2022 Spring Run Season in the Rearview

With the summer solstice now nearly a month th ago, the days are officially getting shorter, and summer has begun while spring has concluded. Similarly, while it’s not a ‘black and white’ transition, the fishing trends have begin to shift.

First off, let’s start with a recap of the season from collective shared reports as well as my own first hand experience (generally 3 days on the water a week minimum). The season was a strong one, both for the presence of ‘trophies’ (high 30 pound range, to even 40s and rarer, some 50s. It was also strong in the numbers of the medium sized fish in the 20 pound range, and even the slot sized fish: starting as early as mid April during the first big moon. Now, I don’t want my readers to believe that bass as a species have turned the corner and they’re in good shape. This is an oscillation in an overall downwards trend, for sure. And the conservation fisheries policies should be treated as such, in my opinion.

The season followed pretty typical trends: fish showing up in the inner islands, rivers, shorelines and estuaries etc., thick in mid April, with most of the May fishing centered in these areas. Late May into June we begin searching for fish out in deep, open water, generally around bunker schools (think: big meals big fish). Both tactics produced pretty well, but I must say once the open water bite turned on, the shallow water Inshore bite seemed to really dry up (say around May 20th). It’s amazing how the fish can, at times, be so keyed in on certain areas even for weeks. Bait just seems to hold in a given spot and the fish have no impetus to leave. Starting around June 10th, a lot of the best fish were coming at night using bait, as opposed to the more visual topwater fishing that was working really well the prior few weeks. But, there are many ways to skin a cat and everyone has their own favorite tactic.

The bunker supply was pretty minimal this spring, hard to locate at times and/or not showing on top. In the final week in June, it seems to be a 50/50 shot as to whether the bunker were Schooling on top or not. When you did find bunker on top this spring, it almost certainly meant there were some fish around this spring. Now we have an inverse trend where there’s more bunker, less predators. And of course, the bunker have move upriver / inshore as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve launched or motored out of any river these days.

Blues showed up (funny enough) inshore first for me, then pretty thick in deep water. Across the seaboard there are lots of folks catching the biggest blues of their lives and the western sound was no exception.

Fast forward to now, July 21st. Heat wave and finally a little rain, although it’s been an extremely dry summer. River temps are 80 in the afternoon, and anywhere from 70-74 farther out. It’s been a tricky bass bite for those fishing artificials, no doubt. The live bait/chunk bite has still been good, both in shallow (as little as sub 10 feet), and deeper water. I havent touched any bait since early June so I’m relying on friends’ reports there. Summer doldrums are upon us, and fishing after dark or early morning is your best bet. We still have some blues cruising on top, and the Long Island side of the sound has been a bit more active in terms of surface blitzes. There are lots of terns working small bait and I suspect that this will increase. You certainly have to work for the fish this time of year as they spread out, limit their feeding windows, and get a little lazy. It’s a good time to kick the feet up, go for a swim from time to time, and rest up before the fall run is upon us.

Stay safe, fish hard, and make your own report!

Rites of Spring

One of the the coolest things about the striped bass is the variety of their territory, starting with the backwaters: small creeks, brackish rivers, ponds, marshes and estuaries. On the other end of the spectrum, the stripers are more known for their habitat in rough surf and open ocean up and down the eastern seaboard. But the beginning of the season is all about the former. Bass thrive in headwaters, shallow mud flats, marshes, rivers and creeks in the early spring. Their movements are governed by the tidal movement, like a dance to the rhythm of the tides. Following the rising tide tides, bass move into waters inaccessible at low water in search of forage, relying on their inherent senses of tide cycles. Before the tides begin to recede, bass move out into safer, deeper waters where they won’t be stranded. Along the way, they wait for the prey to also follow the tides and get sucked out into the deeper water, ambushing easy meals in choke points and ‘fish highways’.

As such, the angler’s journey hunting the striper starts in these habitats. These locations are often most easily fished on foot, from shore. A lot of these areas are inaccessible by boat, or an outboard engine would surely spook any fish from the area. Stealth is the name of the game in more ways than one-both in making your presence unknown to the fish, and also potentially to cranky coastal homeowners in areas where public shore access is all but gone. The cover of darkness almost always produces a better bite-stripers and their prey would not venture into these waters during daytime out of fear of humans and attack from above from winged predators: Osprey, eagles and cormorants don’t hunt at night.

The menu for striped bass this time of year is expansive and bass aren’t picky, anything and everything will do. The choicest item on the menu is likely the alewife or blueback herring. Crabs, grass shrimp, sandwoms and silversides make a suitable appetizer. This is prime light tackle fishing: flies, small soft plastics, and swimmers of all varieties will produce. The smaller the bait the fish are keyed in on, the pickier the bass are. The hunt begins in urban/suburban areas. I’m amazed at the waters in which these fish cruise this time of year, often right under your nose.

