Is there life after sand eels?

For every weekend angler who relished the thought of tossing a tossing a tin and catching fish, with a good chance of going home with a keeper there is a angler who hates it more then he will ever admit it.

There is no shame in giving fish what they want. Every successful angler over the years has adapted to the conditions, bait patterns and type of fish he targeted in order to be successful. There are herring runs, and mackerel run, squid and bunker blitzes, sand eel bites and mullet run.

But there is something about the sand eels that many, including yours truly  absolutely detest. First of all, unlike your normal migration where fish are moving east to west and you have a reasonable chance of intercepting them, with a sand eel bite you won’t be able to do this. They move inshore and offshore so if you are waiting for them to show at your beach you might be disappointed. Which means that you and hundreds of other anglers will have to go where sand eels are thick….but this also means that chances of finding the fish in relative un-crowded conditions is slim to none.

If you are a rock junkie, you might get lucky some years and have good action but most years you will have to gravitate to sand. I got to admit that there are few things funnier than seeing bunch of wetsuit clad surfcasters on a sandy beach.

And then there are lure choices. Yes, needlefish will work but what works best are tins. Green tube today, red tube tomorrow, but tube it is. I don’t care what anyone will say, catching a fish on tin when they are on sand eels is like kissing your sister  

Those who got into the sport in the last few years might have this preconceived notion that this type of action is what constitute fall run because they don’t know any better. They have never seen a lights out mullet run or baby weakfish being chased on the dry sand. They never experience peanut bunker spraying clear out of the water by thousands or adult bunker so think in the inlets and by the bridges you could seemingly walk on their backs to the other side without getting your feet wet.

When I got into this sport all I wanted to do was catch fish. Bait, lures, daytime, night, I didn’t care. Now that I am getting old and cranky, I want to do it on my own terms. Does that makes me a snob? ….I guess you could look at it that way but it’s not like I am sitting at home and cursing the sand eels. I’m out there fishing combat style just like everyone else

That doesn’t mean I am not wishing for return of the day of old when darter was a king and pencil poppers actually got a look if not a strike.

Big part of this game is adaptation to conditions that are presented to you. No successful angler I know has ever proceeded to put huge numbers on his local beach while no one else was catching. That is unless they used pen and a paper to accomplish this.

Part of this exercise is pure fun, trying to figure out where the fish will be, what will they strike, how will they hit, how to they want the lure presented. I do not mean to minimize a wonderful impact sand eels have had last few seasons. But when they are that thick all this more of less goes out the window. Find a parking lot with most trucks, get some red and green tins, handful of bucktails and get into the lineup.

I am wondering what happened to peanut bunker last few years….

37 comments on “Is there life after sand eels?

  1. mike

    Ill have to agree where did the P-nuts go????? Sand eel bite is ok but i want those little buggers back swimming into the beach cause “mama” striper is chasing them…seeing them scatter everywhere when those cows go flying threw the schools…..Maybe 2011 will be the year of the P-Nut:)

  2. Bill H


    Cant agree more. I just refuse to line up shoulder to shoulder anymore. I’ll make the long trek to pick one or two fish or none rather than fish in the mob.An ava with a tube is usually in my bag, sure I’ll throw it, it’s just not like beaching a fish with a big metal lip hanging from it’s jaw.

  3. JohnP

    We are into a sand eel era and its anyone’s guess how long that will last. I remember the sand eels of the 80s and late 90s. It was all about AVA jigs back then too.

    What I dont like about the sand eels is that they tend to stay put which means you can accumuklate a terrible crowd who otherwise couldn’t be bothered spending time hunting the beaches.

    I’ve always thought that it was good to have sand eels becuase they would keep the bass around until the herring showed up, then all hell wouyld break loose, but I can’t say it worked out that way recently.

  4. Rob G

    This was my first season fishing the beaches, so I can definitely say I loved the sand eel run. After a ton of fish less trips and learning through trial and error – it gave me the opportunity to turn my mind “off” for a bunch of trips.

