Final Trips in the Late Fall Surf

For many, the surfcasting season ends with the intention to make one final trip, and while many years the endeavor is fruitless, good company, good food, or good times often make for good story fodder for years to come.

Rob Taylor with winter striped bass

Many years, my surfcasting season ends with the intention to make one final trip that, for one reason or another, never materializes. I don’t think I’ve ever made a cast knowing it would be the last one of my surf-fishing year. Those trips usually end up being forgettable, fishless outings in the same or similar locations to where the season began. But sometimes, because of good fishing (or good company, good food, or just a good story), those last trips stick with me. Here are a few from my last two decades of surfcasting.

November 15, 2008 – Montauk, New York

The reports had been spectacular. A glut of sand eels on the sandy town beaches of Montauk had attracted a late-migrating school of big striped bass. Fishermen casting metals and skimming them along the bottom were connecting with bass in the 20- to 30-pound range. My mind was made up before I even checked the forecast. After work on Friday, I drove from Cape Cod to New London, hopped three ferries, and finished the ride out Route 27. My dad, driving from Philadelphia, planned to meet me there in time for the sunrise bite.
Stormy Reward
This was going to be Montauk fishing like I’d never experienced. No wetsuits, slick rocks, crowds, or darters—only waders, soft sand, metal lures, and big bass. It wasn’t until the rocky ferry ride across Long Island Sound that I considered how the impending storm might affect the surf conditions.

At 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Dad and I looked forlornly at giant, mud-colored waves. I dutifully went to the water’s edge to cast, but the wind put such a bow in my line that by the time I caught up to the lure, it had skittered across the waves and onto the sand. Dad watched this from the warmth of his truck for a few minutes before suggesting we go to breakfast and then go home. It has to be the farthest anyone’s ever travelled for pancakes.

November 8, 2022 – Cape Cod, Massachusetts

A disappointing October had me holding out hope for November as a high note to close the striper season on. During the previous few trips, the only notes played by the cold Cape Cod surf had been sad, lonely, and fishless. I scoured my log and found a short entry from late October 2012 about a good fish lost on a bitter cold night on a distant beach a long walk from the truck. With recent reports scarce and the few casters still working the surf unlikely to share news of successful catches, it was the best info I had to go on.

At the end of the walk, which was longer than I’d remembered, I saw a shape at the surf line, just barely silhouetted by the white of the breaking waves. I opened the plug bag to select my first offering when I was blinded by the harsh white LED light of a headlamp.
“Who’s that?!” shouted the voice behind the headlamp.

“I’m here to fish,” I said, trying to assuage any anxiety I’d caused by my sudden and unexpected appearance.
“How’d you know about this place? Who told you?”
“I fished here years ago. No one told me.”

That put the angler at ease enough for him to turn off the light. “Well, they’re in pretty good.”

And they were. Over the cymbal-like crash of the breaking waves, I could hear the pops and tail slaps of feeding stripers. It took a half-dozen plug changes to find the lure they wanted, which was a hand-carved minnow plug with a flat metal lip. The two of us caught until the dropping tide bottomed out, and we kept casting until it was clear that the fish wouldn’t be returning on the incoming tide.

Big Jim Fee

December 18, 2003 – Cape May County, New Jersey

We hung over the rails, squinting to see the black-against-black silhouettes of the stripers ghosting through the inlet currents, waiting for the outgoing tide to flush an easy meal their way. A brisk west wind buffeted the bridge. In the immediate present, the wind made the casting and line management a challenge as we spotted a trio of bass and attempted to slide our jigs past their snouts.

More concerning, however, was how the wind would push the warmer surface waters offshore and replace them with the cold bottom waters. The season’s days were growing short, and the bass would soon be on their way. As if to symbolize the impending winter, a poorly timed cast into a gust of wind caused my jig to splash directly atop the striper triad, spooking the fish. My dad and I cast until dawn, and the bass never returned.

December 7, 2011 – South County, Rhode Island

The presence of sea herring in the surf is one of those often-talked-about, rarely-experienced surfcasting phenomena that would be easy to miss if you’ve put the rods away too early. I’d put mine away sometime in mid-November until Kevin Blinkoff caught word of herring, bluefish, and stripers in the Rhode Island surf.

Along with Chris Megan, we broke out of the office on an early December Thursday and drove, wader-clad, to South County, Rhode Island. We fished several beaches, talked with a number of fishermen, and reached the same conclusion as other anglers: we shoulda been here yesterday.

We broke for a lunch at a pizza joint Chris had found when moving his daughter into University of Rhode Island. I ate the best calzone of my life, one that easily justified the 90-minute drive, and with full bellies and buoyed spirits, we decided to give it one last try.

We hit the beach in sneakers, determined to at least make our final casts of the surfcasting season—but then the bluefish showed. Fishermen up and down the beach leaned back as they fought them. We each caught a 4-pounder, the perfect size to keep and smoke, mix with cream cheese and chives, and present as a dip at the office holiday party the following week.

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