I like to throw bait at Jones Beach when the fishing is a tad slow. I have found there are times when that’s what all the fish will take, and some fish like blackfish, triggerfish, kingfish, porgies, flounder etc, will only take bait. I do love to throw chunks and strips at the bass, blues and fluke as well and there are many days when bait fishing will clean out fish any lure you can find. So if you want to catch fish this is the way to go. Successful bait fishing is a matter of paying attention to small detail of course in addition to where your fishing. If your looking for Jone's big three striped bass, bluefish and fluke you should find yourself catching a nice mix of these fellers. Then tend to cross each other paths and frequent the same habitats. Also don't pass a blind eye to some slip float fishing for weakfish. Its a very effective method for weakfish and fluke alike..
I think the most important aspect of bait fishing is the rig you use and how your bait is presented and the key to this is just keep it simple. But the old disclaimer, nothing is set in stone so feel free to experiment and there will be days when the fish fish will take your bait off a chain and anchor. Also to start with there is one knot you should know to tying clean effective bait rigs, and that is the dropper loop. The dropper loop is a quite useful knot as it can allow you to make leaders and loops with a single piece of monofilament with an excellent high break point. The dropper is not hard to tie but it is the execution of tightening the knot effectively for your desired results. If possible try to prep yourself and get acquainted with this knot as is will be used for Montauk, single and double rigs. All these rigs are effective for fluke, striped bass, blackfish or any bottom dwelling fish. As far as knots tied onto the eye of the hook, I will only tie my hooks on with a snell knot. You can of course use any old knot or your favourite knot, but the snell knot has nearly a 100% break point but the important point is the snell will give the hook a spring like action because the hook is presented on a angle. You should notice a increase in hook sets when you snell or use snelled hooks. As far as connecting to a swivel I like to use a clinch knot but any connecting know will suffice and sometime I will use an albright if I have to tie my mono leader to braided line. The final knot you should know is the double loop or surgeons loop knot. Either one will do, the strength of these knots is not that important as it is just tied to hold your sinker by slipping it through them and sometimes you want it to break free if it gets snagged when you have a fish on the line. At this point you see that 100% of bait fishing is tying good knots, don't take short cuts as tempting as they seem, learn them well, it will save some heart ache in the future. You will see soon the rigs are generally simple to make, it is the knots you will need to really know.
You can purchase store bought rigs for the surf and they will work and may save you time but I prefer to make my own. I feel more confident in using a rig I tied. I know why I tied and the components I used are catered to my style. You can't get that satisfaction and insurance with store bought rigs, although I am sure there are some good ones out there. The items you will need to complete these rigs will be an assortment of quality hooks, sinkers, leaders, swivels, and fish finders. One thing I would like to make mention of is that you use a quality hook. There are many great brands out there and just as many, not so great brands too. I myself prefer the Gamakatsu inline circle hooks for 90% of my needs and I even use them when blackfishing. Just make sure the hook you choose has a excellent point and keep it SHARP! I tend to buy things in bulk and the savings you reap will be worth it for the price of 6 store bought rigs I could by enough tackle to make about 25 of my own in all different shapes and sizes. It is just another reason to tie your own rigs.
The most used type of bait rig I would say I use is the fish finder and slip rigs. They are very simple to tie and a very effective rig. The fish finder is consisted of a fish finder, sinker, leader, swivel and your hook. First point is you need to determine the length of leader you will use. You can go from 6" to 36" but remember the longer your leader it will impact your cast and 36" is a bit long. I generally will go around 18". Sometimes if your tossing big chunks for bluefish or striped bass you can use a short leader 6" or so, this will allow you to get a better cast if you need it while using big clunky bait. Fluker's will use a longer length of leader generally but I have found 18" a happy medium. All you really need to do is fish pre-snell your hook, slip your fish finder on your main line, tie a swivel to the mainline using your favourite connector knot, tie your leader with the snelled hook to the swivel using your favourite connector knot and attach you sinker. The slip rig is much the same but in place of the fish finder you use a slip sinker either5 ball or barrel. The slip rig I think is more effective as it will roll and move along the bottom better then a fish finder rig but the down side is you can't easily change your sinker. You have to cut and re tie to change the bead sinker. The fish finder rig is a great rig for fluke, bluefish, striped bass, sea bass and weakfish. You can use it really for anything that is on the bottom like skates and ray's of course and if your looking for shark use a very heavy leader or wire. Also an effective rig from pier's, beaches, inlets and coves. You can use it anywhere you are fishing. You can use hooks and rigs pre-tied but I prefer to tie my own rigs as it gives you more control of your presentation for effective bait rigs. I like to tie a few snells at home before I leave or the night before. When I arrive I will tie a few more snells as I find time to keep me busy and usually the fish are biting in between so it keeps you on your toes.
