KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: MAKING THE AREA YOU FISH THE BEST IT CAN BE
Author Paul J. Meyer once wrote, “Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort”. I’m not sure if he enjoyed fishing for Striped Bass, but he hit the nail on the head with this quote as it relates to fishing. As with anything in life, you must first be willing to make the commitment. Once you’ve decided to make it, you need to enter the planning stage, because without proper planning you won’t achieve your desired result.
For me, planning starts long before I ever hit the surf. It’s an ongoing process year after year, season after season. One of the first things you do in a good planning process is research the local areas you want to fish. You may venture to other areas, but most of your fishing will be in areas closest to you- it’s a matter of convenience and time. Schedules can be very hectic, so knowing the waters closest to you will optimize your time on the water. But, other than proximity, what do you need to know to gain the advantage? There are many factors that affect your prime fishing areas. First, research your previous experience and background knowledge of the area. Get out your notes, journals, pictures and social media posts and refresh yourself of the factors that influenced your fishing at each spot. What’s the structure? What were the bait patterns that worked and didn’t work? What were the wind patterns and how did they impact your fishing? How about the tides, moon phases, and time of day? Understanding how each of these impacts your choice or fishing area is essential to your success.
When it comes to structure, you will have to identify what structures are present, both hard and/or soft structures. The best way to identify the presence of either is to visit your chosen area at low tide. The various structures will be easy to identify as the water will not be covering them. You don’t need to work as hard to identify hard structure as you will to identify soft structure. Hard structure such as rocks remain consistent. Soft structure on the other hand will change with heavy winds, storms, etc., so you need to check its status, and identify changes, throughout the season. This requires more time and effort but will result in more consistent bites. You cannot dismiss the importance of structure because Striped Bass are opportunistic feeders and if they can’t find ambush points, they will move out of the area and you’ll be casting into the “dead sea”.
Another factor to produce more consistent bites in your area is knowing the bait patterns that exist where you plan to fish. It is essential to know what types of bait are present in your area and when these baits will be present throughout the season in order to “match the hatch”. You want to be using lures and color patterns that mimic what is present in the water at any given time. You want your lure to look “authentic” to the fish that are hunting it. If your lure looks out of place and dissimilar from what occurs naturally, the fish will see this as abnormal. Getting a fish
to react and strike something that is not natural to them will be an issue. For instance, there is a certain soft plastic I use throughout the season in many different areas. The soft plastic is a proven fish finder even when the Stripers are finicky and not actively feeding. However, there is one area where, no matter what part of the season, getting a fish to take it is nearly impossible. Keep this in mind when working your lures throughout the season- the slow bite might just require a change of profile to get the job done.
The wind patterns are another factor where knowing them and how they influence an area can make all the difference to having a productive day. The wind and its effect are complicated and very location specific. Winds in different areas can have both positive and negative effects on the bite depending on wind direction and wind speed as they both impact the presence of baitfish and the water visibility. When it comes to bait, especially when fishing the outer open beaches or
other open areas, its presence will be affected by the wind. When it is blowing onshore especially storm types of wind, it will push in more water and affect tidal changes and currents drastically. If there are smaller baits in the water these baits will be moved around making them disoriented, making them easy prey. However, in certain areas onshore winds can produce dirty water both in terms of clarity and possibly the presence of seaweed. Dealing with stained water is one thing but if you have water with a lot of weed it usually doesn’t result in a consistent bite. That is why learning what winds are the best for areas you fish is so important to whether the area will produce under present conditions.
When it comes to tides, as with winds they can be very location specific. Figuring the best tides again requires you to put in the time to figure out the right formula for that specific area. A good rule of thumb for most areas is to fish the ebb time (dropping from high to low). This usually works well because as the tide recedes, areas where baitfish are hiding become exposed and eventually force the bait to find somewhere else to go. The shallow back bay estuaries, sandbars of bays, outer beaches, jetties and rock formations that are home to the various bait fish looking to take cover start moving to open waters and with this movement come opportunities for predatory fish. If a food source is present it won’t take long for the fish to show up. This rule of thumb is a good starting point when trying to establish a pattern, but you will discover other areas fish well on the incoming tide. You definitely want to fish different times during each tidal flow to determine which are more productive than others.
This brings us to the next step in finding patterns that will increase your chances for productive fishing- knowing which moon phases work best. We all know the moon’s effect on the tide cycle. Both the full and the new moons bring more extreme high and low tides. This extreme water movement will result in more movement of bait fish in and out the area you are targeting. The
two days before and after the full or new moon, and the day/night of the actual full or new moon, are days you will witness increased tidal flow. However, the timing of the tide is also important as well. For example, one place I frequent comes to mind. In late spring, if we have a new moon and the ebb tide is in the last two hours of its cycle during the 1:00 AM-4:00 AM window, that spot is on fire. If the dropping tide is earlier in the evening the bite is usually not as consistent and results in a grind to grab a few fish. So be aware of these conditions because having the timing down can make a big difference between a good and a slow night.
Lastly, let’s talk about the time of day/night to fish. When it comes to production, hands down there is no comparison as to which is better: If you want to catch Striped Bass in the surf, especially larger ones, you need to fish at night. I am not saying you won’t catch big stripers during the day light hours, but remember, the goal is to identify patterns that will help you catch fish consistently, and the best opportunity comes by fishing the nighttime hours. Striped Bass
are primarily opportunistic nocturnal feeders and sitting along structure or in holes during the darker hours gives them ambush opportunities to attack unsuspecting bait fish.
In closing, I have outlined the ways to become more productive and consistent at fishing the surf in your target area. Knowing the factors that make trips successful is one thing but applying these factors to the places you fish is another. It takes time planning and it takes a commitment to be a better fisherman. Fishing is no different than anything else you do- hard work will pay off in more consistent bites, which puts the percentages in your favor each time you hit the surf. Live the Passion! Tight lines!
Guide with over 30 years of experience fishing the legendary waters of Long Island. He is well known for his informative seminars at saltwater shows in the Northeast. Bernie offers trips
along the outer beaches and inlets of Long Island, as well as Cape Cod Canal, Cuttyhunk, and other Northeast Striper locations. He is a pro-team member for S&S Bucktails, ODM RODS, and KastKing, as well as a member of the Long Island Beach Buggy Association and the Montauk Surfcasters Association. You can contact Bernie on Facebook through Bernie Bass Surfcasting Services, on Instagram @Bernie_bass, and through his website at https://www.berniebass.com/