Now that stripers have returned to the northeast, everyone is looking for an effective strategy to get on the fish. Here is one that you may not have considered—using a kayak to fish plastics for bass. Kayaks provide a stealthy approach to wary fish and plastics are a versatile weapon for early season bass. Not only are kayaks quiet, but they also allow you to venture where boaters and shore fishermen can’t go.
Early season bass often feed in areas best accessed by a kayak—rivers where herring are running and shallow estuary or back bay flats. It is no secret that bass are hot after herring in almost every river mouth and they will pursue the herring miles upstream. But herring aren’t the only game in town, silversides, worms, shrimp, crabs and a host of other edible critters swarm into bays and estuaries to spawn and feed. In rivers, bays and estuaries, bass are often found in very shallow water and are very easily spooked. A kayak allows you to quietly approach the fish with out spooking them.
Imitate Live Herring
Rivers have long been the main attraction in the early season and the live herring is traditional bait, but since most states in the Northeast have banned the taking of herring, many anglers are looking for other tactics. In my opinion, the best substitute for a live herring is a big plastic. My top choices around herring are the 10” Double Wide Hogy or a 10” Jiggin’ Hogy —white during the day and black or white at night.
Many rivers are too big to be effectively fished from shore and a kayak allows you to paddle to the shallow rocky zones that will funnel herring past hungry stripers. The Double Wide has several advantages over smaller plastics in these areas: their extra weight gives you a wider casting range as you drift down river, even in strong current they will ride under the surface where the herring are and not just skip on top, they rig well with a single hook, so you can make a snag free presentation. It can be tempting to focus on a surface lure in these situations, but if you focus on sub-surface presentations, you will find that you typically take more and larger fish—even in very shallow water.
Another effective river tactic is to look for drop back herring in the waning weeks of the herring run. The best places to look are below dams and around river mouths. In these areas bass will often blast the drop back herring. The Double Wide or a Jiggin’ Hogy rigged without weight is a great surface presentation for these more active fish. I also keep a rod handy with a Jiggin’ Hogy on a ¾ ounce jighead. When bass are not up top popping on herring, they will often hit a big plastic swimming a bit deeper. Again, the bigger fish usually respond better to the deeper presentations.
Fishing Back Bays
Don’t get stuck in the rivers though. In rivers, you may find yourself at the mercy of the herring—if they don’t show on the day you go fishing, the bass may not be there either. For some very consistent fishing, hit a river mouth estuary or a back bay. Look for shallow water with current and forage and you will find fish. During the day time, these areas are typically full of small fish and easy targets for 6” plastics like the Skinny Hogy. My preference is to wait for dark and to break out the black Hogys—night time is big fish time in shallow water.
Shallow bays are where kayaks make a big difference in your catch rates, a quiet approach will allow you to move through schools of fish without spooking them off the flats. Many of these areas have fish in very shallow water, typically fish are found in 2’ to 8’ of water. My top choices for baits in these areas are a 10” or bigger Hogy rigged weightless with double hooks or a 10” Hogy rigged with a half ounce jighead. The unweighted lure will give you a surface presentation while the jighead plastic can be used to bump bottom or swim quickly in the middle of the water column. If the fish aren’t eating the weightless bait, try a jighead, a faster moving lure lower in the water column often makes a difference even if the water is only 4’ deep.
One of the keys to shallow water fishing is to vary your approach until you figure out how to make them eat—and each night it can be a different trigger. In areas with little structure, start off trolling until you locate fish and when you locate fish, stop and cast. You may find that some nights a very quiet troll is the only way to get bit. Other nights a fast troll or a splashy surface retrieve may be what it takes to get the fish moving. I like to get on areas with structure and set up a quiet drift that allows me to cast along a bar or channel where fish are moving. I find that making a quiet drift over shallow structure or flats, is usually more productive than trolling.
If you haven’t tried kayak fishing yet you should—it is great exercise, it is an effective way to get on the fish, and it is a good way to break away from the crowd and try some new spots. Plastics are a great bait from a kayak, they are extremely effective and versatile enough to be fished in many different situations. Get out there and try it today!