Surfcasters from all over our region look forward to the fall with great anticipation, as surf fishing events and the fishing take center stage.
With the passage of Labor Day, sanity returns to our Long Island beaches. Gone are the blanket to blanket crowds, traffic leading to the beaches backed up for miles, and wide ranging closures due to piping plovers. The days are noticeably shorter, nights cooler and cold fronts become more frequent. The first nor’easter of the season draws closer, and with it the anticipation of baitfish on the move and stripers and blues feeding up in preparation for their southbound migration. The beaches become the domain of the surfcaster and as September blends into October, there is greater urgency to spend more time than we should patrolling the edge. Wind changes, moon phases and tides assume priority status, and obligations to work and family are easily forgotten when the call comes that bass and blues are in the wash. Sleep is saved for the deep of winter, after the last bass has punched its ticket to their wintering grounds.
This summer’s heat and water temperatures in the ocean and Long Island Sound ranging from 75 to 80 degrees mark may portend a later start to the fall fishing, but a series of cold fronts or storms such as Henri could change things in a hurry. The prevalence of bait all around the Island is one reason for optimism. Schools of adult bunker are once again hanging along the South Shore’s ocean beaches. While the schools are perhaps not as dense or widespread as they were the past couple of seasons, they have been thick at times. Over the past several weeks, reports of peanut bunker have been pouring in from both shores of the Island and that is good news, given that last fall peanuts were largely absent in many areas. White bait in the form of baby anchovies are in most of our South Shore inlets, on the East End and along many stretches of the North Shore. Some areas are also seeing large amounts of spearing. There are reports of sand eels in the surf in some areas, and their numbers will likely grow as ocean waters cool. The latter part of October through November are typically prime time for a sand eel run to develop.
Another reason to be optimistic is the abundance of bluefish this season. The spring run was one of the best in many years, both in numbers and duration, and blues have remained viable targets all summer long in South Shore inlets and on the East End, including the North Fork. The pattern in recent years has been to see some bluefish action in the spring, after which they seemed to disappear for the rest of the season. Many casters are hopeful this fall will be different. If blues are present in the surf this fall, it could also improve the bass action as the blues tend to push baitfish tight to the beach, and also make bass feed more aggressively as they compete with the blues.
To help fuel anticipation for the “fall run,” a steady flow of surf fishing tournaments over the next three months will help inspire friendly competition and a special camaraderie among those who ply the surf line. For those with their sights set on one of the many prizes offered by these events, I’ve included some suggestions that might help you plan your approach on tournament weekends.
Hosted by The Fisherman and Long Island State Parks, this popular event always attracts a crowd. This year’s contest is slated for Friday, September 24 through Sunday, September 26. The Classic kicks off at noon Friday, and continues through Sunday at noon. The awards ceremony will take place at the Point at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. The first 100 attendees at Sunday’s awards ceremony will receive a goody bag of tackle and all attendees will receive a free ticket for the awards ceremony raffle. Weigh-in for this year’s contest will be Paulie’s Tackle Shop where the doors will remain open 24/7 throughout the weekend. The in-person entry deadline is 9 a.m. on Saturday morning at Paulie’s. The entry fee is $20 per angler.
Boundary lines for this contest are all shore areas east of the westernmost boundary of Napeague State Park. All areas must be accessible by foot or wading. Swimming, using a boat, kayak or any flotation device to access an area is prohibited. Only striped bass from 28 to 35 inches (NY State regulations apply) are eligible for weigh-in, while the bluefish minimum is set at 5 pounds.
In the Striped Bass Release Division, winners will be determined by overall length measured to the nearest 1/4 inch. Another registered participant in the Classic must witness the measuring and release, and sign off on the angler’s entry card. It is up to the angler to check their entry in at Paulie’s, just as if they were weighing a fish in. The minimum size for entry in the Release Division is 28 inches.
There are three places in the Striped Bass Release Division, and the Striped Bass and Bluefish divisions. Winners of the striped bass (weighed) and bluefish categories will receive $750. Second and third place winners, and first through third place in the striped bass release category will receive tackle prizes. In the case of a tie, the earliest fish checked in will take priority. For more info, call 631-321-3510.
