Our inshore and offshore waters come alive during late summer with a variety of transient gamefish.
August is one of the most interesting months on the annual fishing calendar for mid-Atlantic and northeast coastal anglers. As tropical Gulfstream warm core eddies and filaments get blown inshore, the hitchhikers who ride this warm water current from down south usually follow the path of least resistance and venture into offshore, near-offshore and coastal waters off the Jersey coast, the south shore of Long Island and southern New England waters. While here, these exotic gamefish pursue forage and establish temporary residency in some of the local areas near reefs, wrecks, rock piles, inlets and fathom curves. Both inshore and offshore anglers benefit from these out-of-towners who are transients that are just passing through. The action can last throughout the month of August and well into September, before the tropical storm season takes hold and makes life miserable for all coastal residents, both anglers and fish. Let’s take a closer look at what you might expect to see in your coastal waters as the calendar’s page turns to August.
The existence of and the ability to locate warm core eddies and their spin-offs in local, near offshore and canyon waters is something that separates those crews that are bending rods from those other crews who are reading about it in the weekly report section. Finding these clean Gulfstream warm core eddies near the edge of the continental shelf and breakaway filaments that filter inshore during the mid-summer months can really change your fishing karma. These desirable waters can frequently harbor migrating pelagics, making for memorable fishing trips. Not finding this water can lead to a frustrating and expensive day of doing nothing but wasting fuel, bait, time and opportunity.
A while back, I interviewed Dr. Mitch Roffer, the founder of Miami-based ROFF’s Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service, and he said it best. According to Dr. Mitch, “A warm core eddy is formed by a ‘severe meander’ in the Gulfstream, which typically flows from the southwest to the northeast anywhere from a few miles (southern FL) to a few hundred miles (southeast of NY) offshore of the eastern USA’s Atlantic seaboard. This meander creates a loop in the momentum of the circulation of the Gulfstream, causing the lower right hand side of the flow (at the 4 o’clock position or southwest corner) to get pulled into the lower left hand side (at the 8 o’clock position or southeast corner). This forms a closed circulation loop that breaks away from the Gulfstream and creates its own distinct ‘pinch-off eddy’ with a life of its own. These warm core eddies tend to flow in a clockwise rotation, but actually drift from the northeast to the southwest (opposite the flow of the Gulfstream on its northwestern margin) due to local winds and currents in shelf waters. They tend to form anywhere from Georges Banks and then flow west southwest down to Wilmington and Baltimore canyons. As the warm core eddies approach Norfolk Canyon or its nearby environs, they tend to reabsorb back into the Gulfstream and the process starts all over again. This entire process of separating from the Gulfstream (that process takes about a week) and then ‘meandering’ through 500, 200, 100 and 50-fathom shelf waters could take a few months, once again depending on local conditions influenced by wind, currents, storms, etc.”
“If a pinch-off warm core eddy forms in deep water (1,000-fathoms or greater) it does not interact with the bottom structure and can move west-southwest fairly fast. When warm core eddies come further inshore and interact with the 200 or 100-fathom curve areas, the cuts and valleys of the submarine canyons and continental shelf can slow down and/or stall these eddies. This scenario can create distinct target areas of opportunity for bluewater anglers up and down the Northeast Atlantic Coast and provide excellent start-off spots to begin sportfishing pursuits.”
Filaments or isolated strands of the warm core eddy can also break free from a stalled loop further offshore and can venture far inshore into 15-to-20 fathom shelf waters, creating some exceptional pelagic gamefish opportunities for near offshore anglers less than an hour’s run from most coastal inlets. The transport factor and useful life of these smaller pools of Gulfstream water is highly variable and depends on the interaction of this water with the continental shelf, local currents and winds.
