The Great Debate of Sight Casting vs. Blind Casting

This time of year, the fishery in the northeast gets very visual, which is a fun exciting way to hunt.  What I mean by that is there are a lot of visual cues as to where the fish are.  Birds are diving down eating the same baitfish the predatory fish are, the fish are pushing bait to the surface, sometimes forcing them to jump clear out of the water.  The surfaces feeds and ensuing chaos and splashing will direct even the most novice anglers to the fish.  This tends to happen in the fall moreso than spring or summer because of the abundance of bait (particularly small bait birds like terns can feed on), and because of the increased energy and activity of fish like striped bass, false albacore, and bluefish.  The energy comes from the cooling water temperatures and their primal instinct to feed before the long winter and also their migrations south. 


Because this visual factor is so much more important in the fall, it’s a good time to discuss alternative strategies: chasing the visual cues (sight casting) vs. casting to the structures that hold fish all season hold at the right tidal stage.

Some fisherman in the fall will simply drive and drive their vessels or move from spot to spot until they find the surface feeds, and won’t stop and cast unless they see these conditions.  This can serve to be very productive, and often anglers are rewarded for putting miles in to find all-out blitzes, no longer how long the search takes.  Others fish structure that serves as ambush points for fish like striped bass and blues all season long.  After all, it’s well known that fish are habitual and return to the same spots day after day and year after year because of those spots’ tendency to funnel bait and make them vulnerable to attack from larger fish.

My personal opinion is that you can’t simply choose one strategy or the other, but a combined approach is necessary.  It’s foolish to ignore diving birds and bait on the surface, but it is by no means safe to say the fish aren’t in a spot if you can’t see them.  In fact, particularly for striped bass, the best fall fishing days I’ve had were in spots with no visual action, or any signs of fish feeding to the human eye above the surface.  This attests to the idea that the easiest days to entice a fish to bite a fly or lure are not the days when bait are plentiful, but instead when their scarce or elsewhere.  It’s simple, the angler’s offering has less competition.  When the bait is so thick you could walk on it, it’s really hard to get fish to choose the ‘fake’ option, and it’s nearly impossible to fish live bait with smaller more slender baitfish like sand eels, bay anchovies, or peanut bunker.  These are precisely the forage that larger fish are after in the fall. These small fish leave their protected rivers or bays to make their own migration.  The predators that have been out in deeper water to stave off the hot oxygen-deprived water of summer are right there waiting for them.  These converging events are what trigger fall bites.

Now, that isn’t to say I don’t sight fish or see the importance of it.  But my take on sight fishing a bit different.  It’s extremely important to be aware of your surroundings and what’s going on.  However, I believe sight fishing is the single best way to direct an angler to where fish are feeding now, but more importantly, where they return to.  I recall a day in October 2015, I was cruising around the Norwalk Islands fishing my typical rips for bass.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted something that caught my eye and brought my heart rate up: a handful of adult bunker jumping clear of the water and frantically swimming on the surface.  I knew there was something under these bunker hunting them, no doubt about it.  This was a spot I had never been to before in my life.  It’s a treacherous, rocky finger of underwater boulders where current moves swiftly on an outgoing tide.  So I idled my little center console over to this rip, positioned my boat upcurrent of the area where I saw the action, and cut the engine.  I drifted over the rip, and had an excellent afternoon with multiple bass to 40 inches on topwater lures.  This was a spot I had cruised by countless times but never taken the time to fish, for whatever reason. 


This event was not at all uncommon of my fishing experiences, time and time again I have been keyed in to ambush points by surface action.  And the best days aren’t even when the surface action is happening, it’s when it ISNT.  That spot has produced fish for me well into 30 pounds, and is extremely consistent at the certain stage of the tide.  The funny thing is, since that date I have never seen surface action in that spot.  

Searching for birds and bait is undoubtedly effective (if you can find it).  It’s absolutely necessary for false albacore.  But when it comes to stripers, don’t just skip the “usual spots” if you’re not seeing anything.  And if you are seeing And catching, make a careful note of the tide stage.  

Tight lines 

 

Spring Run Recap And Summer Strategies

As usual this time of year, I’ve had a long lapse between posts due to the amount of fishing I’ve been doing.  It’s been a weird spring/early summer.  We started off with water temperatures a bit cooler than last year, then we had some extreme heat.  I’ve concluded The striper population in the Norwalk Islands this year has less fish, but generally larger fish.  The endless amount of schoolie bass we usually have to fish for just aren’t around this year, which is slightly concerning to me.  Perhaps they are just somewhere else because of lack of bait prevalence.  The funny thing is that this year there is an influx of what I think are really tiny sand eels.  The only fish on them are really tiny snapper blues, an early arrival this year, but that’s starting to change.  Those small bluefish I mentioned also grow and eat at an extremely rapid pace.  They make an excellent quarry of larger cannabalistic blues, as well as bass and even fluke, so that’s something to think about when selecting lures…

