I sit here at the shop and I'm looking at the water temperature off the coast of southern Maine read 46.8°F. They say that the magic number (for water temp) for when the stripers start to arrive is 50°F...Usually this translates to about mid May here in Casco Bay. So to an extent a somewhat logical date or date range can be applied to water temp. But to strictly correlate when fish should be moving or at a location purely based off a specific date is simply, well too human of you...
I usually hear quite a bit of talk every year like "oh the fish weren't where they usually are this time of year" or "by the second week of this month the bait usually moves south, but they didn't" or some variation of that whether it was related to fresh or saltwater. It is this type of thinking that results mostly in frustration by the angler. Making assumptions on what Mother Nature has in mind and then trying to force your preconceived habits or strategies within this is "putting the cart before the horse" as they say.
Towards the end of the regular freshwater season here in Maine, we had some interesting weather conditions. At the end of summer we had a cold snap. This kick started a lot of the brook trout and landlocked salmon to begin their voyage towards their spawning grounds "earlier than usual." Shortly after that, we had unusually warm weather (in the 80s) for mid September. This left a lot of fishermen confused when they arrived at their "regular spot" and the fish weren't there - they had already come and gone! In this case, what proved to be a good strategy was to do a little reconnaissance work and look for the fish before settling down to one area...go further up river, change water depth/column, go somewhere else, just mix it up if something seems different!
The same applies to saltwater. The striped bass that arrive here in Maine who like that 50° water temp abide by similar laws of nature. There was much talk in September this year about the "fall run" or lack there of. Those who were expecting to see pods of peanut bunker being slammed by big bass at a certain week in Sept. were disappointed. Cries of "all the fish are all gone" or "I think all the big stripers no longer come to Maine" were heard from here to the Chesapeake. Now certainly our striped bass fishery has changed over the years, but the fish are not all gone...in fact we did indeed have bait pouring out of the rivers this fall, it just wasn't in September!
Trust your instincts, not your smartphone. There are certainly yearly landmarks that help to signal changes in seasons and fish behavior, but don't be held down by your human approach to annual fishing tactics. To be successful, you need to enter their world, not force our world on them. A slight change in approach can make a huge difference. Also, to not get caught up in looking at the fishery in a microcosm can be an important tip as well. Every year is different and just because a fish wasn't at your favorite hole on the exact day it has been for the past couple of years, doesn't mean the world is ending.
Additionally, with the huge concern of global warming happening right now, these tips will probably be even more useful in the near future. If you ever think to yourself "hey this is funky weather for this time of year!" - make a note, because it's probably effecting the fish too!
Words + Photos by: Josh Thelin