If you have been following my articles over the past year you have probably noticed that the allure of catching a trophy bass from the suds is a passion that burns within me. Hours upon hours of casting and retrieving are quickly forgotten when my longrod pretzels over and my line begins to scream to the east. I long for having my korkers on the rocks or riding the sands with my beach buggy in search of that date with destiny. But when November rolls around I know that limiting myself to these landlocked locations is to reduce my chances of hooking into a real trophy. November sheds a whole new light on the subject as dropping water temperatures and migrating bait have set the wheels in motion for our annual migration of big bass.
The bass that are migrating along the New Jersey Coast at this time are a combination of fish from our local waters that include our inshore locations, rivers, and back bays along with fish from more northerly waters. A large percentage of these fish are moving south to the waters of the Chesapeake or off of the Carolinas to find suitable water temperatures to spend the winter. Others are moving back to the Hudson.
This migrating body of fish can be rather large and will spread itself out over the months of November and December and even into January. These fish will spread out along the beach and throughout our inshore waters. For the most part the key factor as to where the bulk of the migration will set up will depend on where the bait is as it vacates the area at the same time. If the bait is found along the beach than the bass will be there too. If it is not then most longrodders that are shooting the suds will be left high and dry. Over the last several seasons we have seen this migration pattern set up to the outside. In other words the fish have been off the beach. Prime locations have been from twenty feet of water out to sixty-five feet of water. On many days bass where found holding tight in feeding lanes as they moved. A difference of ten feet in terms of the water that you were fishing over often made a lot of difference.
So I surrender my korkers at this time of year and put my feet on the glass instead. Often I will team up with my partner, Captain Gene Quigley, as we work the waters along our coast. Each time our boat breaks the inlet we are setting our sights high. That is to put a trophy on the end of the feathers. But if it doesn't happen we are still satisfied by the sheer number of smaller bass that will be caught and released.
Having a strategy is going to be important to your success at this time of year. The first and most important focus is knowing where the fish are. Well this sounds elementary and is by know means earth shattering news, but the key to this strategy begins well ahead of the time you actually break the inlet or leave the dock.
Tracking the movement of the bait and fish over several days prior to your trip is important. These migrating fish will be schooled up and many times move south in waves. Phone calls or emails the night before will give you the most current indication of the action in a particular area. Better yet is local information from the regulars that are out there day in and day out. This information can be tough to come by however unless you are friends with the party in question.
With some information under your belt as to which direction to head you will want to look first for visual clues at this time of year. Bass that are feeding and pushing schools of bait to the surface will be easily noticed by all the surface commotion that you will see. This will include an array of gulls, terns, or gannets that have come to join the party and are visible from at least a mile away.
Scanning the surface all in all directions is your first tactic to put a quick bend in your rod. Move to where you see the activity. If there is a lot of boat traffic in the area that you are fishing you will also see many other boaters doing the same. Here is where we get into running and gunning and the problems that you may encounter with that. Whenever a school pops up on the surface and the birds get on the fish everyone is quick to follow. Whether or not you choose to join in with the crowd I will leave that up to you.
When surface blitzes are taking place most anglers will drive right into all the commotion and cast. While this will produce fish it is not our recommended plan of attack. It is better to get ahead of the school and wait for them to move to you. This will keep the number of fish that you can drive down to a minimum. When the fish are around the boat if you are casting right down the heart of the school and not getting strikes there are two tactics that you can try. One is to increase the speed of your retrieve. The other is to create more splash so that your fly can be picked out from all the surface commotion that is going on.
If both of these tactics fall than cast your fly out and allow it to remain motionless. Many times this will produce strikes as fish see your fly as an injured or stunned bait that is easy to pick off. This is easier said than done as your instinct will be to strip your fly. Try it I think you will be surprised.
When surface blitzes set up they usually do so with the smallest more aggressive fish near the surface with larger fish working down below the school. This is particularly true when both bass and blues are mixed in together. Many times a blitz of bluefish will only show blues on the surface without revealing that bass are also present below. These bass will be patiently waiting for chunks of baitfish to sink down for an easy meal.
Here is where a sinking line like in the 300-400 weight is effective. Allow your fly to sink below the school then retrieve it with a series of short strips and jerks. This will best imitate a bait that has been injured. Also allow the fly to sink again during the pause. This tactic is usually deadly for hooking into some of the largest bass in the school.
