The Graveyard Shift

2020 is my best and worst season ever

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So I have to have goals for the things I do or I just don't enjoy them as much.  I decided my goal for 2020 would be learning new areas that have been of interest.  On that front I have already scouted 6 miles of new coast line and developed a lot of new fishing areas with patterns that produce schoolies.  I have also found several complex structures that I need a lot more recon before I attempt fishing them at night.  I also have managed to get two big bass from shore on the fly though I failed to get pictured of both and honestly I am okay with that because my other goal was keep big fish in the water.  So when I have lost a fish before I picture it was from not dragging it up onto shore.  So overall I am pretty happy with my season so far.

 

If I measured this season by what was always my goal in prior years this would be my worst season ever.  Basically other than three nights this year I have been unable to find bass over 30 inches from shore at all (I have three a 31", 38" and fish that I failed to measure but would have been in the 44-46" range).  I also have three 28/29" range fish that I did not put a tape two but were close the 30" mark on my rod.  I have even been mixing in surfcasting this year and on gear I have taken no 30" or larger bass at all.  I don't pretend to know why its not going well.  I feel like my skills are better and I cover way more fishy terrain than ever before, but the large fish are just not coming to hand.  Its just really strange and a lot of the main things that drive my big fish patterns have happened this year in better numbers than prior years with a bigger than normal herring run, tons of big shad in close, sea herring in close, and I even found a two squid events something I never found before this year.  I have also found bunker in tight four times, but only one time did any bass come out of it at all.  The bait showed up many times where it should and I found new big bait opportunities near shore.  Its just not equating to any big bass for me.  

 

So I write this in case you yourself are having a season where finding your usual quality of fish is just not happening and you are wonder how others are doing.  In my case I am having fun and getting in a lot of valuable time on the water this year, but I am not catching any quality fish with consistency.   I even went out the last two nights and threw live eels into areas loaded with bait that I though would have to have something of quality that maybe my flies could not entice.  Nothing over 24 inches came out of that effort so I will go back to flies primarily again and have fun exploring with any bigger bass coming to hand a "lucky" find.  At this point this year I feel anything I find will purely be luck from a lot of hours on the water.  My usual patterns are just only finding schoolies.  

Edited by The Graveyard Shift

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I'm having a weird year also, but I am also finding unexpected success...  My usual spots at usual tides are not producing the way they have in past years.  But, I am finding new spots near the old spots that are producing in totally oddball ways.  Last Saturday morning, we had a great negative tide at sunrise, with fog and rain and mid 60s for a temp- no wind- recipe for total madness in this spot- two hours later- one 13" pre-schoolie.  However, I noticed walking in and out that a mudflat area between two sandbars seemed to have fish moving in very skinny water.  Walking out I looked at it longer and harder and sure enough, there were fish eating.  Some aggressive feeding but a lot looking like trout sipping spinners.  I missed a couple of fish and boogered it.  

 

I went back the next morning and spent an hour picking up surf clams while waiting for the tide change.  As soon as water starting moving on the mudflat, the fish started eating.  Another cool, foggy morning, no wind...  The light was such that I could see the fish flashing underwater; this time looking like trout nymphing.  I had tied two different patterns the night before hoping to fool these fish.  Pattern #1 was a dud, but pattern 2 yielded three fish around 20" ( lots of fun on an 8 wt floater).  All the fished were "bonefished"- super fun.    

 

I have fished two different spots with articulated bait patterns on my big spey rod, perfect tides and swinging conditions and bupkus... This was my big goal this year was to hit this fishery and it has not been productive.  Headed out tonight to try again.

