It pays off to be a well-rounded surf angler these days. In fact, it always has. Striped bass feed in a great variety of habitats and it’s important to your success to be versatile by fishing all the types of areas where stripers swim within casting range of shore. For me, May is the month I explore, and that brings me to a number of different surf fishing scenarios in New York and New Jersey.
One of my favorite nights was in early May, during a mostly dry, light Nor’easter weather pattern that lasted almost week. As a result, we decided to do a little rock hoping. By positioning ourselves with the wind at our backs during a flood tide, tossing darters and dropping them on the backside of the approaching waves resulted in violent surface strikes on almost every cast.
For the rest of the tide, and for several days, striped bass in the 20- to 30-pound size class fed heavily. The guys who fished it were well prepared for the conditions, and we all worked well together to experience what I call the “Zig Zag Bite of 2016.”
May is the time that bugs start to get thick at night, and turning on your headlamp at any point during a night on the backwaters is a no-no. I really enjoy stalking the muddy sod banks in the back bays. It’s quiet and peaceful and big fish like it also.
I cover a lot of ground along the sods, so the lighter the gear, the better. This includes my rod and reel, which I usually scale down to a 7-foot medium action rod that’s perfect for schoolie striped bass, and any weakfish I might come across. A typical night might play out like this:
I walk up to good size tidal creek draining off the marsh and into the channel and listen for a pop on the surface close enough to fire a cast at. When I do, I send the “blurple” Bomber 15A up current, and retrieve it into the current. As it swings past my position, it gets slammed by a fish that had been sitting with its nose in the current, looking for an easy meal.
After a thrilling battle with the fish in a hard outgoing tide that gave the bass a brief advantage, I turned the fish and landed the 37-inch, 17-pound striper that made the trip.
Occasionally, a walk along the muggy, buggy sodbanks will be rewarded with the discovery of a school of bluefish from 12 to 15 pounds smashing everything in their paths.
Weakfish, and I mean true “tiderunners” of 30-inches or more haunt the sodbanks in May as well. The weakies will strike slow-moving Mirr-O-Lures worked with the tide along the sodbank edge.
Docks, Piers, and Bridges
It’s tough to beat hard structure with a lot of growth for attracting marine life, both big and small. attracts life small and big.
Public docks, piers, and bridges offer fantastic fishing in May. Massive amounts of bait will congregate around these structures, including small minnows, spearing, crabs, and worms.
At times, and I am serious, it’s like someone is feeding popcorn to ducks at a lake. There’s a complete feeding frenzy. Some really nice size striped bass make their way into these zones—especially under the cover of darkness.
These manmade platforms are not the easiest places to fish, and you will need some additional gear to be successful, including long landing nets, roped bridged nets, and stouter rods and reels to keep the fish out of the structure. Bigger stripers know exactly how to use the structure to aid their escape, so heavier tackle is a must.
On the sand in May, I tend to fish bait more than lures.
A good late-night chunk bite with good friends is some of the most fun surf fishing you can experience.
Often, landing a good bass on the chunk means culling through a dozen or more dogfish, but on some nights, 20-pound and better stripers and 10-pound-plus blues take your bait before you can even set your rod in the sand spike.
There are plenty of places to find stripers this month, and the surfcaster is only limited by how far they are willing to explore new territory personal playbook for the future.