My season was characterized by a really good chunk bite in the shallow island spots I like to target.  Many trips I had multiple fish over the 30 pound mark.  I had a few good trips plugging after dark too, with plenty of action on keeper bass.  However, the topwater / plugging game for me before dusk was weak since May.  Friends of mine have done much better, particularly full time guide Mike Platt, who is solely an artificial and fly guy targeting Bass, blues and Albies.  Mike covers a lot of water and has had a stellar season.  He reports that the fish this year are in the same spots, but often different tides.  He says the bass were basking in the really skinny water after gorging on bunker.  Often times they react and hit the lure not for feeding purposes but almost out of anger or defensive purposes.

Slightly east of us in Fairfield some friends are also reporting a generally stellar season, and a good bounce back from last year which was off.  In that area The fish seem to be coming in waves, where for a few weeks they’re chewing good and then it gets real quiet for awhile. 

I hope that gives everyone a good idea of this season to date.  My fingers are crossed for a good late summer bite, and as I’m typing this I’m getting reports of blitzes in the islands on small bait.  Fingers crossed this keeps up, and we are setup for a good albie season.

June Boom

 

 

 

What a few weeks it has been!  There’s a reason I have not posted much on here, and that’s because I have hardly had time to breathe.  Between work and fishing and trying to maintain a semblance of a healthy civilian lifestyle, it’s been a whirlwind in a good way.  The fishing has just been great, the weather is perfect, and this is the reason why June is my favorite month of the year.  Soak it in my friends, step outside and smell the scents of spring blooms and feel the temperate breezes.

Here are a few of the trends I’m seeing:

  1. Mid sound rules during daylight hours.  This is not good news for the shore-based fisherman, but I like to tell it how it is.  Between sunup and sunset, the best fishing I’ve experienced has been in deep water (greater than 25 feet) behind the Norwalk islands, on our favorite bait, the bunker.  The fish go where the bait is, and the bunker have been really prevalent.  All the species from bunker, bass and blues are moving west to east, and they come in waves.  Daytime Plugging in the islands has slowed down quite a bit for me in the last few weeks, since the week before memorial day.  Maybe those fish that were on herring and other spawning small bait moved out for the big bait, who knows.
  2.   Night time is the right time-Contrary to my statement above, the bite has been ON once the sun goes down.  Each night trip I’m averaging 4 quality fish myself in the shallows, over just a couple hours.  Last week I had a trip with two fish over 30 pounds (biggest at 35), and about 3 other legal fish too.  This is all in shallow water rips, about 10 feet of water.
  3. Gator Season-Blues have showed up big time.  I haven’t seen them this thick in a few years.  I often times will run out behind the islands to mid sound, and chase bunker schools.  This type of fishing involves casting lures or flies around schools of bunker, supplemented by ‘the real thing’, that is, live lining bunker around these schools.  Ever since last Saturday 6/2, these schools of menhaden (bunker) have been dominated by blues.  There are bass around for sure, but you have to seed through the blues, and often times you have to find the RIGHT school of bunker, or get your bait below the bluefish who tend to be more energetic, voracious surface feeds.  For that matter, just fish for bluefish!  It’s a hell of a lot of fun, they can be good to eat if prepared correctly (and are the right size) and it makes for a terrific gamefish.

Hope everyone is having fun and catching fish.  We have a new moon this week upcoming.  For those that know my fishing style, they know I am moon crazy.  I firmly believe your best shot at trophy fish comes during new moons and full moons, and my results in the past have affirmed that.  Translation: I’m going to try and fish a lot and catch big fish this week, and I think you should too.

-James

Early Season River and Estuary Bassin’

I finally got the boat in and fished three outings over this past weekend, all on the outgoing tide.  Overall, the results were really promising.  Managed a few quality fish, lost a few more, and couldn’t ask for better results this time of year.  My buddy Jason even landed a fish just shy of 20 pound mark on my boat.  Water temperatures ranged from close to 60 degrees Friday afternoon after the hot muggy weather down to 48 in mid sound!  I fished quite a few different areas, and learned early on that a major ‘key’ was finding warmer water temperatures.  The bite was not in the islands, the fish were mostly keyed in the rivers and coves where the water was warmer.  I did see a few pods of bunker when it was really calm on Sunday morning too.  Although, I don’t think the fish were feeding on the bunker so much as they were smaller bait (this will change as more bunker and migratory bass move in).  Fish took small poppers such as the Smack it Jr., and a variety of small plastics from swim shads, Albie Snax, and Lunker City Fin -S fish.  Didn’t get any fish on the swimmers interestingly enough.  They seemed to like a really slow retrieve, and the bite tended to only last for the first half of the outgoing tide.  I noticed the water temps dropped quite a bit after that first half of the outgoing too.  I lost a really nice fish Friday night which I chalk up to bad hooks I should’ve replaced over the winter (see pics).  We shall see if the fish move out this upcoming weekend to the islands.  I’m going to be trying some different tides as well.  Fish porn below

