Migratory fish can get under your skin. They follow a lot of rules, but they also break almost as many as they follow. That makes them a lot like an outstanding novel, with a beginning, a peak and an end.
The storyline comes together on a beach in the Fall. Fishing conditions consistently improve until they peak and then wind down until they end. Anglers study tidal, lunar, wind and water temperatures to determine patterns. When something doesn’t add up, they play hunches and take educated guesses. In the Northeast, the Fall usually means striped bass and blues on the beach. But from Chatham, Massachusetts and westward, the Gulf Stream pushes close to land. From July through October you’ll find False albacore, green bonito, and skipjack, too. The Fall run is addictive. Sometimes you’ll find peace in your fishing. Other times, the fish will just drive you plain nuts.
The Fall run has been the subject of fishing lore for decades. During the 1940’s-1960’s, the Cape Cod beaches were the places to be, period. From Nauset Beach in Orleans through Race Point in Provincetown, forty-pound bass were considered rats. Four x four campers with tin skiffs strapped to the top brought anglers who fished ‘round the clock from shore or from beach-launched skiffs. The trend continues today, and hardcore anglers from Maine through New Jersey head to the beaches to get in their last licks of the season.
Technically, the autumnal equinox, around September 21, is when daytime and the nighttime are nearly identical in length, (the opposite time is the vernal equinox on March 21). In the fall, days grow steadily shorter whereas in the spring they grow steadily longer. Sunsets get earlier, and Fall winds shift from southerly to Canadian Maritime northerly. Cooler, dry air with high cloud ceilings and Mare’s Tail formations reflect the strong winds. There is a greater difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, humidity decreases, and sunrise and sunset colors change from orange and yellows to include more purples, greens and blues.
Figuratively, Fall begins with the Striper Moon or the first Full Moon in September. Kenny Abrames named the time as it represents the first major push of the striped bass migration. Some years the Striper Moon is early in the month, other years it is later. Regardless, get out and fish. In New England, the biggest shore-caught bass of the year are landed around the Striper Moon.
October’s Indian Summer is a pleasant respite from September’s initial cold weather. It’s when the fall feels like summer. History alleges that the two-week warm spell was the time when American Indians harvested the bulk of their crops, hence the name. Most of the pelagic fish will follow the retracting Gulf Stream south, and the end of Indian Summer is usually their Swan Song.