Changes to the Plum Island Beachfront

Hey everyone,

Unless you have been living under a rock the past month or so, you have no doubt heard about the erosion and damage that have befallen the island as a result of hurricane Sandy and this winter’s numerous storms. While the destruction to the beachfront properties is unfortunate, the changes to the beach could mean good news for us Surfcasters.

The affected beach area finally opened to the public again last week and I had a chance to get down there at low tide this weekend to take a look at the changes to the structure on the beach. The most notable changes are south of the island center. There was a increasingly pronounced sandbar that started around 40th st. and extended out in a southward arc. This sandbar has increased significantly lately and is now completely exposed at low tide. There is a second sandbar that has also developed right next to the older one. Additionally, there is a third sandbar that has formed closer to the the center parking lot but is not exposed at low tide, however the white water coming over it makes it very apparent. There are other numerous bumps and changes along the beach that all look very “fishy”. Further down towards the refuge boundary there is a big cut and hole which looks quite promising to be productive this season. The PRWR beach is now closed for plover season so I have not had a chance to get a look down there, but I assume there have been dramatic changes down there as well.

I took a bunch of photos which I am including below. I’ve heard from a few folks that they have been seeing the herring run getting started in the past few days, so it’s only a matter of time before the bass are behind them. Hopefully we will start to get into a pattern of warmer weather and we will see some fish by the end of the month. Good luck out there and tight lines everyone!







Gear Preview – Gear Up Surfcasting 4 Tube Plug Bag

Hey Gang,

After a lot of research in the off season this year into various bag makers, I came across the “Gear Up Surfcasting” line of bags and was immediately impressed. Everything is double stitched with military grade components and the same double layered “Dacron Sailcloth” material used by high end makers like Commando Surfcasting and Ebb Point. Make no mistake, I was messing around with this thing and it is bulletproof! I literally bent a hook seeing if I could puncture the fabric. This bag is priced at least $100 less than the aforementioned bags and features comparable quality. As stated it features 4 large diameter tubes as well as 6 bucktail holders and a pocket for soft plastics like swim shads and slug-o’s. To top it all off on the outside there is a drink holder than fits a 16 oz Gatorade bottle perfectly as well as a holder for an jar of Uncle John’s pork rinds.




Obviously I have not had a chance to test the bag yet, but I have no doubt I will get many seasons of use out of this well used and very reasonably prices plug bag.

To check out their full line of bags and accessories visit:


Plum Island Surfcasting Guide Service

Product Review: Van Staal VS 200 Reel


Two years ago I was on my second new reel of the season. The first had taken only a handful of dunkings in saltwater and despite some TLC it was still too much for the reel to take. The second reel’s bail spring wore out after only a few months. I easily lost $75 worth of plugs due to the bail snapping over mid cast. These were both $150 and $200 dollar reels (I won’t mention brands). I decided it was time to invest in something that was going to last against the abuse I would be putting it through.

Given the fact that a good deal of my fishing is done wading waist deep or among crashing waves that can often submerge my reel, I needed something that was impervious to salt water. I did some research and came to the conclusion that what I really needed was a Van Staal reel. Now, this is not a decision that I came to lightly. For a person of my financial means, spending close to $800 on a reel is a huge deal (hell it’s almost all of one of my bi-weekly paychecks).


This reel is all machined aluminum and is bulletproof. It has a completely sealed drag system that will absolutely not allow salt water into the gears and drag system. It also has a 30lb drag capacity, meaning you will be able to slow down the meanest of stripers and bluefish. Van Staal reels have the largest main gear in the industry. This means the VS 200 can bring in an amazing 40 inches with every complete turn of the handle. My reel can easily carry 300+ yards of 30lb braid plus plenty of backing, ready for any prolonged battle.  This model is also bail-less, meaning it only has a roller that the user must manually pick the line up from in order to cast and then put back on when completed (Van Staal does offer bailed models). The advantage to this is that there is no bail that can accidentally snap over mid-cast, causing you to snap off your lure. Although it is a bit awkward to using at first, it did not take me long to get the hang of the transition. This reel is even tough enough to take on small school size tuna when matched with the right rod and line.

