The moon has the greatest effect on the variables surfcasters pay attention to: bait migration, tides, and the predatory behavior of striped bass.

Rarely do fishermen head out to wet a line without considering how these complex set of variables might make or break a celestial outing. I know a fisherman who fishes according to the moons. He does quite well, catches a lot fish. He can smoke the lights out on any given night, dark or illuminated. He likes to brag about how good he is, about how many fish he caught, saying “The biggest went…”  pounds. He’s an impressive guy and not the only one I meet fishing alone along an uninhabited boulder field. Like me, he fishes from April to November, and then some. He’s successful because he’s figured something out about the moon that many haven’t (maybe that’s why we have chance meetings); he’s a master of current speed.

Current speed is what I like to call the X-Factor of surfcasting. Current speeds control bait behavior and consequently how striped bass respond to bait. If the current speed is too fast, bait is swept past a fish too quickly. If the current speed is too slow, bait can escape. All of this is determined by the moon.

A mall close to where I live has a sushi restaurant that dispenses its main dishes to hungry mouths on a conveyor belt. The customers seated in front of the belt expect morsels of food to be delivered at steady intervals. Once, I saw it grind to a halt. A heavyset guy wearing a trucker hat sitting near the center, wide-eyed, and evidently still hungry, threw his weight at two pieces of sushi on a plate the size of a baseball glove. The plate was an arms length away behind a young couple who were staring at each other lovingly. The full power of the hungry man brought all their bodies on to the conveyor belt, spilling the plate of sushi on the floor. The big guy shrugged and dusted off the raw fish, ate one, and offered the other to the couple, who were still holding hands and couldn’t stop giggling. If the conveyor had stopped, or increased speed, I reckon someone would have been seriously hurt. Someone else with a big appetite would have been frustrated and hungry. I imagined that the big guy was a “cow” striped bass – a heavy one – and it all made sense.

If you want to catch big fish, fish conveyor belts. That is, the stuff that controls when food (bait) can get to a big fish easily, the magical current speed. Look past the generalization and adage “fish the moons.” It’s not the darkest night that matters for the biggest fish, it’s the current speed. Certain phases of the moon produce these speeds, and you need a good log book to figure them out. Once a fisherman knows, his effort becomes more intentional than “luck” and his emotions are more expectant that surprised.

I’m fairly certain I’ve gotten my conveyor belt methodology down pat. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Regardless, you can find me fishing around the moons, giving it my all with my finest tackle when my effort at a big fish spot is likely to produce large. Usually, I can narrow it down to a 30 minute window within a 6-hour tidal flow. Finding the magical number is the surfcaster’s X-factor. Quite a few of us know it by heart. When will you?


Ospreys, fleeting ice, herring, the scent of pine. Oak buds;  the signs of nature’s renewal signal that the striper season is once again, on the edge of busting wide open. Ground animals reappear. Surfcasters awake from their slumber, dust off their gear, test their drags, revive their lines, and take one step closer to the edge of the surf.

Memories that were dormant-some over 20 years old-come flooding into consciousness. The thump thump thump of a broom tail struggling against a flimsy rod…will it turn her? Trembling hands. uncontrollable leg shake. The singsong of braided line rubbing against ceramic, then a loss of tension. Was she the magic number? Will never know. The taste of salt, tears, the rush of laughter. Was that Ralph’s shadow down the boulder lane, fishing by himself? It’s all in the game. To each his own.

Welcome to surfcasting.

Every year, early in the spring, some iteration of memory and sensory experience assaults me. I can’t peg when it’ll happen, but when it does my hunter’s instincts perk up. I get tunnel vision. I see a bass, bigger than my personal best that will become the target of my attention for the next six months. She’s moving slowly through bubble weed, hanging lazily in an outflow, or resting in a tidal pool. She is closer to the edge of the surf than most care to acknowledge; that is why she is so elusive. She likes live bait, or really, really, big plugs, placed right in front of her face, at the most natural angle. If she’s hanging in a bridge piling, she likes gaudy fluffy bucktails. She will hang around her favorite rock when the current speed is X = ?

