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A decent run of fall stripers could turn epic this month if the lances hit the sands, here is a look at how you can cash in on this bite by both land and sea.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.
Tags: inshore, surf

By all accounts, the 2011 run of striped bass on sand eels from the South Shore of Long Island down along the South Jersey coast was epic. I remember mornings in Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island in New Jersey ambling up and over the dunes before dawn, seeing a picket fence of surfcasters already lined up and waiting for the dawn (as I’d carefully plot out ample enough space between the shadowy figures in the surf in wait of the coming blitz conditions.)

When heading up to Long Beach in New York, it was much the same thing on many November mornings, with tackle shops throughout the region unable to stock imitations fast enough to meet the demand. Party boats easily limited out, which of course created a social media storm when photos showed every individual patron with limit catches and back at port before lunch.

It’s hard to predict when and if sand eels will again be tight to our local beaches as they were in the late fall and early winter of 2011. Good reports from the boats off New York and a few surfcasters finding success along the Central and North Jersey coast during the final week of October shows promise. On the offshore grounds this summer, some anglers reported acres upon acres of sand eels at midrange hotspots like the Bacardi, where run and gun fishing for yellowfin was off the hook.

Good E/NE storms in the early fall may have very well prompted some of those sand eels inshore along the very same lumps and bumps that produced stupid fishing in November of 2011. At least so far this season, there’s a glimmer of hope!

On the boat when the fishfinder is lit up with bait, AVA’s and similar diamond jigs dropped down below the marks and then reeled straight up can often elicit a good response; as to dressing, it’s hard to tell from day to day what the stripers will key on when they’re piling on the thin-profile sand eels, greens, whites, blacks, deer hair - best bet is to collect a good assortment in a tackle tray and be ready to mix it up a little. If your buddy is whacking them on every drop with a chartreuse tube, it’s probably no use trying any other color. Sometimes the bites come on the way up, sometimes on the drop; mix it up and hold on.

Tsunami plastics are great too with conventional or spin tackle; I prefer the spin because you can also cast and jig versus a vertical drop, just in case that’s how the fish are feeding. Many times it’s just drop to the bottom (or to beneath the marks on your screen) and then crank up and drop again. Other times, more active jigging is required, even casting out away from the boat and reeling back and varying speeds until you find success.

With good numbers of sand eels being found on the offshore grounds, hopes are high that the fall inshore bite is going to be great as well.

In the surf, those Tsunami Sand Eel imitations are deadly; try a steady trip or lift and drop. There are times when the birds or even crashing fish will offer the tell-tale sign that the bass are on the feed. Other times, finding a nice slough and blind casting along the way can lead you to the bite.

If the wind is in your face and/or fish are farther out, turn to the same AVA style jigs you’d use on the boat. Other outstanding metal imitations for the sand eel include the S&S Bucktails Pro Slim Fish, and Slim Fish with Got Stryper tail (both in sand eel color), and AOK T-Hex metals.

Keep an ample supply the Hopkins No=Eql with tube, feather or bucktail, as well as the Acme Kastmaster XL, Deadly Dicks and the Tsunami Slimwaves are also great choices. Always swap out the trebles on these metals out of the box, replacing with a stronger split ring and Siwash style hooks.

A new version of the Super Strike Needlefish ‘Super N Fish’ surf plugs, a special ‘show edition’ model which I picked up at the The Fisherman’s surf show on Long Island in September boasts strong Siwash hooks with a new flash pattern that could prove to be a deadly match. Weighing in at 1-3/4 ounces and taping out at 7-1/4 inches these lures are terrific windbreakers that do well in sand eel conditions.

Daiwa’s SP Minnow also comes in sand eel color in the sinking 1-1/4-ounce version which effective with both a steady retrieve and when twitched. Frank Crescitelli’s Guides Secret line has also expanded to match local baits, the new Needle Stick being a classic “wood plug” style that casts a mile at 1-3/8-ounce with the olive/white belly offering a great match to the sand eel infestation we hope to get this month. Bucktails too with a strip of white Uncle Josh’s pork rind.

For sure, it appears the 2015 run is slower to make it’s way south; whether or not the sand eels will prompt a strong striper bite off Cape Cod or Cape May, or anywhere in between, it’s always a mystery. The key is being armed and ready if they do.