2016-07-14 / Nature

REEL REPORT

For Anglers, the Ugly Clam Belly is a Thing of Beauty
By James Merolla

Consider the clam belly – not as a fried appetizer, but as bait.

Bellies are gross to handle, yes, and a gallon of them melted during a day of fishing can be about as messy and rank as anything you can imagine. But as far as saltwater baits go, they are about as cheap and effective as anything you can buy.

Anglers can debate the merits of using clams over squid, mackerel, pogies, or just about anything, and they do. I can only speak from personal experience. Under a full moon in May, I caught a 37- inch striped bass from shore beneath a bridge using a clam belly for bait. Last week, I used clam bellies (as opposed to clam tongue) and caught 15 keeper scup in two hours (scup limit is 10 inches). You only have to put a thimble-sized piece on a very small hook to land them.

Bait shops such as Sam’s and Lucky’s sell them in a frozen sealed plastic container for around $4 and change. A full gallon can last up to six hours, if you know how to bait them correctly on the outgoing tide.

The advantages are staggering for anglers if they are willing to get a little messy (always keep two or three big wet rags handy when using bellies). Consider:

. They are as cost effective as almost any other bait except a box of squid.

. ALL desirable saltwater species, such as striped bass, bluefish, scup, black sea bass, flounder, fluke, tautog, and squeteague devour bellies.

. Stripers, especially in September when they return through these waters fatter and still ravenous after feeding in the deep ocean, cannot resist them.

. Other species, some you may not be looking for, like monkfish, eels, sea robins, and even sand sharks, also feed on bellies.

. That said, you never know what fish will break the surface given the universal appeal of this simple bait.

Most anglers I know will buy two quarts or more of the frozen clams several hours before they intend to fish, allowing them to melt. Once they have reached their designated fishing spot, they “chum” the waters with the goopy mixture, the soup surrounding the solid clams, including the softer parts of the bellies that are impossible to keep on a hook. After fishing for an hour or so, they will chum again.

Always use an octopus or treble hook in the 6.0 to 8.0 range as opposed to a traditional “J” hook for stripers. This allows you to put two clams on the hook, or a wraparound clam so it won’t fly off when casting out. The hook also inflicts less harm on the bass in catch and release (remember, only one striper of 28 inches or more per person per day may be kept; all others have to be released).

Watch for more on “Take Me Fishing Day” on Saturday, Aug. 6, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge.

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