To target her and win against her, I need a few – not many – things. Just enough to tie up loose ends to make my season a success.

When will the first of the spring bass arrive? I’m reading, hearing, a lot of speculation. But, let me tell you when, since I’ve logged it for many seasons, and where fish end up is largely dictated by water temperature. Follow stream of warm water North, like a bass.

The magical number is 48.5 degrees at your chosen spot; the closer bass are to rocks, the better, since granite absorbs the sunlight and flushes the sea with her warmth.

I’m not a fan of fishing reports, in fact, I rarely read them. A fish’s “time” is her sensitivity to the environment around her. Increase your catch rate, and the size of the fish you target by learning the temperature conditions they prefer.

See you in the surf. See you at 48.5.


New technologies have ushered in unsuspecting ways of surfcasting. For the first time we can see how lures behave underwater: how they shimmy and move, as well as the attention they get from saltwater critters. Underwater cameras like the Waterwolf and GoPros take us into a “fisheye” view of the underwater world.

I’ll be the first to admit how much seeing new lures work excites me, especially when they are being murdered by bluefish.

In spite of how cool these videos look, new technology should also give us a moment of pause. Particularly, for those of us who use lures to hunt big fish. Seeing fish attack especially wiggly lures may make us assume that they are better fishing catching tools, but in my experience, the opposite is true. Bigger fish will always be taken by lures that move minimally, slowly, and with stealth, not by the ones that attract small fish.

Apex predators have learned to be strategic and purposeful feeders. Rarely will they feed amongst or chase bait around, like small fish.

Gaudy and flashy lures attract small fish and make for the best action on underwater cameras, but they aren’t the most consistent big fish catching tools. Those that are that immediately to mind are bucktail jigs, darters, and needlefish. None of these lures move in ways that excite from a “fisheye” view, but each season, they take the most and biggest fish throughout the Northeast. Lures that move very little most closely resemble baitfish. Fished correctly in current, they appear like  baitfish being swept along by current in a very natural vulnerable way. This is enough to entice a big fish to pounce and give you the chance at winning against the fish of a lifetime.

Don’t get me wrong, new technology is cool. But like Facebook, it is changing the way we go about doing the things we love. If we are taught to believe that the best way to catch big fish is to make our lures move the most, than that is how we will fish: by retrieving our lures as fast as we can to make them dance in the water without thinking about where fish are holding, how they expect a baitfish to move, and the proper presentation. All that might matter is the vibration at the end of our lines. We might catch a fish or two here and there, or many in a blitz, but beware the hype.

If you wish to increase the size of your fish and the number of them you catch each season, I suggest fishing differently. Fish in current, keep tension on your line, let your lure sweep in front of structure, and hold on. Choose the lures that work when the water is moving like darters, needlefish, or bucktails, and let the water take them naturally into big fish holding spots under the right conditions. The challenge is enduring the skunking that will inevitably occur to get good at this, but the payoff is big. Surfcasting is hard work, but that’s what makes it so rewarding.

The next time you get out and spend your hard-earned dollars on a lure, think about the type of fishing you wish to do and the type of fish you want to target. I’ve given you three lure options to master as you look ahead to the 2017-18 season. I guarantee they’re worth the effort. 

On a separate note, my fishing partner and I both finished the 2016-17 season with two striped bass over 50 lbs., the biggest being 58 lbs., and four fish over 40 lbs. between the the two of us. Pictures, videos, and analysis of the season to follow.

As always, see you in the surf!

Two old fishermen sat on a log staring into the darkness draped over a cove at the end of a long, winding path that cut through the woods. They lit cigarettes and kicked out their legs, stretching their aching knees laced arthritis. The air was crisp and dry, but comfortable and unusual in August, when most fishermen sought to avoid the discomforts of the hottest summer month indoors as the vicious gnats and cinder worms descending into the intertidal zone at dusk. The fishermen liked the cove because they’d done well there and seemed to always hold fish throughout the years. The stars shone down on them and one fell out of the sky into the sea, diagonal, across the horizon.

