By the time that January rolls around I usually have a jump on things and have my rods, reels, and lines cleaned, maintained, and packed away for the winter months ahead. My mind has shifted to the many upcoming fly fishing shows and presentations that are on my agenda as I frantically go through slides to put together new material. January is showtime at the Jersey Shore and some of the finest celebrities and fly fishing personalities come together to bring to you all of their expertise and adventures from the most recent season.
Well this season is a little different because I am behind schedule and am being kept from the preparation that needs to be done. What's the reason? To put it simply it's the stripers. Yep, that's right we are still catching bass on the fly. The warmer than normal water temperatures through the month of December has extended our season along the beachfront even up to this date. In fact our first stripers of this new year came on New Year's morning as a we had fish and bait right in front of us in southern Monmouth County waters.
What was amazing to me as I pulled up to the beach at 6:00AM on New Year's morning was that I had trouble finding a parking spot. The weather report on the radio had just stated a temperature of twenty-one degrees with a wind chill of twelve degrees, so what was wrong with this scenario. Down at the beach I was met with no less than ten anglers both plugging and fly fishing along one of my favorite jetties. It didn't feel like summer but it sure looked liked an early summer morning with the crowd.
As I jockeyed for position two anglers hooked up and a couple of plump, slot size stripers hit the rocks. Small clousers, deceivers, and half and halfs were doing the damage as small spearing were playing jump rope with your line as you retrieved it through the water. Besides the fish that were around that was the other amazing thing that we still had bait, in January no less.
As I cast my line in anticipation of a hook-up I noticed that each successive cast was shooting less and less. I thought I was maintaining form so what was the problem. As I looked at my guides I noticed the old Salmon River nemesis, ice. The air was cold enough to freeze even saltwater and as a result my guides were icing up. Despite the cold temperatures that we are seeing right now it has still been exciting to be out there in January. It definitely beats sitting at home on Saturday or Sunday morning and watching ESPN to get my flyrodding fix. This extended fishery however isn't the meat of my article for this month but I wanted to give you a feel for what is going on if your longrod is still ready to go.
Every winter I like to address in my articles a particular aspect of fly fishing while the fish are normally taking their winter vacations. These winter articles are not geared towards tips and tactics on how to catch our most sought after saltwater species but rather are directed towards more generalized factors that we encounter that need to be dealt with by all fly fishers at some point during their season. In this month's article I would like to address the wind and how it affects your casting and the bite.
Whenever I pick up the long rod I always have very high expectations when I am heading out to the beach. Visions of a pumping rod combined with a reel screeching run always go through my head. As I step out of my truck my catch has grown to trophy proportions and IGFA tippet records are already starting to fall. But quickly I am snapped back to reality as a hard onshore wind slaps me in the face. Sadly I realize that today is not the day that my long rod will get a workout and back into the truck it goes.
As a fly fisher you will find that over the course of a season the wind will wreak havoc with our intended plans. It is the one element of all the things that we do to prepare that we have no control over. It isn't however an insurmountable barrier as long as we know our limitations. And in fact in many cases it can be a definite aid to the fly fisher.
Let's look at this extreme situation first. An onshore wind coming from any direction that is sustained at fifteen plus mph is going to send you to the bayside to do your fishing for the day. Even if you are able to shoot a line out, there will be too much white water rolling around to control your line and fish your fly effectively. Some of your casts may pull through a break in all the whitewater but for the most part the majority of your efforts will be ineffective.
Every fly caster has different abilities and while some may be able to cast into a stiff breeze others will be left frustrated and unable to get the job done. Don't feel bad however as the wind is the great equalizer, and will even put a very good caster on the sidelines. Those 100-foot casts that you were doing in the park the other day will quickly become just another memory when the wind is in your face.
As a beginner to the sport you should definitely pick and choose your days with the longrod. Picking up bad habits or compensating form to deal with the wind is not the way to ground yourself in the fundamentals of good casting. Bad casting habits are tough to break when they are the first things that you learn in this sport. Many anglers will carry them for years and shrug them off as their style as long as they are getting their line out and catching fish. These bad habits will persist until a casting instructor or other professional identifies their problem and helps them to correct it, if that even ever happens at all.
An ideal wind for a beginner to look for to develop the fundamentals of good casting goes without saying is "no wind". However these days along the beachfront usually don't coincide with when our schedule permits us to hit the suds. When they do they seem to be heaven sent.
