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What if the fish threw a blitz and nobody came?
by Joe Lyons
Surfcasting-RhodeIsland.com
 Offsite Link

he familiar mutterings are all around us now. We can hear them as we make our way back up the dune to fetch another plug from our surf bag, or as we pull out a leftover turkey sandwich from inside our raincoat. Though the sounds of surrender are as welcome as a wet glove on a November morning, still, we can't escape them. They cascade out the tackle shop’s door, down along the beachfront, making their way along a stiff northwest breeze, coming to rest upon our unwelcoming ears. The same old clichés, "That should do it for this year.” Or maybe, "I believe the fat lady has sung." And, lest we forget the classic, “It’s deader than dead.”

There are as many ways to bid farewell to another fishing season as there are fishermen to exclaim it. But, often times, the pessimist's rumors of the death of the fishing season are premature. Rather than singing, the fat lady may only warming up, somewhere behind the dune. She’ll be out soon enough, let’s not rush her. More times than not, after most have given up, the season will yield another few-day's fishing, sometimes, more.

With respect to migratory fish, one never really knows exactly when the curtain will come down. The Internet fishing message-boards will see a trickle of “It’s over.” postings, as early as the second week of October. By November, the pessimistic outpouring betters the reports of success! What happened to all those fishermen who chomping at the bit for April to arrive? Can it be true? Have all the self-proclaimed die-hards passed away quietly in their sleep? Before you pack it in, just think for a moment how long the off-season will be. Continuing to make an effort, while evaluating current and past conditions are useful tools for capturing those last, precious moments.

The surest way to shorten your fishing season is to impose an early and pre-determined end upon it. You will never see any bonus-time if you lock yourself into a, “I start fishing April 15 and stop November 1,” mindset. You can’t catch fish with a remote control (or worse, a rake!) in your hands. Don’t assume that just because the calendar reads a certain date that all the fish have left just because that day matches as your, “official end.” The fish are not following anyone’s personal timetable.

Circumstances relating to weather, bait, and abundance cycles of game fish all play significant roles in each year’s finale. But more importantly, none of these components are the same each year. Let the circumstances tell you when to quit, not the calendar.

During the early autumn, the fishing will be gangbusters for a while. The early-mid migration period can be non-stop for weeks. But it then, the action slows. As the migration begins to wane, things become a little more catch-as-catch-can. There may not be any resident fish left, creating periods of little-to-no action. Often times anglers will assume that their season is over, when it has only paused. These pauses leave one with only two choices: move around, or wait for the next “push” of fish to come through.

Throw in a couple of freezing mornings with nothing to show for it but split fingers, and those whose will has already been tested by an arduously long season will often prematurely concede. Action that takes place in fits-and-starts is a sign that things are coming to a close. As we approach the end, the fishless periods increase in duration until it becomes apparent that the real end has arrived.

Any Reports To The North?
One sure sign that you still have a shot at more fishing is if there are still reports coming in of fish being caught to the north of your particular location. Believe it or not, some fishermen do not factor in conditions elsewhere when drawing their own conclusions about the season’s end. Some will base their opinion only on what is happening in their direct vicinity. Just because local action has slowed does not mean it is over. Those who claim the fishing is over in Rhode Island as early as mid-October usually have not checked the reports of fish still being caught on Cape Cod or elsewhere. Any Bluefish or Weakfish Still Being Caught?

Any Bluefish or Weakfish Still Being Caught?
Another sign that the season is not over is the presence of blues or weakfish. Stripers are like your least favorite house houseguest; first to arrive, and the last to leave. It is reasonable to assume that if other species are still around, striped bass should be also.

Weather and Historical Precedents
Any instance of warm weather during the late season can spell bonus time for all concerned. In the mid-1980’s, when New England experienced several mild winters and bluefish were abundant, there were reports of slammer blues being caught in Narragansett into early December. During the 1960’s, a well-known charter captain, again in the Narragansett area, remembers catching stripers into December.