 

I will say that Slip& Side has given me a lot of food for thought regarding beating up on the little guys.  I am now turning my goal to catching a fish or two, in a creative way, with a different fly or tactic in a different spot, on a different tide, etc. and calling it good.  Maybe we can all think about the potential mortality of our C&R fishing as a way to help the bass survive and thrive?  YMMV

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1 hour ago, titleguy said:

I'm having a weird year also, but I am also finding unexpected success...  My usual spots at usual tides are not producing the way they have in past years.  But, I am finding new spots near the old spots that are producing in totally oddball ways.  Last Saturday morning, we had a great negative tide at sunrise, with fog and rain and mid 60s for a temp- no wind- recipe for total madness in this spot- two hours later- one 13" pre-schoolie.  However, I noticed walking in and out that a mudflat area between two sandbars seemed to have fish moving in very skinny water.  Walking out I looked at it longer and harder and sure enough, there were fish eating.  Some aggressive feeding but a lot looking like trout sipping spinners.  I missed a couple of fish and boogered it.  

 

I went back the next morning and spent an hour picking up surf clams while waiting for the tide change.  As soon as water starting moving on the mudflat, the fish started eating.  Another cool, foggy morning, no wind...  The light was such that I could see the fish flashing underwater; this time looking like trout nymphing.  I had tied two different patterns the night before hoping to fool these fish.  Pattern #1 was a dud, but pattern 2 yielded three fish around 20" ( lots of fun on an 8 wt floater).  All the fished were "bonefished"- super fun.    

 

I have fished two different spots with articulated bait patterns on my big spey rod, perfect tides and swinging conditions and bupkus... This was my big goal this year was to hit this fishery and it has not been productive.  Headed out tonight to try again.

 

I will say that Slip& Side has given me a lot of food for thought regarding beating up on the little guys.  I am now turning my goal to catching a fish or two, in a creative way, with a different fly or tactic in a different spot, on a different tide, etc. and calling it good.  Maybe we can all think about the potential mortality of our C&R fishing as a way to help the bass survive and thrive?  YMMV

I have been moving if I get 5 small fish consecutively or putting on huge flies. Trying not to have tons of schoolies on the end of my line for the same reasons you mention.

 

I too have been working on things I did not fish that much before like working on true greased line swings with flatwings or fishing worm and shrimp flies.  Like I said I am having fun and not getting in a trophy only grind funk.

 

This super skinny first light stuff has been really fun to see the tails and fish feeding.  Moon set has been happening too early before low tide to hunt tails under the full moon.  

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For me the same thing. Mostly shorts. A 24'' is a big fish this year. I got one keeper this year in May on the Bayside. But this was

predicted. If you read On The Water there big fish being caught. FishHawk

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39 mins ago, FishHawk II said:

For me the same thing. Mostly shorts. A 24'' is a big fish this year. I got one keeper this year in May on the Bayside. But this was

predicted. If you read On The Water there big fish being caught. FishHawk

Yeah its primarily a boat game this year.  I know of a couple 40-46" bass from shore and one rumored 40lber.  I went on a boat trip it was fun and I got a 40" bass.  Those bass might as well be on the moon though from a shore perspective.  All we can do is keep trying new things and try to have fun.

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I do what I’ve been doing for years from a boat since it was clear the bass were in trouble, I fish for something else that is more numerous and better tasting, I’ve fished too long and remember too much abundance to be anywhere near satisfied with the sad state of the present fishery 

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Highs and lows for me this year. I have an appt with the ortho surgeon next week and not expecting good news, so I'm relegated to 7 and 8 weights in what has been a pretty breezy season. So that's not great. But I've spent the time I do get prowling salt marshes I fished 20 years ago and finding fish in places I previously overlooked so that's good. But so far my best outing was standing in my tin boat in Maine, with one oar 80% rotted away absolutely pounding really healthy sized LMBs on gurglers on a windless night for 2 hours on a POS 7 weight I got for free. It was as low tech as I get and will probably be the highlight of my season. Not how I drew it up, but then neither is 2020!

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I'm NYC, but all the fly and surf guys I know reported an extremely inconsistent spring in our area - mostly western sound through to Jbay and into Raritan.  My spring was also the worst and best ever and closures from covid limited access to many of my favorite and most reliable spots.  Exploring new areas was definitely a grind but overall a great process and extremely rewarding. 

