It’s been solid so far, but New England surfcasters are telling us we have a long way to go.
Many of you may know that I am a New-Englander, and with my lofty position as the Editor of the New England edition of this magazine, I am entrusted with metric tons of fishing information—every week. This information comes in from many sources; tackle shops, readers, friends and even some highline fishermen that can fish the doors (or pants if you prefer) off just about anyone else that wants to challenge them. The 2022 season was an exceptional season for striped bass across a wide swath of the Northeast and many considered this year’s fall run to be the best and longest they’d seen in a very long time.
Charley Soares writes our report that covers Cape Cod and the islands along with Buzzards Bay and the Canal and in his first report of November, he declared this year’s fall run to be the longest he has experienced in his 82 years on this planet! That’s a lot of years casting for stripers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and, if you do your math, you’ll see that many of those years were what many anglers consider to be the Golden Age of striper fishing. I’m trying to give you a leg up on what is a long run this year, don’t take these words or facts lightly.
A Geography Lesson
If you consider yourself a true student of the striped bass and the surf, then it’s important that you have a good handle on the geography of the Striper Coast and how looking at that geography can tell us a lot about what we can expect when we live south and east of certain points and places along the way.
The striper migration is a fluid entity, admittedly it’s not homogenous in concentration, but certain areas can strain the fluid down to a thicker concentrate resulting in better fishing and reports that offer a clearer picture of what’s in the pipeline. One such place is what has become the epicenter of striped bass fishing from 2008 to now and that is the Cape Cod Canal. If you have fished there or read smarmy comments about it online, then you have probably heard someone refer to the Canal as “the Fish Funnel”. The use of this name is meant to imply that fishing there is easy—and sometimes it really is. But assigning the word ‘funnel’ to the Canal is actually the perfect analogy—and it’s double-ended.
The spring run gets all the juice in the reports and online banter, but if you look at the geography of the east end of the Big Ditch and how the land on either side of it seems to gently encourage (funnel) anything moving in a generally southerly direction into that end of the Canal, it’s easy to see how so many fish end up back in there on their return trip. Following the reports on TheFisherman.Com will give you a pretty good idea how just how many fish move through there during the fall run. In 2022 the run seemed to begin in mid-September and quickly ballooned into some amazing fishing from Plymouth, MA (yes, the Pilgrim one) all the way down to the Canal and beyond. There were reports of large striped bass in the Canal from 40 to 53 inches every week from Red Top, Canal Bait and Maco’s starting then and continuing right into the second week of November. Something that might really blow your mind is that there was a strong run of fish into the high 20-pound class that cleared the Canal during the final days of November in 2021, even if those fish made a direct beeline for Sandy Hook it would have been at least a week before they arrived.
Rhode Island Flows
“Rocky Little Rhody” as it is sometimes called by people who like to say cute things in anticipation of obligatory smiles and rolling eyes, packs an immense number of areas of intense water exchange into a comparatively small shoreline. Narragansett Bay empties and fills through three massive openings, then there is the Narrow River, the Harbor of Refuge, the three breachways and then the confluence of Block Island Sound and Fishers Island Sound at Nappatree Point; these heavy flows are choked with bait and set up too many rips to count along the way. Each of these flows and the many prominent points in between, act as obstacles to the migration and become checkpoints for striper activity when the migration peaks in Rhode Island.
This year, the breachways have stayed hot for entire months of September and October and there has been no sign of it slowing down as we’ve crossed over into November. This year has brought many waves of 20- to 28-pound fish along the Rhody shoreline, with so many slot fish in between that it has felt like the old days at times. There have also been some impressive fish taken, including several 40’s and a few 50’s caught day and night. Since late-October, the biggest fish have been topping out in the upper 30s with the heaviest November surf fish I have heard of going 37 pounds.
Even during slower, colder seasons, there are slot-sized bass around the breachways into early December, on the warmer, crazier years, they have been known to stay until Christmas.
Connecticut is known for its three major waterways, the Thames, Connecticut and Housatonic rivers. Each of these rivers empties into Long Island Sound and holds a holdover population of striped bass. So it should come as no surprise that these waters and the areas adjacent to them hold some late-running stripers. It might be true that the bulk of the bass that are still swimming in Long Island Sound during November and December are destined for one of the rivers or will travel through the East River and up into the Hudson. But there is still something anglers fishing further south can take from this.
The mouths of these rivers see action well into December and, while many of these fish are on the smaller side, there are also some monsters in the mix that are caught by anglers in the know when most normal people are wrapping presents for the holidays. These fish are being pulled from waters well below 50 degrees and they are still aggressively crushing darters, plastic swimmers and big soft baits. While water temperature certainly plays a role in ushering the migration along and signaling to resident fish that it is time to leave, there are slow migrators and holdover fish that come through late, but water temps dipping into the 40s do nothing to dampen their appetite or aggression when an opportunity to feed presents itself.
As I sit here writing this, we’re only a third of the way through November and what happens between now and when all you New Jersey surfcasters read this is a mystery. But I know that my friend Jim is still getting slot fish from the surf just a few miles south of the New Hampshire border and that tells me that there will still be some stripers in the Canal on Thanksgiving. If we extrapolate that out for Rhode Island and Montauk, I’m predicting that early to mid-December should still be producing some viable surf catches.
And if we solve for X, you guys and gals in New Jersey just might see one of those magical seasons where a surf striper is a real possibility in February. Of course, all of this could be torpedoed by an extended cold snap or a particularly nasty storm (or worse, multiple storms), but by what I’m seeing up here, you guys should have no reason to hang up the sticks until sometime in early 2023…make the most of it.