It’s Official

Well last week I promised picture proof, below you have it.  As you can see, I was pretty pumped; it’s been a longggg winter..  The stripers are finally here.  Great time for those who are land-based to catch some nice fish, the best time really.  There’s something about the simplicity of being able to bring 6 lures and a rod and go down to your local ‘spot’ and catch some fish, even if they’re mostly small.  The fish below fell for an Albie Snax in amber, with a weighed screw on type hook.  Those lures are killer, for a number of species.  This time of year is also great for honing in on the fly rod skills, with a good possibility of being able to catch fish even if your cast is a mere 20 ft.

If you really want a shot at some big fish (and who doesn’t?), you gotta head to the Housatonic or CT rivers.  That zoo is not my cup of tea, but it sure is tempting.  They get a good herring run, and the big fish are on them.  The sharpies of that area tell me the next two weeks will be top notch bass fishing.   I think I’ll give it a shot once this year, report to follow of course.

Unlike last year, I actually haven’t spotted any herring in Fairfield county areas yet. Hopefully they show up soon…  Either way, if they don’t, the bunker definitely will be, and we all know what that means.IMG_2822

 

Stripers Are In

Despite the weather not feeling like spring, the fish are definitely in.  They’re in the rivers and estuaries, and also out in the sound, despite water temperatures still being quite cold.  I have multiple reports and pictures to show for it.  They are likely a little spotty, but those who are putting time in are finding fish.  Next week the lows are getting to the 50s, things should really improve.  Outgoing tides, shallow muddy bottoms, and estuaries are going to be the places that produce.  I will be hitting some local inlets on the outgoing, and also focusing way upriver on the incoming tide in search of a ‘herring bite’: fish headed upriver to chase herring attempting to spawn in the safety of freshwater.

The fishing reports coming from New Jersey look white hot, and it’s looking like a lot more larger fish are making their way through compared to past years.  In New York City and Jamaica bay things are just getting started, but some nice fish are being caught.  The upriver portions of the Housy are fishing really as well, as they always are year round it seems.  I wonder how long that bite can last, with how much fishing pressure that area gets?

I expect to have my boat in the water in a week or two, the weather has slowed me down.  I’ll be shore bound this weekend, but expect a full report and some pictures to follow.

Excellent Short Film on the Ever Changing Striped Bass Fishing Culture

This one gave me the chills.  Absolutely fantastic short film done by Humminbird, featuring a guide out east named Mike Roy, and an outdoor writer named Charley Soares who has been in the ‘game’ for a very long time.  It perfectly captures old school saltwater fishing culture and values.  I really like the stories Charley tells about the old days before social media and sharing of spots and information.  Give it a watch, and get pumped for the season around the corner.

A Case for Eating Dogfish

The dogfish, commonly known as a sand shark (although that’s technically a very different, scarier species), are the only species commonly found in the Long Island sound.  They can provide excitement for kids, but they are generally thought of as a pest amongst the hardcore fishing community.  Although they do put up a fight, they don’t rival the striped bass or bluefish pound-for-pound, and most people don’t recognize their food value.  They are generally caught on rod and reel accidentally when targeting fluke, sea bass, or striped bass, and they are considered a by catch.

However, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the lowly shark.  These sharks make fantastic table fare, and they are one of, if not the most sustainable species to catch and eat in our waters.  A quick google search will show you that the Dogfish are what fish and chips are sourced from in jolly ole England.  Once the codfish stocks were wiped out in the eastern Atlantic, the English turned to dogfish for their fish and chips recipes.  The meat was so tasty, and demand was so high, that their stocks are actually now considered to be depleted, and can no longer be targeted commercially.   The exact same trend that occurred across the pond is happening right here in the states.  Codfish stocks are decimated, and commercial fisherman are being forced to target other species which are more plentiful.

The only difference is, the catch from US commercial boats tends to go overseas, 99% of it according to commercial fisherman Brian Marder, of Marder Trawling Inc.  NPR did a fantastic piece on this trend, and the push to drive demand for dogfish here in the states.  UMass Amherst now serves many varieties of the dogfish in their cafeterias, with very positive reactions.  https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/01/07/508538671/would-you-eat-this-fish-a-shark-called-dogfish-makes-a-tasty-taco .

