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October can still be a great month afloat

Big fish, bright days, cool nights and boats few and far between are among the joys of fall fishing

Big fish, bright days, cool nights and boats few and far between are among the joys of fall fishing

My friend and I were casting for bass on a reasonably cool night, bundled up a bit against the air, looking up at a bright full moon and a strong tide pushing along the rocks bordering an almost deserted island.

No lights were on as the stately summer houses were vacant, but not so the water. Striped bass after striped bass grabbed our lures as we drifted past, not another soul in sight, east or west, testament to a great month of fishing without the summer crowds.

October doesn’t yet have the chill of late November, with winter knocking at the door and the season soon to end. October is a transition month when you needn’t bundle like a snowman but the air is welcome, especially on those years when we’ve had Indian summer right through September.

Striped bass and blues are migrating along the northeast coast, feeding for the journey south or west into the Hudson River, offering any number of opportunities not present in the summer. It’s very possible to clear the marina or inlet to find fish on top, offering the day’s prospect of unlimbering the spinning rods, watching the swirls behind the poppers as they skitter across the top. No sour looks from bored kids at that time; they only want to land their fish and catch another.

Bottom fishing is good, too, with large porgies or blackfish biting on many of the near-shore wrecks and rockpiles, offering combination trips if desired — stripers and blues early, blackfish later on.

Up in Massachusetts you sometimes catch the last of the bass from Gloucester through the Plymouth shorelines then head to Stellwagen Bank to jig for cod later in the morning if seas are manageable.

Watch the skies

While October provides memories, it can also be a time of trouble. Weather fronts are continually coming and going, necessitating a close watch on the marine winds, which could be indicating something bad fast-approaching.

Several years back we headed over to Montauk Point for an evening of striper trolling on the flood tide in the spot called The Elbow. We were so engrossed in fishing we didn’t notice the freshening northwest wind blowing against the tide until just about dark.

The trip back to Niantic was a slow, wet one — in spite of our deep-vee hull. Never again, I told myself, would I go through that for a few bass. Now I keep a closer eye on the winds, an eager member of the fair-weather fishing association.

It’s prudent to have towing insurance or someone to call if you can’t get the engine started after anchoring up some dark night. You may not be in danger, but the prospect of having to ride out the night right there until daybreak brings people is hardly the best option.

October gives you the solitude some crave in our bottom-line world, but also means you could be on your own in case of trouble.

I have a doctor friend with his own practice. He is the chief healer, decision-maker, etc. He loves striper fishing this month, enjoying the time away from all the phones, problems and having to break some bad medical news to someone first thing on Monday.

He soaks up the quiet like a sponge eager for water, sometimes staying too long, but catching one more bass before reaching the dock after midnight. On more than one trip, tired after a long day on his feet, he would sit down on the seat in front of the center console, casting away, not wanting to loose the moment.

Some of my friends with large boats head out to the edge of the continental shelf this month after carefully checking the forecast for a 60- to 80-mile one-way run, anchoring up then chumming yellowfin, swordfish, mako sharks, hordes of squid and even a wahoo into the beam of their deck and underwater lights.

Sometimes my party boat friends will part with some GPS coordinates where tuna bit two days earlier, those locations a big help to someone who works a shore job, but is driven to see his son beat an 80-pound tuna.

These people have the boats to do the job, but anchoring up on a dark night 80 or more miles from the nearest land isn’t for every one. But then again, success on such trips is heightened when you overcome the obstacles and help your son heft the tuna out of the truck to show mom. And, I might add, the GPS coordinates given them can cement friendships over many seasons.

October surprises

Besides stripers and bluefish, moderate October weather also brings false albacore and green bonito within range of small boaters. Those fish breaking just outside the inlet might be these two inshore speedsters, not bluefish. Their keen eyesight makes them difficult to fool unless you gear down to light line, invisible leaders and the hot lure of the moment.

The first run of a 12-pound albie on 8- to 12-pound spinning line is something your guests will not forget. Some wives and girlfriends have been turned into fishing partners after such a morning, the light tackle just right for them.

Time and tide advance, and October will give way to colder weather, sending fish further south. A few of my friends, people who don’t want to put the boat away, hook up the tow vehicle and pull the boat south, maybe not to Florida but just a spot where fish are biting better. For instance there is great diamond jigging in the far western portion of Long Island Sound after waters around The Race are home to the last, few migrants. Waters farther south off northern New Jersey hold fish later than New England, all however are dependent on getting those rare back-to-back calm days. Given the uncertainties, maybe that’s why so few of my friends do it.

On the other side of the compass, some head north to Massachusetts, launching at Scituate or Winthrop, heading off Nahant, for cod moving inshore. You must do this before the season closes at the end of November, many locals and a few visitors getting that last trip of the year before the boat goes under wraps.

A small minority fish these waters right through the winter, chartering six-pack boats from Gloucester that offer cod and haddock trips all year long, fishing farther out, beyond the closed areas. Jigging for cod in the middle of February isn’t everyone’s cup of chowder, but the option is available for six people who must get out of the house and away from the winter blahs if a trip to the Keys or islands isn’t in the budget.

During sermons at my church, we’re always told to take advantage of the precious gift of time. Don’t let October go by without getting on the water as much as possible. Without breaking the bank or drastically upsetting the apple cart, go fishing on a nice day, postponing the problems until the wind blows much too hard for your boat. Those are the days to be behind the desk, watching the weather until it clears enough for more October good times.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.