This season has been no different. It’s been the best early spring I’ve observed since 2018. Perhaps the dry weather had something to do with it- the month of April recorded only 2.75 inches of rain, compared to an average of over 4 inches in the Nutmeg state. Temperate was a bit more typical, about .7 degrees below average. Perhaps the precipitation has caused a good bite, maybe a bit of luck, or maybe there are more or larger fish in our area this year due to the biomass stocks.

In either case, enjoy the fishing. But also the sights, smells, and wildlife that spring brings. It’s certainly not a competition, nor a race.

2021 End of Season Round up and thoughts about the season to come

The fall season ended pretty well. We had a ton of bunker stick around into October and beyond, which is pretty typical. What wasn’t so typical was that we had big blues on them, sometimes right in the harbors. It was a lot of fun. There were also nice bass on them at times*. Sometimes that window for bass was really small, where bunker were sticking around all day but they would only get attacked for a limited amount of time. These were patterns that held true for awhile…until they didn’t. That’s fishing, the only constant is change. Also worth noting was a pretty darn good jigging bite for blues on the reefs..

Even when bunker weren’t visibily getting eaten or seen at all, lots of nice bass were being caught on bait throughout the coastline. Word got out about this, and it turned into a bit of a slaghterhouse sh**show live bunker fishingsituation. Bummer. As for the bite on artificials, we had a week+ of some awesome night fishing during an unseasonable warm October week. Casting SP Minnows, Bombers and Danny Plugs into shallow, fast current areas was pretty killer. Dozens of fish to 30-40 inches with my pal Carl, and lost some much bigger. Never have I have experienced days when I did not have treble hooks onboard that were strong enought to hold true against these fish… See pic below.

As for the alberts, they were certainly around east of us in September, closer to new haven county. They did come in right around the same time as the blackfish opener (october 10th) and some folks got in on a good bite. It was a fleeting bite, as has been the trend the last few years. They actually did stick around for a few weeks too, but not a ton of sustained, long-lasting feeds.

Blackfishing was pretty typical. I Had one particuarly spectacular day on my vessel where my fiancee got a 9+lber! It pays to fish new areas, as always. Togging isn’t rocket science, find the rocky areas and you will find fish, but the devil’s in the details. Then again, there are some days that drive everyone nuts and fish won’t chew.

The course of fishing in the modern age

Every year I try and reflect on the last season(s), and think about what I want to change. It could be new tactics, expanding my range and trying new areas, or doing more of something I enjoyed in the past. All of these changes are part of the evolution as a fisherman. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, and there are probably a lot of tactics that haven’t even been discovered yet, or are under-utilized as trends change or they fall out of favor in certain regions.

One trend I have experienced that’s unrelated to fishing tactics is the ‘fishing networking’. I have made more fishing friends on the water since I got my boat, when I knew only a few boats and no fisherman. This is partially a great thing, meeting more people who enjoy the same hobby as I do. Social media has also gotten even faster, and more frequent, with Instagram and ‘live stories’ coming to the forefront of our digital lives. The resulting effect is an influx of information: who’s catching what, and how, and maybe even where. And even on the slowest of days, someone is always catching. Since Covid, there are also a LOT more people fishing. I distinctly remember early spring of 2020 being amazed at how many boats were already out in April and early May, a time when the vast majority of boaters and fishermen aside from the ‘hardcore’, would not be out on the water. All this is to say, fishing seems to have become for some, a very interactive, intelligence sharing, ‘coordinated attack’ type of situations. The result is fisherman checking the latest live reports for updates and to possibly change the course of the ship. Quite frankly I don’t know how the fish populations will sustain these coordinated attacks, but that’s not for me to solve. As you may have caught wind of, there are many conservation policies being considerd by policymakers which I won’t cover. I myself will likely be checking out of the habit of posting my frequent updates on social media aside from a tight crew, and I’m actively trying to take the digital out of the fishing experience as a whole, although it’s not easy.

The season to come

Alright, onto the good stuff. It’s late March, and fish are around the corner. The earliest I’ve gotten them in smaller, ‘non-holdover’ rivers is last week of March (2020). Fishing has been good in the big rivers and the bite has gotten closer to the sound. Some herring have been reported moving into the rivers, although the osprey don’t seem to have arrived based on my observations. The month of January and February the water temperatures were on the lower end compared to monthly averages, and March has leveled out a bit as you all know it’s been very nice early spring weather. In my experience, our fishing locally benefits from a cold winter and early spring, and a quick warm-up in May. Time will tell how this year pans out. Be prepared as last year we had big bass action in late May mid sound, no need to even travel west…

I will post some more intel as good stuff starts to heppen. Until then I’ll be hunting ghosts and making a lot of fruitless casts with cold hands for awhile (based on the most recent forecasts).