    I can say that I am looking forward to catching my “firsts” on the plugs that require more skill to do so this upcoming season.

  5. John Martines

    Well Zeno you know how I feel about bunker and the reasons for lack of. That said my only problem with the sand eel thing is that in NJ they aren’t very large, maybe 6″ or so. It’s my opinion that sand eels don’t hold the large fish. Some quality fish?? Sure, but I don’t see the large linsiders exerting alot of energy chasing or funnel feeding on sand eels.

    IMO the bunker, large and small have a better nutrition for less and the large bass know it. Where did the bunker go?? I have my own ideas on that.They are around, but I think and hope we will see more large this spring and hugh amounts of peanuts this fall. We shall see!!

  6. johnnyfish

    I totally agree with you. Fishing the sand eel bite sucks cause you get every kind of pocket fisherman out there that dont know how to fish except the tin and tube ,and you see alot more shorts being taken by these dummies.I must have seen a few dozen shorts in this last season alone.I like the bunker bite .Nothing like throwing a big pencil and watch it get exploded on buy a big bass with its tail ,then come back like a second or two later and bend your rod in half. Thats what Im taukin bout,FISH ON !!!

  7. Irish

    to me sand eel run is like fishing off a dock with the fish under you. You drop in a shrimp tap tap hook reel in. I’d rather not do it that way. But I cannot speak for the rest of you but as the green tube armada showed up at moses at 5:30 every morning my night bite was absolutely non existent. Its easier to leave the crowd when you have something to go to.

  8. CTMatt

    Personally I took for granted my match the hatch soft plastics and recently test cast my whole bag and realized I wasn’t putting my bait where I thought I was in the water column. Sand eels included. I will be more prepared for the spring run tenfold.

  9. John maglione

    I fished with “the mob” and quite frankly I had a blast. Mostly good fishermen who knew how to hold their cast not to tangle your line, fast and clean releases, good humored, lots of laughs, everyone in a good mood. I ran into guys I hadn’t seen in 5 or 10 years, and more than a few ” sharpies” who could not resist getting in on the great action. If you hate tins, don’t throw tins. I noticed quite a few guys complained about that bite and would rather have a sharp stick in the eye than fish tins with the mob, but they somehow were able to describe in detail what was going on. I guess their friends told them.

  10. Mark M

    Sandeels? I’ll fish whatever Mother Nature throws at me, who cares? It gets me out of the house for exercise, away from the shop for alittle time to relax & I get to say hello to friends I bump into as well as making new friends each day. Tins, plugs, bait whatever. The surfcaster evaluates every situation and uses what is at his disposal to catch fish. Yes, that lineup is crazy at times, but it provides some good laughs just watching the bedlum (I am mesmerized watching guys surfcast in jeans and work shoes before work) Life is too short people…you might not be here the next day…take the situation in stride and just enjoy the moment. Staring at this snow…Wow was fall only several months ago! ….It’s 4:30 AM, I’d take those sandeels right now if I could instead of staring at this computer screen.
    By the way….I have been hiding all those peanut bunker in a giant aquarium in my basement just for me…LOL

    There is a Montauk Surfcasters meeting Saturaday at the Sweeney Center, Cedar Beach for anyone interested in going and hanging out with some good guys today at 11:00

  11. Mark M

    Sorry about the misspelled word..Saturaday is not the 8th day of the week. I meant to sat Saturday.

    Extra comment regarding those sandeels: “Large” baitfish such as shad, baby fluke/flounder, seabass, scup, eels you name it will stay close to the shoreline & other structured areas because they love to eat sandeels. The larger Bass & Blues will eat these larger “baitfish” drawn to the sandeels. It’s is just another observation…Big fish were close by to RM because of those sand eels (Herring love them too) Bunker eat Plankton, so they don’t follow sandeels.