Because the wind is going to be present much more than we would like the beginner should look for a wind that crosses from left to right at your back if you cast with your right hand. Along much of the New Jersey Coast this would be a slight wind out of the northwest when you are standing on the beach. If you are a lefty than the wind you would want would be a right to left crossing wind at your back. This would be a southwest wind.
In both cases this wind will help to lay your line out away from your body as you throw your tight loops. It will also help to counteract gravity by adding lift to your fly line giving you greater distance with each cast. A west wind at your back would also be favorable but will have a tendency to push back your backcast if the wind speed is up.
If you are beginning your casting in the surf you will need to be aware of the beach berm that is directly behind you. If it is elevated and within relatively close proximity it will become a barrier to your backcast. While an experience caster would be able to handle this obstacle with no problem it is not something else that you want to throw into your equation as a beginner. Look for locations along the beach without steep dropoffs that offer a level casting field.
Your other option as a beginner is to move to a jetty to begin your casting. Any elevation that you can get above the water will help to facilitate your casting making it easier for you. A jetty will do just this. If you are a righty a favorable jetty wind for you would be out of the west or southwest while you are casting towards the northeast. This wind would keep your line away from your body as you cast.
A head wind or crosswind will quickly increase the frustration level of a beginner and even an experienced caster. At times we are all plagued by the same "in your face" conditions that we have to deal with. They can however be the most productive as bait and fish are pushed right up against the beach or a jetty. When casting into a head wind you will need to throw a tight loop that is directed at its target just above the water. This way when your loop unrolls your fly and leader will land on the water not giving the wind a chance to blow it back.
When there is a crosswind that is striking your rod side many longrodders will opt to use their backcast as their forward cast towards the water. This will ensure that line will lay out away from your body rather than running into your body if you were to cast in the traditional manner. To do this you will need to pivot your body so that your rod hand is now on the downwind side. Cast your line so that it is directed at the beach on your forward cast. Your backcast will then shoot the line into the water.
When the wind is really up on the beach to the point where fly fishing is questionable, I prefer to fish with my eleven-weight rod and Teeny sinking lines in the 300-400 weights. These higher density lines will aid in loading your rod more efficiently and will not be blown back as easily as lighter weights because of the greater inertia that have once in motion. You can view the wind as an opposing force that will impede your line's motion when you are casting into a headwind. When the wind is at your back it can be viewed as a favorable force that will add distance to your cast considering all your casting techniques are fundamentally sound.
A second point of discussion that often comes up when talking about the wind is how it affects the fishery or in other words the bite. I often get asked the question what wind turns the fish on and vice versa. To many longrodders this consideration is important since catching fish and not casting is the ultimate goal. The majority of fly fishers that you will see today on the water all have flaws in their casting, myself included, but are still capable of putting the fly in the strike zone to enjoy the results.
There are many variables that come into play other than wind when trying to figure out whether the bite is going to be on or not but certain wind directions here in the Northeast have definite physical effects on the water. One in particular that we will discuss is how different wind directions can affect the surface temperatures.
When we look at the big picture, seasons for the most part will tell the angler where fish will be located coastally. We see patterns repeating themselves season after season but will find that the fish will move or relocate in a particular geographic area due to more localized conditions. The underlying controlling factor for the most part at work here is water temperature. It is one of the key stimuli in governing migration patterns of fish and bait and where they will be within a particular geographic range.
Let's take a look at a few of these seasonal wind related events and the affect on the fishery once fish and bait have taken up residence in a particular geographical area. Remember however there are no hard fast rules and there will be exceptions to each scenario.
Looking first at the end of our season the wind direction is for the most part the controlling factor that will dictate the how long our season will last. With favorable onshore winds our season can last well into January. At the end of our season hard northwest winds for any extended period of time will quickly chill the water temperature down.
Northwest winds in December means very frigid air from Canada with bone chilling temperatures will be descending upon us. Wind speeds in excess of 25+ mph can persist for several consecutive days dropping water temperatures over a range of ten degrees. This was the exact scenario last season as hard northwest winds for several days right after Thanksgiving caused the inshore water temperatures to plummet to a chilly 44 degrees. This quick change in temperature from a prior 54 degrees to 44 degrees over several days pushed the bass and most of the bait offshore where warmer water temperatures could be found.
