It starts with the weather. An onshore wind or an extreme tide brought on by the new moon will concentrate the baitfish along a stretch of shoreline. Striped bass, often on their spring or fall migration, recognize the potential of the conditions to create easy feeding, and they move on the bait en masse.
Making the most of the fleeting conditions, the bass throw caution to the wind, attacking anything that resembles their prey, stuffing their bellies beyond capacity, and then eating some more. This is where the fishermen come in. Some will have seen the blitz coming, seeing the tinder box of abundant baitfish and waiting for the match strike of incoming weather. Others will have been called into the action by a friend, and still others will have just gotten lucky and found themselves at the right place at the right time. Most casts bring a strike, and when the action finally ends, the fishermen head home with cut and swollen hands, aching arms, and a story they’ll tell for decades.
Some blitzes last an hour, some last a day, and some last nearly a week. The best ones are given names like the Snowstorm Blitz on Block Island, the Columbus Day Massacre on Martha’s Vineyard, or the Eclipse Blitz at the Cape Cod Canal.
Some happen in the middle of the day, and some happen in the black of night. Some blitzes have spectacular surface action, while others, especially the nighttime ones, happen near the bottom and out of sight.
Among Northeast surfcasters, the only criteria for a blitz are big numbers of baitfish, big numbers of striped bass (or maybe bluefish), and a crowd of fishermen. The location, the baitfish, and the time of year are all highly variable, and to demonstrate that, we collected blitz stories from surfcasters throughout the Northeast.
– Jimmy Fee
Worth Being Late
by Mike Bombardier
Even though my modes of fishing have had to morph over the years due to seals, sharks, and bird-caused beach closures, I still spend the last week of June and the first week of July pounding the sands and waters of the Outer Cape when migrating big stripers collide with the seemingly never-ending waves of sand eels, mackerel, and peanut bunker. In the summer of 2005, the fish seemed to be cooperating and holding to the same pattern for my entire vacation. My brother, Rick, had come to stay, and we hit the north side of Race Point and picked away at decent fish every morning at first light using pencil poppers. It wasn’t a question of whether we were going to catch fish, it was how big and how many.
On the morning of Tuesday, June 28, I hit the beach by myself as my brother decided to catch up on some much-needed rest (what I like to call Fish Lag). The weather that morning was as it had been all that week—unusually mild, flat calm, with little to no wind and a fog that wouldn’t lift until an hour after the sun rose. I deflated the tires and drove out to the north side of Race Point. There were probably 10 other cars out there and we all got tight to fish in the 15- to 20-pound class. Back then, my go-to morning plug was a white Gibbs Canal Special, and I think I landed four fish on it before the bite died shortly after the sun came up around 5:00 a.m.
After the ritualistic “shooting the breeze” with the other anglers, I decided to check out the south side of Race Point since my new wife had given me a curfew of 8:00 a.m. and it was now roughly 6:30. I motored over the dunes and started to make the trip south over to Mission Bell as I scouted the water for bird activity and any signs of life. Shortly after making the turn, I saw some nervous-looking water and a slick that I hoped was some type of bait. I pulled my Jeep over and noticed one other truck parked on a point about ½-mile farther south, where two fishermen were working the surf. I hadn’t even gotten the rod off the top of my car when I was startled by the two men screaming in the distance. Their screams weren’t those of people in distress, but of excited fishermen. I knew something big was about to happen.
Just as I was about to jump in my vehicle and motor the half mile toward the other anglers, I saw a fish bust in the wash right in front of my car. I decided to stay put, made a cast, and was immediately tight to a 20-pound striper. As I fought the fish, I could see the much larger mass of bass approaching me. As I landed the fish, I was already in the middle of absolute carnage—a full-fledged striper-on-peanut-bunker blitz!
This was a bigger class of fish than I had encountered on the north side earlier in the morning. These 20- to 35-pound-class fish had a huge school of peanuts pinned up to the shore, and stripers were beaching themselves as they chased the bait.
Needless to say, I didn’t make my 8:00 a.m. curfew that morning. I was eventually joined by the anglers I’d seen down the beach and one other truck with three fishermen. The six of us stayed on that school for another hour and a half, bailing fish until our arms hurt. My arms were so sore from reeling in fish that morning that I actually took a rest at the height of the blitz to take a picture of the havoc unfolding before me. I knew no words would be able to adequately describe why I was late and, more importantly, what my poor sleeping brother had missed. I learned two things that day: Ricky doesn’t like missing blitzes, and a blitz is not a sufficient excuse for lateness to a new bride.