Van Staal also offers a yearly maintenance service which for about $50 will professionally clean and replace all seals on the reel, making it work like new. Doing so will ensure this reel lasts a very, very long time.

When I fish with this reel I have not a doubt in my mind that it will take absolutely all of the abuse I can throw at it. I dunk this reel while using my rod as a walking stick when wading to a rock. I frequently throw it into the sand after landing a fish to grab a camera or tape measure. I’ve stood in waist deep water working the reel while it’s completely submerged and never once have had so much as a hiccup from it. The VS 200 is an investment that if taken care of will last you decades.

This reel and more from Van Staal are available at Surfland Bait & Tackle.


(All Photo’s Joanne Gallant)

The Fishing Environments of Plum Island

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Plum Island is a large and diverse area to fish. When I try to break down the various environments that one can fish, I tend to break it down into three main areas: The Marsh, River and the Beachfront. Each of these environments has their own character and ways to be fished. For instance, you’re probably not going to fish the Parker River where it crosses the marsh the same way you would fish the oceanfront. These locations often call for different lure selections and presentations. I’d like to share a bit about my experiences in these locations so hopefully it will help you out this coming season.


1 – The River

As many know, the first stripers of the season typically show up in and around the mouth of the Merrimack River around late April to early May. There is a great stretch of river that is fishable on the Plum Island side starting at the “Captain’s Ladies” fishing boats heading all the way to the start of the jetty. The depth drops pretty quickly on the corner of this stretch, so be cautious when wading. Since there is extremely fast moving water here you will require some weight to get your offering deeper down to fish. I tend to reach for a bucktail or a slugo-style lure being on the smaller side (around 5-6 inches, tipped with a jig-head anywhere from ¾ to 1 ½ ounce works). Generally a dropping tide is the rule of thumb here, but fish can be taken on the incoming tide as well. One drawback to this stretch is that it tends to become pretty crowded once the weather gets nice and the fishing picks up. Many people choose to fish baits here (sandworms, clams, chunks) and it can get pretty hectic with people fishing 20 feet from each other in a strong current.

There is another small spot that’s sometimes productive to the left of the party boats. This is fishable via a mussel bed located about 40-50 yds from this beach area at mid-tide (wading required!). Look further to your left and you will see where the “basin” dumps out into the river. I’ve seen one of the biggest blitzes of my life on an early June afternoon in that spot. One good thing about fishing the river for this coming spring is the Plum Island Jetty which is currently being repaired. This will increase the distance and safety for anglers who choose to venture out there. Reports say that it should be completed by mid-April.


2- The Marsh

Once the fish have entered our estuaries by mid-May, I tend to turn my fishing inland to the marsh, more specifically the Parker & Ipswich River’s. The water in these areas tends to warm up sooner and gets the bait moving and fish feeding. Because of where I live, one area I tend to frequent is the area around the bridge when you cross over to Pl. There are a few different spots I frequent right in this general vicinity. During the early season, I like to start with using top water lures and small swimmers. This area is also considerably shallower than fishing the Merrimack, so it’s better to user lighter lures which swim higher in the water. You can also find marsh fishing opportunities at the end of Stackyard Rd. in Rowley. This area is part of the Parker River Wildlife Refuge. Dress accordingly as you’ll be likely walking in some mud and bug-spray is a must!

I have a preference for fishing the marsh at night. For one, it is typically cooler and less buggy. Secondly, I theorize that bigger fish move up the marshes at night, as the biggest fish I have caught have been under the cover of darkness. Make sure you slow your presentation down too (as you should always do at night).