“The last one was nearly four minutes long,” Todd said, staring at the sky.

He inhaled a string of smoke and blew it out into still air watching it disintegrate into the lights in the murk. The tide was in. The old men exercised the patience they’d gained over many years of fishing together and spending too much time trying to catch fish outside of the times they were easy to catch. The waves tumbled and turned shelter pebbles and shells in rhythmic and steady repetition. The chords of the sea sounded like music to Galen, who was lost in memories of the nights when he and Todd caught so many fish in the cove they’d lost track of time until they were forced to stop when the sun had risen and their position had been compromised by the sun in the sky.

“They appear to be getting bigger,” Galen said.

“What’s that, the waves?” Todd asked.

“No, the stars.” Galen said.

“They’re all over the place tonight,” Todd said. “And I am certain they’ll be the last thing I think about before I get planted in the ground.”

“Planted? No-drift,” Galen said.

“You are correct,” his friend replied. “Drift me out of the Narrow River. Scatter my ashes where I stuck the leviathan striped bass by the rock in the river.”

“I still remember the fish,” Galen said. “Nobody believed you when you said you caught it.”

“World records are meant to be broken. Even when people don’t believe you. But you believed it…” Todd said.

“Still do.” Galen said.

“Then, I can’t ask for much more,” Todd said.

He inhaled smoke slowly and murmured something to himself that was distant and incomprehensible. He readjusted the position of his rod and laid down on a flat rock next to the log. They stared into the sky and Todd began humming.

“The fishing has been spotty this season,” Galen said.

“It’s always been spotty,” Todd said, as he pulled his cap over his eyes.

“When it’s spotty, people get lucky,” he continued:

“There’s no shortage of one-hit celebrities – Lucky like a squirrel is when he finds a stash of nuts under a tree in a hole dug out by some other squirrel that either isn’t there, or met his end in the mouth of a coyote.”

“Could happen to any of us,” Galen said.

“What’s that? The nuts or the coyote?” Todd asked.

“Both,” Galen said. “But I’d rather have the nuts.”

“I’d rather have the coyote.” Todd said.

When the wind was out of the southwest, a vibrant full swell pushed heavy sets into the cove. Blankets of white water connecting with the reef churned eddies around its edges, dislodging silver baitfish and stone crabs clinging to bubble-weed. Bass and bluefish corralled bait against the stones like packs of wolves slashing through herds of wild deer. And when the old men found the cove like this they rarely said a word, catching, dehooking, and releasing fish with clinical precision. But the wind had shifted from the North an hour ago and the sea was quiet and serene in the cove.

“Seen the lights out at the cliffs for the past three nights,” Galen said.

“Probably – there are always fish there,” Todd replied.

“Billy likes to spark-plug bass right up next to the cliff. Drops a Menhaden down, three ounces in its gullet, two cranks and wham!” Galen waved his arms in the air and drew a long circle with his right arm and bowed deeply into a phantom hook set. He pulled upwards convincingly.


He laughed and glanced at Todd in the darkness, but could barely make out the unique features of his old friend, so he imagined him as he’d been many moons ago, when he was dusty and lean, chiseled with courageous brown eyes that had witnessed war and erased its images from memory.

From the north side of the cove, a pair of lights came into Galen’s peripheral view. Descending from a garden of ferns were the unmistakable silhouettes of two men. Galen watched them hurry over the stones, without pausing. They came down the path, through a row of washed-up logs, to the front of the end of a fence separating a military base from the Atlantic, took a right past the first point, then moved straight ahead towards two atlas-sized rocks that stood for two-thousand years at the entrance of a footpath that was once overlaid with balsa plank wood by fisherman from another era when striped bass the size of men were commonplace, and where Galen and Todd now sat, sprouting overgrowth and life all over as nature, certain of her power, sought to erase it from the memories of men.

