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Migrating Stripers: How Will You Do?
by Frank Daignault

urfcasting in the Fall carries images of abundant bait, diving birds, crowds casting a wind beach, and more fish than you can use. We all know that wild fishing is the way it is supposed to be, but, frequently, what sounds good on paper is prevented from actually happening by conditions. There is no question that Fall blitzes will happen. Still, how often and with what intensity is determined by your methods and how you deal with the problems which come with the season. In the end, no matter what your preferences might be, it is the conditions that will define both your methods and the results.

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Methods choices plague all fishing, not just that of Fall. However, issues like lures or baits, spinning or conventional, day or night fishing, fail to exact any relevance from the change in seasons. They simply don't matter except that Fall conditions -- which seem to provide greater extremes -- can sometimes make one option or another more desirable. For instance, late Fall, when temperatures make wet hands painful and lure fishing difficult, many surfcasters prefer to use a bottom bait with rods spiked and hands tucked into pockets. Keep in mind that 20 degree air temperatures, without taking wind into account, are common at the end of the season. It is a wise and comfortable preference that will not likely cost you any fish. The mix of conditions spawns hard choices. You know you should be fishing at night, but the days are a lot warmer. Some times and some places, and they are never the same, around-the-clock fishing can be so good that you question the wisdom of fishing at night when you have all the action you want during the day. The trap of hard choices is no small part of the joys of surfcasting.

People want to fish differently in the Fall because the fishing is supposed to be better. If you think about it, why would that be necessary? Why would anyone intentionally downgrade their methods? Certainly, if your methods entail plug fishing season long, autumn is no time to change that. None of this is meant to imply that Fall fishing is best done with artificials either. Fall methods should be a continuation of what you have been doing all season. Why change? It has always confounded me to watch the behavior of surfcasters altered with the first frost.

Some rules from the Fall Fishing Police, Beach Division
  1. Fishing reports are not gospel.
  2. Look for bait, but you won't always see it.
  3. Big bass are under the bluefish is an old, junk science saying which is dumb.
  4. Fall fishing is over when the coroner pries your blue fingers off the rod.
  5. Fall fishing is still better at night.
  6. Fish with a woman (or man) from November on.
  7. Have extra of everything -- spools, outfits, lures, dry clothes, etc...
  8. Fly fishing is a viable option.
  9. Sometimes stripers are there but they are selectively feeding or not feeding at all.
  10. Anything can happen in Fall fishing, so trust none of the rules.
The same can be said about the contrasting notions of day fishing verses night fishing. This is a perennial issue among seasoned surfcasters which gets more attention than it deserves. I have always felt that night fishing has an edge for shore fishers and the change of seasons has no influence upon that.

Years ago a small group of us used to fish live eels on the Rhode Island beaches all summer. Each night we walked the shore casting the baits in total solitude getting dream stripers. Once October came, we added a sweater but changed nothing else and kept right on fishing live eels until dawn. Each morning, as the fire in the east was lighting off, we would notice the headlights on the waterline bouncing toward us announcing those who were looking for the first linesides of the day. Jokingly, we would stow huge stripers out of sight and watch what came to be known as the "dawn patrol" rushing past. Those who started their fishing when we were going to bed had apparently suspended the night rule because it was Fall. We fished our way and they theirs until December snows arrived.

The curse of Fall fishing is the storms. Early Fall is hurricane season and once the cold allays the hurricanes, the linestorms from the west take over. Such "nor'easters" often keep the sea filled with suspended weed and silt for up to a week. And, while waiting for conditions to improve there is no guarantee that another storm won't hit. Some years they are stacked. Other seasons there are none. At any rate, when open water is unfishable because of wild water conditions, get in to estuaries and back bays where weather's influence is reduced. The idea is to keep fishing because you don't know when you'll be able to match time and season again especially when facing a long winter.

I've always kept a wind kit of lures in my backpack or buggy comprised of highly castable metal lures like Kastmasters, Fjords, or Crippled Herring which enjoy weight and better aerodynamics for fishing into a gale. You are bound to have one day or night each migration when fishing with such "tins" is both necessary and productive; keep in mind that tins do work at night. In addition to being effective, bucktail jigs also offer you the option of fishing deeper by variations in retrieve speed. Like tins, they provide a single hook for safe removal for both angler and gamefish during wild hit-every-cast blitzing which is more common at this time of the year.

All of the things you've learned to use work on moby stripers. Don't let anybody tell you that big bass only eat meat or bait while refusing artificials. My wife, Joyce, and I have our catches of 40 and 50 pounders evenly split between live eels and swimming plugs. And, we have also known of some monsters taken in Fall on chunks or cut bait. The thing that should be influencing your choices is mobility. The bad thing about bottom fishing is that you are sitting and waiting. With an artificial, a person, or even better a small group, can cover a wide area, a long stretch to determine the presence of gamefish. Never forget that eliminating possibilities, stretches of shore, enables you to narrow down the locations of great stripers. It would astound any who have never done it how many miles of coast can be covered by dropping casters off and moving a buggy during the night.

Think about walking away from small fish. A common problem these days is being distracted by school stripers. There is a healthy spread of size opportunity available, and, too often, people will crowd each other over small fish when the monsters are five miles up or down the beach. Sizewise, there is a seasonal payoff in stripers where June's 40 pounders now weigh 42 or more. This advantage springs from full stomachs and the far end of seasonal abundance where there has been robust feeding. Even November "racers" have a gut.

For as long as I can remember, there has been a coastwide tendency for people to end the season too early -- when in fact the real run of memorable stripers hasn't come through yet. I've often thought that Fall fishing, with its blitzes, is the way God wanted surfcasting to be. It makes you wonder if She created Fall migration fishing to make sure that everybody, regardless of how their season had gone, came out of the year happy.

Copyright 1998-2012 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved

Frank Daignault
Frank Daignault is the author of Striper Surf, Twenty Years on the Cape, Striper Hot Spots, The Trophy Striper, Eastern Tides and Fly Fishing the Striper Surf. Autographed copies of any of these books can be ordered directly from Frank, HERE.

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