Yes, here we are, near the end of July already. I consider the surf fishing season- and really the entire fishing season regardless of salt or fresh- to be built around a three-phase system. The first, for me, starts sometime in very late April (I’m now focusing on salt for the rest of the discussion) and is broken up into part 1a- late April to mid/late May- and part 1b- late May until the very beginning of July. That’s the spring run, essentially, in my mind. My thought process remains pretty steady during this entire period, and I religiously hit the same reliable spots throughout the period. It’s both an anxious and exciting period. This is typically when I catch my biggest fish of the season, and I feel a lot of pressure to put in immense amounts of highly focused time. Grinding, sure, but also super, hyper nuanced fishing; tide stages that last 15-minutes, wind strengths that go from “irrelevant” to “critical” in 5-knots, and a lot of crunching past and present data. As the years have passed, I find myself straying less during this time, and in the last few years, have started to fall on just a “few” hyper-reliable patterns. This usually seems to work out best.
This season not so much. I am always and forever honest about my fishing, and I will tell you right now: you- you reading this- very likely out fished me this spring, particularly through May and most of June. There was terrible luck, there were life events, there was some branching out and doubling down on a “has to be good” new-ish spot, and there were plenty of mistakes. Probably some stupidity, and definitely too much stubborn-ness. I’ll probably mark this as one of my worst “part ones” ever going forward; I say “probably” because I fear the fishery is in serious trouble and we may be looking at even leaner years. [side bar] Be careful releasing those fish! Consider imposing a personal moratorium on keeping any fish for a few more years, until we see where the slot is taking us. Consider going without a rear hook: video one, video two. Spread conservation everywhere and anywhere you can. Think about this: why are stripers so abused- released SO poorly, kept for photos and then just dumped in dumpsters, kicked and thrown, hooks ripped out without regard for the fish, etc.- yet fish like wild brook trout, tarpon, bonefish, and steelhead are treated with such kindness and reverence? What makes them any better? Do you seriously think they are any better than the striper? I know some of you probably knee-jerk with “yes they are”, but why? Really think about how perception, social cues, and peer pressure and bias has lead us to disregard the striper as less, and other species as more. I just don’t understand why we don’t worship the striper like the tarpon. And I fear one day we might, when it’s too late, and they’re like the winter flounder of Long Island, or even worse, the Cod of Massachusetts.
Don’t get annoyed at tiny stripers; treat them even more gently than giants. I see too many anglers just throwing small fish back- literally throwing- and tearing huge holes in their mouths. I treat all the little guys like the babies they are: gingerly, gently, and with care. We need them now, more than ever. [end side bar]
Anyways, there were a couple bright spots at the very tail end of phase one of the 2021 season for me. I did get a nice fish (at the very last opportunity, on the very last moon of phase one, at one of my favorite spots) and had a couple of incredible nights on the cape. Truly incredible, which will have to be detailed some other time. Yet, I will tease; we ultimately decided to measure the nights by the thousands of pounds.
Now, we’re in phase two of the season. This is often the toughest in New England, but also can be the most consistent in some places, for all sizes. This phase, for me, runs from early July (after the first moon, basically) until the very end August, or sometimes the beginning of September- which I suspect it might this year based on the moons.
I can’t believe we’re here already! After a nice escape to a lake in Maine last week, I’m now playing catch up and planning the next six-weeks. It feels far too short, and I almost feel overwhelmed! It’s time to triage, prioritize, and make sure I’m getting out and having the experiences I think are the most rewarding (and catch the fish I want to catch) before it’s too late. I think you should be doing the same. I’m not saying you have to build a calendar and predestine yourself to anything, but rather I think this is a time to sit down and analyze what has happened, and what you want to happen, for the rest of the season. Evaluate goals, change them, or let them go. Be intentional with your fishing (and your life), and with such short period upon us- really, six weeks- you don’t want to miss anything because you’ve been flying by the seat of your pants, or not taking the time to reflect. Again, I’m not saying you have to put anything in stone, but rather just think about what you’d like to happen for the rest of the summer. Then, go out and get it.
There are lots of great things to look forward to this time of year. One of them for me, is I find fly fishing during July and August to be extremely rewarding. I have one of my best fly fish ever during the late-July moon (where we are now in, as of this writing), and it seems every year I get a couple nights in July in August where I catch dozens of fish one after the other for as long as I care to catch them. Actually, 2015 the entire month of July it seemed to go that way. And in 2019, I had 3 nights where I caught way, way over 100 on my fly rod to 15-pounds or so. To the point I just took the rest of the week off, despite the tide continuing- and I’m sure I could have caught another 100. But I was satiated, and used the opportunity to get out in my kayak, instead.
So, this week, I’ll be out whipping small bait fish patterns. I find that moderately sized (10-20-pound) stripers really get pushed out of bays, rivers, and estuaries by warming temperatures and cruise the surf this time of year- late July. They will go back up inside these places with the incoming tide, but generally hang around nearby. Why? Well I think it’s because the bait is there, it’s getting close to “gorging size” or “blitzing size” and the fish know it. But it’s just not worth it yet to chase up inside, and it’s too hot. So they wait for stray individuals or schools to get pushed out, and also- I think- stay in the area waiting until they can crash the bait during cooler periods.
