The span between summer and fall fishing as seasons begin to change is an exciting time for surfcasters.
Our area is gifted with an annual change of seasons, each with its own personality. Making the transition from summer fishing over to that found during the fall migratory run is an annual test of adaptability and skill. Weather conditions become increasingly more unpredictable and uncomfortable during that time span, while the species in the mix is also changing. During this particular evolution your gear, tactics, and methodology need to adjust as well.
Fluke top the summer menu; scattered blues and an occasional bass are bonus possibilities. Summer surf expectations are decidedly modest, especially during the summer doldrums. Given all these circumstances, those who downsize their gear to best present their lures and bait to mostly smaller fish have the most luck – and enjoyment. Going light is a true delight when tackling fluke, kingfish, or one of the other smaller species around during the warm water months.
Summer surf gear might often be used for freshwater fishing – lightweight, yet strong. Rods between 6 and 9 feet fit the bill; no need for your reels to have long-cast or fast-retrieve capabilities; compact reels spooled with 10- to 12-pound test mono or equivalent braid are a nice match. Live killies used to be the summer surf standard when targeting fluke but artificial baits like the Gulp! Swimming Mullet and other soft plastic lures catch just as many fish – with fewer complications.
A Time For Change
The span between summer and fall – September to around mid-October – as the seasons begin to change is an exciting time for surfcasters. Many of those summer species are still around, and gobbling up as much nourishment as possible for their moves elsewhere. Southern speedsters like false albacore, bonito, and Spanish mackerel move into the warm surf where they feast on the vast schools of small baitfish starting to move out along the oceanfront.
Bluefish love to get in on this baitfish buffet as well, and there are even some early flourishes of striped bass to spice up the menu. The fish instinctively sense the changing weather and their need to prepare for their migrations elsewhere. Surf anglers need to make the adjustments – in tackle, technique, and clothing – to manage both the weather and how they work the surf.
You also should be flexible during this in-between time in regards to your fishing tackle. I like to hedge my bets at this time of the year, bringing two rod and reel combos with me on to a shoreline. One is similar to those that I use during the summer months: a short and light action rod teamed with a lightweight reel – it’s great for tossing buck tails and soft plastics. The other is a 10-foot surf stick matched with a long-cast, high-speed retrieve reel, perfect for reaching southern speedsters feeding far off the beach, and capable of retrieving small metal lures at blazing speed.
Adapt For Fall
Fall surf fishing is tough because Mother Nature often throws high winds, cold air, and even rough seas our way on a regular basis. However, if you fish the surf in previous months then you have prepped yourself physically and mentally for the end-of-season challenges. First off, your body should be conditioned to walk long distances in the sand (unless of course you’ve got your buggy permits in order!) and to cast-and-retrieve for hours on end; your mind should be tuned into which species are running and which techniques are catching fish.
Going heavier in regards to your fall gear is a must. Your primary target is going to be striped bass so your rod and reel combo have to be up to the task. Using a surf rod between 8 and 9 feet often fits the bill; reels rugged enough to handle a potential monster are preferable. Reels need not have the long-cast or high-speed retrieve capabilities needed earlier since most of the bass encountered will be in relatively close to the beach and respond best to slow retrieve speeds.
Your surf bag has to evolve as the season unfolds. Stock your bag with the plugs, metal lures, and soft plastics that best match the hatch. Experiment with a variety of lures: types, sizes, profiles, and colors. Always use a teaser rig so you can present two different profiles on each cast. I like to fish the fall surf with two rods when I fish dawn or dusk: one with a black teaser for low-light and night fishing, the other with a white teaser for when the light is up. Snaps make changing lures easy when cold weather numbs your fingers.
Fishing for small species during the summer is both relaxing and fun. However, weather and situational variables change the fishing dynamics with each passing month thereafter. Weather conditions affect the clothing equation significantly; you cannot fish effectively if you cannot be comfortable personally. Your rods, reels, gear, and tactics all need to reflect the species currently in the crosshairs and the conditions under which they will be encountered. Adapt, or stay home.