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Long-handled Jetty Gaff

By Russ Bassdozer

All surf anglers should have a gaff for your own safety. Even on a calm sand beach, it's safest for you to have a hand gaff sheathed on your belt, and to put the gaff point inside the lower lip of any fish you may beach, then drag them with the gaff well up the beach out of harms way. If without a hand gaff on the beach, you are at a very dangerous moment when you may have no choice but to put your hand in the mouth or gill of a wild animal in close proximity to some sharp, cold steel - your hook(s). The bigger the fish, the larger the risk of danger to you.

A good size for a hand gaff for the beach is about one and one half feet long. You should always secure it to your belt with an extendable phone cord, and of course, a holster shield. When I expect to be perching on rocks or climbing out on LOW-LYING ocean or backwater jetties, I step up to an "extendo" job that I keep on my belt. When not in use, it is the same size as a hand gaff - about one and one-half feet long. But when it's time to do the honors, it has three tubular sections that slide out from within each other and lock down with large, knurled screws to tighten up the whole assembly once extended. This instantly gives me a gaff around four feet long that is very useful for perching on rocks or LOW-LYING jetties. Once the festivities are over, untighten the screws, collapse it, and back in the belt holster it goes! Where to get these? Well, I came across the extendo handles in an army/navy surplus store many years ago. I realized it was a rare find. Right on the spot I bought more than enough to last my lifetime. They're black anodized aluminum. Where may YOU find them? I haven't got the foggiest, but do look for them because they fill a nice gap between a short hand gaff and a long jetty gaff.

So, we've talked about a hand gaff on the beach, an extendo job for low-lying rocks and jetties. That leaves us with the high jetties, for example at the inlets. Every inlet has 'em, and they are usually risky places, especially when you are landing a fish. Trouble is, the rocks you cast from are high up from the water's surface, the waves are usually heaving, plus a strong inlet tide, and the lower rocks are super slippery. It's not good to go down there. A long-handled jetty gaff is mandatory equipment here.

At this point, I'd like to tell you a little anecdote about some of my adventures at Charlestown Breachway in Rhode Island. Charlestown is the most well-known inlet jetty on the striper coast.If you are not interested in hearing about it, you can just skim down to the bottom of this article for detailed instructions on making a long-handled jetty gaff.

But I am going to talk about Charelstown right now, because I love that rock, and we always spent a part of the night there.  It is a good example of a high inlet jetty. In Charlestown's case, it is relatively easy to cast from the top, but instantly becomes kind of treacherous when it's time to go down to land a fish.

Even if we were just driving past at night (on the way from MA to NY or back), we always liked to take a moment to see what was up at Charlestown and make a few casts (and bag a few bass). Used to be a big bucket brigade and a lot of greenhorns on the nothside jetty because it's so easy to access. The southside jetty was hardly fished and we never tried it, but apparently a few guys, including a sharpie named Ralph (or Harry or something like that, I forget) frequented the southside jetty.

Now Charlestown is a pretty easy jetty to walk out on. Nevertheless, we would wear dark green Helly "skins" (bib overalls, flap jackets) which was the standard issue for jetty jockies. For whatever reason, in the darkness, more than a few of the bucket brigade frequently mistook me in my uniform for Ralph (or whatever this sharpie's name was). Word would spread that Ralph was honoring the northside with a prestigious appearance, and guys would sidle up to me as I drifted plugs out in front of the jetty and start yammering away about all the fish they ever caught here. The first night this happened, it kind of threw me. At first I insisted to them that I wasn't Ralph. This did not convince them, as they thought Ralph (me) was just trying to be a sly dog and fish the northside incognito. But it quickly dawned on me that these guys were spilling their guts about every fish they ever caught, somehow trying to get on Ralph's good side. It was kind of like this guy was the Surfcasting Mafia Don of Charlestown. During the course of the tide, everyone would come to me to seek advice or approval, just to introduce themselves and to have the honor of talking with Ralph. If I had a ring on, I think they would have kissed it. Yuck! At this point, I spent long parts of the season in New England, and I spoke with a New England accent pretty well. Especially when I told them that I "pahked mah cah" in the lot next to Amos' big rig. Now Amos was another sharpie who lived at Charlestown in a camper some falls. He knew I wasn't Ralph, but didn't spoil the fun. Anyway, the greenhorns didn't give a damn about tide stages or anything else. They just waited around the parking lot aand BS'ed until Amos finished his sphagetti (he loved that stuff) and came out of the camper to go fish. Everyone knew it was time to go fishing whenever Amos came out!

