Spring vs Fall

By Bill Wetzel

Which one of these scenarios sound more appealing to you?

    1. I pulled into the parking lot of Montauk Point at about 5pm, put on my gear, and made preparations to fish the bottom of the ebb, at the famous False Bar. There were a couple of other cars in the lot but no beach buggies, and nobody on the CB radio to get fresh reports from. I eventually made my way down the buggy entrance, not once having to pull over in the brush to let other buggies go by. Upon my arrival a peaceful feeling came over me, as I was the only soul in sight. Nobody to the left of me, nobody to the right. I entered the water and saw the familiar dorsal of stripers feeding on the edge of False Bars rip. I figured the stripers were feeding on sand eels, which made my lure selection choice easy. Needlefish used as a pencil popper. My first cast found the edge of the rip where the stripers were feeding. By the first few cranks of the reel I was into a nice teen striper. A dozen more stripers would find my needle fish before I was through, and I hadn’t even begun to fish the night bite


    2. I pulled into the parking lot at Montauk Point at about 5pm. The lot was loaded with more than 100 beach buggies. The smell of barbeque hamburgers were in the air, and I had to stop to get a report from one of my fishing buddies who had been living out of his truck for two weeks. After getting the low down I took my buggy down to the 4-wheel drive path having to pull over, back up, and pull over a couple other times to let other buggies by. I finally reached the famous False Bar. The howling North West winds combined with the ebbing tide had pushed the white bait about 20 feet from the shore line. About an acre of stripers had found the bait and were feasting on the easy Pickens. About 50 surf casters stood shoulder to shoulder casting bucktails and pencil poppers. I managed to find a 10-foot gap between them and began casting my 11/2 oz bucktail. My first cast landed a low teen fish. I had stripers until I couldn’t fish anymore.

    The difference between these true scenarios?
    The first scenario is the middle of June and the second is in the middle of September. Personally I like it all, May through November. Each month has it’s own conditions, and adjustment need to be made to met those conditions. I could right a book on fishing all the conditions Montauk throws at you.
    Here are a few that are typical of Montauks Spring and fall runs.


The Spring Run

LATE APRIL – MID MAY: Depending on water temperatures Montauk usually begins to see stripers by the end of April or the beginning of May. From April to about the middle of May stripers are on the move as they make their annual spring migration. Some of these fish take residence, others keep moving to the Block, Cape Cod, even as far as New Brunswick. Fishing in Montauk for these few weeks can be hit and miss. Most fish do not stay long as there isn’t enough bait in the suds to sustain any residency. The water is still cold this time of year, and you will have the best chance at landing some fish when an ebbing tide combines with dusk. At this time the suds will be at their warmest and stripers will come into the shallows to feed. I have done best with South winds under sunny skies during this time of year in the MECCA. In April 2002 the Montauk suds were loaded with shrimp, but herring and shad have been the primary early spring baits over the past several years. Fish are picky and sluggish this time of year. Bucktails, Polaris poppers, and needle all do the job under most conditions.  The key is to go smaller, and slower. For example, I like to throw 1oz to 11/4 oz bucktails dressed with paddle tails or fin –s as opposed to pork rind. The pork rind makes for a larger presentation, and I have found I get fewer takers this early in the year with more dressing. Also the lighter the bucktail the slower the retrieve speed that can be accomplished without hanging up in the rocks.

MAY- JUNE: As spring moves on and we enter the middle of May through June quality and large quantities of stripers begin to take up residence in Montauks rips, points, and coves.  As water temperatures rise, spearing and sand eels usually will become the dominant bait. Last year (2002) we didn’t see the sand eels everyone was hoping for, and May through June provided sporadic shots of fish for the Montauk surf fisherman. This year we have had a very cold winter, and according to my logs cold winters yield excellent sand eel hatches. The sand eels should start hitting the beach around the first week of June. Night ebb tides on the North side of Montauk with SW winds will be a good bet to catch some fine stripers. Bombers, Yozuries swimmers, and needlefish will dominate my plug bag. Don’t forget the teasers. The 3” brown and silver slug- o used as a teaser in front of the above mentioned is a perfect imitation for sand eels. I can’t begin to tell you how many quality fish I have taken of that little thing! However if the sand eels are not present move on to another presentation that will meet the existing conditions. The old stand bys; Super Strike or Gibbs darters can do a number on the stripers if bigger baits are present.

    In general nighttime requires slow retrieve speeds, but don’t be afraid of speeding it up a bit especially on bright moon lit nights. Dawn and dusk are also excellent times with dawn getting the nod. Pencil and Polaris poppers, bucktails, and tins are some of my daytime go tos.  A needlefish used, as a pencil popper will present with less profile and is a better match for springtime baits. The fish are feeding more aggressively by this time of year, therefore experiment with daytime retrive speeds. Sometimes a very fast retrive will trigger a strike over a slower speed, especially when stripers are feeding in large numbers and the competition to compete for a meal is increased.  