Breakdown of The Snowstorm Blitz
From Surfcasting Around the Block
By Dennis Zambrotta
Now let’s take a look at my unscientific numbers breakdown for the nights of November 13th & 14th, 1987: Many of those who took part in the blitz told me that they had landed two cow-sized bass each night, some more, some less. Most said they had lost at least two hook-ups for every fish they landed. Figuring 35 anglers fishing the bar each night for three hours or so, I estimate approximately 140 cow-sized bass hooked, of which 70 were landed, almost all of which were 30 to 60 pounds. Remember, this happened both nights. Over 4,200 pounds of bass landed in six hours and all taken from the surf on plugs. These are phenomenal numbers. There were more than a dozen bass over 50 pounds taken, five of those by club members of the Newport County Salt Water Fishing Club. Other monster fish were taken at other island locations during the same two nights, including New York surfcaster Joe Bragan’s 58½. This short window of opportunity provided many surfcasters with the fish of their dreams. If you fished the island at all during those nights, a hook-up to a forty-pound-class fish was probable, a fifty-pound-class a distinct possibility, and a sixty-pound-class bass not out of the question. The period of November 7th through the 16th, and in particular the nights of the 13th, 14th and 16th of November 1987, were the greatest nights of surf-fishing for cow-sized bass that I have ever witnessed in my 40 years of casting the beach.
Pogy Massacre in Boston
By Ron Powers
As I scrolled through the litany of memorable blitzes in my mind, I kept coming back to my first blitz. A blitz during my formative years which shifted my obsession with the salt from mid-gear to redline in one 8-hour, adrenaline-fueled outing. My first blitz of note had nothing to do with striped bass. In the late ‘70s, bluefish ruled Boston Harbor. Today’s generation would have a hard time grasping the size and volume of these finned wrecking balls. Pogies (Atlantic menhaden) seemed thick enough in the harbor in those times to walk across, and as striped bass numbers were beginning to crash, bluefish filled the void big time—with the emphasis on big! It was no problem at all to rack up double-digit catches of double-digit bluefish and a blue under 15 pounds did not raise an eyebrow.
Mayhem ruled across greater Boston. Pogies were commonly pinned against the shoreline to such a degree that the death count would rise into the thousands. The pogies which weren’t bitten in half became asphyxiated and washed up on local beaches by the hordes. The stench of baking, rotting pogy carcasses became a real problem, and crews and machinery were tasked to preen beaches of the fish husks which kept the public away in droves.
Big blues with bad intentions did not singularly save their ferocity for fish either. Swimmers were actually bitten in the surf! Footage of bandaged beach-goers lying in hospital beds were flashed on the front page of area newspapers and broadcasted on television. When I bring this up with others who lived through it, we shake our heads almost not believing it ourselves.
I had a more up close and personal view of the bluefish/bunker massacres than most since I had the ultimate job for a kid with “gills”—I was a lifeguard at several area beaches. And best of all, at one of the beaches, the manager used to let me keep a surf rod in my locker.
Prior to my experience with blues, my previous fishing occasions involved little more than tommy cod, flounder, and largemouth bass. Jumping from a 12-inch tommy cod to an 18-pound bluefish was akin to a Pop Warner center taking snaps with the Patriots.
During my very first year on Shea’s Beach in East Boston (Constitution to outsiders), I used to marvel at the volume of pogies that literally covered the entire bay. But all through June and into July, there was not a thing harassing them until the blues showed up. It was an overcast day, with no beach goers in sight. My toes were barely into the sand when I spotted the bedlam. It was a feast for the senses, not only were dozens of pogies airborne at any given time, but the whooshing sound was incredible as balled up baitfish beat the surface with their fins as they attempted to evade the attack.
From Orient Heights Yacht Club out toward the tarmac of Logan Airport and toward the skating rink, there was carnage as far as the eye could see as thousands of blues pummeled tens of thousands of pogies.
Most stood in awe at the spectacle, but not me. I gave a long, pleading look toward my manager, the late John Rizzo, who simply nodded and gave the “have a ball kid” thumbs up! My mother had just bought me a custom-made Al Cappy 9-foot surf rod and shoehorned in it was a Garcia Mitchell 302.
An old salt passing by coached me to cast and reel as fast as I could. He was right in saying that I could not reel fast enough to keep the plug away from those jaws.
I literally jumping, head-shaking double-digit bluefish all day long. I became arm-weary and enlisted the services of other guards who also helped in the catching. We filled a full-size MDC trash barrel with bluefish. When I look back I wince at how many blues we took, but a 17-year-old kid in that era can be cut some slack.
One of the more startling images that will forever be seared into my brain was the condition of the surf I stood in. The bay water had the color of red wine and the detritus of demolished pogies was insane. Bits of scale, fin and pogy bone ebbed and flowed all around me in a macabre washing machine belying the menhaden massacre.
The bite began at 9:45 a.m., and I left them biting 8 hours later at 5:45. My dad, who was an MDC Police officer, moonlighted as a meat cutter at the First National Store in Revere. As I looked at the full barrel of blues, I asked for help. Despite having just finished a shift, he came down and filleted 28 36-inch-plus bluefish! All the guards, bathhouse employees, beachgoers and passers-by walked away with heaping bags of bluefish fillets.
There would be other similar bluefish blitzes that summer and I would go on to revel in blitzes involving everything from the tuna to mahi to our beloved striped bass. But it was that first blitz that I will never forget.