If you are looking for surface activity and none is seen it doesn't mean that fish are not in the area. More than likely based on the information that you acquired prior to your trip the fish are there. They just aren't showing. Here is when we switch to our second tactic. This would be to utilize the eyes of our fishfinder to put us onto fish.
Once again as basic as this may sound there are several things that you should pay attention in order to be most successful. The first basic rule that I apply when fishing by my fishfinder is to not to fish where I am not reading fish. Move and locate schools before you set up and drift across them.
Once a school is located on your screen it is important that you are completely familiar and confident with how your fishfinder works. In other words you should be knowledgeable enough to be able to distinguish between schools of bait and schools of bass that are appearing on your screen. You should also be able to distinguish between big bass and smaller bass within a school. This ability comes from practice over time and may be a skill that you have already acquired.
When you are fishing by the numbers in other words locating fish and bait at a specific depth beneath the boat you will need to realize that the depth that you can get your fly to sink to will depend on several factors. Even if you are using 650-800 grain lines or leadcore heads trying to fish a fly line effectively below thirty to thirty-feet feet is going to be difficult. A combination of the boat drifting due to the wind, the currents that are running beneath the surface, and the amount of line that you will need to strip off of the reel are some of the limiting factors that will make getting really deep ineffective.
For the most part during this migration period you will find plenty of fish in the upper thirty feet of the water column regardless of what water depth that you are drifting over. Here in New Jersey the main body of water that we fish over is anywhere from just beyond the surf break out to seventy feet of water. Year in and year out we will find fish in these areas.
Paying attention to certain longrodding skills we help to reduce the frustration level that can arise when two or more fly fishers are sharing the tight quarters of a small inshore boat. Typically many fly fishers will work the waters off of the beach in eighteen to twenty-four foot center consoles. These somewhat tight quarters will lend themselves to good cooperation and teamwork so that each angler can get as many casts in as possible when the fish are boiling around the boat. Being cognizant of your partner's space is of up most importance.
If both partners are positioned at the transom of the boat than in most instances you will need to alternate casting. While one angler is allowing his line to sink the other angler can start casting. It is a good technique to load your rod by picking the line up off of the water keeping the number of false casts to a minimum. This will greatly reduce the chances of foul hooking some part of your partner or other part of the boat. Also as you begin your casting try to keep your line over the water as much as possible. This will prevent hooking any antennas, rods, nets, or any other items of boating equipment on your backcast.
When two partners set up in the back of the boat the wind will dictate whether you will be shooting your line with a forward cast or for some a more difficult backcast. Here is where a beginner can have difficulty especially if he is maneuvered into the backcast position. The better caster should yield in this position to the more difficult casting side. This will be much more productive and less frustrating for all involved.
Here are some final tips that will be helpful when using the longrod on your boat. Always use a stripping basket to retrieve your line into, this will prevent it from getting tangled around any cleats, other boat parts, or your feet. A five gallon bucket placed on the deck of the boat will also work but will not give you the freedom of movement that you will need if a big fish starts to run around the boat.
Always make sure that you stow your extra rods out of the way rather than leaving them standing up along side the gunnels of the boat. This will prevent them from getting damage if you happen to lose your balance or fall when the boat rocks or accelerates. Here is where that five-gallon bucket can be used to stand your rods in. Just move it to the other side of the boat from where you are fishing.
And finally when trophy hunting at this time of year you should take the time to get everything ready the night before. Especially check your connections and knots particularly if you have been using your rods throughout the season. Most of these will have weakened considerably and will definitely b reak when a trophy striper swiper hits your fly. Good fishin……..fly fishing that is!
Jim Freda is a saltwater fly fishing guide and co-owns the Shore Catch Guide Service out of Manasquan, NJ. His new book, "Fishing the New Jersey Coast", Burford Publishing Company, has just been released. Autographed first editions are available here. Jim can be contacted at (732)-528-1861 or www.shorecatch.com
More Articles by Jim Freda Just Go Nuts...With Peanuts Fall Primer Part II - Albies on the Fly...and More! Fall Primer - Part 1 New Jersey's Fall Blitzes It's Trophy Time C.P.R. For the Fly Fisher- Color, Profile, Retrieve Getting Started in the Salt Springtime Trophy Stripers New Jersey's Trophy Weakfish on the Fly! How to Beat Those Summertime Blues Summer Doldrums It's No Fluke
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