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Calico Bass on the Plastics and the Iron

By Rob BelloniJanuary 5, 2001

Topwater aside, it's hard to beat getting ripped while fishing for saltwater bass with plastics or the iron.  To be winding steadily up out of 60 feet of water 150 feet back and have your jig just get mauled can be absolutely heart stopping... and then there's the surface iron.  Many saltwater species can be taken on plastics and irons, but I'm going to narrow my discussion to Calico and Sand Bass since that's what I usually target.  You'll catch barracuda, seabass, and other species on the artificials, not that I'm complaining, but to me it's incidental to the bass.

When you're fishing the jigs, it's usually a matter of what you can get away with.  When you pull up on a spot the only way to get bit might be to roll a 5" bait with a 1 oz. head right along the bottom.  If the fish come up in the chum the bite might switch to a steady wind 20-30 feet off the bottom.  If they really start snapping, it's time for the jig stick and surface iron.  You have to adjust to the conditions, but I think that 9 times out of 10 it is very possible to take bass on artificials.  It helps to have some current and a good chum line for this, but there are usually a few bass up shallow regardless, and these can be the nice ones.Bass on the plastics, Camby's reef SB
So let's talk about gear.  For plastics or the iron a long rod is the key ingredient for success.  A long rod allows you to cast farther, get more leverage on the fish, and keep clear of rent rod tangles. A Calstar 900XL, Shimano 820XF, or Sabre 190 are all good examples of kick ass plastics rods.  I fish Sabre 190 and it works great but isn't as light as the 900XL.  The action should be parabolic (bends all the way to the handle) and the tip shouldn't be too stiff (you don't want to rip it out of the bass' mouth).  For the iron, beef up to something that can handle 30 or 40lb.  There's lots of good jig sticks out there just find what you like.  I fish a Calstar 900L and it's great. If there's one other rod I'd prefer it would be a Calstar T100 a 10 foot beauty.  If you look on most partboats, you'll find that either the captain or the deckhand has a T100 on the rack, and there's a reason for that! For a plastics reel it's all about the Calcutta 400S (S denotes no levelwind).  There's pretty much nothing better.  Alternatives might be a small Penn or Newell 225.  For the iron I think Newell makes the best reel in the 332-5, but a Penn Jigmaster will work just fine as long as you aren't fishing the yo-yo iron for yellows or something where you need a higher gear ratio.  If you can find a Penn Albacore special that's a bonus too. Newell one out and you have a very nice reel for your long iron stick.
So you've got your sticks spooled up with 15 or 20 for plastics and 25, 30 or 40 for the iron.  There's about a 1000 colors for plastics at the tackle store in 10 sizes and you're trying to figure out what to get.  Start with 4 and 5 inch baits.  You can go up and down but these are the basics.  I would buy either Big Hammer or Fish Trap, the plastic is good and they have clear bellies (most).  There's two patterns of colors I generally buy.  One is a dark back with a darkish belly usually green or clear with black flake.  The other is a lighter back with a clear or sparkle belly.  Some favorites in the first category include green sardine, olive, halloween (black and orange), and brown with light brown.  In the lighter category I like rainbow trout, gray/silver, blue with sparkle belly, and lime green with sparkle belly.  I like the clear bellies in clear water and the darker baits in off color water.  Of course there are exceptions and I'll fish the olive in clear water and the silver/gray in murky water, but just find the colors that work for you.
On the iron side I'm just going to talk about the surface Iron.  My favorite jig is the Tady 45 which has been around forever.  I also like a Tady C, and the A-1.  UFO makes a nice bait the Pro Lite.  There's lots and it doesn't matter so much as plastics what brand you buy.  You can't go wrong with Tady though, just pick a jig that matches the bait size you expect in the water. Bigger baits throw the 45, smaller baits throw the A-1.  Jigs follow the same pattern as plastics as far as colors go.  There's dark and there's light.  Good dark jigs are wounded soldier (green/red), green/black, and black and white (which is more of a 'cuda color).  Some good light jigs are blue/white, green/white, and yellow/brown/white.  I really like the green color for calico and I think the jigs with more white in them generally work better for sand bass, barracuda, and whatever else.
So let's talk about fishing plastics.  You've got your long stick and a nice reel.  You're on a bass spot, either kelps or some stones.  If you're in the kelps it's usually good to aim for the aisles or the outside edges of the stringers.  If there's some current holding the kelp down that can be perfect because you can roll your bait just over the tops of the stringers.  Steady wind your jig or alternate reeling and freespooling, whatever it takes to keep the bait in tight to the structure.  If I'm in open water on some stones I usually start by freespooling until I feel bottom.  Then I roll the bait back, alternating reeling and freespooling, just trying to keep close to the bottom.  Make sure not to use the rod to impart the action.  You aren't trout fishing.  Do everything with the reel keeping the rod almost pointed at the line.  If the fish are aggressive and up off the bottom, I'll cast out and let the bait sink out in the water column until I think I'm just below the fish.  Then it's a straight wind back to the boat.  Pay attention on the drop, if it acts like bottom but you know it's not set the hook.  One thing to pay attention to is the current.  If its running strong it pays to cast out at a 90 or so angle to the flow.  Let you jig sink until its about 45 degrees and start slow winding.  A big hammer will really wobble in the current like this and sometimes this tactic will really pay off.Another bass on the plastics taken off Leadbetter Beach
For the iron it's a pretty similar ball game minus the freespooling.  After the jig hits the water you might freespool to get it down below the zone but after that it's basically a straight wind.  Sometimes a fast grind will get 'em, other times just reeling fast enough to make the jig kick will to the trick.  Fishing the iron over the tops of stringers pushed down by kelp can be a killer technique, not to mention that the iron seems to attract a larger class of fish than standard baits.  Don't forget to utilize the current, keep your tip pointed at the line, not up or to the side, and watch for strikes on the drop.  Sometimes the jig splashing down will attract fish which have a habit of attacking the jig they see dropping out of the supposed boil.
In all fishing the artificials for ocean bass is one of the most kick ass types of fishing there is.  One of the best ways to learn (besides reading this) how to fish the plastics or the iron is to watch someone do it, say the captain of a sportboat.  I've watched Merit McCrea of the Seahawk LXV and the second ticket Wes Boyle knock more big calico this way and there's always more subtleties to learn.
I want to end this by encouraging everyone out there to release the big calico you catch.  I think anything over the 4 pound range should be released without question.  These fish take a long time to get big and with their affinity for structure they are too easily found and fished out.  Slow to grow so let 'em go!

Copyright © Robert Belloni 1997-2012. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written consent.
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