Autumn Leaves and Silver Stripes
The warm summer nights are a distant memory as the lone angler adorns layers of fleece and neoprene, preparing for the chilly damp night ahead. The cold sand on his bare feet remind him that the end is near and a sense of urgency quickens his pace to gear up as time and tide wait for no man. Sleep is not an option as the last sliver of the waning moon rises in the eastern sky. After a long hike, he breathes a sigh of relief as he rounds the last bend in the beach and finds it completely empty; his favorite rock, as if formed by the hands of God himself so he can fish from it, awaits his presence.
A cold chill is sent up his spine as the legs of his wetsuit fill with cold October surf water. Slowly he makes his way across the boulder field where he climbs up on his rock, unhooks the home made bucktail from the reel handle and leans into the first cast of the night. It takes a while for him to calm down, a combination of adrenaline, anticipation and excitement keeps him jittery for a half hour. Eventually the lull of cast, retrieve, repeat starts to take effect and every move becomes automatic. His minds starts to drift, watching the lights on the southern horizon of the commercial fisherman when his trance is broken by a sharp rap on the rod. His jig stops dead and instinctively he rears back and sets the hook into a cow bass.
The eleven foot rod buckles and the drag on the big surf reel wails in resistance as the big striper rushes toward the safety of deeper water. Eventually she stops and the angler slowly pumps the rod, gaining line inches at a time. After a few minutes in what feels like an eternity, the big forty pound class striper lays on her side at his feet as he reaches down and grabs her lower jaw. The hook easily fall out as their eyes lock; a moment of empathy ensues as the angler does not think twice about releasing her. Her dorsal fin perks up after a few moments and with one quick push of her broom-size tail she is gliding back into the dark inky surf.
Without a doubt, October is the month striped bass anglers eagerly await for. In years past, October would see massive blitzes of bass, blues and albies off the famed Montauk lighthouse. But alas, this has changed. Now, anglers stand along the beach with their rods racked in their trucks’ cooler racks. The mosquito fleet, so affectionately nicknamed by the locals, drifts patiently in the rips waiting for chaos, but it does not happen. Will this year be any different? All the signs are pointing toward the positive. Massive amounts of bait are in the surf and along the beach. Combine this with the huge biomass of school bass and gorilla bluefish and the stage is set for an explosion. Some anglers speculate the patterns changed after superstorm Sandy and while this is true, for the past few years many anglers reported massive schools of bait marching along the coast going unmolested for weeks on end. Last year, after Halloween, the whole south shore lit up in daily blitzes of small bass and huge bluefish chasing peanut bunker. Many anglers fished the month of October for naught and elected to winterize their boats and hang up their waders. November saw very few anglers fishing as the action was world class. Hopefully they won’t make the same mistake this year.
The offshore scene similarly sees a down turn in angler effort, however the fishing for tuna and big makos can be outstanding. Just as the pelagics migrate north through our waters in the spring and summer, anglers tend to forget that they come back the way they came in the fall. The October full and new moons trigger a migration of big mako sharks which ride the 25-35 fathom lines fattening up on bluefish, false albacore and even bluefin tuna. Many of the biggest makos of the year are taken in October. Some of the best days we have ever had tuna fishing were either chunking the inshore grounds for 50 to 100 pound bluefins or drifting the canyons hand feeding big yellowfin tuna in the cool long nights. Don’t wait for reports on the internet or in magazines, the anglers which take advantage of this fishery tend to be tight lipped. If there’s a weather window, just go. Be the one making the reports, not reading about it while sitting on the couch.
October is the month which all striper anglers are out in force. Predominant northwest winds usher in cooler air from the Canadian maritimes. Sensing the cooler air, shorter days and dropping water temperatures, small slender baitfish stack up at the mouths of back bay creeks. The first nor’easter of October causes a mass exodus of finger mullet, peanut bunker, spearing, sand eels and anchovies. As the surf kicks up into a fury of whitewater and foam, large bluefish, striped bass, fluke and weakfish await with appetites. Birds dive from above, darting to and fro on the glistening balls of bait as tails and teeth chase them to the surface. The blitz is on and word spreads like wild fire. Savvy anglers with their boats still in the water drift amongst the mayhem. Diamond jigs and poppers are heaved into the melee as grown men grunt and giggle like little kids. Memories are made in October, especially toward the end of the month where the frenzied pace tries to beat the inevitable tide of soon to be winter time.