From record highs to record lows, we finally got the good cold snap needed to get fish on the move.Now we may be wishing we hadn’t gotten what we asked for.
The cold did exactly what it was expected to do: It spurred a lot of fish to start moving westward along the beaches. Unfortunately, the fish that moved carried all the signs of being the rear guard, which left surfcasters wondering if this would be the sudden end to a fall run that seemed to only just be getting started.
The first morning after the sudden frost, the beaches from Montauk to Moriches came alive. Big bluefish and schoolie stripers chased schools of bunker into the surf zone in a dozen spots.
But, by the second morning, they were gone. The bitter cold on Friday night seems to have driven the bunker offshore and the big bluefish with them.
Left in their wake was what had to be hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of striped bass. Blitzes of bass stretched for miles in Montauk, East Hampton, Bridgehampton, Southampton Village and Westhampton. Some surfcasters reported catching 100 fish on Sunday.
Unfortunately, this onslaught was not the push of migrating stripers along the shore that we fishermen had been hoping for. Most of the fish were less than 20 inches long, with a smattering of slightly larger ones and a very rare keeper fish mixed in. I didn’t hear of a single “babysitter,” the big fish in the 30-pound class that always seems to be swimming with the hordes of little ones and eventually gets to someone’s bucktail first. I’m sure one was caught somewhere.
There have been a few better fish caught by anglers working the inlets and a few choice spots along the open beaches at night, and since surfcasters were still catching keeper-sized bass deep into Peconic Bay just a week ago, it seems almost impossible that all the bigger fish are gone.
But we striped bass hounds are now left with the distinct possibility that the fall run is in danger of being over, basically right on time, even though September didn’t seem to end until the second week of November.
It seems almost certain that the parking lots and beaches of Montauk will be mostly vacant of campers bristling with surf rods for Thanksgiving, a time and place that once was seen as the defining moment of trophy striped bass fishing from the shore. But, going on a decade removed from the last time anyone caught a trophy-sized striper on the South Fork after mid-November, there is not a lot of optimism among the surfcasters I talk to, unless they are making plans to head for the beaches of New Jersey to await what has become a pretty reliable showing of big striped bass there in late November.
If you don’t have a road trip in mind, a boat trip may be your best bet. If you are not inclined to spend next weekend grassing your duck blind, like I plan to, the blackfish and black sea bass fishing is just getting heated up.
Despite the string of frosty nights, water temperatures in Block Island Sound remained near 60 degrees early this week, which is just barely at the temps that will spur the bottom feeders to start slowly moving toward deeper water. Party and charter boats from Shinnecock and Montauk have been loading up on enormous black sea bass, some pushing 8 pounds. Blackfishing around Plum and Fishers islands and along the Rhode Island shoreline has been red hot, and a few more cold nights and the Cartwright Grounds off Montauk will be good places to look as well.
There is plenty of fishing to be done still, since duck season doesn’t seem likely to be any too exciting until there’s more frosty weather up north.
Catch ’em up. See you out there.