Although warm core eddies can form year round, it’s the timing of Gulfstream eddy formation that coincides with typical pelagic gamefish migration patterns that is the “real” science of being in the “right place at the right time,” the nirvana that all offshore anglers seek. A warm core eddy that breaks off from the Gulfstream in March or early April might be as Dr. Mitch so aptly put it, “like a train heading to its destination with no passengers onboard” and not likely to have a lot of pelagics in the mix. However, a pinch-off eddy that forms up in the middle of April, May or early June can be a totally different story altogether, since it now dovetails with typical pelagic migration patterns (more passengers on the train). The eddies or breakaway filaments that reach 50-to-100 fathom waters early in the season can be ripe with bluefin, makos, blue sharks, white marlin, dorado and other pelagics that use the Gulfstream to hitch a ride north in their oceanic travels. As the season progresses, warm core eddies that are birthed in June, July and August bring with them yellowfins, bigeyes, swordfish, blue marlin, wahoo, dorado and tropical sharks. These pelagics make the Northeast canyons come alive for most of the summer and fall months and in a good year, these pelagics venture further inshore to create memorable experiences for near offshore anglers.
The key to tracking and identifying the location and movement of these inshore and near offshore warm core filaments is to have an annual subscription to one of the satellite sea temp services. You can track the daily movements of these eddies and stay on top of the best places to start your day, saving both time and fuel in the process. Look for the edges of radical temperature breaks that might vary from a half-degree to 3 or 4 degrees or more, depending on the types of water that are colliding and the time of the season. Finding an attractive temperature break over structure like a fathom curve, shipwreck, rock pile or reef makes it even more inviting and opens up a variety of angling possibilities. The Fisherman’s weekly reports section usually offers some indication as to when these exotics start to show up in local waters, but remember, time is fleeting and they’re here for only a relatively short time period. Be prepared for a quick change of plans if the summertime potpourri is on your angling menu.
August brings a wealth of tropical transients inshore. Some of these include, but are not limited to, triggerfish; scad mackerel; black drum; various jacks and blue runners; cow nose rays; pup brown sharks, threshers and makos; tinker mackerel; Spanish mackerel; cobia; sheepshead and the occasional king mackerel. Most of these fish will respond to a variety of bait and artificials.
Near Offshore Action
Some of August’s inshore visitors will work their way into near offshore 15-to-25 fathom areas. These gamesters include the small makos, threshers and brownies, jacks, cobia and blue runners (especially around sea buoys and lobster pot markers) mentioned above. However, this list expands significantly when you add mahi, white marlin, yellowfin and wahoo to the mix, with all four of these offering a quality, first-class gamefish experience. Although rare, sailfish and barracuda have visited our waters in the past. Any flotsam, jetsam, lobster pot buoy, weed line and/or floating pallet that you come across should definitely get a second look and someone from your crew should be fan-casting a bucktail or popping plug near these fish aggregating structures.
Exotics Near The Edge
Many of the near-offshore species make their way further offshore, but August usually brings a diverse potpourri of canyon-only residents, which include blue marlin, minibus-sized grander makos, swordfish, bigeye tuna and longfin albacore. Most of this fishery is either trolling or chunking, but there are always sight casting opportunities if you are ready for them when they pop-up. The lobster pot buoys and high-flyers that dot the edge of the shelf and the defined canyon areas are typically loaded with sea life, so don’t pass them up. Other residents of the edge down at the bottom during August include golden tilefish, wreckfish (snowy grouper), barrelfish, hake and others.
Tackle For The Moment
Your tackle choice of rod and reel will vary, depending on whether you are inshore, near offshore, or at the edge of the shelf and into the deep. It’s always a good idea to have a pair of jigging rods ready to go, along with a spinner, rigged with an oversized swimming plug or surface popper. Summertime exotics are frequently targets of fleeting opportunity, so if something suddenly pops up within casting or chase distance from your boat, you don’t want to be fumbling through the depths of your tackle box or carry bags looking for a lure, swivel, jig, or whatever. You need to have your outfits of choice rigged, stowed in a rod rack and ready to go for immediate deployment.
