Fall Fishing: Strategies for Falling Water Temps

Fall Fishing: Strategies for Falling Water Temps

Author: Gene Bourque

Most experienced striper anglers are well aware that the cooling water and decreasing sunlight of the fall season kicks the fall migration of striped bass into high gear. This can result in some of the fastest action of the year – if you play your cards right!

As always, it’s all about bait. There is more forage for the bass at this time of year than any other time but the trick is to predict where it will be and if you do, you will most likely find the stripers.

Always take into account wind direction. Those bluebird days of fall with offshore wind and clear blue skies may be nice for a walk on the beach but they don’t often feature very good fishing for the shore-bound angler. The reason is simple: offshore wind pushes the warmer surface water off shore, replaced by much cooler water from the depths.

Baitfish of all kinds prefer warmer water and the stripers know this so they will seldom be found along the beachfront when the wind is blowing offshore. But a brisk onshore breeze and waves push the bait in close as the warmer surface water is “stacked up.” Even though the casting may be challenging and the water filled with weeds, you can often find some epic fishing under these conditions in the fall. A classic Northeast storm is even better – fishermen on the Cape still talk about the Columbus Day Nor’easter of a few years ago that triggered epic striper fishing for three days along the beaches from Brewster to the Cape Cod Canal.

Favorite Fall Presentations:

The other place to find that warmer water is inside estuaries and salt ponds. As the water outside these places cools rapidly in the fall, bait fish seek out the shelter and warmer water found inside these places. In fact, estuaries, harbors and salt ponds that may have been barren since the Spring will sometimes seem to fill up with stripers seemingly over night.

As you’re driving along the shore front scouting out blitzing fish, don’t always spend all your time looking seaward – that salt pond behind the beach (assuming it has an outflow) may be featuring a huge blitz. The best part about these conditions in the estuaries, salt ponds and harbors is that they can last well into the fall. Here on Cape Cod we often find good fishing inside right up until Thanksgiving when the fall migration has long passed the outer beaches.

It’s definitely worth your time to explore every estuary, even those that have no reputation for holding fish. We found just such a place a few years ago right in town, as unlikely a spot as you’ll ever see – but it held large schools of baby menhaden (called “peanut bunker” by the locals) and plenty of bass, including some 20-pound plus fish.

You can also take advantage of that warmer water from inside these places by fishing the mouths of outflows during the outgoing tide. Stripers will be attracted from far and wide by that warmer water dumping out into the cooler ocean and the baitfish it delivers. If that dropping tide is pushing against an onshore breeze producing some confused, choppy water, so much the better!

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