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Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda
Bass on a big 10 inch herring fly

December’s End, Watching or Catching?
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

ou’re a surf fisherman, right? Maybe a diehard? No weather elements will keep you inside, no wave heights, no bad conditions, no time of day, or even lack of fish. You go, regardless. Time after time, many times sacrificing other things, maybe sometimes to many things, all for the excitement and thrill of putting it all together to hopefully hook into a trophy striped bass. Well the month of December is the second time during our central New Jersey season that the opportunity presents itself for surf anglers to hook into a trophy striped bass of a lifetime. These are fish that can range in size from 20-35 pounds.

Now for many the 20-25 pound striped bass are not trophies but for some they just might be. For some, especially if you are new to this wonderful sport, than this might be the biggest striped bass that you have ever caught or are still waiting to catch.

For others the 25-35 pound range may still be elusive so catching one of these bass will satisfy that personal trophy category. Others however are still hunting bigger trophies, those 35-50 pound bass or maybe even 50-60 pound bass. These latter two ranges however are unlikely to become a reality in December.

Best chances for these latter two ranges, the 35-60 pound class fish, will be during our late spring into early summer run when the Chesapeake Bay bass migrate into our area following the adult bunker that move up from the south. So for now, as our season comes to an end, you will have to settle for the 20-35 pound trophies. But hey, there is nothing wrong with that, that is if you catch them from the beach.

In December the major run of much bigger fish usually starts on the downside of the November full moon at the end of that month and the new moon in December two weeks later. This is also when we see a major migration of sea herring along our central New Jersey coast. This run of big striped bass is dependent on this forage and the route that it will take.

If the sea herring remain offshore from 3 to 20 miles out than the fish will too. But if the bulk of the sea herring move inshore within 3 miles than it can truly be a December to remember. Unfortunately, even if the bait and fish do move inshore the end of the season still remains a boating event.

In the least several seasons the first three weeks of December has been when this run has materialized. Water temperatures are usually right around 48 degrees when this happens with excellent action taking place. This past Saturday, December 1st, I had 48.5 degrees as a water temperature reading. This puts us in the last quarter of the migration period of striped bass along our beach. The fishing should still be good as long as the water temperatures hold in this range. If however they plummet quickly below 45 degrees due to any Artic blasts and icy northwest winds the season will come to a close quickly. When water temperatures drop between 45-42 degrees the bulk of the bait has moved south and so have the bass.

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

If and when the big bass and sea herring show up there won’t be any doubt as to which route they take because if they come inshore they will be caught. Word will quickly spread in the fishing community that they have arrived. Boaters will be scrambling to see how much longer they can keep their boats in the water in spite of marinas having deadlines, water being turned off, boat spray flashing to ice in the morning hours, and engines stalling while getting off to a slow start. Tackle shops will get the weigh-ins and Internet message boards will be inundated with the news.

If the big fish show up boaters will definitely get them. In the surf however anglers will be hoping that these big fish move in close enough to the beach. This will result in many, many days of constantly going down to the surf and taking a look and casting. More often than not one will come up empty.

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim FredaIn many past years this migration has not been in casting range from the beach but has been in the visible range of surf anglers able to see what was going on in the boats less than a quarter of a mile just to the east. The main reason is that the sea herring don’t move through the surf zone like adult bunker or peanut bunker do, or like sandeels do rooting in the sandbars. This bait is oceanic in nature and when present moves in schools by the thousands; that is their nature. Isolated baits are seldom found.

Striped bass will push these baits to the surface and as a result you will see great surface action as these big cows plow through them. Gannets and gulls will join the mix making for mayhem erupting right behind the gunwale of your boat. It is an awesome sight to see 20-35 lb bass up on the surface boiling and taking big wooden swimming plugs, shads, or flies.

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

Your traditional plugs such as Bombers, Megabaits, and Yozuris, will all produce as will the custom wood swimmers that many of our locals spin such as Shore Catch Captain Greg Cuozzo’s Pajama Plugs, Leftys, Wades, Big Dons, McFaddens, and Bottomlys. For these custom plug colors I like a green, blue, gold, or pearl back fading to a white underbelly.

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

You’re a surf fisherman, right? Maybe a diehard? Well, when the bass are big like they can be at the end of the season, why miss the action? If you are watching and not catching it is time to get in a boat; it’s a great way to end your season.  End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

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Books by Jim Freda
Saltwater Fishing A Tactical Approach Fishing the NJ Coast