But overall, the dogfish really has not caught on in the states, and has a certain stigma that comes along with it.  I think this has a lot to do with the culture and also privilege of anglers in North America.  Unlike the Old World, the western Atlantic is still relatively abundant with species.  We thankfully have not completely overfished our waters yet, but we’re certainly going in that direction.   Americans have had the privilege over the past few centuries to harvest fish that are delicious eating, convenient, and also nice on the eyes, species like the Striped Bass.   The same striped bass which were fished to near extinction in the 80s, prompting a moratorium on killing the fish, that was adopted by most states on the eastern seaboard.

The dogfish, on the other hand, have only one of these three attributes: they certainly are delicious.  They are not aesthetically pleasing, or convenient; which is likely why they are so abundant.  When I say convenient, I mean fish that not only yield a lot of meat per pound, but are also easy to filet.  Dogfish  require a different technique to filet that most anglers aren’t versed in.  But once you get it down, these fish are downright fantastic eating.  The Youtube-famous, New York based fisherman Elias Vaisberg concurs, check out his YouTube video pitting the shark against flounder, porgy, and brown trout.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuTAKW9IMUI  You’ll see, all the taste testers agree the dogfish make a mighty fine meal.

This season, I challenge you to keep some dogfish, break the stigma and swallow your macho man pride (as well as the shark).  It is our duty at anglers to monitor the species we hunt, and at times, check the species.  It is without doubt that striped bass are dwindling, and good numbers of sizeable flounder or sea bass are really hard to come by consistently; meanwhile the number of anglers on the water is only increasing.  There are quite frankly too many of them, as any bottom-fisherman know, and they eat anything and everything edible in their path.  We need to help keep the ecological balance before our species follow the way of the English dogfish and the cod.  The next time you’re lamenting a tough day on the water, keep a ‘doggie.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

2017 Season in Review, and Lessons from the Salt

As it stands, the Sound saltwater fishing season ended ostensibly two months ago, and we have three months till the next one begins when migratory fish begin pushing into our rivers and estuaries.  I’d say it was a good season, the conditions were fairly typical given my 6 years of ‘hardcore’ fishing, but I picked up a few tricks I think helped improve my success rate.  On my boat we managed more of what I would call ‘quality’ bass than any other season, particularly more on topwater lures.  For once, I caught a good number of albies.  During the little bottom fishing I do, we usually did pretty well.  The only downside would be the fluke, which stunk for me this year.  All in all, not bad.  I managed a learn a few things too, which I thought I’d share.  Fishing, like anything, is a learning process.

Leader Strength Definitely Matters for Albies – My friends know I used to have a curse with these funny fish.  Well, the curse has been broken in large part by learning one lesson: Leader thickness matters, a lot.  Maybe not when it’s choppy and the water is churned up, but on those calm days it’s a difference maker.  By switching to 10 Lb Yo Zuri line, I was able to nab a bunch of these speedsters.  White albie snax and the usual assortments of metals are all you need.  Tying direct is best too.  You can tell a lot about a species by looking at them, and the size of the eyes on an tunoid species tells you all you need to know.

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Early Incoming is a Killer Tide: Over the course of my fishing career, my preference of tide has shifted.  Starting off as a shore guy, I was all about the higher tides, and preferred the outgoing.  Once I got my boat, I did find a few spots that produced on the incoming, generally mid tide and up.  Some of my best spots in fact.  At the end of the 2016 season I found more spots that were producing really consistently on the early incoming.  These spots have structure, and fast currents during this tide period, and this time only.  We’re talking an hour window of really productive fishing.  During this period, the moving water is ripping over the rocks and sandbars, with only a few feet or less for the  baitfish to escape vertically.  As the tide comes up, the current slows to a lazy pace, the baitfish have more room and the predators have less of an advantage.  This is synonymous to a river, with deep slow moving pools, and fast rapids in shallower areas.  The lower tide turns spots on, and I am officially a convert.

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Try Something New Every time You go Out: As mentioned before, this fishing game is a learning process.  We anglers can’t see what’s going on down there, so the only way to learn this game is trial, error, log, and repeat.  A fishing mentor of mine a while back taught me to take logs of all my fishing.  I try hard, and pictures really help.  Another mentor taught me to try something new each time you fish.  It’s really a fantastic idea.  Most of the times you’ll strike out, but if you can find a new spot once every 5 tries, or 10 tries, it’s a success, and you’ll build your repertoire of fishy areas to a point where you know where to be, all the time.

The Herring Run is Real, in Fairfield County: Herring will swim upriver in all the major rivers of Fairfield County to spawn in the spring, generally in April.  Big bass will follow.  ‘Nuff said here really.  I hadn’t witnessed it until this past year.  I had some success, and will look to hone by repertoire of early season fishy spots locally this season.  Realllllly slow retreives are needed, and I did best with swimmers.

Tight lines homies!  See more of you come the spring season.