The Fall Run

Fall is a special time of year. We’re past the hazy, hot and humid weather, and now we can enjoy warm days followed by cool nights and brilliant colors to refresh our spirits. It’s also a special time for migratory fish and game to head South to their wintering grounds well below the Mason-Dixon line. One of my favorite species to follow is the striped bass, and the fall run has been a coastal fishing phenomenon for almost a century.

We all try to figure out where the striped bass were so we know where they will be. We study the wind and the tides and when we hit the tackle and coffee shops we talk about who caught bass, what they caught ‘em on, and where they caught ‘em. We want to know size, numbers, were the fish blitzing in big schools or if they were dribbling past. We leave notes on the dashboards of our friends’ vehicles not because we don’t have electronic communication. We just don’t use it much during the Fall Run. Never did before, no sense in starting. And there is nothing like reading a note about fishing conditions written on a brown paper bag found under your windshield wiper to tie you in to the past.

As the water temperatures drop and the sun light wanes, striped bass move from New Hampshire and Maine on down the coast. Some of them hook inside Massachusetts back and run down the North Shore, past Boston, down along the South Shore and through the Canal. Others follow the Labrador Current from Plum Island to Cape Cod and run the outer beaches. If you have a chance to catch them as they make their journey, here are my recommendations for baits and lures:

  1. Fish live eels. Live eels have historically put some of the biggest bass of the season on the beach. Live line ‘em or use a three-way rig at night.

  2. Throw plugs. Topwater action can be hot, so toss pencil poppers, needle fish, or sliders when you see big schools of breaking fish. Work darters and divers in rips, ocean holes, and in deeper water.

  3. Include a variety of sizes in your plug and bait selection. Adult and juvenile bait is moving at this time of year, so don’t forget the small plugs or bait. When the bass focus on the small bait you’ll catch more if you match their size.

  4. Different bait, different lures. Multiple baitfish means you’ll need multiple colors and silhouettes in your lure selection. Since you’ll find menhaden, peanut bunker, silversides, sandeels, butterfish, mullet, and tinker mackerel in the water you’ll need some Gibbs and Cotton Cordell poppers in similar colors, some Yozuri darters (my favorite is brown over silver), some smaller Rebel stickbaits (don’t forget the jointed ones, too), and a variety of sizes of soft plastics.

  5. Prepare for the weather. This time of year is a combination of Indian Summer and Hurricane Season which means that one week it’ll be as warm and humid as August while the next week will be cold, wet and rainy. Be sure to pack your waders, fleece, and rain gear as well as your t-shirts and shorts.

  6. There is an unparalleled camaraderie during the fall run. Sure there is some friendly competition. We’re a lot like kids talking about ERA’s and RBI’s. And with a chill in the night air and smack of a fish there is no where else I’d rather be.

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at