The old men straightened their backs and sat upright. Galen drew his pack close and put out his cigarette in a small pool of water in a hole in the log. The first of the two red lights, walking heavily, was an impressively sized man, who barked orders and opinions at his companion. The companion, Galen observed, was substantially smaller, but carrying himself with a more imposing confidence, lept over structures along the path, lightly, as a mountain billy goat. They stopped their trek at the edge of the water, when the smaller one caught wiff of evaporated nicotine. He nudged his friend in the ribcage, turned and faced the old men.

“Didn’t mean to graveyard your spot,” the tall man said.

“We saw you from the top of the path,” his companion continued. “But we thought you’d left.”

“So we decided it best to check it out,” big said.

He laughed loudly and roughed the pebbles beneath his steel-spiked boots. He lifted his rod up by its full length and placed it atop his shoulder and drew his blades back, amplifying his chest through his wetsuit. His partner was steely dead-eyed and cold looking at the old men sitting on the log.

“We’ve been pounding this spot for the last few seasons,” the big man said.

“But we haven’t seen you here before,” small said.

“Have you been fishing here for long?” the big man asked.

“Generations,” Todd answered.

“Oh, yeah?” The small man looked at his friend and Galen saw him wink through the darkness between them.

“Well, let me tell you something,” big went on: “there ain’t any.”

“You’re wasting your time,” small said.

“My old man always said: pay it forward,” big said.


“If I know it, I should share it,” he continued.

“Thanks,” Galen said.

“What’s your old man’s name?” he asked.

“Ronald Sheldon,” big answered, smartly, smiling.

“Owner of Top of the Dock?” Todd asked.

“You bet,” big said.

“Honest man.” Todd said.

“Fantastic fisherman,” be replied.

For the first time Todd felt uncomfortable on the log that had been his footstool and couch for longer than his tired mind could remember. It felt moist and rough to touch. Galen lit another cigarette and handed it to Todd, who watch the embers burn through the densely packed tobacco and rolling parchment.

“There was a star that lasted nearly for minutes earlier,” Galen said.

“See it?” Todd asked.

“Nope,” big answered.

“We’re fishing.” small said.

“Nobody has any time to stargaze when there are fish in the surf,” he continued: “especially in this spot.”

“Right,” big said. “But there are no fish-so we’re leaving. Charlie-Os is open ‘til 2 a.m. in August. Happy hour for fishermen, who wudda thought?”

“Enough time for a drink,” small said.

“Good luck,” Todd said.

“No such thing,” replied small.

“Fair enough, boys,” big said. “And be careful on these rocks – the can be pretty slippery at high tide, even when it’s calm.”

Small stared through his tall friend and motioned towards the overgrown boardwalk. They switched their headlamps on and turned to face the cove, washing a wave of white light on the reef and rocks covered with sea fauna and birdshit. In the sweep of small’s headlamp, Todd saw a flash of silver zip past the furthest point of the beam. He estimated the fish was close to four-feet in length, and he knew his estimates to be accurate and true. Still, he was silent and reserved in the darkness behind the young men. Big let out a deep-throated belch and said something about bird shit and began to walk towards the path as small lept over the rocks with the grace of an olympic gymnast, two steps behind. The old men watched the lights of youth extinguish into the the dark dense woods and then sat for a long time, smoking, after the lights and sounds had disappeared.

“I saw a bass, way past the reef,” Todd said.

“Me too,” Galen said.

“Top of the Dock. Sheldon. He was a good, honest man. I miss him.” Todd said.

“Was he with you the night you hooked into the leviathan striped bass? Galen asked.

“He helped me weigh it,” Todd said.

Todd bit into the butt of his cigarette, half gone, and stood, stretching his aching back. He swung his pack over his shoulder, cinched his belt tight around his waist and exhaled deeply and descended the rocks down to the edge of the surf using his rod as a walking staff. Galen joined him a short time later and the old men fished for several hours and watched in wonder and awe as the stars fell, one after the other, into the sea.

“What are you doing after your plug is out of the strike zone?” I asked Steve.

