I've spent the last twenty-five years chasing the fish that swim in our local waters and I've enjoyed every minute of it! During that time, I've made some remarkable friends and together we've learned a great deal by spending loads of time on the water.
It's early November and I'm already tired of " Waiting for Striped Bass" – see last week's blog title. I continue to hear promising reports from Rhode Island and New York coastal waters, but those fish just don't seem to be in a hurry to move down into New Jersey waters. We've had some flashes, mostly a short-lived blitz of 20-pound stripers that happened right around Halloween, but for the most part, the 2016 fall run has been far from steady or predictable.
I decided it was time to shake things up a little. When I fish, I don't sit and wait for the fish - I go to them. I packed up my surf gear and headed north in hopes of kick starting the fall run. Armed with an arsenal of high-end surf rods, indestructible surf reels and hundreds of dollars in plugs, I teamed up with a few buddies to cover some ground in the central and northern portion of New Jersey. At 5 AM, Metallica was playing in the truck. The "Seek and Destroy" song seemed to set a perfect backdrop for our "battle plan."
Sunrise at Bradley Beach, NJ
Our plan was simple: fish sunrise and then spread out to find some action. The sunrise bite was nonexistent. We split up and scouted the oceanfront like gulls looking for meal. After a little driving, we spotted some bunker just out of casting range. The bunker seemed unbothered until three whales exploded out of the water. It was a magical experience. The way the whales erupted into the air with their gigantic mouths open gulping down bunker by the bucketful was truly an amazing spectacle.
We watched the whales play cat and mouse with the bunker for close to two hours without any sign of striped bass or bluefish. Once again, we decided to split up in hopes of finding some action. We started the morning just north of Belmar and drove through Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Deal, Long Branch and finally Monmouth Beach. The landscape is very much different than what I'm used to in South Jersey, but it definitely had a "fishy" feel to it. After much searching, we returned to the bunker pods and watched as the bunker flipped happily on the water's surface. We made a few more halfhearted casts as the morning slowly turned into afternoon. Feeling defeated, we packed up for the long ride home.
Sightseeing in Northern New Jersey
This was my second trip up north in the last ten days. The first trip was similar, but without the whale sightings and I mostly concentrated from Island State Beach Park north up to Mantoloking. The commute isn't much different than my normal South Jersey stops, but I just can't get used to being skunked. When I'm fishing my home waters, usually the back bays, I can always manage a few schoolies to make my trip seem a little more worthwhile.
Between the combination of my surf fishing skunks and continued poor fishing reports, I decided to return to my roots – South Jersey backwater fishing. Our back bays are hardly in full fall run striper mode, but there are always enough back bay linesiders to keep a smile on my face. I hit some of my local haunts just after a midnight high tide and found steady action right off the bat. The stripers I caught seemed like resident fish, mostly between 18 and 26 inches, but I did manage one 28-inch keeper. After the back-to-back surf skunks, I enjoyed catching those small stripers a little more than usual.
Home Sweet Home
The next night, I headed a little further south and was a little surprised to catch a few 12 to 15-inch bluefish and some 12 to 16-inch weakfish. Other than cooler air and water temperatures, it doesn't seem like much has changed in our local waters. Fishing during the first week of November sure felt a lot like fishing during the first week of September. I remember a time when things would turn on just after Labor Day with the mullet run, then around Columbus Day with the cooler weather, then around Halloween with daylight waning each day, now I'm thinking maybe by Thanksgiving?
As of this writing, 1:30 PM on Tuesday, November 11, coastal water temperatures in Cape May and Atlantic City are an identical 57 degrees. The weather forecast for the remainder of the week looks breezy and chilly with a real cold shot scheduled for the weekend. Maybe this colder air is what we need to get the stripers moving south?
Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to the coming weeks. At our house, fall equals family, fishing and football. My son, Jake, has off from school the next few days for the annual NJEA Convention and my dad is flying up from Texas this weekend. We're looking forward to some serious fishing time, but I'm starting to feel a little pressure. This same time last year, we had steady action with fish ranging from 26 to 42 inches - something has to give!