Early Fall - What's your plan?
by Rich Troxler
Well the official beginning of Fall is a mere two weeks away, but in many places Fall fishing patterns are already beginning to take shape. So when does your Fall season begin and how do you approach it? What bait patterns do you look for, what weather conditions do you prefer, and what type of area do you concentrate your efforts on? It goes without saying that all of the above will vary with the neck of the woods that you fish, as like most things in life, one size does not fit all.
For my area, I have a few fairly basic bait patterns that I look for in early fall. By now the young of the year weakfish are starting to filter out of the bays. BTW, weakfish have been a pleasant surprise this year, at least in my area, as by most accounts the numbers seem to be up from the last several years. Let's hope that this trend continues and we get a viable fishery back for them. Seeing as bass love baby weakfish (they love everything at one point or another LOL) throwing yellow or champaign colored plugs like large bombers or bottle plugs at first light will frequently produce some bass, particularly if you are near an inlet.
The other obvious bait pattern that I look for is mullet. In recent years the mullet runs have yielded mixed results for me and several interesting observations may explain why. First, although sand eels were not dominantly present last year, like they were in Jersey, the previous two years before that they were. In fact it was one of the best sand eel blooms I've seen in recent years in some areas. The bass were so keyed on sand eels that most other patterns never materialized, mullet included. The mullet basically slipped by, close to shore and under the radar.
The other wierd thing I've noticed, particularly two or three years ago, was that the mullet were leaving the bays late. They didn't all charge for the inlet in early September after a blow, but rather filtered out in dribs and drabs well into October. I can recall fishing for blackfish on the west side of an inlet in October and watching little pods exiting the inlet tight to the rocks. I also was looking down into the water from atop a bridge one night, near a southern shoreline, and saw several pods heading toward the inlet, this again in mid-October. So mullet are pretty much catch as catch can, but always worth keeping an eye on.
So those are the two primary early fall bait patterns I keep on my radar. And in both cases, in early fall, I've had my best results at first light, or in the day. That's not to say that these can't spur a night bite, because they do and I fish mostly at night, but I am usually pleasantly surprised when dawn starts to illuminate the sky, by the short-lived bite that first light brings.
As for location, I focus on two area types almost exclusively. First is I fish mostly the west sides of inlets. This based on my beliefs (based on loose observations) that mullet exit inlets along the west wall of inlets. May not be true, but that's the plan that I follow LOL. Also bear in mind that when I say "inlet" I'm also referring to the entire area around an inlet, particularly the backsides. The backsides of inlets can have some great action right in the middle of the day, with good sized fish crashing through the staging mullet that are getting ready to run the gauntlet. Frequently the action on mullet is more dependable in the bay side than it is on the ocean side. You can also choose to stand your ground at a point on the inlet jetty where exiting bait meets waiting fish.
The second area I fish in early fall is the beaches just to the west of inlets. Again, this is based on my belief that once the mullet clear the inlet, they head west clinging close to the shore, and that there will always be some fish that find them. If a beach west of an inlet has rock groins on it, then that's sauce for the goose, because those groins are perfect places for bass to corral migrating mullet. If you can find a T-bar formation, or submerged point, these also tend to attract bass that are actively feeding on mullet, or any bait for that matter.
As for weather patterns, I've never been a fan of violent weather conditions simply because in most of the areas I fish, it just destroys the fishing and blows up bait patterns. Yes, the onsets can spur a memorable bite, but I prefer the slow and steady to the burning bright then fizzle type fishing. But that's just my thing. During the early fall I like to get a day or two of dropping barometer and some snot weather with falling temps. Not a noreaster mind you, just enough to get the temps in the bay to drop some and give the migrations a kick start.
After that I prefer stable conditions with moderate waves. If you have some good structure to fish on the open beach, some nice moderate white water will be an asset in getting the predators to hold around the structure. Conversely, moderate conditions make it harder to locate bait and keep track of it, but all in all it tends to be beneficial to the places I fish the most, particularly during the day. Most of all, I do not like a string of one bad storm after another as this has never played out well in my neck of the woods.
My plug choices for early fall are pretty easy and straight-forward. If I'm standing my ground and fishing an inlet jetty at night, then I throw large weighted plastics in blue/white yellow/white or whatever natural coloring patterns I come across. On the backsides and open beaches I throw large plastic minnows in silver, yellow, and blue over white and bottle plugs in yellow/white and blue/white. Also any of the above with a champaign coloring is on the list also. I pretty much stick to these plugs and colors and spend most of my time trying to find fish which means making a lot of moves, both from front to back and east and west on the beach. The bait is migrating which means that chances are the fish will be moving also, so don't grow roots.
That's my basic approach to early fall fishing in the areas that I fish (south shore of Lung Guyland) and it's not etched in stone, just a simple starting point to get me going. I'll pretty much stay on this until about the first week of October, depending on what the weather does of course. After that I start shifting gears towards other patterns and techniques, but that's another story for another time.