Fall Surf Essentials: Whats In Your Surf Bag? - The Fisherman

Fall Surf Essentials: Whats In Your Surf Bag?

The author holds a good fish alongside good friend Mickey “Deaner” Melchiondo during bluebird conditions from the fall run of ’22.

Are you armed and ready for the next few months of action?

Excitement bubbles to the surface, set to explode after Labor Day as Jersey surfcasters feel it coming – The Fall Run.  As my father always said, it’s like tickling dynamite with a blowtorch – any day could detonate the run – albies blitzing rainfish, bluefish churning up the surf, stripers swirling on bunker.

Species span from stripers and blues to bonito and false albacore, and if we’re lucky, throw some weakfish into the mix. New Jersey’s surf has unique structure territory in that the lack of boulder fields that exist in Montauk or the Cape are replaced by jetties, deep cuts, sloughs, bowls and sandbars for structure, and that means lure selection many times is different from locales up north.

There’s no better place to start your fall run game plan than organizing the proper lures in your surf bag for the target species in each month.

September Speedsters

As we really wait for stripers and bluefish to come south, the post Labor Day cool down ushers in speed demons to New Jersey waters as little tunny and bonito get forktailin’ with a few remnants of Spanish mackerel still hanging around for good measure. It’s a run and gun approach from the suds as the fish generally feed on slimmer, slender profile baitfish including rainfish, bay anchovies, spearing and sand eels.

Metal lures are generally preferred as they can launch a country mile to reach the schools from the beach. Perfect bay anchovy or spearing imitations include the RonZ-Poxy jig, Williamson Gomoku Jig, Hogy Epoxy jig, Tsunami Forktail Candy, and Savage Gear Glass Minnow; if sand eels are predominant baits, toss out Island X Hellfire, Deadly Dick #4, Ava 007 jigs. Anticipate the school movement, get ahead of them, then wing the lures out, allowing them to sink for a three- to four-count before you rip them back to you reeling as fast as possible.

By mid to late September, baitfish by the millions will be exiting the backwaters into the surfline as mullet, peanut bunker and spearing create black buffet clouds leading into October.

After a solid summer for snappers and cocktail blues, many surfcasters at the Jersey Shore are wondering if the bigger “choppers” will return again in force this season.

October Blues

Historically, Jersey’s got our best shot at blues during the month of October.  In fact, October 13, 2008 was a biblical bluefish blitz that spanned a 20-mile section of beach along the Ocean County stretch that lasted four days straight. Lately, it seems to be feast or famine on big blues, but if they show to crash and rip apart bait schools, be prepared. No matter what lures you throw out, all treble hooks on any lure should be switched out to single hooks to allow for easier dislodging of hooks both from the fish’s mouth and from your hands when they inevitably flop around in a frenzy and sink a hook into you.

Remember, you want lures that can take a beating here. The ol’ tried and true legendary bluefish beater is the Atom plug which can take a licking and keep on ticking. When choppers are aggressively feeding on top, nothing gets you more jacked than a topwater strike on a popper like the Tsunami Talkin’ Popper. Heavy metals also can take a beating from the blues. Ava 17 to A47 jigs work wonders and definitely stand up to the demanding test of thrashing blues.

With the new 28- to 31-inch slot limit in place for striped bass this season, surfcasters should do their best releasing fish “wet

A November To Remember

All things come to a head in November as a wild mixture of baitfish schools, perfect striper water temperatures, churning surf and cold days combine to help make magic and mayhem in the surf. This is the month of glory for New Jersey surfcasters – especially to the northern end of the state – chasing afternoon blitzes, night shifting, early rising and late evening sessions around the clock. The predominant bait in the waters is bunker, ranging from any size of peanuts to cupcakes and all the way up to adult-sized baits. Larger lures tend to get the go-ahead here. While everyone has their favorites, I’ll just spill some of the selections I use that have continual presence in my November bag.

Keep it streamlined. I don’t lug a duffel bag full of lures to the beach but use a simple six-tube Canyon Bag and even take two tubes out to fit my variety of plugs, poppers, shads and metals. A variety of gear and terminal tackle is also paramount to keep you in the game should you need to unhook fish, cut lines, tie new rigs, or otherwise manage your day. Gear includes pliers, nail clippers, knife and headlamp.  Terminal tackle in the bag contains of a spool of 25- to 40-pound fluorocarbon leader material, a small Plano box filled with Spro 75-pound barrel swivels, 25- to 75-pound TA clips and Duolock snaps, plus 2/0 to 3/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hooks for teasers.
– N. Honachefsky

For night shift dark hours, no other lure has caught more bass for me than the old school Black Bomber A-Salt or 15A Long. Black or blurple pitch dark colors are key to success at night, though there are of course times when a striking white bone or wonderbread color will do the damage. Predawn and sunrise hours the olive backed Daiwa SP Minnow, silver Mambo minnow, or white Yo-Zuri Mag Darter put up numbers of stripers.

When bass are splashing and crashing on bunker schools, I make long casts around the outskirts of the schools with poppers such as 3-ounce wooden pencil poppers, Stillwater Smack-It, Yo-Zuri Hydro Popper, or new Tsunami Tidal Pro IPOP topwaters. When peanut bunker are prevalent, 3- to 5-inch paddletail shads from Storm, Tsunami, RonZ-Fin or NLBN in white or silver/black are key as are fat metals like 1-ounce Crippled Herrings. Sand eel imitations include the Island X Hellbender, RonZ sand eels, and Tsunami sand eels.

Keep in mind that when the big bait is around, sometimes the smaller lures are oddly effective as they present a different profile that attracts attention. Break out the small half- to 3/4-ounce jigheads or S&S/Andrus bucktails and lance on a 5-3/4-inch-Fin-S fish or Zoom plastic in pink, white or black/silver to bounce along the bottom under the peanut bunker schools.

I could go on for weeks listing the custom plug manufacturers that craft some killer lures for stripers. Everyone has their favorite; when picking what to throw, just be sure to mimic the bait size best, as in if cupcake or peanut bunker are around, go with a Scabelly or Grn.Head glider type profile.  If adult bunker are hanging, a large metal lipped swimmer will work best. Just be sure no bluefish are in the area if tossing the expensive lures otherwise you’ll need to take a second mortgage out to keep replacing them.

As referenced by the author, a varied assortment of plugs, plastics and metals will find their way in and out of the daily rotation given the prevalence of bait in the wash this fall.

The December Chill

Numb useless hands and ice on the guides, the fall run has been pushing later and later each year with December putting up numbers of bass like November and January even coming into productive territory. The key however is dialing in the bait hatch, which most invariably is sand eels at this time, with the possibility of herring and leftover bunker in the mix. Sand eel lures are Ava 007 to A 27 jigs with green, yellow or black tails. The Tsunami sand eel or Joe Baggs rubber sand eels are top notch sand eel mimics as is the always productive old school needlefish. Teasers are also key components here. Small 2/0 to 3/0 siwash hook white bucktail hair teasers or Felmlee eel teasers usually get even more hits that the lure does this time of year. Always have that teaser tied about 18 inches above the main lure as many casts will result in doubleheader bass catches. Sunup hours are best when sand eels unearth themselves from the surf floor and slowly dragged lures along the bottom tend to get the most strikes.

Jersey Shore surfcasters are now shifting into high gear. Prep your surf bag and organize it so you know exactly where to pick from in an instant to prevent any fumbling around or lost time when switching out lures. If last year’s run was any indication, we could be setting up to experience a fall run for the ages. Get ready!



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