 

But even old areas and patterns were completely hit or miss. Some blame an extremely warm march and early massive bunker schools or harsh cold fronts in early may. I haven't decided but the bigger bass were few and far between and glued to their particular bunker schools more than I thought possible.  One night I chunked with a friend.  He snagged his from a Raritan harbor and I got mine from Jbay after an evening fly skunk around those pods. Bagged in zip locks and put on ice immediately.  3 hours later we hit that harbor. He had 2 40#s within an hour and they wouldn't touch my Jbay bunker in the same hole.  I put on one of their bunker heads and had a 44" in 15 minutes. I had plugged and jigged the area countless nights before and never convinced a bass over 36".  Anyways this probably isn't news to some but it was a big eye opener for me. Looking forward to repeating and reversing the experiment next spring.

 

Post spawn the bigger bass seemed to move through quicker in smaller groups so it was a lot of skunky nights, a handful of good nights and 2 of the best ever - multiple 40+" prestorm on a new spot hunch.  Old patterns tweaked for new points and shallower water. 

 

My 34" first season fly PB came a few nights before this past full moon just behind a rock I plugged on every night before.  Tide was slightly higher than I expected so decided to make a few casts around it before focussing on the main rip. Wondering how many nights I literally missed good fish at my feet over excited about that rip.  Awesome way to end the season with an 8 wt. will definitely pick up a heavier rod before the fall. 

 

Ramble over!

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3 mins ago, Bait Tailer said:

I'm NYC, but all the fly and surf guys I know reported an extremely inconsistent spring in our area - mostly western sound through to Jbay and into Raritan.  My spring was also the worst and best ever and closures from covid limited access to many of my favorite and most reliable spots.  Exploring new areas was definitely a grind but overall a great process and extremely rewarding. 

 

But even old areas and patterns were completely hit or miss. Some blame an extremely warm march and early massive bunker schools or harsh cold fronts in early may. I haven't decided but the bigger bass were few and far between and glued to their particular bunker schools more than I thought possible.  One night I chunked with a friend.  He snagged his from a Raritan harbor and I got mine from Jbay after an evening fly skunk around those pods. Bagged in zip locks and put on ice immediately.  3 hours later we hit that harbor. He had 2 40#s within an hour and they wouldn't touch my Jbay bunker in the same hole.  I put on one of their bunker heads and had a 44" in 15 minutes. I had plugged and jigged the area countless nights before and never convinced a bass over 36".  Anyways this probably isn't news to some but it was a big eye opener for me. Looking forward to repeating and reversing the experiment next spring.

 

Post spawn the bigger bass seemed to move through quicker in smaller groups so it was a lot of skunky nights, a handful of good nights and 2 of the best ever - multiple 40+" prestorm on a new spot hunch.  Old patterns tweaked for new points and shallower water. 

 

My 34" first season fly PB came a few nights before this past full moon just behind a rock I plugged on every night before.  Tide was slightly higher than I expected so decided to make a few casts around it before focussing on the main rip. Wondering how many nights I literally missed good fish at my feet over excited about that rip.  Awesome way to end the season with an 8 wt. will definitely pick up a heavier rod before the fall. 

 

Ramble over!

Sophisticated chunking is a killer way for big fish.  I started throwing eels because I thought maybe fish were around but not eating.  No luck.

 

My one big fish on a fly was due to a hot tip about a bunkers school with big fish on it from a boat friend.  It was close to shore and I was able to go after it immediately.  Tide and wind were all wrong but big bass were there glued to the bunker.   

 

I like the learning aspect of making new terrain this years goal.  hopefully will find some new hot spots at some point.   always better than hunkering down at home.

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13 hours ago, The Graveyard Shift said:

My one big fish on a fly was due to a hot tip about a bunkers school with big fish on it from a boat friend.  It was close to shore and I was able to go after it immediately.  Tide and wind were all wrong but big bass were there glued to the bunker.   

 

I like the learning aspect of making new terrain this years goal.  hopefully will find some new hot spots at some point.   always better than hunkering down at home.


It definitely made me think a lot more about scent.  In a strong current I don’t think it will make much of difference but around slack or any time the bass have more time to inspect an offering I can only see it improving the odds.  I’ve seen some of your posts on ez body flies and procure and look forward to trying it.
 