The Fall Run

    During the fall the stripers are on the move once again from northern residences to the Chesapeake, Hudson and Delaware rivers among other wintering grounds. During this migration stripers are extremely aggressive. Schoolie stripers will take plugs that are almost the same size as they are. Strong winds that move current and bait into the surf will provide the best action. On Montauks North side Northwest and North East winds are both good bets for quality stripers. As you look out to the ocean, Montauks ebb current sweeps from left to right, and right to left during the flood. As a general North side rule, fish ebb tides that move in the same direction as the wind. For example; a North West wind combining with an ebb tide pushes water and current into the beach, and at the same time pushes the current along a westerly direction (left to right), thus pushing the bait into the suds and increasing the current. This combination will allow the stripers to trap bait in certain areas as the stripers move easily in the strong current whereas the baitfish become just that – bait. On the South side the key ingredients are flood tides and white water, the white water provides cover for the stripers, and stirs up the bait. Try to make your casts behind waves in the white froth, and you will be in for a treat.

SEPTEMBER: September provides some of the best most consistent fishing of the year. The summer resident fish move from their deep resident addresses into the shallows of the surf to feed on white bait, spearing, and snappers, that invade Montauk this month. Over the years and many logged night and days, I have noticed that after the first good September heave, or the new or full moon many of the larger resident cows move on, and new pods of fish move in. Last September was a good example of this. The Fisherman magazine had their annual fall fishing tournament on the September full moon. There were some nice fish taken, but if you ask anyone who fished the tournament including myself, they will tell you the fishing was tough- real tough. Some fisherman will blame it on the bright moon. For those of you who fished Montauk in September last year, ask yourself, what was the average fish after the September full moon? Eight – twelve pounds? Before the moon, larger stripers from 10 to 15 lbs were more the mean. There are always exceptions, and by no means am I making a blanket statement. Just food for thought when you plan your next trip to the MECCA.
    September daytime action is that of legend. When white water mixes with white bait, mad, angry, and furious blitzes of stripers and blues will test you tackle, your sleepless mind, and your relationship with loved ones. Pencil poppers and bucktails from 11/4 oz to 11/2 oz dressed with pork rind will take most of the fish during these daytime blitzes.
    During night tides, darters, bottle plugs and needlefish are always some of my go - tos. Don’t under estimate the power of the needlefish plug. I see very few throwing it anymore. Its versatility to be fished on top, near the bottom, used as a pencil popper, and its aerodynamics to cast like a rocket make it a must for you surf bag.

OCTOBER – NOVEMBER: Early October has been the most consistent time to catch stripers during these months. As the water temperatures cool and day after day of hard North winds pound the surf, much of the white bait moves out, and with the white go the Stripers. Many surf fishermen continue to believe that late November provides the best fishing of the year in the MECCA. They are probably reading old articles from the eighties. During the eighties through 1991 we had great Novembers in Montauk. The herring hit the beach, and with them so did the cows. Since 1991 I can only recall one great November. That was 2001 when we had an extremely warm winter and Montauk had fish into January. Having said that, the potential for big cows hitting the beach in late October through November is definitely there. The problem has been the herring, and peanut bucker. The boats have had great action with the stripers this time of year as the peanuts and herring stay out from the range of the surf fisherman. There have been many theories as to why this is so, especially by the old times. The best theory that I have heard has to do with how erosion has changed the currents in Montauk. Take a look at any pictures of False Bar, the lighthouse, and Shagwong from the eighties, and compare them to today’s landscape. You will realize there is probably some validity to the old timers theories.
    Big plugs and big North wind is key this time of year to push the herring onto the beach. If it’s blowing 20 or 30 knots North West grab your rod, tie on a bottle plug and go hard-core for the cows.
    If it’s the fall, or the spring Montauk is it, the MECCA, the “surf fishing capital of the world”. Fish the crowds or find a rock in the middle of nowhere to call your own. She will challenge you, and demand your respect for her secrets, power, and beauty. I didn’t even mention August-oooh.

Copyright, May, 15 2003


Bill Wetzel is NY State licensed Surf Fishing guide, with over 20 years of surf fishing experience.
He is CPR, first Aid and Water Safety Certified and offers personal service with all custom tackle included on his trips. Fish the pounding surf of Montauk, the sands of Long Island's South Shore, or the back bay light tackle action of the North Shore. Learn where and how. From what plugs to use, how to fish and recognize potential striper hot spots (reading the beach), to mastering the cast.. Excellent opportunity for someone just getting started or a surf rat looking to fish new spots.
For Booking a trip contact Bill at 1 631 987 6919 or visit his website at

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