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There is a case to be made for calm conditions and offshore winds when fishing the surf. Add bunker to the mix and you have a perfect storm of big fish opportunities.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.
Tags: surf

When winds are howling off the water, whipping the surf into a froth and creating hard-edge riplines along the jetties and sandbars, the dedicated surfcaster will tell you it’s time to gather up the gear and hit the beach.

With its broad, strong tail and enormous maw capable of sucking down just about any soft or hard forage species found tumbling about in the surf, striped bass is that stereotypical apex predator in washing machine-like conditions, often feeding with more voracity and aggressiveness when the conditions are less comfortable for those of us standing and casting above the surface.

For the diehard, there’s nothing like staring into grey skies and stiff onshore gusts, waves crashing against your face while casting bucktails into the soup. But there’s a lot to be said for those pristine early evenings when gentle offshore breezes flatten the surf, leaving a smooth plate of glass for the offering, particularly during the stretch between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

I’m certainly no fair weather fisherman - I’ll take most reasonable conditions offered when time allows me the chance to wet a line. But what angler wouldn’t prefer the excitement of a gurgling popper or wiggling metal-lip being the lone surface disturbance on an otherwise pristine spring and early summer evening, exacerbated only by the thunderous splash of 20- to 40-pound class stripers exploding on the surface, piling atop the plug.

Whenever offshore winds take over the late afternoons along my favorite stretch of beach, yielding to the onshore winds again only after sunup the next morning, it presents a unique and rather pleasant opportunity to score on cow bass.
Whenever these offshore winds take over the late afternoons along my favorite stretch of beach, yielding to the onshore winds again only after sunup the next morning, it presents a unique and rather pleasant opportunity to score (minus the black flies). It’s often said that menhaden will swim “under the wind,” pushing against the current and breeze. More often than not, the times I’ve seen bunker pushed in across the bar and within casting range along the surf are those early mornings and late afternoons when the wash is glass and the breeze is at my back.

In June and July as water temps continue to rise through the 60’s and bunker are being harassed by big bass moving north along the coast, one of the best approaches to scoring is also the most simplified approach. Particularly when frontside conditions are at their smoothest, I’ll keep a Bronco bag in the back of my truck loaded with various poppers – pencils, Polaris style and big woods by Gibb’s – as well as metal-lip swimmers, particularly yellows, whites, purples and combos with red.

I’ll also slot a dozen or so assorted bucktails with Uncle Josh strips for dressing, a handful of big molded Tsunami shads especially for working the jetty, along with 60-pound leader material (I prefer mono), barrels and snaps, and pliers. Bags by Bronco or AquaSkinz are ideal for keeping such a collection of weaponry available at the fingertips should conditions allow.

Keep a watchful eye on the waterline and alternate topwater options; I prefer going to the pencil first because it covers more distance, gives the appearance of fleeing baitfish and elicits explosive hits on the surface. The Polaris style popper provides similar top-water action looking like an escaping or wounded bait, while the metal-lip swims slow and enticingly deliberate along the surface when bass are on the prowl - when winds are light offshore, you do gain casting distance as these plugs are notoriously difficult to cast into the wind.

When the breeze is offshore and the bunker in tight, you might get lucky to find the bass corralling their meal across the bar, which is precisely when those noisy topwater poppers are especially effective; if the bunker are exploding from the water, you can bet there’s something underneath and any one of these topwater options are outstanding weapons.

Most seasons when bunker are thick inshore, I’ve found the offshore glassy conditions allow them to be more easily spotted either by beach or by boat, and they do seem to swim tighter to the beach when winds are blowing west along the Mid-Atlantic beaches, more northerly from the western South Shore of Long Island up the New England striper coast.

For tossing big plugs a distance and capably working them on top, most prefer a 10- to 11-foot stick with medium or moderate action; the Lamiglas 10-foot, 6-inch XS 1061 PP was built just for pencil popping, though I find my Ron Arra Pro Surf model XSRA 1205 -2 with moderate/fast action is a good all around stick and is a terrific two-piece model that can stowed away inside the truck or trunk when conditions are right.

Using braid in the surf is often a matter of personal choice; however, when you’re looking at getting some extra distance where those bunker schools are being harassed outside of the bar, a thinner diameter 30-pound class braid will certainly give you some additional length on your cast.

There’s a lot to be said for putting your time in and paying your dues in the harshest conditions. But in terms of finding success in the late spring and early summer surf, it’s not necessary to put all that precious time into staring into the face of a bitter gale, when bluebird evenings on the beach can be so pleasantly productive.

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