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September Surf
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

he month of September along the Jersey Coast will be a time for surf anglers to rejoice as we come out of the summer doldrums and we start to see increased activity along our beaches with striped bass moving back inshore. The impetus that will drive these fish to return along the beach will be our annual mullet run that will be in full swing by the middle of this month.

The greatest concentrations of bait along the beach should take place on the downside of the full moon that occurs this month. Four to six inch finger mullet will push out of our back bays and rivers and migrate south along the coast. These baits will stay tight to the shoreline giving surf anglers plenty of opportunities to easily reach bass and bluefish that will be feeding on them.

As these small baits migrate south they will etch a perfect sketch of our coastline and the first visual display of surface action blitzes will once again commence. Striped bass that I like to call local fish, those that have been present around our jetties and deeper holes on our inshore rock piles, will take an interest as dawn and dusk will become prime activity times. These bass will range in size from small five pound fish into the low twenty pound ranges.

Any rough surf however during this time period that may be produced by encroaching hurricanes will push these baits off the beach to avoid the pounding swell. Hurricanes coming up the coast during this bait migration will be a real nemesis that both surf anglers and boaters will have to deal with. One of the worst case scenarios that can and may take place is to have a good run going on and a hurricane comes up and kills it. It will also prevent boaters from getting out as rough seas and a big swell at the mouth of our inlets will follow.

If a scenario like this does occur it also posses a real danger for jetty fishermen that may want to try for bass in the rough surf. Placing yourself on a jetty when there is a big swell is just asking for trouble. Even if it looks safe a rogue wave can come up and put you in a precarious or life threatening situation rather quickly. If you are going to fish the rocks stay near the beach end of the jetty where you know for sure you cannot be washed off your feet. Hopefully however the weather will cooperate this month and we will be thick into fish.

When fishing for striped bass during the mullet run live mullet will out produce all other baits or artificials. There are a variety of mullet species that range from Nova Scotia to Florida. Here in New Jersey the species that takes center stage is Mugil cephalus, also known as the striped mullet. Other common names for this bait are finger mullet or mushers. This is so because when viewed from the front they are cylindrical and blunt like your fingertips with a similar length. Their bellies are also soft and they can be easily mushed when squeezed between your fingers.

Finger mullet are bluish gray to silver along their dorsal aspect and fade from silver to white along their bellies. They are usually less than six inches in length and are seen by the thousands in the fall. They will lack horizontal stripes while larger mullet often referred to as corn cobs will have six or seven horizontal stripes.

Throwing a cast net into the pockets along the beach or around the docks in the bays will be a good way to get fresh baits. When you have your baits fish them by tying them direct to your main line with a 2/0 or 3/0 Octopus style Gamakatsu or Ultra Point Mustad live bait hook. Hook ¼ inch ahead of the mullet's dorsal, cast out, and allow the bait to free swim.

When a bass takes the bait it will inhale the mullet in one swipe so you can be assured that the mullet is in its mouth when the initial run takes place. Set the hook hard as to drive the hook point home into the bony palate of the bass.

For artificial lures fish ones that will ride hide in the water column as this will emulate the baits naturally movement the best. Surface poppers are very effective especially when the water is oil slick calm. Use small to one-ounce poppers on light tackle. Try any of the time proven favorites such as Polaris, Gibbs, Atoms, or Yozuris. Or try the Stillwater Smack'it Jr. in white or yellow. It has been very effective in the last several years.

This will also be a great time for fly fishers to cash in on the action as forty to fifty foot casts will easily have you in the game. Many times a ten or twenty foot cast will do the same. There is no reason to make hero casts at this time of year.

For flies, profile will be the key to your success when the mullet are on the scene. Rounded heads, a wide girth, and a four to six inch length are all important when matching the bait. Also a white underbelly will emulate what the bass sees from its viewing perspective when it is underneath a bait school looking up.

A Bob Popovics's siliclone in blue and white, chartreuse, or yellow along with Bob's bangers will be the best producers. Deer hair mullet patterns and wide bodied deceivers will also produce. Keep these flies moving with a two handed strip as mullet are rarely seen staying in one place.

An interesting note on the bait migrations that we will see this fall is that many anglers fail to realize that they are governed and driven by lunar phases. This is particularly true for the mullet. Many will attribute mullet movement to dropping water temperatures but in the middle of September such will not be the case.

Since water has a high heat capacity it will cool and warm much more slowly than the land. We can very well see air temperatures at night in the low fifties around the time of the full moon this month but you won't find surf temperatures in that range. In fact they will be in the mid-sixty degree range and even higher if winds stay out of the northeast for an extended period of time.

In spite of these warm water temperatures the mullet will still begin their migration and be along the beach. They do so every year. We will also see lunar phases impacting the bulk of the peanut bunker migration in October and into November. Dropping water temperatures do help to drive baits but the real impact of decreasing water temperatures is that it acts as a stimulus causing fish to feed. If the bait is there when this happens the fish will remain in your area.

False albacore will also take center stage this month for surfcasters as these fish will come close enough to the beach to cast to. In particularly fly fishers will flock from the tri-state area to New Jersey to have a chance at catching an albie from one of our many jetties or inlets. For many fly fishers this is the ultimate experience to catch these speedsters on ten and eleven weight rods.

During September false albacore will migrate in an east to west direction and can move inshore quickly. They use the offshore lumps, ridges, and Mud Hole as staging areas. With the speeds that they travel at it doesn't take much time for them to move inshore from these locations. Later in the season as the water cools they will migrate from the north back down to the south along the Mid-Atlantic States. This will take place usually around the third week of October.

Small bay anchovy imitations such as surf candies will be the best flies to use on intermediate lines to hook-up. Vary your retrieve starting with a fast super strip to see what will turn these sometimes finicky fish on. In you are spin fishing any small thin profile metal will imitate the small baits at this time. Deadly dicks are my number one choice. The key is to tie direct to the metal without any terminal tackle. To do this tie a small barrel swivel to your main line and attach a four foot 12 lb test fluorocarbon leader. If you are not hooking up drop down to 10 or 8 lb test. If this doesn't work then try lengthening your leader. These fish have keen eyesight, which is evident by their large eye and can easily become leader shy.

Rounding out the month of September we will see good concentrations of bluefish that can be found just about any day in the surf. These fish will range in size from small snappers to gators that can tip the scales at fifteen pounds. In the surf casting metal or surface poppers will be your best bet. There appearance is unpredictable but if the bait is present in the surf than they will usually reappear each day at some time. High tide is favored as they will come over the outer bars. ……..So keep your eyes peeled each day for bait in the surf and the fish won't be far behind.  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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