John Skinner is the author of Fishing the Bucktail and A Season on the Edge. He’s the creator of the fishing log software FishersLog. He’s a consistent producer of trophy striped bass and holds the current New York State false albacore record.
Sunday, October 28, 2p.m. - My last blog entry mentioned the good fishing that often coincides with rapidly falling barometric pressure as is found with the onset of a storm. Little did I know at the time that a week later we'd be facing a storm of historic proportions. Little common sense is required to realize that this is not the kind of storm you should be heading out into to try and catch a few fish. Make no mistake, I was out last night and this morning in places that have potential to produce well in deteriorating weather. As of this morning the water was already rough, high, weedy, and starting to get dirty, and that's still 36 hours before the storm is predicted to make landfall. From a fishing standpoint the problem with this storm is that it is so big that it is nearly impossible to fish anywhere near it from a time standpoint. At 11:30 this morning I looked at the jetty at Shinnecock East. Even with a strong ebb and only one hour before low tide the waves were scraping the top of the jetty at the relatively protected mid-section. Despite the rough weather of the last 24 hours, it still isn't raining, and we're not experiencing the kind of conditions that often ignite a good bite. At Moriches this morning, there were no birds working the walls of whitewater. The few fish that I've caught and seen caught in the last 24 hours have been on the small side. If you managed to find a big fish bite somewhere, good for you. Pat yourself on the back. Even if you wanted to fish the 24 hours leading up to this storm's landfall, good luck getting there. Roads are flooding. I turned back from one spot this morning and drove through a lot of water to get to another. If your destination is a Suffolk County Park, it will be closed as of 6p.m. this evening. Nassau County parks will close 6 hours later. Evacuations of low lying areas are widespread. High winds and waves are difficult to fish in many locations, but you can often find lee and protected areas to get around this. What you can't get around is the high water level that results from strong and prolonged onshore winds. This is often referred to as "storm surge", and the surge associated with this storm is forecasted to be record-breaking. When the water gets high, the waves tear at higher and often more soil-laden ground along with vegetation and beach debris and the result is a weed-choked brown mess. There's an excellent website that you can use to monitor water levels: http://tidesonline.noaa.gov/geographic.html. I've posted a plot of the water level at Montauk at the end of this column. The blue line is the predicted water height above Mean Low Water, the red line is the observed height, the green is the difference between the two. Under normal tranquil conditions the blue and red lines would be nearly on top of each other and the green line nearly flat on '0'. At a day and a half away from landfall, we're already running more than 1.6 feet above the predicted height, and the predicted height is unfortunately high astronomically because of the full moon. I'm afraid to think of what will be left of our beaches in the wake of this storm. The marine and storm surge forecasts are the worst I can ever recall, and the storm is so big there's just no escaping it. Be safe.
This is the time of year when I come across the highest percentage of novice to intermediate skill level anglers in the surf. I have a few pieces of advice that I think can help them put more fish on the beach. First off – go fishing on crashing barometric pressure. I'm talking the onsets of storms, pouring rain, building winds. There are anglers on both sides of the question as to whether barometric pressure has a significant impact on putting fish in a feeding move. If I think about it from a scientific standpoint, it should make absolutely no difference because the effect of changing air pressure on a fish is miniscule compared to the change in pressure on that fish when it makes even the slightest change in depth. This is one time where I'll push my analytical mind aside and go purely on observation. As I look over my fishing logs I can't help but notice how many excellent striper trips happened in pouring rain. It's not that I'll avoid fishing in other circumstances, but I keep an eye on forecasts, and particularly real-time weather feeds, and make sure I get a line in the water when I see the barometric pressure plots going off a cliff. Some might say it's the accompanying easterly winds that push fish to the shore that accounts for the good fishing. Those winds may help in some areas, but I've also had banner trips in Long Island Sound with the water as calm as a pond because I was sheltered by the high bluffs behind me. This is one of those times I won't worry too much about why something works the way it does. I'm simply going to do my best to fish hard-falling barometric pressure. At the end of this column I'll post a live eeling video that many of you may have seen already. I've had a lot of comments on the video. Most were on the mechanics of the technique, which was what I intended. More than a few comments were related to the location. No one commented on how crappy the weather was. Yes, I was in a location that I know has the potential to produce some nice fish, but it was the weather that triggered the bite and enabled me to do some nice fish with enough daylight to take video – albeit with the sound of rain banging against the camera after the first couple minutes. The wind was ESE gusting over 30 knots, but was directly on my back resulting in the kind of flat water usually not associated with catching big stripers. There are a lot of different kind of lures out there. It must be overwhelming to a relatively new surf angler to sort through what to use when and how. Whether you're throwing a tin, bucktail, needlefish, darter, or whatever, concentrating on one small detail when you're fishing the surf will make a big difference – stay in contact with the lure. Of course this is almost unavoidable under calm conditions or in current, but toss a plug into a bouncing surf, and it requires a little effort. The mistake I've seen with novice anglers is that they'll just cast their lure out and then reel it back in at a steady speed irrespective of the effects that waves are having on the action of the lure. Maintaining steady contact is a simple task – increase your retrieve speed when your lure is being pushed toward you by a following wave, decrease your retrieve speed when pulling your lure into a retreating wave. This suggestion is an obvious one but goes overlooked too often. Make sure your hooks are dangerously sharp. Some lures do come out of the package this way, many don't. Even if you start fishing with sharp hooks, they can be dulled easily by rocks or being pounded into or dragged through the sand. I use Luhr Jensen hook files at home, but they'll rust if exposed to salt water so I keep a sharpening stone in my surf bag. I'll throw in one last one. I doubt there are many people reading this on a dial-up modem. It's old technology. I feel the same way about monofilament fishing line. Braided lines have almost no stretch, a much higher strength to diameter ratio, and are much more abrasion resistant than the equivalent pound test monofilament line. If you have trouble using braid because of "wind knots", try FireLine original fused line. It's carefree line and is only slightly thicker than braid.