations on stripers. I think the states respectively do plenty to protect the resuorce. The commercial regs really do need some attention though.

  10. PETE

    Nice article Jim. Do you prefer a dressed siwash on the back or a treble?

  11. Dan

    I believe that we will see a slot limit within the next few years for Stripers, but it should be the same for the whole Northeast coast . It certainly works on the North Carolina Coast for Spotted Bass & Drum. Also, I agree that we need more Wardens to enforce the regulations.

  12. Spencer

    Do any of the let the breeder go crowd understand that most released stripers die. It was published on this very site in another article. Why kill small fish that will survive the release, you want the fish back raise the size to one fish over 42, and add alot of enforcement. the fish will comeback again just like the last time

    1. APEX

      Spencer, If you do a little research on those mortality estimates, they are based on a study that found that 8% of released stripers die, not all released stripers. Many within that 8% looked hearty when released but within a day turned up dead. We can do better by switching to circle hooks on all our bait, plug, and fly rigs.

      1. Spencer

        On the water just had an article with the stats saying rec fishermen killed more fish releasing them then they took home. I know when I am fishing fish under 30lbs swim away way easier then the big girls…..but my concern is that with the internet, rec fishermen are catching more fish then ever, all the technology out there to share and find fish. Its made the pressure on the fish way worse. I think we need to release the fish that are going to survive and a higher limit like 42 inches, two fish a year.

  13. Barryola

    We should be the Police too, when you see anyone catching shorts, drop a dime on them.

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