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Get to the point!

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by Ed Mitchell

When I hear anglers ramble on about where the fishing is the best, I like to throw in a one liner. I'll say to them "Get to the point". The pun usually gets a laugh, but there is quite a bit of truth in it nevertheless. Home to a combination of structure, waves, wind and current, points are also home to prey and predator.  No doubt about it, regardless where you fish along the coast points are productive.

Planning for a Point: A Basic Strategy

Points come in all sizes, from huge headlands down to something barely more than a bump in the beach. Regardless of their size, however, every point can all be treated in the same basic manner. The first step is to recognize that a point can be broken down into three distinct areas: the tip, and the two shorelines on either side leading to it.  The next step is to realize that as good as all three of these areas are, each one can present its own brand of fishing. Let's take a look.

Typically the tip hosts the hottest action. Here you are apt to see the strongest current and the most wave action, both of which attract fish. In addition the tip usually has considerable bottom structure associated with it. It may come as a random series of edges, be they holes, drop-offs or rock piles. Or it may be dominated by a single long structure such as a submerged ridge that extends out from the tip. Generally speaking all of these structures are easy to spot. Look for waves breaking out from shore, boulder protruding the surface, changes in the color of the water, surface turbulence, foam lines, and rips.   

Of the variety of structures you find here the most consistently productive is the underwater ridge. Not only can these things be large - sometimes running upwards of several hundred yards - the tide can really chug going over them. As it does, rips and broad bands of current will spring to life. In New England waters, these rips are apt to be loaded with prey fish such as juvenile menhaden and bay anchovy, especially in the fall.  And they in turn will call striped bass, little tunny, bonito, and bluefish. So make no mistake those moving waters are an angling gold mine.

If you're fishing from shore, naturally you are limited to that portion of structure and current within casting range. And that should be reward enough, but in a boat you can really explore. On a calm day, spent time investigating the area. Make slow drifts over the structure using your electronics to get an idea of the bottom contour.  Sometimes these structures simply slope away gradually to deeper water, but many of them have a far more irregular shape, consisting of underwater humps, holes, and valleys. These changes supply necessary ambush areas and current breaks for fish to feed in, and should be figured prominently into your fishing plans. After all, nine times out of ten these edges are where the real big boys are. 

Before we move on to discuss the other areas of the point, let me say one more thing about fishing the end of a point.  Some years ago I noticed that when working these areas, the biggest fish I hit were more often than not located slightly to my right - at about the 2:00 position off the tip. For a long time I couldn't figure out why that was so; now I think I understand. Many of the points I fish face roughly due south. And over the fishing season the majority of wind in my region comes from the southwest. Therefore the waters to the right of the tip face the prevailing wind and apparently are more attract to fish for that reason.  So when all else fails focus your efforts on the portion of tip that receives the most consistent wind across the angling season.

The Two Sides

The sides leading to the point are not quite as dependable as the tip, but they can still be excellent.  For one thing they're an alternative place to fish out of the wind and waves. And in some weather conditions you'll be glad of it. Often one side of the point is deeper than the other and more likely to be produce larger fish for than reason. A detailed navigation chart should show which is which. Don't have a chart? A look at the lay of the land will usually help you pick out the deeper side. The rule is this: the steeper the pitch of the shoreline the deeper the adjoining waters.

Regardless which side you elect to fish, work the edges, just as you did at the tip. So once again keep your eyes peeled, and be especially alert for signs of moving water. Often enough when tidal currents approach a point some of their energy is deflected down one side of the point or the other. This in turn creates a lane of moving water traveling parallel to that shoreline. These lanes are apt to be a ways off the beach and exist only during the first half of the tide. Still they're important to feeding fish nonetheless. On the ebb a similar current may form as the tide pulls water out toward the tip, although it could take place on the opposite side of the point. Be observant.

Some points have considerable elevation above the water, and when that is the case you should determine the point's compass orientation. For one thing it will help you determine ahead of time which side is in the lee on a particular wind. In addition the point' compass orientation may play a small, but helpful role when fishing low light conditions.  For instance if the point runs north-south, the west side may fish a hair longer at dawn than the east side, simply because the light is delayed in reaching the water. Conversely at dusk the action may turn on sooner on the east side of the point because it's in shadow. Granted the differences will not be great, but any gain is welcome.