If you’re thinking “What about Joppa Flats?” well for one I don’t have a kayak or boat, and second I just don’t have much experience out there.  So you don’t want my advice on that…


3- The Beachfront

By late June into early July, the water further up river and in the estuaries has become a bit too warm for the taste of resident line-siders. The fish begin to move out the river and split their time between cruising the beach and moving out deeper in search of cooler water. During the hottest times of July and August, I focus the majority of my time with night fishing. The tides will usually dictate the time of my departure, sometimes 8pm or sometimes 1am. I tend to focus on the top sides of tides, both incoming and outgoing. In my opinion, the incoming tide partially plays a role in bringing fish in by via tidal movements alone. On an incoming tide, the current seems to run from right to left. This indicates the majority of water is heading towards the mouth of the Merrimack. The opposite occurs towards the southern tip of the island where the Ipswich and Rowley River exude more influence. In my opinion, the key to fishing the beachfront is all about moving until you find where the fish are holding. I don’t have the patience for bait fishing (with the exception of live eels), so you won’t get much advice from me on that. 90% of my fishing is done with artificial lures these days, and if you are planning to as well, get yourself a plug bag and prepare to travel light as you’ll be doing a lot of walking (in sand).

Large beaches like Plum Island can often seem barren desert and devoid of life, thus making locating a fish seem like finding a needle in a haystack. However if you can identify sometimes even the most subtle of structure, it can greatly increase your odds for hooking up. Try to look for sandbars within casting range where whitewater may occur. Another thing to look for is “cuts” in the beach. These can be identified as what looks like “fingers” that extend out into the water. To either side of these “fingers” is often deeper water, where fish hold waiting for un-suspecting prey. Additionally the three additional jetties that line the beach can be excellent forms of structure that fish gravitate towards.

During the summer the beachfront can at anytime be host to an all out blitz of Stripers and Bluefish crashing schools of Sand eels or juvenile Herring. I was lucky enough to be in attendance for a few of this last June-July. They predominantly occur during the early morning and evening, but can certainly happen mid day. Typically they move fast, so keep an eye out for the tell tale signs of diving birds and fish crashing the surface.

The “Fall Run” is usually the best time of year to be a fisherman on PI. Come September and October, fish are feeding intensely to fuel up for their migration south. Water temperatures begin to drop from their summer highs and into a range which makes the Stripers much more active. Bait is also moving, making the same trip as the predators that pursue them. This time can also be the toughest to fish for the un-initiated. The nights and mornings are cold and storms frequently whip up the surf into a dangerous froth. This is a time for waders, thermals, gloves and keeping dry. Those that are not properly prepared for one of these outings will likely be calling it quits early. This past year I caught fish up until Nov. 3. The biggest fish of the year I took on Oct 28. So yes, you could say I do favor the fall run….


“Lessons Learned..”


This past spring I had an especially scary experience which taught me a valuable lesson, knowing my limits and when to just let a lure go. Growing up as a fly-fisherman, I was accustomed to getting my fly hooked on a bush or a tree behind me. I had no problem pulling the branch down or going into the brush to get my precious fly back. When you start spending 15-20 dollars (sometimes more..) a pop for a plug, the motivation to get that back becomes even stronger.  I learned my lesson last year, the hard way….

It was a cloudy May afternoon and I was fishing along the PI Beach front right down the street from Surfland Bait & Tackle. I was walking the beach tossing a Daiwa SP Minnow, and I had already picked off a couple low 30” fish. As the fishing began to slow down, I eyed the jetty as an opportunity to get out and reach some deeper water.

I was in full gear…Waders, Jacket, Plug Bag, Boots, Surf-belt and other accessories. Making my way out on the jetty I thought I was being careful by noting the tide and the rhythm of the incoming waves. In my experience waves seem to come in sets. Typically in a set, there is one wave bigger than others; this tends to come towards the end of a set. After a few casts I started to vary my cast and retrieve to see if I could find where the fish were hiding. I sent one particular cast almost parallel with the jetty and proceeded to work it right along the edge hoping to coax a striper. Instead of tempting a fish, I caught a lobster trap and its lines which were tangled in the rocks of the jetty. I stood for a moment observing the stuck lure and surmised that I could probably climb down there and untangle it between swells without much trouble.

