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Splash! Smash! Crash!

Three monster bluefish in a row rose up to absolutely crush the big white popper charter skipper Vinny Catalano was working rapidly across the face of a roiled rip.

“Did you see that one?” he shouted as yet another slammer joined the vicious attack. “Get ready… “Cast… now!”

My back-cast felt strong and I could feel the foam fly popper loading up perfectly before I brought it forward to drop three feet ahead of the on-coming commotion. One strip, two strips and whack! Fish on!

“I love it when we play bait and switch,” chuckled Catalano ( as the 12-pound blue turned on the afterburners and sizzled away in the general direction of Block Island, RI. “Those fish get so worked up they just can’t help themselves.”

I smiled back in agreement and set about applying enough pressure to turn the brute back in our direction while pods of vicious choppers – and an occasional striped bass – continued to slash bay anchovies near the surface. After a quick photo and smooth release we repositioned the boat and were at it again with another hefty blue straining at the end of my line.

“Bait and switch;” it sounds like a used car sales routine and, essentially, it is. In this instance, however, it’s a slick move with a good reputation as knowing captains use the technique to help novice saltwater fly-fishermen gain a little confidence in their fly casting, retrieves and hook-setting abilities.

The basic premise is really simple. The goal is to excite seriously large surface feeding predators like bluefish, stripers, redfish, jacks or even tuna with a large popper in the hopes of getting them worked-up enough to gobble a surface popper or streamer fly,” explains Catalano. “The key, though, is to remove the hooks from the surface plug. That way, even if a monster fish crushes the lure, you can still pull it away. If that happens two or three times, the fish can become seemingly crazed with rage.”

As one angler continues to retrieve the hookless popper on a spinning rod, the second angler casts the fly as the chase comes into range. Frustrated with being unable to hold onto the lure, big fish lash out at the fly when it arrives on the scene. Absolute mayhem is often the result.

To be sure, this technique is a really basic trick – but it is amazingly successful at connecting youngsters and novice fly-rodders with some real tackle busters – the kind that can make angler for life even out of a first-time fly-caster. While most popular with fly-casters, the procedure can also be employed with spinning gear by throwing a hookless popper and then following it up with a large soft-plastic jerk bait along the lines of a 10-inch Hogy lure.

The old bait and switch; give it a try next time you have a novice angler aboard who needs a confidence boost. You’ll be amazed at the results, enjoy the teamwork required to make it work, and be thrilled at the surface show that comes with the fish hitting the teaser popper again and again before finally smashing the real deal.

Sea Tow Team

Sea Tow has been the premier leader in on-water boating assistance since 1983. We want to share news, press, tips and all things boating.

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