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Copyright  1998 - 2006 Captain Jim Freda
Ten Degrees of Blitzes
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

en Degrees of Blitzes, at first glance it may seem as if I am going to talk about levels or intensities of blitzes that may occur along our beaches. We could do this and think back to some of the epic events that have occurred in our past. I am sure many of us could remember all day blitzes that lasted from sunrise to sunset where striped bass were slashing through baits. Maybe it was in June when the bass where on mossbunkers or maybe one of the many peanut bunker blitzes that have occurred here in the fall. Surely these events and many others would easily reach a level 10 on the intensity scale but as I said this article is not about these types of degrees.Copyright  1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

The degrees that I am talking about are expressed in Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin. That’s right its temperature, the 10 most important degrees that govern the end of our fall blitzes here along the Jersey Coast.

November and December are the two months when dropping water temperatures are the key impetus to get baits moving and to stimulate striped bass and bluefish to feed. Since fish are cold-blooded vertebrates they will innately respond to temperature changes in their environment. Their metabolisms do not allow them the ability to maintain a homeostatic or steady state internal body temperature. So environmental conditions, as in this case, dropping water temperatures will dictate and limit where and when they can be found and how they will behave.

Striped bass and bluefish have a semi-wide temperature range that they can tolerate so this will allow them to exist in many different locations over the course of a year. But when it comes to both these species being most active in terms of their feeding behavior we have to look at the lower ten degrees of their tolerable range. This would be when water temperatures are dropping from 55-45F.

Each year in each passing season we usually see the same trend or pattern as water temperatures drop through these ten degrees. Concentrations of bluefish are usually the greatest at the upper end of these ten degrees and outnumber the striped bass considerably in my guiding area. But as temperatures drop through the lower end of this spectrum the bluefish quickly vacate our area and large concentrations of striped bass drop down from our more northerly regions. By the time we reach 48F the numbers of striped bass present in the central New Jersey area is simply mind boggling.

Copyright  1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

During this time it is the norm and not uncommon for us to hook into a fish on almost every cast from our boats. Striped bass will be stacked beneath our boats literally in the thousands. If you look at my fishfinder below it shows all the striped bass that are present. This is indicated by those large marks that you see. Now when we are fishing above this it is quite exciting to know that on any cast as soon as you start retrieving that you are going to hook into a fish. It almost doesn’t seem fair to fish like this, but don’t let anyone kid you into thinking that it can become boring or that it isn’t fun. It never does get boring and it is always fun, especially when you know that this is the end of the season and bad weather can kill it at anytime.

Now if you are in the surf at this time of 48F sea surface temperature you may never see these fish and may make the claim that what I am saying is extremely exaggerated. Yes it is true that this event of the Ten Degrees of Blitzes may not be a beach event. And in the last several seasons it hasn’t been. What will dictate whether or not the same action takes place on the beach is whether or not if the bait is present there. If there is no bait then there is going to be no fish.

The two baits that are the key baits as water temperatures drop into the lower end of these ten degrees are sandeels and sea herring. Now I have written articles on this before so I won’t go into detail here. But it is the presence of both of these baits that will drive our striped bass migration at the end of the season.

Sea herring concentrations will build off the beach in the open ocean and is not going to be a surf event. That leaves only sandeels to come in from offshore and root along the bars that are in the surf zone. If they do then the season will end with a bang for the surfcaster. If they don’t then the surfcaster will be left high and dry just looking out over the ocean while just watching all the action that will be taking place within eyeshot of the beach.

As far as the time frame as to when water temperatures are going to drop through these ten degrees it is predictable to a degree when we look at a period of time but not predictable to pinpoint it to a certain number of specific days each year. Water temperature logs have existed for decades so we know that the time frame of this event will take place between the beginning of November and Christmas.

Right now on November 17th the water temperature in my area is 55F and has been at this temperature for about two weeks now. It has been holding steady because our weather has been quite warm for this type of year. That leads us to discuss the mechanism that will drive temperatures down.

Most people think that the further east you go at this time of year that the colder the surface temperature of the ocean will become. This is not true; in fact the exact opposite is true. The further east you go the warmer the surface water is. In the Hudson and adjacent offshore canyons satellite imaginary shows surface water temperatures varying from 62-60F at this time. Warm water eddies and the effects of influxes from the Gulf Stream keep these waters warmer than inshore. So therefore warm water currents have a definite impact in these areas. This is the reason tunas can be caught in the canyons well into January during many seasons.

As we more inshore of these 80 mile ranges and come closer to the beach from 20 nautical miles out the water is still warmer out there when compared to along the beach. Radiational heating from the sun warms the surface water daily and is does everywhere the sun strikes the water. In opposition to this cold air blowing over the surface will cause it to cool down. So which wins out? Well that depends on how cold the air actually gets.

A physical property of water is that is has a high heat capacity. That means that it takes a significant amount of energy to raise or lower 1 gram of water 1 Celsius degree. Or in a physical sense the water will warm or cool a lot slower than the land. It resists a change in temperature.

So if the weather continues like we have now being very mild, surface temperatures will remain right around daytime air temperatures or slightly less. But when we start to get that artic air dropping out of Canada coming hard out of the northwest significant changes will take place. Remember too that the amount of solar radiation reaching any square meter of earth is decreasing due to a deceasing angle of the sun in the Southern Hemisphere until December 21st. After that the amount of solar radiation will start to increase daily once again.

So when the cold Canadian winds come hard from the northwest it will chill the water very quickly by pushing the warmer less dense surface water offshore. As a result colder bottom water will replace it. This colder bottom water is about 42F and remains at that temperature year round.

If these cold northwest winds howl for 2-3 days at 20+mph with artic temperatures then we can see surface temperatures drop very quickly inshore. I remember one season when over the course of several days sea surface temperatures dropped quickly from 52F down to 42F. This basically created a thermal shock and the bait and bass pushed out of here to our south and the season was over prematurely.

On the other hand a good northeast blow late in the season will push in warmer water back in that is just offshore. This will extend our season as sea surface temperatures will remain in the comfort range of the bait and bass.

As far as the time frame is concerned these ten degrees of dropping water sea surface temperatures usually begins around the first week of November and slowly drops to the 45F temperature right around Christmas. In some years that are particularly mild with plenty of onshore winds we have had 45 degree sea surface temperatures extend right into January.

Right now this season looks like it will definitely being going strong until Christmas as we really haven’t had any blistering cold temperatures so far. But that can change quickly. Also so far this season we haven’t seen any of these Ten Degrees of Blitzes to get started yet. We have plenty of bait around, the right temperature, but basically no concentration of striped bass in our area. It has been puzzling and frustrating as this season is definitely not the norm for what we have seen in season’s past. Hopefully all this will change soon as air temperatures drop and drive down the water temperatures and the striped bass show up. So keep an eye out and get ready to take advantage of the “Ten Degrees of Blitzes” that will hopefully materialize for yet another 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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