October Dynamite: Will The Fuse Light Again? - The Fisherman

October Dynamite: Will The Fuse Light Again?

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David Dzwonkowski caught and released this 44-inch striper in the Monmouth County surf on October 9, 2022 on a 7-inch mullet-colored Hydro Minnow.

New Jersey’s “Beach Talk” reporter offers plug bag advice for an explosive October.   

When old salts talk about the fall striper runs of yesteryear, it wasn’t always November they were referencing, but the months of September and October when striped bass blitzed the beaches at the Jersey Shore.

For the past 25 years or so, overall striper patterns have shifted, with November and early December becoming the prime time for targeting surf stripers.  But last October 2022 was something special, and may foreshadow a few interesting days ahead.

I run the Barrier Island Beach Brawl tournament which fell on Columbus Day weekend, October 7-8, 2022.   Before I even got to the weigh in station to set up shop on the opening day, I was receiving text photos of some quality 15- to 20-pound stripers already being caught in the surf. By the time the day ended, I had received 53 photos of stripers all between 30 and 50 pounds, all released, and those fish were only from the people fishing my tournament. Countless other surfslingers beached hundreds of bass with most released as they were generally over 38 inches long.

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Should jumbo stripers storm the beaches in October, stay armed with items like DT wooden swimmers, the Yo-Zuri mag popper, Savage Gear’s Panic Popper, Island X Sidewinder, RonZ Z-fin, and bucktails like the Andrus bucktail with Gravity Tackle soft bait.

The ’22 Explosion

My log books show that the water temp along the Island Beach stretch was at 72 degrees, way warmer than the low 60-degree water that spark stripers to migrate down the coast from New England. The surf was also a clean blue/green, pretty flat to maybe 1-foot, with a light northwest wind that was preceded by a heavy daily dose of east/northeast wind and swells. There were no real peanut bunker schools around but sporadic thick clouds of bay anchovies as the main baitfish.

KNOW THE LAW!
Striper regulations now call for the slot of one fish from 28 to 31 inches in length.  This change was implemented by an emergency “coastwide” action in May, and upheld by fisheries managers again in August.  Also remember that the law requires all anglers targeting striped bass with any type of natural bait must use an inline circle hook (bait is defined as “any marine or aquatic organism live or dead, whole or parts thereof.”)  Because of that circle hook mandate, it is therefore illegal to snag and drop a bunker. Though anglers have been skirting the line of snagging bunker with a weighted treble and supposedly reeling the bunker in switch to a circle hook, any marine enforcement officer that catches you with a live bunker stuck on a treble hook in the water will ticket you; don’t take the chance.

Starting Friday morning the bass started to hit; then both day and night time anglers were into fish around the clock as bunker chunkers were dialing in fish as were pluggers tossing black swimmers at night and poppers during the day. That initial run of trophy caliber bass was followed by a month of some fairly steady activity with big bass, but it truly exploded the second week of November when all hell broke loose until the end of December when we experienced the largest surf striper run since 1998 according, corroborated by my log books.

There were no real telltale signs of fish blitzing on bait schools, except for a few random adult bunker schools hanging around and the mullet were long gone. The bite only really started that night of October 7 and it lasted basically until around October 10, meaning the wave of fish hit the Barrier Island, then moved southward where the LBI surfcasters played with them for another few days until the continued south and eventually out of NJ waters.

Prepare For October

Was the October run of big bass a sign that the rest of the fall run was to become legendary? November definitely had the bait around with amounts of peanut bunker and adult bunker sticking inside the breakers, the likes of which we haven’t seen for over a decade; but few bait schools around in October made that run of behemoth bass interesting to say the least.

The big stuff got the job done for the October anglers and this year you may want to prepare accordingly. Bunker chunks should rig with fishfinder slide rigs equipped with size 8/0 to 10/0 inline circle hooks. An angler’s plug bag should have an array of larger model lures to toss out. Favorites from last year’s October run were the Savage Gear Panic Popper, Black Bombers, 2- to 3-ounce wooden pencil poppers and metal-lipped swimmers, 2-ounce Kroc spoons, and 1- to 2-ounce bucktails tipped with large slender soft baits.

BUNKER BOUNTY
The latest stock assessment from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) indicates the stock is not overfished, nor is there overfishing occurring.  As per the overall menhaden biomass (dark blue in the chart) appears to be at a 60-year high, which could bode well for another epic fall season along the open beaches as young-of-the year “peanut” bunker come tumbling out of the estuaries.

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Image courtesy of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).

High tide hours ushered the fish inside over the outer bar where they roamed to hit chunk baits and lures, so be sure to line your tides up right, which during the Barrier Island Beach Brawl should be October 6 at 1:53 p.m. to October 7, at 2:49 p.m. this year. Ideal morning high tides where we could see some serious action comes on October 1 at 9:35 a.m. and October 12 at 6:51 a.m. You can plan your trips around those dates to intercept the big bass as they enter the cuts and sloughs during the times of deep water.

That said, don’t forget on times of dead low tides when you’ll be able to wade out on the sandbars to reach outside with casts into the big dip of the Atlantic Ocean. Many frustrating days were had by beach fishermen watching striped bass just outside of casting range, but the low tide hours allow you to really wing out big poppers and metals into the previously “unreachable” schools.

As this is being written, it will be interesting to see if last October’s wild first to second week fishing will repeat, and it’s certainly not out of the question. In New Jersey, we generally see patterns that last for 2 to 4 years and then shift again. That early run of bass would be more than a treat to see repeat. Time will tell once October hits, but my bet is that we’re in for a wild ride.

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