Ten years ago, if you had asked the average angler about surfcasting in November, you would have gotten either a strange look or some vague information about a few die-hard fishermen who quietly work the beaches while enduring the harsh cold. Today things are much different. Not only are we better aware of the surfcasting opportunities that the Northeast has to offer this month, but the real-time world of the Internet, combined with the natural inclination of fishermen to brag about their catches, has resulted in a great expansion of the average surfcaster’s range and season. If you are one of the growing numbers of surfcasters who just aren’t ready give up, there are plenty of options remaining, especially if you’re willing to travel.
There are two main reasons many fishermen dismiss surfcasting in November. First and foremost is the weather. Biting wind, cold temperatures, and occasionally wet conditions are unavoidable. But between the remnants of late-season tropical storms and the early arrival of your average nor’easter, there are short windows of mild weather that can result in some great days on the water. Some experienced anglers have learned that amazing blitzes can even happen during or toward the end of these late-fall storms. To fish in such tough conditions, a savvy surfcaster must dress in multiple layers of thin clothing as opposed to just a couple bulky sweatshirts. Hypothermia is a valid concern this month, but the good news is that in the past few years, many companies have released quality technical outerwear that makes fishing this time of year much more comfortable and safe.
The second reason many fishermen will not surf-cast this month is the perception that no fish – or just a very few fish – are available. Obviously each season is different, but as a rule, there are still some fish around through November. Watching the weather and checking reports throughout October will give you a basic idea of the fishing situation. In my experience, however, reports will be spotty and localized; what’s happening in Provincetown, Massachusetts, can be far different than the bite in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and neither has any bearing on what’s being caught in Connecticut. The only true way to tell is to get out on the water. The worst-case scenario is that you end up taking a great nature ride and gain some experience for next year. The best-case scenario is…priceless.
Even if you are not one of those anglers willing to bear the brunt of the Northeast weather, please be assured that this does not mean you are out of options. Extending your season in less harsh conditions is very possible if you are willing to do a bit of traveling. Luckily, in most of the areas you will target, hotels are charging off-season rates. I say get on the phone, gather a few fishing buddies and hit the road.
The first location I recommend when traveling south in search of mild weather and large fish is perhaps the most famous surfcasting destination on the Striper Coast. In November, the fish in Montauk can be huge. Despite its reputation for jagged rocks everywhere, there actually is a wide variety of terrain to fish at Montauk. The Montauk town beach is a typical sandy beach without rocks, and Shagwong is also mostly sand. Of course, the area under the famous lighthouse is where the technique known as “rock-rockhopping” was born. Bucktail jigs and pencil poppers are all you need to be successful when fishing Montauk, but East End regulars would advise you to pack along some darters and needlefish as well. Access is good at Montauk, and there are both ORV and walk-in areas to most of the fishing locations.
My next stop on the journey of extending November surfcasting is the central New Jersey coast. There are many fishable areas, and one of the best is either side of Barnegat Inlet. Did you ever notice that the best surfcasting areas are usually located in close proximity to lighthouses? North of the inlet is Island Beach State Park. This barrier island offers almost nine miles of drivable beaches, and oversand permits are available at the guard house at the entrance to the park. The south side of the inlet is the north end of Long Beach Island. The access here is great for those limited to foot access, and the late-fall blitzes of stripers and giant bluefish are the stuff of legends. Local anglers score well with plugs and bait on LBI. What kind of terrain can be found in this area? IBSP is all sand with a long jetty at the inlet, while LBI is a mix of sandy stretches and small rock jetties. Fishing the rips at the inlet itself is awesome; I vividly remember drooling the first time I stood and watched this water. Once again, this location has a bit of everything to offer. The farther south you drive in New Jersey, the more potential locations you will find. Do not ignore Brigantine Beach to the north of Atlantic City, where the preferred method is bait-fishing and the fall run is still in full swing.
I could go on and on, because the farther south we travel, the longer the season gets. The basic message is that we don’t have to give up surfcasting just yet, and successful (catch-wise) road trips are not only possible, they are likely. But the afternoon sun is setting, and it is almost time for me to don the gear and head to the north shore of Martha’s Vineyard for another rain-filled night of striper fishing. I wish you all another trophy and an everlasting smile.