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Passing up those moonlit nights on the beach could turn out be the biggest surf fishing mistake you will ever make.
By Fred Golofaro
While most hard core surfcasters favor dark nights, there are always exceptions to the rule. Photo courtesy of Toby Lapinski.

I was walking Skipper one night last week under a bright full moon, and while he ambled along, sniffing everything and anything in his path, I found myself drifting off to distant nights where bright moons lit up what would become treasured memories of time spent in the surf.

There are many very good surf fishermen out there who despise the bright nights that accompany a full moon, and often for good reason. There are even some casters out there who won’t even leave the house, or the comfort of their camper, with a bright moon overhead.

I must add that I am not a fan of full moons that illuminate the landscape so much so that you can read by it. I do like a “dirty moon” - a moon obscured by heavy cloud cover. And I do like the four or five nights on the downside of the moon. And, I’ve seen nights where we enjoyed good action when the moon was obscured by cloud cover, and then had the fishing stop as the sky cleared. And, I’ve had it happen the other way - nothing when the moon was out, and then have the action pick up as the clouds move in. All of this makes a pretty good case for avoiding those bright, full moon nights.

You would think.

But then there are those other nights – call them the exception to the rule if you want, but had I avoided bright, moonlit nights as a rule, I would have missed out on some of my most memorable nights in the surf. There is something magical about catching fish under a moonlit sky. The visual effect of a surface strike is magnified many times over when it is illuminated by moonlight.

There was a week when Atom 40s were banging big bass during daylight in an area known as “The Pines,” located between Cedar Beach and Gilgo on Long Island’s South Shore. Word was getting out and the crowd was growing, and the Town of Babylon had just begun cracking down on non-resident beach driving. Checking out the same stretch of beach during the night seemed like a no-brainer, and it turned out to be the right move as stripers from 20 to 35 pounds pounced on the surface swimming metal lips. Their thrashing when first hooked sent rivlets of glistening spray in all directions, and the moon’s light reflected off gentle two foot swells to provide the perfect backdrop to some memorable action.

Then there was that first night of a Block Island trip. My partner that trip had deemed it senseless to go poking around the Island under a big, bright full moon, opting instead to wait for the front that was scheduled to push through later that night, to darken the moon. I decided that wasting precious nighttime hours in the cabin in what was big bass heaven at the time was the last thing on my agenda.

It proved to be a good move, but I’ll admit I had my doubts as I worked my way down the cliff to the Snake Hole. They were quickly erased as a 30-pound striper broke through a wave and snatched my needlefish without missing a beat. Four more fish from 30 to 38 pounds followed suit over the next hour, all of the action fully illuminated by that big, bright light in the sky.

And how about that night on Cedar Beach inside Fire Island Inlet when eight casts with the same live eel produced six 30-pound class stripers? It was the night of the October full moon, but a layer of fog was sandwiched between the sand and the clear sky overhead, creating an eerie sensation to the whole scene. My first cast on the point resulted in a “grab” but I missed the fish. The next six casts connected, and on the third, I Iiterally yanked the eel away from a fish, as the reality of getting 200 pounds of bass to a parking lot (yes – we sold stripers in those days) nearly a mile away began to sink in.

Montauk has been the scene of more than a couple of big nights under a cloudless full moon sky. One that stands out was the night Richie Simmons and I tallied 47 bass, most of them falling into the 20 to 30-pound range. The night was a blur of drenching spray, groaning drags, and shafts of moonlight glistening off of the boulders surrounding the base of this legendary perch.

There was also that night near Steppingstones on Montauk’s north side when big bass cruised among the boulders, slamming Danny plugs as they wallowed along on a flat calm, moonlit surface. The eruptions were magnified by the silence of the night, and the antics of big bass blasting top water plugs were clearly visible in the moonlight. Two fish in the mid 30s and a low 40 stayed connected, but one slob that demolished two sets of 4/0 trebles left the biggest impression.

There was also that night on Cape Cod’s back beach that saw a dozen 40-pound class stripers (nearly 520 pounds) succumb to unweighted live eels. To be fair, it was not a full moon night – more like three nights down – but it was big and bright enough to illuminate long stretches of beach under a cloudless sky.

Had I gone along with the generally accepted belief that full moon nights under a clear sky are not worth the effort, then maybe I don’t make the drive to Montauk, or maybe I opt for a bite to eat or flip on the TV in lieu of slipping down a cliff to the Snake Hole. There’s another philosophy that rings much truer than avoiding bright, full moon nights. It is simply to fish whenever the opportunity presents itself.