The months of July and August pose some interesting fly fishing strategies for the salty longrodder in the suds. During these months we will see limited action during the day as several environmental factors quickly change the feeding habits of the striped bass. Surf temperatures in the upper sixties and low seventies, predominant west winds that producing little or no wave action, and a sun at its highest angle in the sky will all factor in to move the majority of bass offshore to deeper and cooler waters for most of the day. Couple this with increased boat traffic along the beach from both fishermen and recreational pleasure seekers and the action virtually shuts down.
Getting That Fix
So how to we satisfy our flyrodder's fix at this time of year. Going to long without a hook-up can definitely be detrimental to a fly fishers' mental health. Well, we can opt to take our feet off the sand and head offshore to target some razor toothed blues. But while the boat can be fun and exciting it may not be might not be your cup of tea.
A second option that has become increasingly more popular is to sight fish for bass that are milling around in the troughs and depressions along the beach. This method requires sighting bass that are primarily feeding on crabs, sand bugs, and other tiny hard shelled morsels. Conditions however will limit when you are able to target the bass in this manner. You will need to have clean water with not much surf, plenty of sun, no bathers to spook the fish, and a cautious approach. In recent weeks Bob Popovics, the "Wizard of Seaside Park" has mastered this technique and has scored some hefty bass in the Island Beach State Park surf, the largest being twenty-one pounds.
So what's the answer if you don't want to limit your fly fishing time to the above two scenarios when all things fall into place. The answer is to switch your clock and to start flying at night. Nighttime is the right time during the summer to score with the longrod. Not only will you find that the bass will be active at night as they move into the shallow surf zone to feed but you will also find that weakfish and fluke will also be available.
Bluefish too can be had but since they are move pelagic in nature the bigger ones will head offshore. Snappers and cocktail blues are usually common however particularly as we move further and further into August.
The incoming tide is the more favorable tide in the summer if you are fishing the back bays. During the day when the sun is beating on the water's surface temperatures in the shallow areas of the back can reach into the eighty-degree range. This can put the bass and weakfish into their milling mode where they can be seen many times casually hanging out on the flats. In the dark temperatures will naturally drop and an incoming tide will bring in much cooler water from the ocean. This tide will trigger activity and fish can be had.
If you have never fly fished at night it is definitely going to be a challenge. There are many factors that complicate things but with an awareness of what these are your mission can be simplified and approached with confidence. There are a number of considerations that you will want to put on your mental checklist before you venture out. Let's take a look at several of these so you can get your fix before it is too late.
Your first consideration will be where you are going and who you are going with. It is best to venture out with a partner for safety reasons. Chances are that one of you will be thoroughly familiar with the area in the daytime so nighttime will not pose any problems when it comes to obstructions, quick drop-offs, currents, or other topographical features that may pose a problem.
If such is not the case than stick to the beach or shallow waters of the back bay where you can feel the sand under your feet. An unfamiliar jetty is not the place to start your fishing or to venture out onto for the first time. Any jetty that you do go out on you should know exactly what rocks to stand on and where you can land a fish if you have to climb down the rocks towards the water. Trying to be a hero at night on the rocks is only asking for trouble.
If you do go out alone make sure you leave a itinerary with someone so that they know where you will be and at what time. Most importantly give a time that you expect to return home and remain faithful to it. This way you will have that "just in case" covered.
An important consideration when walking to your destination is going to be light. A good head or neck lamp will be an absolute must when venturing out at night. You can also carry a small hand held flashlight that will easily fit inside your waders as another option. One of the advantages of holding a flashlight in your hand is that you can put more direct light closer to your feet making it easier to see where you are going. It is also a good idea to carry a small light with you as a back-up just in case your main light breaks, drops and is lost, or just doesn't work properly. This doesn't have to be anything big, a small mini-light will do. This way you will never be caught in the dark and be able to safely make it off the rocks or back from the sandbar.
