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April 10, 2008

Surf + Jetty: Tin-Man Tactics

There's more to chucking metal than just casting and reeling.
By Joe Cermele

Long before tackle shops offered thousands of lures to the surfcaster, anglers relied on the tin squid to beach cows from Cape Cod to New Jersey. Today's surf rat tends to grab metal lures only when bluefish blow up on top. But according to Joe Martins, owner of Point Jude Lures [(401) 846-1808, www.pointjudelures.com], metals can produce big numbers of big bass if you can learn to think outside the box.
 
If anyone knows all the tricks, it's Martins, who produces more than 20 models of classic tins and new-wave metals that match everything from eels to butterfish. Here are three of his techniques that will convert you to a full-time metalhead.

Pitch Black
It was a call from late plug builder John Haberek that changed Martins's view of tins. "He said, 'Joe, I'm on the beach right now slaying bass with your lures,'" recalls Martins. "Thing is, it was the middle of the night." It was then that Martins realized metal lures had a place in the dark surf. Whether you're a fan of Deadly Dicks or Kastmasters, you can make them work after sundown.

A common misconception is that a night presentation must be slow, but according to Martins, the steadiness of the retrieve is more important. In rocky areas, Martins recommends reeling just fast enough to keep the lure above the boulders.

To up catch rates even further, Martins introduced a line of black metals dubbed Black Knights. "I figured that if black Bombers and needlefish worked at night, so would black metal," he says. The combination proved killer, matching a sharp silhouette with the vibration of a metal lure the fish could pick up with their lateral lines. "Metals are especially effective on stormy nights, which bass love," Martins notes. "It's not easy punching a wooden lure through the wind."

Slow Hand
Sand eels are primary striper forage up and down the East Coast, and nothing is more effective at mimicking them than a metal lure. But by altering your presentation, you can pick through the schoolies and find more cows. "When sand eels are thick, cast out and just let the lure sit on the bottom," says Martins. "Then every once in a while, give it a twitch. If it takes ten minutes to get the lure back on the beach, so be it." The idea here is twofold. For starters, larger bass tend to hug the bottom, so the method is keeping the lure in the cow zone. Secondly, the puff of sand created by a fleeing sand eel is a visual cue for bass to attack.

Polish 'Em Off, Light 'Em Up
Metals dull? Open the Fridge and start shining.

Got a bunch of tarnished old metals lying around the garage? Don't toss them. "If they're truly tin, like those from the '40s and '50s, you can just rub them with sand to polish them," says Martins. But most likely, they'll be plated in stainless or nickel. Noxon 7 metal polish mixed with baking soda and applied with a toothbrush is a long-time favorite of hardcore surf rats, but there are other alternatives. Apply a mixture of toothpaste and lemon juice or ketchup to a piece of synthetic steel wool and polish away. The acidity will break down the tarnish, the ingredients will keep the ocean clean and the smell won't turn off the fish. - J.C.

"It's the last thing a bass sees," Martins says. "Sometimes a fish will hover around a metal just laying there, then as soon as you twitch it and create that puff?whack!" Bottom line? Don't rush it.

The Flutter Factor
Here's a classic beach scenario: Bluefish start pounding peanut bunker on the surface, and a wave of casters chases the fray up and down the break line. Martins thinks that's a mistake. "Big stripers are looking for injured fish," he says. "If a bluefish blitz moves, stay put. All the dying peanuts are falling to the bottom and the bass will be waiting for them. While anglers jigging metal from boats are always prepared for a hit on the fall, many surfcasters overlook this critical strike time when fishing the suds.

"When you cast, keep the bail open and just let the metal fall," Martins says. "If it doesn't get nailed on the drop, let it sit on the bottom. Bass will actually watch it. After a few seconds, twitch it. That's often the trigger."

To score with this method, choose a metal with a wider profile, such as a Krocodile Spoon or larger Hopkins. Martins produces several patterns that work particularly well on with the drop-and-flutter technique, most notedly his Butterfish.

Next time you hit the suds, reach deep into your surf bag for some heavy metals and turn on the bite with big fish any time of day.