For those on skiffs, kayaks and smaller center consoles, this fishery belongs to you.
Crisp fall air in the pre-dawn black. Miles away from my warm bed, but this is the time!
There was a flooding tide and light winds, and we were looking for striped bass. No signs of life yet. No pops or splashes, but they were there. Fishing is about the adventure and enjoying nature in all of its glory, but when a great sunrise picture is the memory of the day, the captain needs to put in a lot more time! It’s about covering as much good water as you can while making a proper presentation when the fish are home.
The Good Stuff
Good water; simply put, it means water that is holding fish. Different spots hold fish during different stages of each tide. Current is the deciding factor as it is what carries the bait.
Good water may be along a sod bank that the current runs past. Perhaps there is a curve in the bank, a few small cuts, or a flooded grassy edge? Maybe the bank ends and there is a point or a creek mouth? Focus on the deep water side of the bank until you become very familiar with your area.
Rocky points or rock walls should always be on your short list of spots to fish. Holes and channel edges also need mentioning. All water is good water; it’s just that sometimes our timing is off. Fish feed on nature’s schedule, which seldom coincides with what we like. Catching striped bass consistently means losing sleep.
Learn what stage of which tide is productive at each spot. Some are better than others, but the fish are always in the water, and they usually always eat. You will only develop these skills by spending more time on the water.
Low tide in broad daylight is not the best fishing conditions, but it is a great time to scout! Look for deep water cuts through the shallow flats. Fish will cruise this ditch like your short cut home! They will use this deeper water like a road to travel far into the flooded marsh to feed on the backwater buffet that they know awaits them. Cover this water from time to time as schools of fish pass through. The fish will move down a channel with the tide, always pushing deeper into the shallows with the rising tide.
A dropping tide will find the fish following the bait in the other way as the tide drops out and it flows the opposite direction. When you find fish then the action dies, push further down current and hit each spot along the way. You may be able to stay with the fish for some time.
In this shallow water, I maneuver my 22’ Mako center Console very carefully. A trolling motor is great, but not necessary for you to play this game. I sneak toward the bank until I am about 50 feet off of the bank on the up-current end of the spot I want to hit. Quietly slip the anchor and chain into the water on a relatively short amount of line. Make some casts. No action? Quietly pick up the hook and drift down the bank and re anchor.
Use your engine as needed to position where you want, but not more than necessary as any noise can spook fish in this quiet water, which again is why a trolling motor is so effective in these situations. Anchoring is easily done as you’re usually in very shallow water so it’s an easy task. Drop your casts along the sod bank, the closer the better. Find a cadence that the fish like. Usually a plop, plop, plop, pause works very well for me. Some days that action after the pause really gets them going!
Covering water is done by casting lures long distances. The longer the cast, the better your chance of hooking up. It’s always a good idea to work the area near the bank, so casting down the bank, or parallel to the bank, lets you cover more prime real estate with each cast.
Aerodynamic lures that are matched to light to medium spinning rods are perfect here. Twenty-pound test braid casts like the wind, but be sure to leave your spool slightly under filled to help avoid wind knots. Tie several feet of 20-pound test leader material to your braid via a “slim beauty” knot. You will not regret learning this, as this knot flies through the guides easily on each cast. A small snap on the end and you are ready to start fishing.
Lures are the confidence end of things. Top water poppers produce a thrilling strike and are a great way to introduce someone to fishing with artificials. The top water presentation is most effective in low light conditions, so dawn, dusk and cloudy drizzly days are the best time to play the top water game.
Remember to keep working the popper at a medium speed even after a fish takes a swipe at the lure! Do not stop, and the fish will come back often taking two or three tries for them to eat it good. You must resist setting the hook with what you see. Set the hook with a low strike when you feel the fish pull. Striking low eliminates a spit hook from becoming a trip to the emergency room.
|Light tackle spinning outfits and smaller lures will get the job done on catch and release stripers behind the islands and out along the sedges this fall.|
Back Bay Arsenal
The Super Strike 1-ounce floating littleneck popper is a great choice for this skinny water game. The MirroLure She-Pup gets very high marks as well. This particular model is very loud with the right frequency that the striped ones just love! While these lures are small in size, they are very high quality, wired through and will hold onto some very real and very large fish! These are not freshwater lures that we simply put new hooks on, these are the real deal. Favorite colors are white, yellow or chartreuse.
Swimmers do some serious catching as well, but they do not cast as well as the poppers do. If the fish stop hitting on top, quickly switch to a swimmer to add a couple more fish to today’s tally. Smaller floating Sebile Magic Swimmers and Stick Shads have become my favorites. Reflective shades with a tinge of black, pink or green are the color of swimmers that see the most action.
Jigs will let you present to the entire water column. A 1/4- to 1-ounce jig will cover most applications. Put a bubblegum pink Zoom Super Fluke on a jighead and game on! Bucktails also get their share of play. The bucktail usually provides more water resistance and is more buoyant, so it will usually ride a bit higher than the same weight bare jig. Use enough weight so that it casts well, but also so that it swims above, and does not drag along the bottom. A touch on the bottom is good, but dragging bottom will results in a weed fouled lure all too often. Constant adjustment of jig weight and retrieve speed is needed to stay on point.
Remember that certain spots are great on the incoming tide, while others are better outgoing tide spots. Rarely will one spot be good on both tides. Press further into the flooded grass marsh as the tide floods the memories of what we caught in this channel and we got more off of that creek mouth, and the big one right off of that point!
These are why and what it means to enjoy nature deep in a New Jersey estuary.