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August Crabs, Clams and Snappers

By Russ Bassdozer

Surf fishing gets tough in August. Many surfcasters give up on the open ocean beaches and instead concentrate on the mosquito-infested back bays deep into the darkness of late night tides. However, if you don't like getting up at 2 a.m. to be used as a living blood bank by mosquitos (or if you just love the open surf), then "crab plugging" is a little-known tactic that you should try during August. It works if you believe in it. I can fondly recall Augusts when I crab-plugged a bunch of bass each daybreak on the calendar - from the first to the thirty-first!

Many beach bass eat crabs and sand fleas during August. They are not particular either, eating whatever crusty critters they come across -  blue claws, green crabs, calico (or lady crabs). Many of the crabs are growing rapidly this time of year, carrying eggs, and have or will pop their shells.

Use medium to deep diving wooden metal lip swimmers in close around deeper side sections on inlet and ocean jetties, bulkheads, etc. Focus on spots where a few extra rocks or bulkhead pilings stick out into the water from the side of the structure, or anything else that juts out, even just slightly. For whatever reason, these are the best crab plugging spots. Try metal lip plugs that are more football-shaped than bottle-shaped. The correctly-shaped plug will taper on both ends, causing it to swim by swinging on their wider centers, rather than roll and wobble. The football shape and swinging action is more crab-like as opposed to the appearance and action of "bottle"-shaped swimmers that roll a lot (crabs swing but don't roll).

Tune the lip and eye of the plug in order to get the widest possible swing out of it. Have you seen swimming crabs quickly perform a series of evasive movements whereby they veer to the side and down? That's the trigger you're trying to duplicate with your retrieve.

Any plug back color will do as long as it is vaguley crab-colored; which can be almost any dark color. I've caught on a variety of blue, black, purple, green backs as long as the belly is white. Oh yeah, paint a pronounced triangle of bright red or orange under the lure's chin, thereby signalling a hen crab's egg clutch. Although the chin's at the front of your plug, it will be perceived as the butt of your plug as you reel it in trying to imitate a backward-scooting crab. And use an extra long white bucktail tail hook, thereby signalling a claw.

Try false dawn. It's most productive. Key is if the fish can come up from a channel or deeper water right nearby to the jetty or breakwater you are on.

Change up constantly. Whatever the reason, changing up works whereas repeatedly casting the same lure back at them is a waste of time when they are scrounging the rocks and pilings for crabs. I work with five varied colors and models of "crab plugs", including two medium swimmers, two deeps and one surface swimmer. I fan cast the structure, parallel-right, parallel-left, and lob a short one out dead center...then change the plug before repeating again. I have frequently caught five fish on five casts with five different crab plugs. The feeding period doesn't last long but the fish will be concentrated into small areas (often the irregular or protruding parts of the structure) and willing to bite quickly.  Try it. It's a unique way to get them.

If there's an early storm in late August, use clams as soon as the storm passes. Fish the very same locations where you were crab plugging. Use a "three by three" rig, which is a single hook on a three foot leader tied to a three way swivel  three feet above your line. The storm will have broken up incredible numbers of surf clams, and there will be incredible numbers of small to medium bass in the surf eating these clams for a day or two. Often, nothing else will get a strike after an early storm in late August.

Now, here's a tip for the big bass. It is not widely known that one of the very first visible forage fish migration in the fall is made by snappers. Start to look in the mouths of inlets within the 3rd or 4th week of August, depending on the year. The snapper schools will be mustering there in order to collect into waves leaving every inlet. These waves are likely to include larger proportions of the southern strain of snappers, who arrive inshore earlier in the spring and also depart earlier in the fall thando the northern sub-species of snappers. They will often be blasting like popcorn as they frenzy out feeding on small baitfish before this snapper wave departs. The first fall movement of gamefish - often bass as opposed to blues or weaks - will be drawn into the inlet mouths and adjacent bay flats by this snapper activity. Use large white surface swimmers or powder blue-backed ones during the last hour of golden light at dusk. You'll get some big fish from this "snapper run". It will surely make you wonder where these large bass were lurking all summer. Never known to last long, the hiatus of this snapper wave lasts about a week.

Within a few days or the next weather system change after these snappers depart, the mullet will instinctively know it is now safe enough for them to come out from hiding in the back of the salt hay marshes. The mullet will begin staging in the inlet mouths and adjacent flats next, and you can plug the flats extending a mile or two into the inlet with small swimmers resembling mullet at dusk and into the darkness. This staging in the inlet mouths is also short-lived but also productive with both quantity and quality-sized fish.

Soon the blue and silver hordes of mullet will begin their eternal journey through the surf, coloring it with dense brown fields of nervous water, the air will feel cooler, days shorter, and rods bent as the fall run commences during September.

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