For inshore duties, heavy duty baitcasters like the legacy Penn 955/965/975 Internationals; Shimano Calcutta 300-400; Abu-Garcia Ambassador or Revo Beast; and the Daiwa Millionaire or Lexa models are a great choice. These relatively lightweight and smooth-as-silk reels can cast like a dream, offer an acceptable retrieve ratio, can bounce jigs off the bottom or work them through the mid-water column, plus retrieve a swimming plug or surface popper time and again with relative ease. And the good news is that you don’t have to worry about laying the line on your reel with your thumb like a metronome. The auto levelwinds on these baitcasters will do the job for you, so you can concentrate on your retrieve and make your lure or jig looks as sexy as possible to a passing gamefish. If you’re a spinning reel fan, your choices of reels are almost off the charts, but for inshore work, 3500, 4000 and 4500-series spinners should have plenty of muscle to tangle with the toughest of denizens, even a passing 35-to-40-pound cobia. Once again, the usual suspects like Penn, Shimano, Daiwa, Van Staal, Okuma, Tsunami and others offer dozens of options for inshore anglers looking to tangle with exotic summertime visitors. Match your favorite baitcaster or spinner to a 6-to-7 foot fast action stick with some backbone and you are in business.
For near offshore work, the same thinking for tackle applies, except that it simply grows one size bigger. The fish (like wahoo, dorado, white marlin, yellowfins, etc.) can be larger with considerably more mass and muscle compared to inshore triggerfish or Spanish mackerel and you might need a bit more line capacity and drag stopping power on your reel. One exception to this is pot hopping, working weed lines or the occasional flotsam for dorado. I have taken mahis up to 35 pounds in the Hudson, Dip and Block canyon areas with my trusty Penn 975 baitcaster and have converted many a doubting Thomas into a true believer over these past decades aboard my MarCeeJay. I was crushed to learn recently that Penn is no longer manufacturing these classic reels, but I own a half dozen 955s/975s and will keep them operational until I can fish no longer. I am looking forward to checking out Penn’s new Squall and Fathom low profile baitcasters which were just introduced as part of this year’s virtual ICAST Show. I spool the 955s up with 30-lb TUF-Line superbraid and the 975s with the 40-pound flavor and connect a 6-foot length of 40-pound Quattro or Berkley ProSpec leader via a Bristol knot to which I tie on a SPRO 1-1/2-ounce Prime Bucktail in either pink or white.
One well-placed cast to surface structure holding mahi and they will typically try to rip the rod out of your hands. The first cast is usually the best cast, so hang on tight. These lightweight outfits punch considerably above their weight class. My anglers have taken canyon yellowfins up to 80 pounds on the proven Penn 975s sight casting to schools on the surface. Sure, it takes a while to bring them to boatside, but the quality of the experience is unparalleled.
Spinning fans who are serious about their work and who recognize the limited opportunity aspect of the August fishery will likely gravitate to top-tier products like the Shimano Stella, Daiwa Saltiga, Penn Torque II, Okuma Makaira, Van Staal VSB250 and the Tsunami Salt-X reels. When heading towards the edge, just get the largest versions of this hardware matched up to a 6-1/2 to 7-1/2 stick that is made for the dual purpose of casting a fair distance (50 to 75 yards) and capable of hauling up heavy hitters from the depths.
If you’re spending most of your time in near-offshore waters or at the edge, trolling and jigging rods are a requisite fact of life. I’ve lightened up my load in recent years, going with smaller-lighter-stronger hardware like the Penn VSX and VISX series “extreme duty” two-speed lever drag reels. Shimano, Daiwa, Avet and Okuma fans will find plenty of alternatives in their latest offerings. Superbraids like PowerPro Maxquarto, Jerry Brown and Western Filament’s TUF-Line are all top shelf candidates to spool these reels, with a typical mono topshot to keep nicks and frays to the braid at a minimum.
August fishing is a total blast. Like Dr. Mitch Roffer quoted earlier, you never know who is going to hitch a ride on those Gulfstream eddies that meander inshore. It’s a multi-level game in that most anglers, inshore, near-offshore and canyon, can get in on the action. You just need to recognize that the opportunities are all around you and be prepared to take advantage of them. Be safe out there and as always, if you have any questions or comments, reach out to me at www.marceejay.com.