If you are looking to set foot in the winner’s circle, consider tossing an unweighted live eel in places like Shagwong Point during and around both sides of slack water, or if the surf is calm, along the sand beaches from Hither Hills down through Napeague. Look for any deeper water or bowls and work them at night or first light. If there are sand eels present on the sand beaches, it might behoove you to toss needlefish plugs between dusk and dawn. There could still be some snappers or mullet emptying from the harbor and if that’s the case, work the north side from Shagwong to Jones with darters at night, and topwaters in daylight. Remember, the lighthouse is off limits due to construction.
Babylon Autumn Surf Fishing Cup
The Babylon Autumn Surf Fishing Cup has been growing in popularity every year. It is hosted by Paumonak Surfcasters and LIBBA in cooperation with Town of Babylon. It is set for October 22 to October 24 with fishing from 6 p.m. Friday to 2 p.m. Sunday. The tournament is open to Babylon Town residents and non-residents. Prizes will be awarded for the three largest striped bass and three largest bluefish. There is also a special Calcutta for the largest fish (bass or blue) for LIBBA members only, to which LIBBA is contributing $200.
An awards ceremony follows close of contest on Sunday at the Cedar Beach Salt Shack. Boundary lines are the Sore Thumb to the western boundary of Gilgo State Park. The entry fee is $15 and you can register in person at the weigh station set up in the Cedar Beach Overlook Beach parking lot by 6 p.m. Friday. After 6 p.m., the entry fee is $20. You can also enter in person at Babylon Town Hall prior to the start of the contest. For more info, call Babylon Recreation Dept. at 631-893-2100.
South Shore Classic
Be sure to mark your calendar for the South Shore Surf Fishing Classic set for October 29 through 31. The contest is hosted by The Fisherman and Long Island State Parks, and is sponsored by Captree Bait & Tackle. It kicks off at noon on Friday, October 29, and continues through noon on Sunday, October 31. The entry fee for this popular event is $20, and the entry deadline is 9 a.m. on Saturday, October 30 for those not able to make the start of the contest. It goes without saying that you must be entered prior to checking in any fish.
The same prize categories and rules outlined in the Montauk Classic (Striped Bass Release, Striped Bass and Bluefish) will be in play here. There will be cash and tackle prizes awarded to those catching the three largest stripers (28 to 35 inches), the three largest blues (5-pound minimum), and the three largest striped bass released (28-inch minimum). The awards ceremony takes place at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday at Captree State Park. The first 100 attendees at the awards ceremony will receive free tackle, and all attendees will receive a free ticket for the awards ceremony raffle. Boundary lines are the Jones Beach West End Two Jetty to the east jetty of Moriches Inlet. For more info, call 631-321-3510.
Libba West End Surf Contest
Sponsored by LIBBA and Jones Beach Fishing Station, this contest is scheduled for November 6 through 8. Fishing is from 6 p.m. Friday, November 6 through noon on Sunday, November 6. Awards ceremony follows close of fishing at Jones Beach Bait & Tackle in parking field 10 at Jones Beach. This a LIBBA member only event. Boundary lines are Breezy Point Jetty to east boundary of Tobay. Weigh-in at Jones Beach Fishing Station or on certified hand scale witnessed by another LIBBA member. There will be prizes for the three largest stripers and blues. For more info, call 646-558-8656.
For all three of these contests based along the Island’s South Shore, don’t overlook the backsides of this lengthy stretch of shoreline. I’m referring to places like the backside marshes of Moriches Inlet’s west side, the backside of Robert Moses Field 4, the coves on the north side of Gilgo and the marshes bordering the Green Island Access Area. Swimming plugs like SP Minnows, darters, or unweighted live eels can all be effective in these areas at night. At dawn, metal lip surface swimmers, pencil poppers or spook-style plugs might raise a decent fish or two.
Working the banks bordering the Wantagh bridges is always a good bet, especially the northeast corner of the second Wantagh. Swinging a 1-1/4 or 1-1/2 ounce bucktail into the shadow line on the first of the outgoing has produced many good fish for me over the years here. Also in play for the South Shore and Babylon events is the oceanfront at the western end of Gilgo (opposite the western end of the Gilgo homes). Year after year, that stretch features excellent structure, including a distinct point and bar, and most years, a bowl with some deep water. It’s another spot that has treated me well, having beached quite a few quality fish to the high 40s there on live eels, pencil poppers and metal lip swimmers. So, good luck this fall and in the tournaments, but more importantly, remember that fishing is supposed be fun.