For me there’s nothing better than the hunt. when some new theories in a new areas click. Even if it’s just exploring getting lucky and putting it together later.

 

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2 hours ago, Bait Tailer said:


It definitely made me think a lot more about scent.  In a strong current I don’t think it will make much of difference but around slack or any time the bass have more time to inspect an offering I can only see it improving the odds.  I’ve seen some of your posts on ez body flies and procure and look forward to trying it.
 

For me there’s nothing better than the hunt. when some new theories in a new areas click. Even if it’s just exploring getting lucky and putting it together later.

 

In the dark scent substantially increases the flies effectiveness in my experience.  No matter what the tide.  But managing stinky flies is a pain so I try to get away without using it if I can.  Mid July when things "slow down" is when I start "crabbing".  I look for inlets or other areas that generate lots of current that have mussel beds.  These attract tons of crabs and the green crabs molt around teh moons which is also when the current is highest.  I will scent my crab flies with "shedder crab" procure and I will generally do very well catching fish that are lazily sitting on bottom in current flow eating the soft crabs that tumble near the bottom in the current. I have done this with unscented flies, but the catch rate is 3 or 4 times better with scent that without.  I used unweighted flies and a tradition split shot and indicator rig.  I like the glow in the dark thingamabobbers and I charge them with a UV pet urine light.  Its a solid way to find fish when its "slow" during the hottest water temperatures of the summer at night.  This is the fly I am currently using.  0D733029-0866-4780-AEE4-AD5D8FDE4B14.jpeg.b3efcbd337c8e7e2165f6f2e4e35dbdf.jpeg6DC84FAB-4E2F-4A5D-A2B9-1515B19F6C66.jpeg.008e5f0f54ffd3887a02f61d88457173.jpegIts super fast to tie because you lose a lot of them on the bottom since you are fishing scour holes near mussel beds which are super snaggy.  Basically you tie the Flexo Orge tubing on then epxoy Kiley crab bits on to the bottom.  The mesh holds the scent, but you can effectively rinse it out after fishing so fly is not stinky.

Edited by The Graveyard Shift

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Certainly, to each his/her own.

 

But If you're going to add scent to flies, why not just get a bucket of eels or bunker chunks and be done with it?

 

Steve Culton

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18 mins ago, The Fisherman said:

Certainly, to each his/her own.

 

But If you're going to add scent to flies, why not just get a bucket of eels or bunker chunks and be done with it?

 

Steve Culton

I do that too Steve.  I threw live eels on surf gear the last two nights to see if I could pull a big fish out of two spots that I though they might be located, but were unresponsive to flies or normal lures.  I like catching fish and when adding scent works I will do it.   I agree its not pure fly fishing at that point and I don't care.  That is why I refer to it as "crabbing" ;) 

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No worries, Dan. I very much admire your dedication and enthusiasm to the sport. :-)

 

I was dredging the bottom recently with squid flies and not a touch. Two anglers below me were catching (not stripers) consistently with live rigged squid.

 

So it goes...

 

Steve Culton

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It seems as though folks are leaving twinks biting to find large feeding elsewhere. I'd like to see the stats on those decisions. Never understood that logic but particularly these days, the question is, can you really still target large from the surf and be successful? Doubtful, in NJ, almost a guarantee to stink the place up. 

 

There aren't enough fish to chase regardless of size, put me on a school of bass from 4-8lbs. and I won't leave until they do. And, big fish and little fish sometimes eat together, what the little ones leave in haste, the big girls eat on the outskirts and down below, they didn't get big by making mistakes. My logic is to try different approaches and see if it makes a difference. Seen nights when every fish was the same fish, not a reason to complain or wonder, just the way it is.

 

Most folks targeting large only fish specific tides and locations, many with current, most with structure, us open beach casters just keep hunting by changing lures and walking the beach until we find the unicorn. 

 

Just when you think you've got a bead on the surfcasting game, it all changes and you go back to scratching yer nuts.

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