  12. Anthony Rich

    I went to RM during the fall sand eel “run.” Got there really early one Friday morning to “claim” my spot. Could not believe the number of people who showed up at sunrise.

    After a while the space between you and the next guy filled up. I was catching fish but so was everyone else. When I thought there was no more room a guy in a yellow jacket jumped in between us. I was pissed. Then this guy starts out catching me 2-3 to 1. Like a western gun slinger. What are you using I ask?

    Well he stops fishing and shows me his hopkins tin with a green tube. I switched to a 007 with green and it’s on. For the next 90 minutes we could fish after fish and this guy kept talking to me (teaching me). What was cool is he kept changing his tins and told me to do the same even though we were catching. He was not satisfied with catching, he wanted to know if it was color, size, shape etc.

    I learned more in the those 90 minutes about tins than all the books I’ve read. I went from being pissed off that this guy who made room for himself to exchanging phone numbers with him to fish together again. We never got to hook up again last fall but we exchanged texts about where we were fishing.

    UPS Bill if you’re reading this, thanks. You changed the way I look a fishing from the beach.

    For me the sandeel bite helped me learn something new and I found a new fishing buddy.

    Catching 25 fish in 90 minutes never gets boring. (next day nada)

    “Teacher Anthony”

  13. Rich m

    i rermember only two years ago p nuts so thick in nissyy inlet ide have three or four stuck on trebles i guess after they dredged it all has changed

  14. Greg Tucceri

    At least the guys around you are throwing tins.When the sandeels start showing up in the CC Canal this means four to six guys dragging a net and getting in my setting ten of them on a hook and waiting,very frustrating seeing most of the time I usually get their line all rapped up around my boots on the next tide because of hooking the bottom.I’m getting angry thinking about it now.Here is what works for me,throw the SS darter in gold at night and into false dawn,then switch to a crib herring at sun up.A guy caught a 40# after I left one morning to go work.Would love to get the SS darter in sandeel color along with a stubby needle but can”t seem to find them anywhere.Any help would be great on locating the following.

  15. Gary R. Soldati

    I encounter sand eels on Block Island in the spring. I find it very hard to catch on the bigger plugs when the fish are keyed in on the sand eels, even when there are bigger fish mixed in. I want to fish a bigger plug (8″) to discourage the smaller fish from striking, giving the bigger fish a shot. I have been able to do it with a bigger plug that has a slimmer profile. I have taken it a step farther this year, the prototype worked very well last fall. I am looking forward to this spring, “Bring on the Sand Eels”!

  16. Mike D

    Can we really blame a sand eel bite for the giant crowds of dopes? I think the bigger problem is all the online reports and pictures going up daily. Last fall had to be the worst ive seen it.

  17. Mark M

    This season had reports all over the internet, but then again we are the internet right now. I always check to see if reports are being posted for an area I am fishing that has been producing well to see if the cat is out of the bag. I fished a spot almost alone for two weeks until a report was posted. Within 3 days I could not fish that area and had to move on. This is part of the future and addresses a different strategy. The bad part about the sand eel thing is that the night bite seems to be off. Night fishing is great for stealth fishing and having an area all to your self besides targeting the larger fish who are shy in daylight.

  18. inthesuds

    IMHO there is no down side to sand eels. They have been the ‘sustaining’ bait the last 2 years for sure. If there is NO bait for a couple of seasons, the areas affected will not hold any fish for a few years until the cycle alters again. Learn to fish ‘what you got’. You don’t have to use jigs and tubes, either. It’s a good time to advance your skills with bucktails and to build your confidence using teasers. And any other lure you’re interested in. If you know fish are there, try to figure out how to catch them using different techniques. I did just fine this year and never used a jig.

    Reports alone don’t breed the crowds. What is often ignored is that our sport has become much more popular. We live in a densely populated region and as access becomes more restricted, the accessible beach becomes a ‘focal point’. Can’t help but attract larger groups of folks to fish.