And some current information for you, to go along with this: I was on the backside of the cape this weekend, and I saw IMMENSE clouds of peanut bunker in the ¼” to ¾” size (pictured here) with two- to three-inch herring mixed in, and even smaller bait I’m assuming were baby sand eels. They were just being hammered by miniature stripers- 15-18” long- and it was fun to just watch. Trust me when I say, given the right patterns and tides, there will be bigger “slot” fish mixed in there soon. And in another three weeks, those peanuts will be big enough to attract all kinds of attention from bass of all sizes.
Also, there are a few places I fish this time of year that produce truly gigantic fish. It’s no secret that many trophy hunters from Long Island to Maine think August is the best month of the year for a really, really big fish. It takes dedication, grinding, planning, and often eels or bait, but this period is a great time to potentially nail a giant-GIANT resident. I make no pretenses about it being easy, nor about my willingness or ability to do this. I burn out this time of year, every year, no matter how hard I try. Friends and family start nagging me to come back to the real world for a few weeks. I also get twinges of anxiety about my health- both fitness and sleeping. It’s a time to just take a breath for me, and an accounting of how things have been going, what I’ve been missing, and what I want going forward. That, and I won’t fish eels, don’t fish bait, and am totally “ok” with catching smaller fish for a little while. I wouldn’t say I throttle back exactly, or “accept” catching schoolies; I’m not someone who says “I enjoy catching fish of all sizes”- because I don’t. But if I am out with my fly rod and I get into some 25-inch fish, I’m also probably not going to move until I get a dozen, hoping I’ll tag an exceptional 35-incher. Or whatever. I hope you get my point. I take the tides how they come, and save my energy for September- my favorite month in the surf (f$*k you May, no more are you my favorite!). But if you DO want a giant, I’d be out there giving it my all during the moons of August, slinging snakes into cooler, deeper water, where big baits live.
What am I even saying in this post? I’ve lost the thread.
Oh, right. Phases.
Finally, phase three is actually broken up into three parts: 3a- from the very end of August until at least mid/late September (typically the second moon), 3b- from mid/late September until Mid-October (typically the second moon), and finally 3c- which is the rest of the season, sometimes extending into the first moon of December, but typically the second moon of November. That’s the fall run; though I would argue part 3c is something different. More of a local-resident, holdover time. I don’t think a lot of the fish I catch during that period migrate any further; they either drop into a river or estuary, or they go off shore. Not sure I can exactly prove this, but believe it.
Yuck. Let’s not discuss phase three yet. Often a disappointment these days, typically a bit depressing for me (who really wants an off season?), and a ton of miles to cover and physical exhaustion.
I’m going to go stand on the deck instead, in 88-degrees and bright sunshine, and just live in phase two for a while.
I just can’t seem to get ahead on these updates! Most magazines already have August editions on the shelves, but here goes. Not as much going on for me this month, but definitely some updates.
First and foremost, my first edition as editor of Surfcasters Journal is now live. I really see this only as the beginning. However, I’m already thrilled to be working with some incredible authors and fisherman, and be pulling in new and fresh perspectives. Further, I’ve started an “editors log” which I’m calling the Slack Tide Brief. These will be short (this one was the longest it’ll ever be) ruminations, stories, imaginative, illustrative, and poetic pieces that come to me during the interim between editions. I hope they’re a fun, “life style” addition to the magazine. You can also find my photography scattered throughout the magazine, in a bunch of the other author’s articles. Wondering if you can spot it? We are going to make some more additions to the magazine soon, and I have some fun ideas I think all the readers will appreciate. Stay tuned for that, and if you have suggestions, comments, or questions, you know how to get me!
Next up, I have a few things that have run in The Fisherman.
First up, a short article about using an eel pouch for a fly fishing surf pouch. Those who were in my seminar series will have already seen this, but I think it’s a pretty unique take, and mirrors my own unique philosophies about surf fly fishing in general.
Next, another fly rod article, this time in freshwater. I’ve actually been freshwater bass fly-rodding a lot this year, particularly for smallmouth. More so than in the last couple. I haven’t been out much for largemouth in the last six-weeks, but I was actually just telling my wife that in August I need to make an effort to get out at night with the eight-weight and try and put a 6+ in the kayak. Night time is the right time this time of year, and I can’t stress enough how incredibly effective poppers are at night.
ANYWAYS, this article is actually about using grasshopper patterns to trick fussy bass during the dog days of summer. It’s such a fun, rewarding, sight fishery that is incredibly accessible- yet totally underutilized. Get some of my quick thoughts in this short article.
That actually might be it- I hope I didn’t miss anything. A rare month off for me with On The Water, and I’m currently waiting on acceptance letters from a few other places. It has been a rollercoaster last couple of months, and I’m looking forward to a 4 week stretch with no traveling. I haven’t been home for more than a week since May 10! But that’s how you create content, and my photography this summer has been really on the upswing, even if the fishing season has been lack luster. So, we’ll see where that all lands. I’m feeling so positive about where this is all going!
Finally, I’m already starting to formulate the 2022 Surf Scenarios seminar series. It’s definitely going to be shorter- likely 10 sessions- and will combine a few of the topics into one, but I think the individual sessions will retain their full length- and replay status. I am very strongly considering a “surfcasting 102” stand-alone as well, maybe two sessions, for beginner surfcasters who have been at this less than a couple seasons and want the real nuts-and-bolts without as much detail and nuance (from fish behavior to basics of fishing at night to boiling down gear to just the essentials, etc.) Spread the word!