Hard northwest winds at the end of a season will push the warmer less dense surface water offshore and quickly chill the rest. Stripers will not hang out in water in this temperature range particularly when the option of warmer water is just offshore. Bass will take the option of staying in their comfort zone. For that matter the bait will to. Without the presence of these northwest winds our water will cool down slowly giving bass and bait a significant amount of time to acclimate to their surroundings. There will be no so called "thermal shock" that will be felt. The slow cooling and conversely the slow warming of water in the spring are due to a physical property of water known as heat capacity.
To speak technically heat capacity is the amount of energy needed to change one gram of water one Celsius degree. When compared to other objects such as solids, water has a high heat capacity. To put it in simpler terms this means that the water will warm or cool much more slowly than the land. In comparison, water requires more energy to bring about a change in its temperature.
Think of these examples. We have all experienced cold fall nights with temperatures dropping into the thirties. On these nights the furnace kicks on and you are greeted with frost on the windshield in the morning. Anything that is outside is as cold as the air. But when you get to the water its temperature is much warmer remaining stable in the upper fifty degree range.
Another example is in the early part of June when we can experience ninety degree days where the street asphalt becomes so hot you can't walk across it barefoot. But when you go down to the beach to cool off you still find an ocean temperature that will chill you to the bone.
A good northeast or onshore blow at the end of our season will push the warmer offshore water back in close to the beach. This will extend our season. This is exactly the scenario that has taken place this year with not only onshore winds but warmer than normal temperatures throughout the month of December. As a result as I mentioned earlier in this article we are still catching bass at this time.
A second wind scenario that is familiar to most surf anglers occurs during the middle of the summer. This is when we have a strong south wind for several days that quickly chills the water down. Normally we are looking at surf temperatures around 70 degrees in the middle of the summer. A strong south wind can change this quickly as surf temperatures can be driven as low as 52 degrees. This quick change usually kills the fluke bite, pushes the blues offshore, but can stimulate some rather lethargic bass that have been taking their summer siestas to feed.
This south wind produces a phenomenon known as upwelling. This is when much colder and denser ocean water that sits at the bottom and below the thermocline is brought to the surface. A summertime west wind will also produce the same result, as this wind will blow the warmer less dense surface water offshore. It will also flatten the surf out like a pancake.
For a third scenario lets look at the effects of a northeast wind in the early part of the fall. A northeast wind at this time of year will produce the warmest surf conditions of the season. This is a result of warmer offshore water being blown inshore. We also find that the warm Gulf Stream currents meander closest to our coast at this time of year and this wind will direct them in our direction. As a result we see the arrival of our warm water pelagic guests the false albacore, bonito, and Spanish mackerel that will follow this warm water to the inside.
If we had to pick one wind that stimulates the activity of bass in the surf throughout the year it would have to be a northeast. This wind will rough the surf up producing a lot of white water that will disorient baitfish. This will give larger predators an added advantage when ambushing their prey. Bass in particularly favor these conditions as their broad shoulders and powerful tails allow them to swim rather easily through all the rough stuff.
This wind will also be responsible for pushing and trapping baits along the north side of our jetties. This will particularly be true in the fall when large concentrations of mullet, peanut bunker, spearing, and bay anchovies are hugging our coastline. The first two days of a sustained northeast blow are usually the best before conditions deteriorate quickly and suspended sand and silt along with very rough surf make conditions unfavorable.
So there are a few different scenarios to digest. Many others can be added to the list. If you check your local marine forecast the day before you venture out you should have a good idea of what to expect so you can adjust your plan of attack accordingly. Be cognizant of the relationship between wind direction, casting direction, and water temperature and next season you will better equipped to maximize your time on the water with the long rod. Good fishin!....Fly fishing that is.
Jim Freda is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and one of the owners of the Shore Catch Guide Service located in Manasquan, NJ. Autographed copies of his new book "Fishing the New Jersey Coast", Burford Publishing Company, are available for $16.95 plus $2.50 S/H, check or money order, to Jim at 85 Cowart Ave., Manasquan, NJ 08736. Or on the web at www.shorecatch.com
Shore Cach Guide service will also be at the Somerset, New Jersey, Fly Fishing Show at the end of the month. Everyone is invited to stop by their booth and just hang out and talk fly fishing or anything else you would like. They will also be giving five presentations throughout the weekend. These seminars are ones you definitely don't want to miss as Shore Catch has plenty of new material from this past season.
More Articles by Jim Freda Stripers With Santa Flyrodding the Finale...Hit the Glass 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
Click here to
view the archived articles.
to send comments or feedback on this
here to check out a river near you.