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Fall Fishing

by Paul Kerlinger
Outdoors Editor

Mullet and more mullet!  In the wash along the beaches, in the inlets, and back bays, mullet explode onto the fishing scene in the fall.  They appear as scattered pods of wriggling baitfish, darting individuals, or as dark masses in the shallows. 

At times they burst from the water as they are pursued by predators from below.  At the same time, predators from above in the form of gulls and terns, dive into the shallows and gorge themselves on the masses of mullet that have remained elusive during the months of summer.

Striped Bass Runs

Though mullet are not the preferred catch of anglers in September, their presence heralds the beginning of the autumn runs of bluefish and striped bass.  As mullet begin to school in the back bays, bass and blues take note of these large and easily ambushed baitfish. 

These large predators work the edges of sodbanks, shallow flats, and shallow surf, locations where mullet schools go to avoid predation.  When a school of mullet is located by a school of bluefish or bass, the result is a feeding blitz that makes for great fishing and watching.  The water erupts with baitfish, bluefish, and bass. 

Seeing 20” bass clear the water makes the heart beat faster and raises adrenalin levels.  The blues and bass sometimes become oblivious to humans and swim within a few feet of shore.  At these times you can actually see small groups of predators chasing bait in less than a foot of water.

Catching Stripers and Blues

Catching bass and blues during the mullet runs can be done in two basic ways:  fish in the schools during a blitz or fish locations where bass and blues are likely to be waiting to ambush mullet. 

Spotting schools of fish and flocks of birds feeding is easy.  A pair of binoculars will help.  Watch for birds diving repeatedly.  Beneath the birds, the water will be boiling.  Simply cast a plug, spoon, or fly into the action and you are likley to “hook-up.”  Poppers work nicely because they can attract fish from a distance, even if there are no mullet present.  Amidst a school of mullet, a popper is more conspicuous and can draw a fish’s attention.

Location, location, location

If a blitz is not occurring you can look for one or try to inspire a cruising bass or bluefish to hit your plug.  Again, poppers can draw a strike and do so even when there is no bait around.  Swimming plugs and large flies that match the size, shape, and color of mullet work, but other types of lures may pay off so change lures from time to time. 

You may also wish to move to other locations.  The edges of sodbanks, small rips at sandbars, breaks in sandbars, rips at jetties, deepwater droppoffs, and other “fishing” situations can payoff.   It is a hunting trip until you find the fish.  Dawn and dusk provide the most action when blitzes are not to be found.

Weakies and Flounder Too

Along with the blues and bass, there will also be weakfish and flounder.  These fish may not be part of the topwater spectacle, but they are certainly present.  Instead of chasing mullet on top, they feed on injured or dead fish that drop to the bottom.  Any scrap that sinks to the bottom is fair game.  For these fish, lurking beneath the melee on top is easier than competing with the more aggressive bass and blues. 

Even after a blitz is over They can be caught on live bait – cut or whole mullet – or on artificial lures and flies fished right on the bottom.  Fish slowly, making A strategy among fly fishers is to use a clouser minnow and fish it slowly on a fast sinking line.  A bonus of this type of fishing is the possibility of hooking into a large bass

Boat Trips

There are other ways to catch blues and bass in September.  Cape May's party boats continue to fish for blues and do well throughout the month.  Some of these boats also target bass in the rips off Cape May.  The game there is drifting using whole eels as bait, although other bait including mullet will work just fine.

If you don’t want to fish for blues or bass, September marks the beginning of better sea bass and tautog fishing.  Party boats going to the wrecks or reefs off the Cape May peninsula do very well on this species in autumn and the action starts in September.

The first fall mullet run marks the beginning of the autumn run, the magical time that many of us wait for.  Their appearance means lots of fish and some really big fish.  The blitzes of bass and blues begin as soon as the mullet school up.  When this happens, be ready.

Note:  The flounder season in New Jersey closes in September, so if you plan to keep any make sure you do so during the legal season only.


Paul Kerlinger has been fishing since he was 8 years old.

He's a dedicated salt water fly fisherman who enjoys nothing more than working a Cape May area sod bank or jetty.

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