    A final observation, I have been in the surf from Hatteras to Plum Island since the 60’s and I have never had to manage a crowd at 4am on the beach.

  19. ruru lures

    I thoroughly enjoy the sand eels in the fall because its a pattern I remember as a child fishing with my father and many others. There are certainly isolated pockets of sand eels that you can find and fish away from the crowds during the solitude of darkness. Many large fish taken on sand eel bites over the years.

    Hopefully we have a larger sand eel run in the spring. I remember sand eels so big fish would easily take an eel.

  20. Robert LIO

    It definitely was as a friend put it “Googan Central” after the word really got out but I thought it was a fun way to end the season by that time your body is kinda beat from the 2am till sunrise stealth runs and besides there werent many fish anywhere else at the time and the night bite shut down almost entirely so it was either hit Moses for 2 hours at dawn or not fish at all.Some nice fish in the 20’s were pulled from the schoolies and it gave a chance for alot of folks who didnt fair well from the spring and summer (as we all can attest to)to cash in on some very consistent action and possibly bring home a family dinner.I had my brother-inlaw in from Virginia and he was thrilled to catch his first bass from the beach and now cant wait to visit and hit the beach again.And it wasnt all googans we saw several well known fishing personalities hitting it pretty good there and I even learned a new trick..never saw a SS needlefish work in broad daylight before…saw many of the larger bass taken that way…WHO KNEW! Also it wasnt all mindless tin tossing, I had one morning where I did better on bucktails and one customer banged them on SS littleneck poppers, so if you dared to experiment the fish where there.I hope all the fall runs end like that, the mullet run was dissapointing and as far as the herring..I only heard of one real quality fish taken by a diehard expert regular fisherman.By then I was busy chasing deer but getting surf reports texted to me up in a treestand every 3 hrs..And it was good for the all tackle businesses as well..selling surf combos and A-27’s by the dozens in November!

  21. Mark M

    True Rob, the tins were flying off the shelves. I always kept a couple cases in the van when I hit the suds in case someone was in need of one. I was using Super Strike Needles & Hopkins with Saltwater candy made by my friend Ronnie Hoff. Deadly combo for the surf. The colors, well everyone needs to experiment what works for them, but I love yellow!

  22. Adam

    I have never seen crowds like at Moses, not even at the Mecca on Columbus day. I loved seeing the circus. It was better than not fishing. I fished along side tackle manufacturers & an english teacher, who always crossed my line. I’ll never forget it ! Most of the time I’m alone in the dark in remote inhospitable places, this was a nice change. BTW the English teacher learned how to cast!

  23. richtrox

    Lack of peanuts AND a general lack of adult bunker this spring in many areas of the west end and Moriches. While I found some concentrations of adults, it was nothing like it usually is.

    As for sand eel line ups, you can keep’em. RM was a joke.

  24. Jason

    The bunker are getting scooped up by the masses and the bays are dying….

    The sand eels are good, the people who spread the worked are often the problem. Our stormy falls have kept the sand eels popping up in different locations along the NJ beaches, so I haven’t seen massive overcrowding in the fall like we do in the spring.

    I do agree catching on eh same thing gets old, but it is also a good time to introduce the young ones to fall fishing. I got my dog out a number of times this fall, because I knew we would be on the move. Fish a spot, if you are not snagging sand eels, move on till you find them.

    The sand eel bite has slowed down my plug building….there just is little incentive to fill the bag with wood when you can fill a pouch with bucktails and tins and a pocket with rubber.

  25. Rich B.

    I’m surprised, shocked actually, that this elitist sentiment was published on this usually upstanding forum. I always considered SJ to be above this sort of thing. Crowds suck, no doubt, but to complain about the presence of baitfish that allowed many of us to fish through early December doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Instead, why don’t we, as a group compose a “Surfcaster’s Code of Etiquette” that could be published as a pamphlet in a number of languages and distributed to the masses… or at least the windshields of all those jokers in the field 5 parking lot.

