by Rich Troxler
By now, every surf rat that plies the shores of Long Island is probably aware of the incredible run of Bass that our neighbors in New Jersey have experienced this fall. Some of you may have even made the trip down the pike and cashed in on the action.The word from many in that area, is that this has been the best fall run in 20 years. It comes as no surprise that the bait du jour, fueling this great action, is none other than the sand launce, or more commonly, the sand eel.
Conversely, for those of us who have stood our ground and kept to the local waters of Long Island hoping for a run of our own, this has been a disappointing fall. Actually, just about everybody I have spoken to agrees that this season has probably been the worst in 20 years. Gone are last year's giddy hoards, cramming the beaches of Robert Moses State Park and points east. Gone are the A17's and the endless discussions on what color tube was "working" that day, Gone are days where the fishing was so easy, even a caveman could do it. And this should come as no surprise, gone are the sand eels.
Yep, Jersey was the big winner in this year's sand eel lottery and they should enjoy it while it lasts. Last year, we were the winner and the poor souls in Jersey were dying for a taste of the action. This year the shoe is on the other foot. For us, after two consecutive years of monster sand eel blooms culminating in last year's epic fall run, we were all hoping for a threepeat of this action. And there were even signs that history would repeat itself. Late last spring, I was finding juvenile sand eels washed up on shores of some of the various locales that had hosted the previous year's blooms. Not as widespread and not as thick, but enough to fuel some late spring bites and give cause for hope that the sand eels would once again return this fall.
But it was not to be. We've had some sporadic action here and there, but nothing of the magnitude of last year's run. And that's the way it is with sand eels. You can have them good for a year or two, and then they drop off the map for ten or more years. So in absence of sand eels, myself and others that I know, looked to the patterns that typically sustain us during the prolonged down cycles between sand eel blooms. But even those were way off. Yeah, some action here and there, but nothing solid and socked in.
These patterns had been "off" the last couple of years, and I attributed it to the overwhelming presence of sand eels on the open beach. I simply chalked it up to the old adage about "find the bait, find the fish" and rightly so in my opinion. But this year we didn't have the sand eel blooms of the last two years, at least not on beach, and most all of the dependable patterns we hang out hats on, failed to materialize to any great degree.
So as to what this all means, I'm not exactly sure. If nothing else, it certainly illustrates that the "find the bait, find the fish" adage is an accurate one. But certain questions come to my mind when I consider the last couple years, and certain trends that I witnessed years ago, seem to be repeating themselves. Then there is the math. The last seven or eight years, the bass have been hammered throughout the industry. This is not a rec vs comm thing, I'm just stating that they have had increased pressure on them. There have also been seven or eight years of bad to no recruitment from the Chesapeake stocks. The formula is simple, input divided by output.
So, while I'm not quite ready to go all Chicken Little and claim the sky is falling, there is a place in my gut that has a knot in it. I'm sure there are many nay-sayers, and they are entitled to their opinions also, because opinions are all they are. Most of us will be basing our opinions on an insufficient data set, personal experience and/or bias, and interpretations of what we find on the Internet. Personally, I hope the nay-sayers are spot on, and that I have to endure years of "See, I told you there was nothing to worry about". But that know in my stomach just hasn't gone away yet.