cape may fishing



It Must be Striped Bass...

by Paul Kerlinger
Outdoors Editor

I don’t like fishing in crowds, so I often wander off to be by myself or, at least, to fish in relative privacy.  Although a slow and steady pick of striped bass had been happening along the beachfront in the previous few days of early November, I decided to take a long walk to experience calmer water and solitude. 

The large schools of bunker had not arrived and, consequently, the bass were still eating spearing.  This meant they were spread all over and that my flies might be appealing to the bass as they fed in shallow water.

My favorite section of beach was devoid of anglers.  Despite the steady west wind that hampered my casting, I worked a fast sinking fly-line and clouser minnow along the dropoff. 

The outgoing tide was brutal and combined with the 15 mile per hour wind, my fly was simply swept from left to right until it nearly washed up on the beach.  Mechanically, I worked the fly casting upcurrent into the wind and trying to get it down deep enough to get near the bass that had to be waiting in the deep water to ambush spearing when they ventured too far from shore.

Just after the sun set, I noticed another angler in a lightweight rowing boat coming toward me.  He was unable to row against the tide and wind, so he was actually dragging his boat toward me in the shallows.  As he approached within about 40 yards, my rod doubled over and my excess line shot out of my stripping basket. 

It totally surprised me because I figured he would spook the fish.  Luckily, the fish did my work for me and the hook held through several short runs.  I thanked the boat guy for “pushing” the fish toward me and he responded that he had taken two shorts out in the rougher water. 

The fish continued to fight as the boat guy walked on by.  Using the tide in his favor, the fish moved down the beach, but eventually I worked him into the shallows and grabbed his lower jaw.  I saw some dead spearing next to the bass, which had undoubtedly been spit up.  They were eating spearing, so my chartreuse clouser was the right fly for the job.  The fish wasn’t big – only about 27”, but it was a keeper and I caught it on a fly.  Two casts later my rod doubled again, but I was too slow and missed setting the hook.  I ended the night with only one fish on a fly, but I caught it in some very tough conditions.  I was happy.

It's Striper Time

That’s the type of striper fishing that is available between the big November/ early December runs.  It is  a slow and steady pick for flyrodders, although clam and eel dunkers can count on some good action offshore or even in the surf.   Overall, November / sometimes into early December is the best time for striped bass fishing in South Jersey.  Weakfish are pretty much gone.  Some large flounder hang in through the month, but they must be returned to the water (season’s over).  Bluefish blitzes can be great, but they are somewhat spotty and unpredictable.  Speckled trout can be found, but they are few and far between.  This leaves bass, which isn’t a bad alternative.

Catching Striped Bass

There are lots of ways to catch bass.  If you are novice or an expert, simply fish from the beach or jump on board one of the many party boats that leave from South Jersey marinas.  From the beach you will need a rod capable of throwing a variety of plugs from poppers to metal lures.  In addition, being able to cast a heavy sinker with a gob of clam will help.  There are also a few local surf fishing guides who can help you get to the right spots.  Local shops will have the bait and equipment you need, not to mention being able to tell you where the fish are located.

  • If you are a true sport and wish to fly fish for striped bass, get yourself at least a 9 weight rod.  A 10 weight will be better for bigger fish and for use in the surf, but the 9 weight is perfect for calmer situations and smaller fish. 
  • A sinking line is a must for deeper or fast moving water, with other lines (intermediate and floating) when the fish aren’t deep and the casting conditions are good. 
  • A reel should have a good drag and have the capacity for 100 yards of backing. 
  • The backing will be crucial if you hook into a 10+ pound fish. 
  • Clouser minnows, poppers, and a variety of epoxy flies and deceivers that mimic spearing are requirements. 
  • You should also have larger flies that mimic small bunker (called peanut bunker) and herring.

Although you may not catch as many bass as some of the guys dunking bait in the surf or drifting eels in the Cape May rips, you may at times catch more fish. 

However you plan to fish for bass, fall in Cape May is the time to do it!

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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