I set my rod and reel down on the high rock that I was perched on and waited for my chance to jump down and free my new favorite lure.  I went down and began to try to free the Daiwa SP, quickly realizing that it was not only stuck but its hooks were embedded in the rope. My learning moment was just about to happen…

PI jetty 2

While trying to free the lure, I heard the roar of the surf approaching and I looked up…

The head high wave hit me directly in the face and knocked me off the jetty. Thankfully I had on my wading belt which slowed the amount of water flooding into my waders. When I got my head back above water I was looking directly at the jetty. Selfishly my first concern was not my own safety, but the expensive Van Staal reel and St. Croix rod that I thought I had left sitting safely on the jetty. It was gone. Scanning the water around me I saw the rod tip and the top two guides sticking out of the water like a shark fin. I grabbed the rod and tossed it back up onto the jetty before hoisting myself out of the drink.

I crawled up onto the jetty, soaking wet, waders full of water and sporting a bruised ego.  I stood in the warm May air shaking, not because I was cold but because of the adrenaline and irresponsible situation that I just put myself in, I proceeded to shout obscenities, not at anything or anyone .…just me, for my stupidity. No one’s fault, but my own.

As I walked off the beach trying to process what had just happened, I looked around; there was not a single person anywhere who could have helped me. I considered some of the worst case scenarios ……”What if I was knocked unconscious? What if my waders had completely filled up?” there would have been nobody there to help me…I would have been in deep shit.  But I was lucky that day, and I won’t test my luck twice.

I learned valuable lessons that day. First, know your limits of what is safe and what is not. Jetties are no joke. I was fishing on an incoming tide and the swells were getting bigger and bigger. I should have said no to the growing swell and continued working the beach. The second is that there is no lure which is worth risking your life for. If you get your $20 lure stuck it in the rocks in a sketchy spot, just let it go…

I’m thankful I could learn this lesson without having to lose more than a $15 Daiwa SP. Hopefully you can learn something from this story and not learn the hard way yourself….


“If I could only carry 5 lures in my bag….”


Much like a Boy-Scout, I like to be prepared for any situation when it comes to surf-fishing. If you are like me, your plug bag is likely packed to capacity at all times. Before any outing, I would assemble my arsenal for whatever bait & conditions I think I may encounter. I started to consider this past season, “What if I could only choose 5 lures to have in my bag at all times?”. For most of us this would cause a panic attack. Realistically if you’ve done your homework and you have an idea of what bait are present and where you are fishing at a given time, you can effectively thin down your lure selection to a few lures. However knowing what the fish are feeding on is not always easy. My thinking is that if you can cover the entire water column from the surface to the bottom, you stand a great chance of connecting with fish where they are feeding.  Sometimes it just takes some experimenting. I have narrowed my list down to the following 5 lures. Keep in mind these are my picks for Plum Island and the surrounding areas, depending on where you are may vary your particular lure selection. I am no expert, but this is what works for me….

-Daiwa SP Minnow

-Micah Dean Sandeel

-Super Strike NeedleFish

-Rebel Jumpin Minnow

-Spro Bucktails


1) Daiwa SP Minnow –

I discovered this lure the past season and was immediately convinced of its effectiveness. Its baitfish shape matches much of the forage in our area such as mackerel and herring. It’s even slender enough to pass for a Sandeel. It resembles many Yo-Zuri’s and other standard suspending Rapalas, but there is something about the tight wiggle and action that out fishes both. The Daiwa SP also features a internal rattle system which not only attracts fish but also shifts the weight during casting for maximum distance. I have cast this lure accurately when all other plugs in my bag were being blown off course by a headwind. The Daiwa SP swims about a foot or so under the surface and stays perfectly still when paused, an especially deadly practice for finicky fish. One recommendation I would make would be to swap out the stock hooks for stronger VMCs (a lesson I learned the hard way this season after a bent hook and a broken heart).


