In quiet waters, the way you approach the surf is as important as what you have clipped onto your line.
One aspect of surf fishing for striped bass is the many geographical choices one has to pick from. An angler can fish the miles of ocean beaches, some with inlets and jetties, or one can ply the diverse backwaters associated with bays, sounds and rivers. Common to all these, is that the most productive time to get out and fish is under the cover of darkness. There are exceptions to this at certain times of the year, especially in the early spring, and again in the fall, when good daytime bites can develop, but throughout a season, the most dependable time to target striped bass is the nighttime hours. Many areas that are busy with boat traffic and other daytime activities, become quiet. The striped bass, being a nocturnal feeder, will move in from their deeper lairs to feed, feeling the security of the night sky. They will set up on channel edges, flats and in rips, ready to ambush their prey. But quiet is still the key word… this time by the angler!
Ocean beaches are more forgiving to a noisy fisherman, but the backwater areas that I enjoy fishing require a little more discretion. When approaching these more tranquil locales, take some time to just listen and look around. I try to get in tune with the night. It’s amazing what you can hear and see if you just observe. Look and listen for feeding fish. Many times, bass give their location away with surface feeding activity in shallow water. Watch for swirls on the surface and listen for popping sounds and splashes which are telltale signs of feeding fish. And definitely do not shine your light in the water. When you are approaching where you want to fish, avoid wading in noisily and creating a large wake. Instead try fanning out a few casts from shore. Frequently fish will be cruising in close and you don`t want to alarm them. A lot of backwaters have grassy banks that are undercut and walking quietly along, will go a long way to not startle any fish. When you do enter the water, proceed slowly and stop periodically to make some casts until you reach your target location. A buddy of mine took a nice bass doing this in an area that was a good distance shy of where he intended to fish. If he had just waded in without working the area, that fish surely would have been spooked.
While we are on the subject of noise, there are some sounds that are actually good! A long time ago I learned from a very savvy angler, to sometimes let your plug or eel slap down on the water at the end of your cast. To do this, just cup the spool, or use your finger to abruptly stop the bait or lure. This will cause it to hit the water with a smack that can draw the attention of fish in the area. It works best in quiet backwaters. I was fishing a metal lip swimmer in this manner on a slow night and it really gave me an edge over the other casters nearby. Maybe it gets the fish excited, or it sounds like wounded prey, but I can tell you it has worked on many outings.
Another tactic that works for me is to capitalize on the rattles built into many lures. For instance, there is a flat that I wade out on that borders a channel. The water moves from my right to left on the outgoing. I found that if I make a cast and let it drift all the way to my left, and let the plug hang stationary in the current for a while, and then jig the lure violently several times making it rattle, it often triggers the fish into striking. There were several trips that this actually was the only way I could coax them into hitting!
The best tides I find to fish in these areas vary throughout the season. In early spring the outgoing currents with its warmer water seems to have an edge, but as the waters warm, the cooler incoming water starts to produce better. As far as locations, I like areas of deep water bordered by flats. I will look for eddies, seams, rocks, and coves. Explore and try different locations and tactics until you find what’s working. If it looks like it would hold fish, it probably does. It’s an unhurried and rewarding approach to fishing for striped bass. Once you discover the nuances of quiet, late night fishing in the sheltered backwaters along our coast, this fast paced world we live in will seem to slow down.