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Forget the leaves, go find the fish

Fall fishing provides a good opportunity for bass and bluefish, regardless of the time of day

Maybe the first leaves are starting to fall in the yard, maybe the grass needs attention one more time or maybe other chores call on a beautiful Saturday morning. But if you’re a boat owner and fisherman, now is the time to take advantage of cooler weather and some excellent opportunities. The season is drawing to a close, so it’s wise to choose boating and leave the home chores to when it’s windy and gray.

Many would love to catch a bright, beautiful, striped bass, but getting up before dawn turns off potential anglers. This time of year, however, the fish can be caught at any time during the day due to the fact they are migrating south and fattening up on the way, much like humans stop for gas and munchies on the interstate. As they feed and fuel up, they often chase baitfish to the surface where the terrified prey scatters this way and that, attracting the attention of terns and gulls and calling in fishermen in the immediate area.

This surface feeding can happen from daybreak to sunset but it’s especially common on fall mornings when it’s possible to cruise along a beachfront, or perhaps just off the tips of jetties or out beyond the surf, looking for birds wheeling and diving, alerting one to possibilities ahead.

When bass and bluefish feed in this manner they are often easy to fool with spinning lures cast into their midst. The wise boat handler, though, doesn’t power right through the birds, instead he slowly motors upwind or -tide, cuts the engine then drifts back within casting distance of the birds or the splashes from the surface feeding.

A popping plug on a light, spinning rod is fun galore; you see the hit or watch, heart jumping, as bass make several attacks until they get their prey. Any kids aboard will love this type of fast action. Just make sure you watch as they hurriedly cast for another shot at the fish that they don’t hook someone behind them.

If fish continually miss the plug, swirling behind it but never catching it, slow down the retrieve. Often the sight of surface feeding pumps up people as well as fish causing some to reel at Mach 1 when speeds a smidgen slower are in order.

While surface-feeding fish can pop up any place on the oceanfront or Sound, one location to be attentive to is a tide rip, a spot where the current runs up an underwater hill with the resulting rip water giving the presence away of the high spot on the bottom. Sometimes bass and blues will feed on top in the rip when the tide runs hard, but more often at slack current or as currents ease near the end of the tidal cycle. If the rip face runs for several miles, flocks of gulls will again give away the presence of hungry bass or blues.

Some mornings you drift right through the rip, your guests casting off either side as you go. When the hits stop, crank the boat up and run back up tide to make another drift that takes you back over the same spot. You can also stem the tide by holding your engine in gear with enough rpm to hold the stern away from the rip face. As you handle the boat this way, have people cast into the rip. While you are busy with steering, it will probably be necessary to have someone else take off the fish if your people are new to the sport. A thrashing bluefish with a plug’s treble hooks in its face could be trouble if an inexperienced, excitable child grabs for his or her prize.

Besides popping plugs, other top lures for casting are all the plastic shads or bucktails on the market. They mimic the size of the bait the fish are feeding on and are much easier to unhook thanks to their single hooks. The drawback to them, especially the plastic lures, is you get one bluefish per lure; their sharp teeth bite right through, cleanly severing tail from the body. Many people don’t mind this given the low cost and productivity of many of these killers, which are so lifelike they often resemble a photographic copy of a particular baitfish.

While surface feeding can go on all day, it’s possible bass and blues will go deep as the sun climbs higher. If you had great fishing just after 8 a.m., you might find yourself looking at a calm sea by noon, birds scattered, fish in the depths until perhaps later in the afternoon or just at sunset when they traditionally feed again before dark.

If that’s the situation, and the day is just too perfect to head home, switch to a Plan B. At this time of year, blues often hold over offshore lumps, bunched in schools, feeding deep, catchable with a diamond jig. Diamonds are for sale at most coastal tackle shops. You fish with one by tying on the end of a conventional rod, dropping it down. When it hits bottom, put reel in gear and crank fast about one-third of the way to the surface. If you don’t get a hit, take the reel out of gear and repeat the procedure. This method works best when fish are stacked up on some type of structure or a school of bait. Hint: If you find birds working the surface of the water but don’t see any surface feeding, check your fishfinder for marks on or near the bottom. If you do, drop a jig and be ready for when that 12-pound bluefish turns tail and runs for cover.

You might also take your guests out for some noontime sea bass after a morning spent chasing surfacing stripers. Sea bass set up housekeeping around wrecks, rocks and other hard structures. Perhaps your friend in the slip next to you might part with the bearings to such a place when you tell him you have company coming in from the Midwest that want a memorable day on the water.

Two-hook sea bass rigs and sinkers to get to the bottom are on sale at most coastal tackle shops. Buy a couple and head over to the number your friend so kindly gave you. You can drift over the spot after running upwind or -tide, giving your people enough time to drop their rigs to the bottom prior to reaching the whatever. Sea bass eat a variety of food, including strips of frozen squid also available with rigs and weights in the shops.

One secret to catching a few more sea bass than the next guy is arriving at the wreck just before slack tide. Sea bass bite best during that time and then into the slack water, and possibly the first hour of the next tide. Such feeding habits are especially helpful if your spot is in somewhat deeper water. Fishing in 85 to 90 feet, often prime depth for sea bass in southern New England, is easier with tide going less than 1 knot than with moon current charging along better than 3 knots.

With our fickle fall winds, take advantage of any calm days the Good Lord or the luck of the draw sends your way. The boat will soon be in winter hibernation, your shiny second love silent until spring finally arrives, another New England winter on shore. With that layover in the back of all our minds, enjoy good fortune when it comes your way. If your next day free provides calm seas, leave the leaves; go looking for stripers feeding on the surface.