2) Micah Dean Sandeel –

When I first was introduced to the Micah Dean Sandeel, I thought this was a lure that specifically worked on Cranes’ Beach. Indeed, this lure is downright DEADLY on Cranes. It’s a very narrow profile lure which as its name implies, imitates a sandeel. It has little side to side action and mostly tracks straight with a moderate retrieve. However this past season I have experimented with this lure on the South End of Plum Island with great success. I think this lure excels in shallow beaches with a mellower slope. Cranes is a shallow beach which gradually deepens. In fact you can wade almost 100 yds from the beach and be no more than waist deep. Unlike the steep beaches of the rest of the Island, Lot Six and the Emerson Rocks area of Plum Island are quite gradual. It seems to be much more like Cranes then the rest of the Island. This is a floating lure which I usually fish at first or last light. I employ a slow retrieve with occasional twitches from the rod tip. The lure comes in two colors, a sandeel coloration and a darker mostly black pattern. Both have their own applications. I like the dark color in the lowest pre-dawn conditions and on overcast days. The Sandeel color seems to work best on bright sunrises and typical sunsets.


3) Super Strike Needlefish –

I am a firm believer in Sandeel imitations in our area. Over the past few years the majority of forage and feeding I have personally witnessed have been on Sandeels. The SuperStrike NeedleFish matches this hatch perfectly. Unlike the Micah Dean Sandeel which is strictly a surface lure, the SuperStrike Needlefish can fish the entire water column. The sinking version of this lure can be fished at a variety of depths depending on how long you let it sink and your retrieve speed. Like the Micah Dean, it has little side to side action, but this is not detrimental to its success. In fact at night I have found it’s most effective at a very slow, deliberate retrieve. The lure comes in a variety of color ways. I am not a stickler for color, I believe in lighter colors during the day and darker at night. Another nice feature of this lure is it comes with saltwater ready hardware. No need to swap the hooks and rings out for stronger ones.


4) Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow –

What can I say about this lure? Well for one it’s probably the most fun to fish with. The walk the dog action and the surface strikes it draws are second to none. There is something about its exaggerated side to side action that simply drives fish nuts. Not only will it draw attention in the craziest of surface feeds, but it will also coax otherwise lazy fish into a instinct strike even when not feeding. It comes in a few different color ways, but don’t waste your time. The all white “bone” color is by far the most effective in my experience. Work this lure like you would a normal pencil popper and watch it dance from side to side so well you may want to take a bite. It’s not the heaviest lure out there but it’s aerodynamic shape helps it cast further than normal open face poppers in the same weight class. You will definitely want to change out the hooks and rings on this lure, as they are very weak and will not stand up to large stripers and blues.


5) Spro Bucktails –

Although there are many bucktails on the market, I have developed a certain affinity for the “Spro” brand. They are tied with exceptional quality and come in a variety of color ways and weights. Until a few years ago, I was very reluctant to use a bucktail. My first thought was “That doesn’t look like any other fish I’ve seen”. But indeed it imitates almost all baitfish out there, especially when paired with a pork-rind teaser. The advantages of the bucktail are numerous. For one, you can fish almost every portion of the water column depending on how long you let it sink and your retrieve. Another advantage is it’s slim profile, which allows you to cast the lure into strong headwinds. It also holds it’s position and tracks better in rough water, making this the ideal lure for fishing white water that often occurs around storms in our area. This past season I fished bucktails in some of the roughest water I have ever fished on lot six of the PRWR. To my surprise I was able to pull many fish out the rolling white-water, making me firm believe in these lures and their endless versatility.

So there you have it, if I could only have 5 lures in my plug bag, these are the ones who would make the cut. Every region will vary in which lures are effective, but in my experience these are the ones that have worked for me.

All these lures are available at Surfland Bait & Tackle on Plum Island….

Have a different load out for your bag? Let me know in the comments below!!

(All Photos – Joanne Gallant)

Welcome to Plum Island Surfcasting!

Welcome to Plum Island Surfcasting!

This is a blog devoted to Surfcasting on and around Plum Island MA.

It will feature reports, photos and Go-Pro video directly from the suds. It will also (hopefully) feature information about my surfcasting guide service launching this year.

I’ll be experimenting with various formats before the spring that will work and look best.

Tight lines to everyone in 2013, looking forward to Spring!!


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