Summertime is the right time for fishing in the wee hours, when seas are calm and fish are hungry
It's that time of year for cranking up the air conditioning on the way home from another hot afternoon commute - with more of the same tomorrow. That means it's also time to concentrate your fishing for stripers and blues on dawn, dusk and into the dark of night.
This is the time of year when bass often feed best after dark and the sea conditions are typically more comfortable.
Instead of another steamy day out without a Bimini or T-top, you leave the marina or launch ramp in the cool of the evening, heading to Spot X after the afternoon sea breeze has died away, leaving flat water and (hopefully) waiting bass.
At the height of the summer stickies, the "evening bite" may not start until full dark, maybe around 9:15 p.m. or so, after the last light leaves the western sky.
Boats all up and down the Northeast are on the prowl on those calm nights, heading for places like the ends of the New Jersey jetties to cast eels or lures into what's left of the rock piles after beach replenishment work. Further north, you have all manner of rocky points on both sides of Long Island Sound, ditto for the north and south side of Fishers Island, all of Block Island, the rocky reaches from Little Compton through Westport, all along the Elizabeth Islands, famed locations like Cuttyhunk and Naushon to name a few. The list is extensive.
Ready to cast
Some arrive just before dark, anchor up in a productive spot where bass move through at certain stages of the tide. Once on station, they cast live eels into the rocks and, maybe with a second rod, toss a chunk over the seaward side of the boat, letting that fish in deeper water on the bottom. This technique is used effectively around Wilderness Point on Fishers; the entrance to Dorries Cove on the west side of Block Island; the famed Clubhouse on Cuttyhunk; and the north side of Plum Island.
If the wind is light, as it often is after dark during the height of summer, you have the option of letting the current pull your boat along. The best drift is parallel to the shore, letting you toss a live eel or plastic bait into the rocks and marking a spot when you get a fish or double up. Come back for another drift, but don't run over the fish. Go around in a shallow half-circle, moving in for a second drift up-current of the hot spot. Too much motor noise will cut the bite or turn the fish skittish.
Some of my peers turn up their nose at night fishing along a rocky beach during the full moon, saying the brightness turns off the fish. My experiences on the south side of Fishers Island are the opposite. We've had great times - sometimes 10 to 20 fish per tide, often before 1 a.m., with sizes up to 30 pounds on light spin rods with 12-pound mono or 30-pound braid. We also have memories of hooking larger fish on occasion that run off a lot of line only to find a sharp rock to cut the connection.
The bright night also makes it easier to run home in the wee hours, seeing the pot buoys and all necessary lights and landmarks. If you don't have a plotter on board that shows the track of your vessel, you can, through experience, get a range of certain lights. For instance, running into Fishers Island Sound from the west, north of the Dumplings, one lines up a red and green light to the east of Groton Long Point. Once aligned, you turn to the north and your path to the blinker at the mouth of the Mystic River near Noank Shipyard is clearly "marked" for you.
I find something exceedingly satisfying about returning to an empty marina at 2 a.m. and unloading gear and some fish for the table or donation to a shelter in these hard economic times. After hosing down the boat, I own the world, so to speak, as I head home without summer traffic to quiet sleep with the air conditioning humming away. Life is good.
The early shift
On the other end of our dusk-to-dawn cycle is the man who arrives long before the east sky turns pink, his face well known at the all-night coffee stop. He is at the boat in plenty of time, maybe with the faithful fish hound in tow. The ride down the river is punctuated only by a silence one drinks in like water in a desert, a moment of peace in otherwise go-go lives.
The best action will go to those ready to cast when the sky first changes from dark to light. That may mean leaving the house before 2 a.m. to make it over to Point Bass by a little after 4 a.m.; lines in the water thereafter, ready for a hit on the first toss.
Unlike our counterpart at dusk, fish are usually primed and ready to bite. It may only last an hour or so, maybe longer on a cloudy day, but once the sun arrives above the horizon, the summer bite stops (unless you have some live bait, but that's for another column).
Every marina along the Northeast probably has one or two Sunrise Sals or Sams - up with the owls every morning, fishing for an hour or two, back for boat cleanup, maybe some new tackle, then off to the coffee shop for the paper and a large coffee, light with two sugars. Or it could be a younger person just getting in a few hours before heading back to his landscaping business or to open his small shop, ready with stories of his blue or 40-inch bass for his first customers of the day.
Want to make your doctor or barber smile? Ask him or her about the picture of the big fish on the wall of his office.
Fishing and boating sparks many lives, easily seen if you look a bit, all fueled by being able to get out to the fishing grounds when the time is right.
Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for most of his life. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine's New England edition and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.
This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue.
Tim Coleman died May 3, in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do best at that time of year: scouting the salt ponds and outer beaches for spring striped bass. He was an exceptional saltwater angler and a prolific writer. Thousands of readers lost an advocate and authentic storyteller for fishing in the Northeast, and anyone fortunate to have known Tim lost a good friend.