Surf: The Upsides Of A Jetty - The Fisherman

Surf: The Upsides Of A Jetty

JETTY
Jetties offer great angling opportunities for the surfcaster. Matt Broderick photo.

The surfcaster’s assumptions about why jetties are productive fishing spots may not be 100% correct.

Jetties are notorious for being highly productive surf and inshore fishing spots. While there are a few different reasons for this, one of the components of jetty productivity is current. Jetties are specifically placed to break up near-shore, parallel-running currents that can erode shorelines and displace sand. Therefore- while they vary in size and design, if you’ve found a jetty you know you’ve identified an area of the shoreline with substantial current.

Whether it’s present all the time, with both tides, or just during storms depends on the location; but at some point those jetties were built to protect the shore from wind sweep or tidal current. Predator fish – especially stripers – will key in on this current, and use it to overwhelm and ambush prey. This is one of the most important factors in jetty productivity.

When it comes to taking advantage of current around jetties, many anglers make a simple mistake. To understand why, we must break down a common preconceived notion. It may sound almost insultingly simple, but as humans, we are very poor swimmers compared to fish. This biases our point of view when it comes to water conditions; rips, waves, and current seem more dramatic to us, than they are to the fish. We assume that swimming in a hard rip line is difficult for a striper, blue, or fluke. However, this is not the case; not really.

Sure, swimming into a strong current like those found in the Cape Cod Canal or at Moriches Inlet can cost a fish some calories, but it’s a lot less than we might think. But regardless, the vast majority of inshore and surf currents are relatively weak and species like striped bass and false albacore have no trouble cutting through them, especially if there is a large calorie reward. Put simply, if the calories of swimming in the current cost less than the caloric reward of a successful hunt, they will endure even the very strongest rips. Especially masters of the current like the striper.

Since jetties are designed to break up current, they will have a high-pressure or up-current side, and a low-pressure, down-current side. For example, if the current is coming from left to right, the left side of the jetty will be the high-pressure or up-current side. This is where the jetty is breaking up the current. The opposite is true for the right side, which is on the down-current, low-pressure side. Which side is which (high or low) typically comes down to the tide or wind direction. Which tide moves the water in which direction depends on where you are located, and not all shorelines experience similar current in both directions under both tides.

Since many anglers have the bias that fish need to “hide” or “escape” from current, they typically target the low-pressure, down current side of a jetty. Using the example above, this would be the right side of the jetty. The low pressure side is often the easier side to fish, as current doesn’t sweep the bait or lure into the rocks, and it is often much calmer. But easy doesn’t mean good…the low-pressure side is often a desert, and typically won’t produce the best fishing. There simply isn’t a whole lot of food on that side, because it’s all eventually getting pulled away by the lateral current moving along the shore. Instead, species like stripers and tautog like to sit on the higher pressure side, where the current is pushing bait right up against the rocks. These predators then pin bait against the rocks, use the current to capture the confused prey as it’s pushed to shore or around the tip, or even feed on prey as it’s pushed into the rocks.

While there are times the down-current side can produce, like in big storms or extreme tides, fishing the up-current side of the jetty is likely your best bet for a huge majority of inshore species in the Northeast (and beyond). Avoid the temptation of the calm and placid waters on the down-current side, and remember that easy doesn’t always mean best. Finally, identifying which side of the jetty gets the most current can be important too, often a specific wind and tide will work together to create special high-current condition on just one side. Figuring this out, and fishing it every chance you get, can be the secret to unlocking a jetty’s true potential.

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