“Retrieving,” he replied.

“Just like that?”

“Just like that,” he said.

Turning, he glanced at the black over chartreuse, over white plug I had placed on the counter and nodded, approvingly.

“Montauk special,” he said. “That’s what they call it down there.”

The rock gardens and rips across the northeast flooded my memory as I began to envision the countless spots the “Montauk Special” has taken fish for me throughout the years.

Like most of the lures I fish, the Super Strike Darter is most effective during a very specific span of a retrieve. Timing matters with glide plugs, specifically how long the plug remains in structure.

I don’t expect it to catch fish all the time, or just because I throw it out there. I expect the darter to catch fish only when it passes a very specific part of structure, be it a garage-sized rock, or an inshore reef, or a mussel bed. Otherwise, it is just a piece of plastic floating in fish-less water.

Your retrieve speed should take this fact into account. When we fish, it is easy for us to think about how our retrieves effect the action of the lures we throw. 

But while the action of a lure is important, I have found it even more important to modify my retrieve to enable my bait to stay in the area I am targeting for the longest amount of time possible.

Consider this scenario: If I am standing on a rock and casting parallel to the shoreline in a boulder-field, the only two times I am retrieving quickly are a) to pick up slack line when my lure hits the water and 2) when my lure is out of the vicinity of the boulders and I need to get it back. Otherwise, when my lure is close to a rock in the boulder-field, I slow my retrieve speed to a crawl. This enables my lure to stay in the structure longer, increasing the amount of time a fish has to find it.

Doldrums 30

I have never missed fish with a retrieve too slow, but I have missed fish because a retrieve was too fast. Photo: Gio Rivera

Over the years I’ve observed very proficient surfcasters. Steve McKenna, one of the best, has many stories to tell, but his best advice has always been his dissemination of surfcasting tactics. Learning to modify my retrieve has taught me more about fishing than a specific spot.

A commitment to cast placement and presentation is an attitude the greats seem to share. We must always fish structure because structure holds fish. 

So the next time you make a cast to some white-washed rock or structural irregularity, regulate your retrieve to hang in there with the bass.


A Superstrike Darter. Copyright OTW magazine.

The darter craze of recent times has taken the broader surfcasting community by storm, and for good reason. Darters account for extraordinary-sized fish. Any cursory internet search will find proof of their effectiveness throughout the striper surf. The darter was even responsible for a Rhode Island sharpie’s-affectionately known as “the fish whisperer”-50-lbs. behemoth last year, one of only two I knew taken from the surf in 2015. The other fell to a rigged eel.

My friend Angus got me started on the darter many seasons ago, and for the past four seasons, aside from a needlefish, it is the only lure I fish when targeting cows. There is no other plug I know that mimics  baitfish as accurately, and no better profile for when squid, mackerel, or herring are on a grandmother striper’s menu. My yearly excursions to the New England Aquarium in Boston confirm as much. Baitfish zig-zag through the water and do not shimmy the way metal lip or plastic swimmers. The darter’s sloped forward head enables it to track in a z-like pattern when retrieved.

This is not to say that a darter will automatically catch big bass. It must be used properly to produce.


My friends and I all have our preferred ways of fishing the darter, but I especially like to use a method I call, the sweep and seep. The method is simple and deadly when there are bass around. The technique involves three parts:

First, cast the darter into the desired water. Pick up any slack in the line, but before beginning the retrieve, point the rod tip at water at a slight angle from where the darter landed and sweep the rod forcefully like drawing a large “Z.” The lure will dart and dive dramatically and emit enough vibration to attract bass. I believe this motion appears like a baitfish escaping from the rocks or like a squid chasing down its own bait.

Second, after drawing a “Z” with the darter, I like to begin an agonizingly slow retrieve, with only enough speed to feel tension on the line. The slow retrieve is the seep period, when I envision the lure traveling as slow as a teabag’s essence discharging into clear water. During this period, I expect my plug to get hammered, and most of the time, it does.