The above reports coincided with two factors: warm weather and a species at, or approaching what biologist’s call “periods of high abundance.” During times of greater abundance, a species will increase both its range and the amount of time it spends throughout its range. As most fishermen are well aware, the striped bass is again approaching a cyclical high. In recent years, we have seen evidence of striped bass lingering longer in the fall and arriving earlier in the spring. Two seasons ago, at Watch Hill, a friend of mine had several very good days in early December. Though not this season, but in the two preceding years, a sprinkling of school fish could be found at Rhode Island’s West Wall in late March. Among the striper fishermen who double as waterfowl hunters in the winter circulate stories of schools of stripers migrating along the beachfront, well into December. Breachways and Inlets

Where To Go?
Some good spots to try your luck during the late season are inlets and salt pond openings as well as ocean beaches. Though the prevailing winds have now shifted into the north-northwest, the water in the ponds will warm on sunny days. Silversides, and sand eels are still present at this time of year, providing forage not only for stripers, but also for late season migrants like mackerel, and in some years, large, ocean-run herring. When the big baits move through during November look out! The presence of large, wide-bodied baitfish, or big sand eels, means that large stripers are usually around. When big herring and big gamefish come together, the combination can make for exciting extended post-Thanksgiving action, as it did along the RI coast in the fall of 1993. That year I was witness to blitzes that lasted for hours, each day, for several days along Misquamicut Beach in Westerly, RI. On a side note, the 93’ season came to a crashing halt on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Once the herring moved on,everything went with them.

Big Bait? Big Lures
Big Bait? Big Lures.
The Black Bomber is a classic for a reason: it works. Late season means big, ocean-run herring, and large menhaden. Those three ounce darters should be seeing some swim time.

Large or wide-bodied lures and flies make good presentations during the late season. Big Metal Lipped "Tattoo" Swimmers, large Rebels, Atom Swimmers, seven inch Bombers and Gag's Mambo Minnows, Sassy Shad type, soft-bodied lures are also good picks. When the small or “peanut” bunker are around, Rattletraps - custom outfitted with a single hook - are a personal favorite.

The late autumn can be a time for a bait fisherman to shine. In the aforementioned late-season blitz the largest fish fell to a chunker using the head half of a herring. There are many stories about bait fishermen scoring the big ones off the bottom when everyone else is using top-water artificials; still few people have the patience for this approach.

What Ends It?
Well, for some, it never ends. Though there are only a handful of fishermen pursuing them, there are wintering populations of stripers in the Providence River and in the salt ponds of Rhode Island, among other places. But if I were to speculate on any single event that would cause me to immediately cease fishing for migratory fish, it would be snow. Snow, in any significant amount, kills the fishing like nothing else. The cold from the snow cuts through the water column like a knife, sending any remaining gamefish south faster than a wealthy elderly couple. Inside the Salt Ponds

Well, for some, it never ends. Though there are only a handful of fishermen pursuing them, there are wintering populations of stripers in the Providence River and in the salt ponds of Rhode Island, among other places. But if I were to speculate on any single event that would cause me to immediately cease fishing for migratory fish, it would be snow. Snow, in any significant amount, kills the fishing like nothing else. The cold from the snow cuts through the water column like a knife, sending any remaining gamefish south faster than a wealthy elderly couple.

Last season, while doing a photo shoot the day after Thanksgiving, I visited the Charlestown Breachway in Charlestown, Rhode Island. It was sunny day, but bitter cold with a biting north-northwest wind of perhaps 30 mph. As I made my way along the rocks, I remember thinking it felt more like January than November. I tucked my head into my jacket, as deeply as it would go - as I approached the inlet’s end, I noticed splashes out of the corner of my eye. “C’mon, No Way!” I said to the wind. I glanced up, and was flabbergasted. From just inside the breachway, to perhaps three hundred yards seaward, and just as wide in every direction, was a thick mass of bait and stripers. Above this maelstrom swarmed dozens of large seabirds; herring gulls, black-back gulls, and gannets - all diving and feeding on big herring. It was one of the largest concentrations of fish I have ever seen. The fish were so close a one-armed fisherman could reach them with his worst cast. Only there were no fishermen to be seen, one-armed or otherwise. I could only take pictures. The cold snap and defeatist talk had so convinced me the season was over; I left my rod at home. I went home and posted a message to my favorite Internet Message Board, “The fish had thrown a blitz, but no one had come.End

Copyright © 2002 - 2013 Joe Lyons, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Joe Lyons

Joe Lyons has been a surfcaster for over twenty years on the rocks and beaches of Rhode Island and Block Island. An accomplished writer he is a regular contributer to several New England and Northeast fishing magazines. In 2002 he put his experience and knowledge to "good use" by becoming a professional surfcasting guide in Rhode Island and Block Island. Among his many clients has been Peter Kaminsky, the well known writer for the New York Times and author of numerous books on fishing and many other subjects.

Joe resides in West Warwick, RI 02893 and can be reached by calling (401) 615-2636 or by the Contact Us Offsite Link page on Surfcasting-RhodeIsland.com Offsite Link where you will find his complete Guiding information.

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