    Don’t get down on the sandeel bite because some folks don’t have a clue. When I ran into problems this fall, I let people know what they were doing wrong and I didn’t have to be a snob about it. Why should you?

  26. Zeno Post author

    elitist statement ?
    I was simply expressing my thoughts about me personally not caring for sand eels. I didn’t say nothing about crowds,about other doing “wrong” as you put it, I fished with them. Heck, they were there before I got there, in a way I was the report chaser
    you are the one who wants to put the pamphlets to the trucks in the lot,I don’t want to do no such thing
    I don’t understand why so many of you find crowds more important then lure selection, which this post is all about

  27. Tom S

    I think the biggest bummer about the sand eel bite is, like others have said, the way it kills the night bite.

    My buddy and I fished the RM area one night from 2 AM until 10:00 AM, not seeing a sole until right before sunup. We also didn’t have a bump until the sand eels moved in…..

    I really enjoy fishing at night and my favorite plug is the darter…. neither of which are particularly effective during a sand eel bite.

  28. Zeno Post author

    but remember, it wasn’t always like that…we have had great sand eel bites over the years at night with needles
    it changes year to year, sand eels are great to have because squid, herring, shad, bass, blues, weeks , all feed on them ,even cod
    but lack of other bait has been frustrating last few years

  29. Mark M

    The days of large bait migrations are thin. Spending alot of time in Point Lookout as a teenager i remeber large schools of baitfish with larger fish right behind. My first experience seeing baby weakfish jumping onto the beach was at Jones Inlet. Most times, I experience large schools of bunker and peanuts on the northshore where I live, but this year was very different. No bunker this past June & no peanuts to bring large blues & bass into the harbors. Last year, gorilla blues pushed bunker pods up onto the beaches for 3 weeks. At night, large bass where lurking around picking scraps. We did get large schools of squid & herring make there way into the harbors sometime in oct. & nov.

  30. Dean Vervoort

    Without the peanuts around what would stop these fish from just heading south? Macks? Herring? Anchovies? The sand eels seem to be the only prevelant bait around. I love them because they do hold fish or at least keep them around longer. I would love to see the nuts back and if the nuts are gone again next year and there are no eels then will these fish adapt to chasing spearing and rainfish? Who knows. I’m just glad to see life what ever it is.

  31. Big D

    I have no problem with sand eels. Basically, because of the lack of other bait, they’ve saved many a day and night. You can find locations and catch fish without the crowds or you can get up late and catch fish with the crowds. Whatever you like! There’s nothing wrong with tins, nothing wrong with teasers, nothing wrong with catching smaller fish.

  32. TRisser

    I love a good sand eel bite but rarely fish in the picket fence. There are ways to find your own beach full of sand eels and bass. Nothing like standing on a beach with a copule good friends catching fish after fish and yelling Back and forth about who’s landed the most or the biggest so far. You are right that they normally aren’t the largest fish around but we will see if history repeats itself. When the bass stock collapsed the first time cows were chasing large sand eels and not bunker onto the beach. So learn how to fish the run or you might miss out.

    P.S. Why does catch a fish on a $3 AVA mean less than catching a fish on a $30 wooden plug? That is ridiculus!

  33. PA Matt

    “catching a fish on tin when they are on sand eels is like kissing your sister.” Wow, that is a surprising statement. Catching fish is terrific fun no matter what it’s caught on for me. There certainly seems to be an elitist undertone to the blog, and there definitely is an elitist tone to many of the posts. If you don’t like the crowds, don’t fish them. Why complain about the bait that is saving your season? It seems crazy to me.

    I guess when you have the chance to fish everyday in the most terrific place on the east coast for Striped bass and Bluefish you get a little “spoiled”. Please don’t forget the privilege you that live on Long Island enjoy.

    This is the heyday for sand eels; I for one will continue to love it.


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