If I am looking to do some good bottom fishing I will use a single or double rig. Its probably the simplest of all the rigs once you learn to tie a dropper loop. I try to stay from the double rig as they do tend to snag twice as much. All you need to do is tie a piece of leader to your main line. It can be 36" to 72" or more. Sometimes if I know I am going to be getting snagged I will go twice as big and retie to the remaining leader. After you attached to you mainline either with a connecting knot and swivel or I prefer just doing an albright knot to the braid, tie a dropper loop leaving about 12" to the end. The size of your dropper can be short or long as you feel you need it but I like to make my dropper so my bait sits equal with my sinker. I have found this to make an effective cast and your bait does not tangle with the main line as much. The dropper is important because the 90 degree angle it makes with your mainline hold your bait straight out. Other loops your bait will tangle more often with your mainline because of the angle it will remain at. All you need to do now is determine how far up and low you want your sinker and tie one of the loop knots and slip your sinker through. You can also tie an overhand knot between your sinker and hook as this will lower the breaking point and your line will break free leaving you hook if you get a snag. This rig is great for porgies, sea bass blackfish, triggerfish and anything that swims on the bottom. Its great for pier fishing or off the rocks and will produce from the beach as well. Another version of this rig used often for fluke and striped bass is called the Montauk rig. It is tied the same except you want to tie the dropper further up towards your mainline and you will slip your sinker through the dropper loop and snell your hook on the tag end of the leader. The Montauk rig is generally used when you want a nice long leader and you can also slip a fire ball or cork float on before you snell your hook.
A great rig to use for weakfish and fluke is the slip bobber rig. Some folks will also use it for bottom fishing for sea bass, porgies and trigger fish to avoid snags. The power that comes from this rig is that is allows you to present your bait at an exact depth and keep it in an effective zone where the fish are. The main difference from these floats and you standard float is that the are not attached to your line and you can effectively adjust the depth of your bait till you find the fish and keep it there. There is a special knot you will need to know it is called a stop knot. The stop knot allows you to slide it up and down your line and will stop you bobber from slipping past that point which in turn keeps your bait where you want it. For instance if you know the water is 20 feet deep and you want to be 2 feet off the bottom slide your stop knot 18 feet from your hook and that is where you will be fishing the whole time you present your bait. You can see now why it can be effective for bottom fishing and not too many angler utilize this method of fishing. Once you tie the stop knot you can just slip a bead up with your slip float tie up a leader with hook and split shot and your good to go. There is some fancy tackle to set up this rig but that’s all you need. Also you can use a series of 3 overhand knots with a piece of old mono to slide up and down your main line as your stop knot, it is easier to tie and gets the job done. Remember if your fishing deep this knot will be on the spool of your reel.
If you noticed we did not mention much about bait at all? Just make sure you match your bait with your hook size. You want to use a big enough hook to expose your barb with the traditional J hooks. With the J hooks you can give the fish hell and set the hook till your eyes cross as soon as they hit, which is fun at times I must admit. However f you are using circles like I do make sure you have a clearance from the point to the shank where the hook can latch on the side of the mouth of the fish. Circle hooks set much different then the J hooks. In fact you don't want the hook to set when they take you want them to slowly slide out and latch on the fishes lip. An example to see how effective they are tie one up with a snell to a piece of mono. Get a 5 gallon bucket and pull the line as slow as you can across the lip of the bucket like a giant fishes mouth. Every time the circle hook with latch! That is the effect you want. Try pulling it faster and it will never set and to get an idea try different speeds to get an idea of what your trying to do with a circle hook. You need to hold back on the strike so the hook goes in the bucket to the bottom of the bucket, then SLOWLY pull it out. Try the old bucket with a J hook and good luck getting the J to latch. I just make mention because its the same idea when setting hook with a circle. Let the fish take, wait and SLOWLY reel in or you can SLOWLY lift your rod tip from 10 to 2 O'clock. I actually tend to do both at the same time even slower, just remember SLOW! If you are dead sticking the circles are great for that as they will set themselves when the fish swims away and you won't gut hook them. In addition the circles are quite fish friendly most of your fish will be hooked in the side of the mouth so you will be able to execute a safe release nearly every time and avoid gut hooked fish.
A quick review of some important points if you are bait fishing. Learn you knots well, make sure you can snell hooks and tie dropper loops. Make sure your hooks are SHARP and good quality I can't stress that point enough it will make the difference in your day. Learn to tie your own rigs, you will be able to make any rig you need with only a handful of materials on hand and save money, and if you have not tried them please give circle hooks a chance, they are highly effective and fish friendly.