2015-09-10 / Nature

Match the Hatch for Biggest Catch

By James Merolla

There is a universal mantra spoken at bait and tackle shops throughout Rhode Island and beyond: “Match the hatch.”

What it means, simply, is that the angler must educate himself as to which bait fish are hatching or in the habitat during what time, so that he can buy (or, in the example of local squid, pogy or mackerel, among others, catch) the same bait. In this way, you are offering the fish you want to catch exactly what they are pursuing through rivers, channels, inlets and waterways.

This is critical advice. Striped bass can be finicky or lazy. Many of the fat ones sit near the bottom and wait for scraps, already shredded by predators, to fall to them. They can turn on a dime. What they fed on voraciously the night before, they ignore tomorrow, because pencil fish have hatched that eve, or blood worms, or shiners, or anchovies.

I learned this many years back from a brilliant young angler from Warren, R.I. One night in late April, he was using Zoom soft baits (white and silver), four-inch plastic bodies that resemble small fish that you hook through a jighead – a well-painted plastic eye that resembles the head of a fish with the soft bait as its body.

Schoolie after schoolie slammed his plastic with every cast. I set up mine, and bam! Cast after cast, the small stripers were hooked.

This worked the next night as well. Three nights later, at the same river, under the same conditions, I brought my Zoom bait, tossed it and watched the stripers, which I could see boil up to the surface, completely ignore it.

Then, my mentor arrived. He carefully studied the surface of the water in the moonlight. “Those Zoom soft baits won’t work,” he said. “They won’t touch them tonight.” “Why?” I asked. “Come here,” he said. “Look carefully at what is swimming out.”

Barely visible, almost imperceptible on the river’s surface appeared to be small lines, like dark gray dashes, moving up river away from the bay. “That’s a (sea)worm hatch,” he said. “See them swimming? That’s the only thing the bass will hit tonight. No matter what you throw in the water, if you don’t have those worms, forget it.”

Match the hatch. It is imperative for fishermen all season to get the fish to buy what you are selling.

Speaking of hatching…they finally are here. The popular snapper blues, or skipjacks, have found refuge in local tributaries. Because the water temperatures have been so warm, the small bluefish, which usually appear in early August, were delayed five weeks.

In one of fishing’s most satisfying buys, a mere $1.98 will get you a soft rubber sheath attached to a line and a bobbin that these fish murder.

However, they are still too small to offer any eating enjoyment. Skipjacks are terrific if you fry them up with potatoes, but they won’t be a truly edible size until around Sept. 28.

If you don’t care for their oily taste, using the “match the hatch” philosophy, the snappers can also be caught, transferred to a larger Octopus hook and then drifted into the current. Let them swim, draw them in slowly, and don’t be surprised if a much larger bluefish (yes, they are cannibals) or a large striped bass clobbers it.

Be careful when you remove them from your hooks, as their teeth are very sharp and can nip off a fingertip with no warning.

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