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Milk Run Surf Technique
by J. David Weidner

knew there were fish around: two minutes after I established camp adjacent to one of my favorite jetties in Lavallette, the guy on the left side of the jetty scored on a nice-sized striper of about 26 inches. Not more than 30 minutes later, on my right side, another was beached -- this one 33 inches taken on clam in the wash. Two long hours later, I had only two very small shorts and a sore butt. Maybe it was time to move. The big fish did not appear to be using the deep holes to find clams. From all the advice I had heard, fishing the deep holes for stripers in the spring was the place to catch big fish. Today, during a brisk northeast wind, this did not seem to be the correct game plan. I had to think things over and try another approach; that's when I hit upon what I call the "Milk Run Surf Technique."

As the tide began to fall, I noticed the formation of beautiful white water that indicated to me submerged sandbars, not far from the locations that the larger fish seemed to be caught. The guy who caught the keeper-sized bass from one sandbar had long since abandoned his post. He appeared to be somewhat of a neophyte surf fisherman in his black socks, penny loafers and Bermuda shorts. But still, he had a keeper bass and I had yet to score big.

I grabbed a fresh clam and moved down the beach to the first sandbar. My first cast to the side of the bar resulted in an almost immediate strike. The fish grabbed the fresh whole clam and ran toward the beach, while I reeled in an effort to remove slack and set the hook. After a short run, the striper was landed and released. My clam was gone, and I had to return to my bait cache. It was then that I decided to take a dozen clams and go on the move -- the "milk run."

I hit every deep hole and sandbar in the next five blocks and managed to hook and land over 10 stripers with an average size of 26 inches. Contrary to conventional wisdom, only one was caught from a deep hole: the majority were caught in very shallow water, "the milk," either directly on top of a sandbar or on the south side. I believe that the fish must have been searching for broken clams or bait collecting on the sandbars. The recent "noreaster" had made this possible.

The next day I set out to test my milk run surf technique. As the tide began to fall, I noticed the formation of beautiful white water; that again indicated to me the presence of submerged sandbars in several locations.

I searched the area extensively. It was after a week of strong northeast winds that had battered the coast, and the winds were now clipping the area at only 10-15 knots. I figured that the beach would be significantly changed from what I was accustomed to, and I was correct. Many of the deep holes that everyone tends to concentrate on for their bait fishing seemed to have shifted slightly. I spent an hour around dead low tide and made note of the areas I planned to fish as soon as the tide changed.

I began my intended "milk run" by driving up to the end of each street. My equipment included a pair of binoculars, pencil, and paper. No GPS needed here -- just have to remember the street signs. I searched the surf for noticeable cuts, holes, rips, sandbars, birds, and possibly even bait. I typically spend only a few moments at each street location and then jump back into the truck and move several streets north or south to continue my search. Note taking and even sketching an area can often prove important, as it will help to establish a future plan of action.

My milk run surf technique is similar to that often utilized in largemouth bass tournaments: pre-established locations are mapped and the tournament fisherman hits each of these locations to try to catch as many fish as possible. The technique used to fish may differ widely between each location and might incorporate the use of jig and pig, rubber worm, spinnerbait, crankbait, or topwater bait. In the surf, you cover a large area of water and your techniques could include casting bait such as clams, eels, or bunker chunks or using lures such as plugs or flies. Specific locations might include sandbars, holes, or jetties but often is predicated by wind, tide, or other preferred striper locations. It is important to be flexible and learn from what the fish are telling you or how other fishermen are catching fish.

Bait fishermen who do not have the luxury of fishing the surf via beach buggy typically establish camp in one location and fish a tide, waiting for the fish to arrive to take their bait. Granted, there are many times when it pays to wait it out, but staying mobile and moving to predetermined sites (the milk run surf technique) often results in more fish. It is important however, to respect the space of your fellow fishermen and not move in and start casting in an area already occupied. The old adage of "do unto others" applies and is a matter of common decency.

Another example of the how I have used the milk run surf technique occurred on an even larger scale last autumn. It was mid-November and I was busy between chasing whitetailed deer during the rut and chasing striped bass during the fall migration. Saturdays were reserved for big bucks; Sundays for stripers. My good friend John had heard that fish were being caught mainly to the south, so we decided to concentrate our efforts below the Manasquan Inlet. Our first stop was between Silver Beach and Lavallette. We fished several hours in each location, without so much as a bite. The other guys on the beach appeared to have similar luck. "Gotta move again, John," I decided. We rode south even farther, to Island Beach State Park. We fished another few hours until the wind switched direction and really started to blow out of the south. We couldn't even hold bottom with 4 ounces of lead, and throwing a plug seemed useless. We decided to call it a day.

On the way home John recommended that we stop briefly in Bay Head for a quick gander. "What do we have to lose?" After 81 years, he still fishes like a madman, even when the chips are down. I crossed the top of the dunes for a quick look without my waders or rod and was shocked by what I witnessed. At least 25 guys were fishing the outer sandbar, and half were hooked into fish. I ran so fast back to the truck I doubt my feet even touched the sand. "John, git yer stuff and git down to the beach. They're all catching stripers!"

John and I waded out to the sandbar, found a clear spot that appeared to be ahead of the school of stripers, and began to cast AVA's with teasers, just past the beakers. For the next two hours, it was almost nonstop striper action as John and I caught fish after fish, often two at a time. In fact, everyone around us was into fish at one time or another. The stripers hit everything we threw at them, and I learned a lot about catching large numbers of stripers in a relatively short period of time. I experimented with lures, casting distance, and retrieve speed, always taking mental note of when the strikes occurred and trying to duplicate successful casts.

The fish seemed to prefer the teaser rig, although color or pattern did not seem to matter. They ate plain chartreuse teasers, white teasers, black and blue teasers, sand eel patterns, Clouser minnows, Deceivers, and even my poorly tied saltwater fly rejects scrounged from the bottom of my surf bag. With the sun and air temperature dropping, the fish seemed to turn off and the blitz was over, ending what was probably one of my most memorable days of surf fishing.

Essentially, the milk run surf technique requires a fisherman to be confident in his or her fishing ability and to know when to move, where to move and when to cover water in an attempt to find fish. Obviously, if and when you find the fish, stay put and enjoy. It also requires a fisherman to plan ahead and not live or die by one particular favorite hole that has produced fish in the past. Surf fishing conditions are constantly changing, and it is important to adapt to these conditions in your never-ending search for fish. If the fish won't come to you, go to the fish. End

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