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A veteran Striper Coast surfcaster shares his insights on how to make the most of a bright moon.
By Dennis Zambrotta
Proper planning and special tactics are required to tip the odds in your favor on those fully moonlit nights.

Just a few days short of Thanksgiving I made my last cast on the bar, the nearly full moon was now high in the nighttime sky and bright enough to allow me to read the words “Super Strike” on the yellow needlefish plug I had been casting. I hadn’t had a strike in hours despite an optimum tide. I was back at the cottage by 8 p.m. and set my alarm clock for 2 a.m., not because of the tide but because I knew that tonight's bright moon would set at 2:30 a.m., leaving me three hours of darkness to prowl the shoreline before the sun would begin to rise. After my alarm woke me I ended up back on the same bar. Once the moon began to set, the action became intense and I couldn’t keep the bass off that same yellow needlefish!

For the sake of this discussion we should consider the bright moon period as lasting 11 days, (the actual date of the full moon and the five days before and after it.) With clear skies during nighttime hours this could create adverse conditions for surfcasters. Many surfcasters would just as well stay home on these bright nights but that is not always advisable. Proper planning and special tactics are required to tip the odds in your favor.

During the bright moon period surfcasters should look for conditions that provide more cover for the bass. Cloud cover, for one, can temper the effect of a bright moon. It is not uncommon to experience an upswing in action when clouds roll in and obscure the moon. I’ve had nights when bass would readily strike our lures while a cloud bank blotted-out the bright moon but would then refuse as the clouds moved off. Cloudy skies on a bright moon night—you should be at the beach.

Areas with deeper water such as inlets and breachways will provide cover in the form of a comfort-zone based on depth and current. Deeper water allows less moonlight to penetrate, therefore bass often head for deeper holes on a bright night. Having ready access to deeper water may also explain why much of the boating fraternity actually prefers bright moon periods when they chase striped bass.

White water will also provide cover for shallow water bass. Savvy surfcasters will seek out structure such as sand bars, reefs, and outcrops that offer favorable white water. White water scenarios have produced my best bright moon successes.

We’ve all heard the term “timing is everything” and it surely applies when fishing during bright moon periods. A surfcaster should become familiar with the concept of “moonrise” and “moonset,” timing and planning his outings accordingly. Moonrise and moonset times are not constant and will change each day just like sunrise and sunset times.

During the waxing moon period in the Northeast the moon will often set during the darkness of the early morning. The time when a bright moon sets during darkness can often be very productive for the surfcaster. Bass which may have been selective or not even present during the previous hours of brightness may then move into the shallows and/or release their inhibitions with the lights off.

As the bright moon phase begins to wane the time of moonrise will come into play. When there is a period of darkness between sunset and moonrise it would behoove a surfcaster to take note. The best bite of the night during the waning moon is often early before the moon rises. Once the bright moon comes up 20 degrees over the horizon the bite often dies.

So what tactics can the nighttime surfcaster employ to improve their odds during the bright moon period? My experience has shown that lighter pattern plugs seem to produce more bass than dark or natural colors during a bright moon. Chrome patterns also seem to work well because they produce more flash from the moonlight. The most effective full moon plugs that I use are the C10 series Cotton Cordell Redfins in Chicken Scratch (yellow), Bone, Baby Striper and Chrome.

Needlefish from Super Strike, Gibbs, Gag’s and Hab’s in fluorescent lime green, yellow, pink, or white are also effective. The 7-inch SP Minnow in Bone and Chicken Scratch also works well. White metal lips such as those by Tattoo and the Gibbs Danny work well also. Sometimes smaller is better during bright conditions. If bass are just nudging your big plugs try downsizing your offerings – for example use a five inch C9 series Redfin or make use of small feather or red-gill droppers. These smaller offerings may encourage more aggressive takes.

Stripers can also be leader shy, especially during a bright moon. Another tactic that has been very effective for moonlight bass is “tying direct.” Tying your plugs or eel hooks directly to your monofilament running line without using a heavy shock leader will allow you to make a more subtle and natural presentation. I’ve experienced many productive nights (while those around me using heavy shock leaders went fishless) by the simple act of tying directly to my 20-pound test mono. As effective as this method has been, tying direct seems to have fallen out of popularity with the use of braided line. If you prefer to use braided line consider reducing your leader strength to 20-pounds during a bright moon.

Surfcasting has many factors that can separate the success rate of those who chase striped bass. I’ve met many surfcasters in my years of casting and the casters that are most consistent in this game are those that take the time and effort to learn every aspect of the sport.

Surfcasters should be ready when environmental changes such as moonsets, wind shifts, and tide changes occur as they will often portend the start (or end) of a bite. My advice is to always try and “be there on a change” and if the change is predictable then all the better. Through constant education you’ll find that your success rate and enjoyment of the sport increases.

A surfcaster should never stop learning – I know I haven’t.