Thursday, November 2, 2023

11.02.23 Didn't have a chance today, well maybe one....

This may wind up being the longest post ever. I think it's important to tell the story of fishing this "epic" fall run through the eyes of a fly fisherman, and maybe even the surfcaster. If you follow reports on social media from boat anglers you will definitely here about today. "Epic" will be a common thread. 

     Today is my day off and I wanted to fish and catch fish. I was going to find them and break the skunk streak I've been on since I had a multi-fish day when the mullet were around. That may be well over a month ago. But it's not for lack of putting time and effort in. I, again, had a winning plan, or so I thought. 

     This post will tell spots, not really a spot burn, because when it comes to the fall everyone knows the spots to hit starting from Sandy Hook down to Island Beach State Park. A true spot burn would be posting as a bite is happening. Things change hour to hour yet alone day to day. 


     When I left my house around 515 am it was a brisk, well dam cold, 29 degrees. I was going to drive east, hit the potty on the Parkway rest stop, and continue down to Long Branch. Why? No real reason. 

When I got down there things looked perfect. Flat. Birds up. Pretty sky. It didn't take long for the first boat to hook a left into a flock of birds I was watching in front of me. There were birds but no fish. But I stayed and watched and looked north and south, nothing showing. So I made the first of many moves. 

     I stopped in between Long Branch and the Hook and took a peek but it was kinda boring and not what I had in mind. Incoming tide. A NW to W wind which could put bait on the beach, somewhere. 

     I went with the two-hander today, a move I'm not sure really improved my chances any. Two flies. Good knots. I was ready. When I got out there was some guys there already and I talked to a guy who'd been spin fishing since 0230 am. He landed four before first light "out a ways" past the rock field on a pencil popper. I took a walk and found the birds out with nothing showing close. Guys came and went while I was there and I didn't see any fish landed. I decided it was time to move. I headed south. 

     Along the way I pulled into a few spots and found anglers waiting and watching or leaving, that was a sign that nothing was happening. When I pulled into Deal there was some guys watching and few fishing because there were boats in the mix of bait and bass, and some dolphins running though. 

     The water in Deal was like a dark tea to You-Hoo color and that turned me off. But I went anyway. It was then I noticed the swell that just sucked, and sucked the whole day. The waves broke on the bar and then continued in and broke on the beach, followed by two or three others in each set. There was a break but the timing just didn't allow for good current and setting up to make casts with the fly rod. 


     If you look above you can see what I mean. I like big water but I will swear the swells kept the bait off the beach and the bass as well. I made some casts into the pocket, blindly, before moving up onto the rocks. Another thing I noted was the recent multi-day swells and different winds have quickly changed the structure on the beach. It just isn't good, especially in "Jetty Country". 

     By now I'm like three hours in and only made a handful of casts. This isn't what I was hoping for. The bait and bass and birds were out of range, all the boat anglers wanted were on the outside of the bar. Just before I made yet another move I got to see Andy, a regular on this beat, and someone we haven't 

seen in some time. Andy prefers the colder weather and water and those days when numbers of fish surpasses the temperature. So we caught up and I had to rethink my plan. The traffic on Ocean Ave. in Long Branch was a mess due to construction, I had already been north, and Bagel Talk was calling me. Maybe I'll hit Neptune and just head south before calling it a day. 

     I decided I would head north, give Deal a chance to sit down, and hit a familiar bagel shop in Long Branch. When I worked at Monmouth Medical on the kids psych unit we would order from The Bagel Guys all of the time. It was good, but they, like many, don't sell small milks, chocolate yes, plain no. 

     When I rolled into Sea Bright I didn't take notice to the cars in the lot. I was sure it was another scene of a few guys fishing and more watching and waiting. To my surprise to the north it was shoulder to shoulder with bait showing, birds overhead, and bass chewing. If you look at the picture above it looks perfect, but you don't see the swell that wrecked my day, all day long. Also, those fish are way out of fly rod range, one or two handed. 

     If you look above, and picture yourself there, you would be excited, as I was. There were fish in the neighborhood, and hopefully they would push that bait over the bar into my waiting arms, or at least into my casting range. 

