North Fork Outdoors/Martin Garrell: Some tips for fall fishing

Walk along the Long Island Sound beaches on any October day and you’ll come across lots of anglers. Some are outfitted so simply it’s hard to believe: one rod, one lure, that’s all. Others carry so much in backpacks, surf bags and surf tops, they seem to leave deep tracks in the gravel. The sharpest and the most versatile are somewhere in between, carrying what they need and no more.

Conditions on any given day dictate what you’ll need, but, until you get on the water, you’re never sure.

You start the day driving out along the North Fork, headed east as the tide goes out, then west as the tide comes in, unless you’re one of those rare folks who are patient enough to trust the schools of bait and predators out there in mid-Sound to come onto a particular beach sometime during the day. Until you actually look at wind and water and birds, you never quite know exactly what you would like to have in that bag or on that leader. Hard onshore winds and fish a long cast off the beach? You’ll need a heavy, streamlined lure to reach out. Dirty water? Better have dark or fluorescent colors the fish can spot. Tiny bait pursued by avid hunters? Hope you’ve got a fly rod, or at least some teasers ahead of those plugs. Dirty water and lots of floating weed? Go home and tune in the American League or National League playoffs!

Thus, although we guess what we’ll need and keep gear to a minimum before the trip starts, we always carry a larger tackle “box” with an array of alternate lures — just in case — so we can make a quick swap of terminal tackle before we march to the sand or gravel.

The really tough call concerns the rod we actually choose. Flat calm with bait in close — this presents the ideal conditions for a fly rod, but should winds pick up, you had better be a pro with stout gear to punch any casts for distance. For control of fish around rocky areas, we love conventional tackle, but throwing small lures on windy days can prove frustrating. Facing sand entrained in the water or even fishing sandy beaches in general, we bring spinning gear to avoid fine grains getting into and under reel spools.

Should conditions switch during the course of the day, we’re stuck, however, with that one rod, so it better be the right one! No one tries to “schlep” two rods on a beach unless he or she is a masochist. Where are you going to put that “reserve” rod, anyway?  In the bushes? On a tarp on the sand?

Choice of lures boils down to those artificials you have the most confidence in. We’ll write a future column about the confidence factor, but, suffice it to say, most of us have blind spots and preferences. Almost everyone breaks into the saltwater scene with “swimmers,” usually floating-diving lures with lips that allow them to wobble when retrieved. They’re simple enough to be cast and retrieved mindlessly and still catch fish. We always carry a couple, usually a heavy wooden plug and a long, but lighter plastic swimmer, along with a teaser rig that puts a fly or plastic tail ahead of the plug if necessary (when there’s small bait in the area).

A surface lure is the next choice, generally a “popper” that can be rattled, ripped, or swum right on top, creating a wake as it splashes along, or sometimes stopped and popped. Oh, how we do enjoy the explosion of a surface strike, and, again, this is pretty basic, as long as you remember not to rear back if there’s no weight on the rod. (The fish missed the lure, so you keep on retrieving, trying to induce another strike.) One popper in blue or white, another in chrome will do.

The last choice for the most basic lure is the ubiquitous bucktail, a lead head with a single hook, some hair or feathers, and, of course, a strip of white or white/red pork rind to add allure. Because bucktails are compact, anglers can carry a packet with three or four in various weights from three-quarters of an ounce to two ounces, depending on water depth and turbulence. Like swimmers, bucktails will catch on a simple slow, steady retrieve under many conditions.

If you’ve got eight or 10 lures in your bag, you have plenty of room for ancillary gear. A packet of spare leaders comes first for the bluefish that wear down the bitter ends of your terminal tackle; a tape measure is vital to see if the bass your caught was a keeper and to estimate fish weight (using length and girth). A cutting tool, pliers, sharpener and a flashlight round out the bag.

However you go, enjoy the fall run. See you out there!