In many locations that you will fish you will be able to take advantage of any diffuse light that may be present. This will come from surrounding structures, such as boardwalks, bridges, or roadways. Your eyes will become adjusted to seeing in this diffuse light with practice.
If you plan to wade out from shore in many of our back bay flats here's a key tip that I learned that really helps me out to locate where I might leave some gear along the beach. Buy some small cyalume light sticks from the tackle or camping shops and place them on your belongings. These light sticks are inexpensive and will last through night. It is very easy to lose your bearings when you are wading a sandbar and want to relocate your starting point. This is particularly true if the beachscape behind you is similar in make-up and looks the same.
For added safety a small compass is also an excellent idea to carry with you in case heavy fog rolls in when you are wading in the water. It can be a rather dangerous situation if you are lost in the fog and walk in the wrong direction from land. Quickly changing tidal conditions along many flats can leave you stranded from shore.
As you begin your fishing you can use your light to your advantage by quickly shining it into the water to check for the presence of any small baitfish that may be milling around. This will give you an idea of the profile of the fly that you should tie on. Profile in terms of length, width, and height is more important than color, if I did however had to choose one color at night it would be black.
Nighttime for beginners will be much more challenging than if you are an experienced fly fisher. If you are a beginner your major obstacle that you will encounter is casting in the dark. Getting your timing down while double hauling and learning what it feels like to have your rod load will top the list. For a beginner this can be difficult enough in the daytime so plenty of practice is recommended before you try to tackle it at night.
Keep in mind that if you have learned to cast while looking at your backcast that you will not be able to do this at night. You will need to work on "feeling the rod load" so practice during the day without looking back. Your other alternative is to experiment with the new glow in the dark fly lines that are currently on the market. This new technology will allow you to see where your line is.
If you are fishing along the beach without wading out very far or on a jetty you should give special consideration in regards to your backcast. Be cognizant of where it is going. Many times in the dark fly fishers will have a tendency to drop their tip on their backcast. This will result in beating your flies against an upwardly sloping berm or jetty rocks that are behind you. Keep your tip up. Remember where your tip is pointed is where your line and fly will go. Also, make sure that you have no more line in your stripping basket than you can cast. This will cut down on tangles as your line shoots out of the basket.
Use intermediate or floating lines as your workhorse lines along the beaches and jetties. I would not recommend a sinking line along the jetties at night because these lines can easily become entangled in the rocks that protrude out in front of you. Once this happens trying to climb down to untangle the line will put you in a high-risk situation. You can use the sinking line in the back bays along ledges and drop-offs where there are minimal obstructions.
As far as your flies are concerned if you are not drawing strikes when you think that you should be you will want to switch to a fly that pushes more water than the one you have tied on. The lateral lines of many fish are extremely sensitive to these vibrations and this will help them to better zero in on your fly.
Get in Touch with Your Surroundings
Since visual clues will be greatly minimized at night the fly fisher is going to have to rely on other senses to tune into his or her surroundings. Your sense of sound should be fine-tuned as you can actually listen for fish on a calm night. Any thrashing, popping, or slurping that you may hear in the distance will indicate fish feeding on bait. Some baits such as bunker will also have a characteristic smell and with experience you will be able to pick up on this too.
As a final consideration use a lightly colored stripping basket if you can. These baskets will reflect more light than darker colored baskets. This will make it easier for you to see the eye of your hook when tying knots as you change to a new fly. Position the hook, line, and fly over the basket and shine your light into it.
Not every fly fisher is able to adjust his or her schedule so that they can be out during the middle of the night and still expect to be ready to go to work the next day. It is definitely hard to do. You should however try to experience this most productive time during this summer season. I think you will be really surprised to see how active the "night life" actually is. Good Fishin...Fly fishing that is!
Jim Freda is a saltwater fly fishing guide and co-owner of the Shore Catch Guide Service located in Manasquan, NJ. His new book "Fishing the NJ Coast", Burford Publishing Company is currently available from www.shorecatch.com. Jim can be contacted at (732) 528-1861 for reservations.
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