On a fairly large point, one or both of the adjoining sides may lead back to a curved section of shoreline called a bowl. These bowls are protected waters and a lot of fun to fish. On most days they hold slow, but steady action for school size fish. Should the wind shift and come directly into the bowl, however, more and bigger fish could join the foray. Now the fishing will light up big time.

Figuring in Tides

Obviously it's important to know the time of tide for any point you fish. As a basic rule, higher stages of the tide bring fish closer to shore. And for that reason shore-based anglers working a point generally find their best fishing from mid flood through to mid ebb. Naturally boaters have the luxury of following fish as they drop back to deeper water as the tide continues to drop. Nevertheless the higher stages of the tide may also benefit boaters wishing to work in close, if only because it creates less risk of damaging the lower unit.  Furthermore it should be noted that when fishing large headlands, the time of tide out away from the tip could be noticeably sooner that time of tide in tight to the point. And there could well be a significant additional delay between the tip and the side of a headland as well.

Rising stages of the tide are a good time to investigate any bowl to either side of the point. If you're hoping to snag a big striper back here, however, you'll need a slight change in plans.  For that venture your best chance is from the last of the flood through to the first of the ebb. And don't sit down during slack high. Rather than fight tidal currents, big bass may reserve their feeding to the hour when the tide stops altogether. With no moving water, these bulldogs can feed at their leisurely with no real effort.          
 Figuring in Currents

Time of tide is an important factor, but time of current is too. In fact if your fishing the rips over one of these long submerged ridges we discussed earlier, time of current is more important than the time of tide. What's the difference? Angler sometimes assume, for instance, that the ebbing current always begins immediately after the time of high tide. It may, but it could just as likely begin considerably before or considerably later. So you really want to figure out when the current actually starts, stops, and reverses. And while that may take a little work, the good news is that once you figure out the relationship between time of tide and time of current, it should remain relatively fixed. 

Some point may have rip currents around them on both the flood and the ebb. Nevertheless one tide direction is apt to produce stronger current - and therefore better fishing- than the other. Experience will tell you which tide is which. If you are fishing from shore, however, what you need is the tide that creates rips within casting range. From a boat, once again, you have more freedom.

The Right Flies

The fish stationed off a point are usually quite aggressive and ready to strike anything that swims by, especially if there is a good current running. So they're rarely fussy about which fly you serve to them; all they have to do is be able to locate it. To help them find the fly I like to deliver something big and easy to see such as a large streamer. White is a wonderful color against a dark rocky bottom and if the water is discolored chartreuse is even more effective. And points are a place where poppers regularly shine; don't forget to carry a few.

Fish feeding along the sides back into the bowl are a different story. For example striped bass found here are less likely in ambush mode and more apt to be slowly cruising around looking for food. That means they're a bit more cautious than the fish out at the tip.  And as a result a fly that matches the prevailing bait is often the best bet, and typically that means smaller flies in natural looking colors.

The Seasons

As good as points are, the fishing they supply changes with the seasons. Here's how it works in my home waters of southern New England. Points are usually not the best action in the early spring; they simply have no bait on them at that time. By June, however, the pantry is stocked. Suddenly points are a great place to find big bass, and big blues for that matter. During the summer months, the action may slow somewhat, but points still supply some of the best near shore action around.

As summer wanes the action builds, accelerating into autumn. Schools of forage fish that spend the warm months back in protected water are now slowly working their way out to sea. At first they congregate in river and inlet mouths, but as September ends many of them stage for a time off points, especially the larger ones. These larger points are often part of the migratory route for game fish as well.  So in October points are a place where predator and prey collide. Now for a four to six week period, points are at their very finest.

I hope I have helped in at least some small way to make your next trip to a point a more productive one. And the when you hear anglers arguing over where to fish, be sure and tell them- to get to the point.  
Ed Mitchell - originally published 2002. Visit Ed's website.

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