Third, I will typically stop the darter midway into my retrieve and use the sweep technique again before repeating a slow seep a second time. Usually this break in my retrieve is enough to entice a big bass that has decision making issues, the most important part of it being the retrieve speed.

The darter may be the most understated lure available to surfcasters today, but it is worth considering when putting together a surf casting lure arsenal. Consider taking a season to master this plug.

Many of us haven’t been disappointed.

Since I began working my summer months at Quaker Lane Bait and Tackle as a Pro Staffer, I’ve met and observed many impressive surfcasters pass through our doors and browse our aisles. Some say a lot, but most say very little, since they are dedicated to what is good and true: a simple shared experience in an intellectually challenging and physically demanding sport framed by a healthy competition and sprinkled with dramatic theater. These guys stand out from tourists and seem to know exactly what they need and where to find it in our shop. I have no problem imagining them approaching their fishing in the same way. 

It never ceases to amaze me that after reaching a certain level, surfcasting becomes less a rat race and more of an endless exploration of experiments and experiences, which is kind of like life, if one thinks about it. Most surfcasters who have been around realize that the goal is not what matters, but everything that led up to it. The most elite of us will be ready to take the world record striped bass from shore if he or she meets her.

My point is that any one of us at any time could break fifty or take the world record striped bass as long as we endure the necessary “paying your dues” mandate from the sharpies. It is also true that any uninitiated and unschooled surfcaster may beach a behemoth like a blind squirrel discovering a hidden treasure cove of priceless nuts. My fishing partners “Bart,” Gio, and his brother, Johnny, are each good enough to take the fish of a lifetime when they meet her. 

I remember reading somewhere that one good fish a sharpie does not maketh. The speaker is correct. There is a lot more to be gained from the game of surfcasting when we focus on what we know and have learned, what we can do when Mother Nature throws us a curveball, and how we do it, and exploring new environments than the size of the fish we or someone else caught today or yesterday.

There are a lot of hot rods on the market these days, and I own quite a few. However, my preference is a custom rod built by Howard at Galilee Bait and Tackle build on a GSB 1201L blank, trimmed 3″ from each end to make it 9’6″ long or 12″ from the butt to make a 9′ rod. To me, the 9’6″ qualifies as “heavy tackle” and the closest setup I know to the tried and true J. Kennedy Fisher blanks of old.

I marry it to a Van Staal 250 or 200 depending on my mood.

I have never had trouble hooking a big fish and landing it, and it seems whenever I fish another rod I have all sorts of issues, wether straightening hooks or working a big hole in a bass’s mouth. We surfcasters are a superstitious bunch, and when I’m not banging big fish, I blame it on the mystical properties (or lack thereof) of my rod.

I’ve read a lot of stories about surfcasters hooking into big bass that destroyed their gear, but I’ve never had that issue with the 1201L – specifically the 9’6″ – in the areas I fish, even when the current running at max velocity.

The trick I’ve found with the GSB blank-like most tackle-is to have the right mindset; simply trust it; adjust the drag appropriately, set the hook hard, and let the fish fight the rod. No need to do anything dramatic. The rod won’t explode. It’s that simple. I’ve taken multiple 40-pound striped bass and a 50 with the GSB 1201L.

Every rod has a “sweet spot,” a mode when it operates at peak efficiency, if you will.

For the GSB 1201L paired with Van Staal reels the “sweet spot” seems to occur when the drag is tightened all the way down and then loosened one full turn and a half. Under this setting the GSB will bend halfway into the blank and produce just the right amount of parabolic action and lift to win against a big fish.

In my experience, most of the big fish I lose are due to user error or improperly set drags that did not enable my tackle to operate at its sweet spot.


This fish in the 40s fell for a live eel fished on the GSB 1201L. The rod performed flawlessly. photo: newenglandsurfcasting

Sometimes I feel like I am more familiar with the intricacies of my tackle than I am with my right hand. My GSB 1201L has effectively become a part of my body and it inspires my confidence.

Confidence catches fish.