Match the Hatchby Capt. Terry Rand
In the spring of 2007, I was fishing the mouth of a tidal river in the northeast for striped bass. It had been a great season, catching stripers up to 25 pounds in shallow water on artificial lures. On this particular day though, it was like someone had flipped a switch and the fish seemed scarce, if not non-existent.
As the sun got higher in the sky, the water became more transparent and I began to see fish moving along in small pods. I worked to intercept the fish with my usual lures using the stealthiest approaches to avoid spooking the shallow cruisers. But, every fish that encountered my lures wouldn’t take a second look. It was like these fish were keyed in on something particularly small that I could not see.
And that was exactly the case. After downsizing and landing a small specimen I discovered it had been feeding on tiny translucent crabs after it coughed up its breakfast on my boat deck. The secret was unveiled. Unless you were using the smallest of lure presentations, you were going home fishless.
This is one of those situations where if you want to catch fish, you need to “match the hatch”, a term coined long ago in the fly fishing world. The idea is to mimic the bait that the fish are feeding on both in size and appearance.
Just as a trout will often neglect any offering that does not look like the prevalent insect hatch, many saltwater species will also get keyed into feeding on a certain size and type of bait and will also turn their nose at anything that lacks the proper appearance.
This is a common occurrence in the northeast, especially in shallow water areas like salt ponds and estuaries. Every year, a cinder worm hatch occurs in many of the salt ponds and the fish are notorious for only striking at presentations that precisely imitate the worms. Fly fisherman usually make out pretty well since they are able to present tiny worm imitations that are about 2-3” long without a problem. This is a tricky proposition for spinning anglers since casting a tiny lure like that can be incredibly tough. The key is scaling down not only your lure size but also your tackle in general.
A medium action spinning rod spooled with ten pound test braided line will allow you to cast tiny offerings and still play out a large fish in a salt pond. The Lunker City Slug-O in the 3” size rigged on an offset worm hook is a fantastic cinder worm imitation. Other soft plastics will work as well. Just experiment with colors and sizes to find what works best.
Even bluefish, one of the least discriminatory fishes in the ocean, can get keyed in on tiny bait fish at certain times and refuse to strike at most offerings. This often happens as the season grows longer and swarms of young of the year bait fish invade shallow areas. It pays to have a tackle box well stocked with small spoons and small soft plastics to give you the best options for matching the bait species fish are feeding on. As mentioned earlier, keep an eye on what fish regurgitate on your boat deck. It will key you into exactly what size, shape and color will serve you best.
Every saltwater angler will run into a similar situation at one time or another. Fish can and will be particular at times but the well prepared fisherman will have the resources to get the job done. He will have the appropriate tools on hand to effectively “match the hatch”.