     Something special must have been going on to the north of me a bit and you can see the crowd all bunched above in the top left cortner. Some guys started to trickle from the north down to where I was. Some in a trot, one guy running for his life. But most guys just stood there ground and fished. The boats were on them, or at least in the middle of them and I am sure did well. I made a move on foot to get away from everyone and I walked to the south and liked what I saw. By then the boats had been drawn to the larger pod of breaking fish as they moved out but there was a little something-something going on in front of me. You could feel it starting to build. Water getting nervous. Birds getting attracted to the color of the bait or the spray from the bass. 

     I was looking mostly through the lens but I had my rod cocked and locked and ready for my shot. Sea Bright has a good sand bar and sometimes the bait and bass are inside, but these swells kept everything out front. So I'm watching and waiting for the right time to swing the camera around and 

fire off a cast. I saw something blow up and got ready. Well, the blow ups were the kicks from Mark Spitz who was doing laps in the troughs of the waves up and down the beach. I know we have to share the resource but c'mon man! I waited till he passed and could still feel it coming. The image below

gives you some context of where I was and where the fish were. They are behind those waves. Below is a tighter picture taken with a zoom lens. I say that as not to give you the illusion that I had a shot and spit the bit yet again. 

     I moved a little bit more south, a 100 feet maybe, and some of the boats caught interest and swung in. What really helped and made it so enjoyable was the wall of water that would be built as the waves 

hit the outer bar. It made loading the two hander hard, but a single hander wouldn't have got me out there either. I still had hope as the water in the wide trough could have held a bunch of bait and bass but that never happened. Nothing flipped in close nor did a peanut bunker land on the the beach. And then it just went flat. Please Jesus just have those bass push that bait in. Ready, set, go. 

     That blow up above was the closest fish I had all day and like that they fell behind that wave and were gone. The fish moved fast and it was more left to right than in and out. I thought I might make a move down to Monmouth Beach and head them off thinking that pocket might be a place where I could ambush them. The only thing I was thinking was, swell = surfers. 

     When I got in it was still big, it's like three hours into the ebb tide. There were two surfers holding court so I moved north. I could see the line up in front of the birds up a ways. I started the walk. 

     If you look above you could feel my pain. The fish just weren't inside those waves. As I got closer to the crowd I could make out a guy who must have been giving the fish a hysterectomy because he was in that crouched position for a while. I watched as he did what he was doing, then lift the fish, and then drop in into the water that had run up the beach scarp. C'mon man, at least get that thing down into the water. 

     That was the only fish I saw caught all day, even when it was going good in Sea Bright, and I was there for an hour. Out of the corner of my eye and nearly in front of me the birds started up again and there was fish underneath them. While that picture may show a tame surf and one you could work with

it only took a few seconds for the next wave to come and just rain on your parade. There was enough white water that gave me some hope but it just never happened. I did follow a pod of fish, and after 

following them I decided they were mullet rather than peanuts. They way they swam, tight, in a v, up in the column, just really mullety. That's not fish being blown up on but rather where the incoming 

waves met the outgoing inside the bar. I followed that bait down to where the surfers were and nothing ever showed an interest. You can see that bait below at the bottom of the wave. It was walls of water

like that all day long. I left that spot knowing my day was done. Before I hit the road I stopped back in Deal and saw the same shitty off-color water I had seen earlier. There were still fish out a ways running thought the bait but it never came in. I saw Richie who had a fish at first light and came back after lunch to see if it got any better which it did not. 

     Not wanting to give up I headed south and passed through Bradley Beach and saw the flags were blowing to the SW meaning the wind was now coming out of the ENE. I didn't see anything there nor in Belmar except a lot of surfers and anglers lined up on the inlet jetties. At 5th Avenue I made a right hand turn and I was done. 

     So that's a good and real report from a regular "average angler" fly fisherman. Maybe others did better but like I said I saw one fish caught in the melee. It just goes to show you how different the fly rod experience fishing a fall run can be from a surf and boat perspective. I "fished" for six hours, had fish in front of me for a few of them, and only maybe had one shot, if that. While my wife can't understand how and why I don't catch fish, now going on for over a month, after today I am rest assured that I had a good plan and positioned myself in the best places possible. If it went off somewhere else what can I do? You can only be in one place at a time and the way you fish is you have a fly in the water, otherwise what's the sense og going?

     When I got home and popped into Facebook I was reminded of a great memory. It was five years ago today, HERE, that Joe and I had a ton of big fish all to ourselves. It was only a short few years ago when big fish weren't as common as they were today. It was a day where the forecast was totally blown and we were the only boat out, and we found them good. You know how I feel about boat fish, but that day boat fish counted.