So, whenever we passed through, we would fish Charlestown. A buddy of mine would plant a rumor that "I hear Ralph is here" and soon enough I would have all the dope about the fishing in the area lately. It was a lot of fun, and it is a good breachway.

As far as safety in securing fish from high jetties, a long-handled gaff can make it safer for you - but it is not necessarily safer for the fish, especially if you intend to release it. In fact, as they slosh around in the wave surges in the rocks near your feet, a lot of fish get gut-gaffed mistakenly - or out of desperation on the gaffer's part. Not only that, if you are free-spooling a jig or plug on a long line out into the tide off the tip of the jetty (sometimes you can empty your spool), then big fish caught this far out really won't give up. In fact, they just won't let you get them in until they bust a gut or explode their heart. Then you gaff them in the gut. Then you spend long minutes eventually prying up to three strong trebles out of their mouth, hold them, drop them, take pictures and hurl them crashing back into the rocks down below. Ouch! Sure they'll limp away, but I think you've hurt them, perhaps mortally. I wouldn't mind keeping them, but it does bother me to release them like this. For this reason - the difficulty of releasing them - I really do not like this type of "long line" fishing for big bass from the big nasty inlet jetties much anymore. As I already said, Charlestown is an easy inlet jetty compared to some others up and down the coast, but big bass are always hard to subdue. So "Be careful out there!" - both for your safety and for the sake of your quarry.

It's best to gaff a bass in the lower lip or in the upper back meat just behind the head and in front of the dorsal fin. Not only are these the safest spots for the fish itself, but they are the safest spots for you when you remove a fish from the water on the end of a gaff in order to unhook it. When you gaff a fish in either one of these spots, you can maintain more control over the fish, and the fish has less ability to use it's weight and strength to get leverage. Gaff a bass anywhere else, and you have less control of the potentially risky situation that occurs whenever a bass starts twisting and thrashing wildly on the end of a gaff with a plug in its mouth as you try to unhook it.

Anyway, here's how to make one. Go down to a ski shop. Especially in the off season for them. You may get a price break. What you want to buy are a pair of ski poles. You know, the kind you schush with! Some ski shops customize thes poles for their clients, and they may have metal blanks. If not, just buy a pair (look for the longest) and strip them down to the bare metal. Now take the tip of one pole and jam it into the butt of the other pole. Drill through the union, insert a stainless screw and bolt, and smear metal epoxy onto the bolt, thereby securing it. Go to a tackle shop. Get a roll of cork tape and a gaff hook. A tinned gaff hook is better than a stainless one. It will hold a point better. The gaff hook does not need to be a big one either; a surprisingly small one is most effective.

The gaff hook will have a "tine" on it. Just measure the diameter of the tine, and select a drill bit that exactly matches the tine's diameter. Measure where the gaff hook will go on the pointy end of the ski poles, and drill a hole where the tine will be inserted intothe ski pole. Again, it's important you don't drill a hole bigger than the tine's diameter.

Insert the tine into the hole. Glob regular epoxy along both sides of the gaff hook's shank, kind of like caulking a bead along both sides, if you know what I mean. Then wrap and wrap and wrap lots of black electrician's tape, thereby securing the hook to the pole before the epoxy sets. If you are the nervous type, you can use something "stronger" than lots of black tape to secure the hook, but this is hardly necessary - at least for me.

Now, spiral the black tape up the entire "lower half" pole of your gaff. This is simply to make your gaff black so it will blend into the background. Now, spiral the cork tape up the entire "upper half" pole. This is to make a long, comfortable handle. Pop a tight-fitting butt cap on the very end.

Now take a plastic Bic pen, the kind you can remove the ink tube/point unit. Take the hollow tube, and tape it down on the gaff handle, so the pen creates a ridge perfectly in line with the hook point. This should be in the best spot for you to feel the ridge as you gaff a fish. In this way, you know which way the gaff point is facing, even if you can't exactly see it, even if you don't have a light on.

Finally, always handle your gaff "straight up and down". Never hold it sideways with the weight of a fish on it. Although this ski pole material is probably the strongest, lightest gaff material you will find, the metal will buckle if you don't know how to handle it properly with a fish hanging off the end.

Of course, don't go waving it around during a lightning storm.

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