Go get em!

September Report & Tightlined Slam

Bass fishing has been very good locally: both jigging in deeper water and casting a variety of lures in shallow fast-current areas. The weather remains pretty warm, but we are starting to have nights intro the 50s, which is kicking up the aggressiveness of bass and blues in a major way. Bottomfishing is also still pretty killer, with more sea bass moving into shallow depths which make a great ‘take-home-for-dinner’ fish, without having to drop a pound of lead down which isn’t so fun. Last but definitely not least, falseAlbacore have arrived in the western sound! It’s a great time to get out on the water and enjoy crisp humidity-free days, and bent rods. There is a local fishing tournament this coming weekend, for more Information visit https://www.tightlinedslam.com/ . This tournament is catch and release, and proceeds benefit charities related to conservation. Even if you do not wish to enter, the after-party is a great time, with raffles, food and drink. Tight lines and happy Autumn.

Season Review & Transition Time

As usual, I get way too caught up fishing, working etc., and I am way behind on keeping up this blog. I do publish weekly reports via Rex & Cove Marina’s ‘Harbor Talk,’ so feel free to reach out if you’d like to be added there. Since I have a lot of time and reports to cover, I’m going to summarize the fishing from May until now, and get to the present report as, I imagine, everyone is excited to see what’s happening now.

1. The boat went in later than usual this year, mid May. This was due to new docks and lots of boat improvements for me. Anyway, off the bat I had good fishing for schoolies. As usual the action starts in the rivers and estuaries where the warmer water and bait is focused. Nothing crazy in terms of notable catches.

2. We had an early run of big fish feasting on Menhaden in mid sound, despite a snowy, rather cold winter. May 23rd was the first time I found fish feeding in this pattern.

3. In addition to the big bass mid sound on Bunker early, there were more blues cruising on the surface than I have ever seen to my knowledge. This lasted until about mid/late July.

4. Until about late June, all the bunker were in the middle of the sound, as opposed to the rivers. At least not in the Norwalk river which is my home port. If they were around, they must have been down deep. Even mid-sound the bunker schools seems at time isolated. If you could find them, then almost certainly you found bass and blues on them. And, this resulted in some truly wild afternoons and mid mornings.

5. By mid July, this all changed. The bunker showed up thick in the rivers. We also had a pretty rainy July, which displeased a lot of people. But, it certainly resulted in a good July fishing-wise. The nasty weather created some great fishing conditions, and the bunker abundance helped as well. In fact, this was one of the better years for summer fishing. It is a trend I am noticing the last few years… where the island bite doesn’t seem to be heating up until late June to early July- a time when traditionally the summer heat slows bassing down. Even until early August, good fish are being taken – on topwater, in sunny midday conditions.

6. We are also seeing more blues mixed in with the bass inshore. All those blues we were catching in the middle of the sound are moving into the shallows it seems. I hope it keeps up.

Fast forward and here we are in mid-August. The bassing is still pretty decent. We are starting to see an influx of smaller ‘peanut’ bunker. Presumably, because bunker have just finished spawning. To our east we have seen the first arrival of exotic species, Spanish Mackerel. Farther east and offshore we have Bonito. We hope these fish continue west into our wheelhouse, and are supplemented by our friends the False Albacore. The ‘Albie’ bite was pretty crappy last year, aside from a one or two day period on our side of the sound. So fingers crossed for a rebound by our favorite speedsters. There is a lot of small spearing around, and the adult Menhaden seem to have thinned out. Admittedly, I haven’t spent as much time on the water as usual the last two weeks, but this should be changing. It’s also a good time to mix it up and do some bottomfishing for Porgy, Fluke and Black Sea Bass. I had some lackluster results in spots where I typically land some big Sea Bass, but I’ll be putting more time in there soon.

I hope everyone is having a great summer, and I’ll see you around on the water catching. Mahalo!

Chasing Ghosts

There is something extremely appealing to me about hunting early season stripers. When I say early season, I mean March and April. And I mean rivers where bass seasonally arrive and depart. Not the rivers where bass “hold over” and can be caught all year long. Nope, that doesn’t do it for me.

I think it’s the mystery and the suspense that makes hunting ghosts so appealing. When will the first fish be caught? Where will it come from? A local fish that expanded its territory in search of food , encouraged by early spring warming periods or migratory baitfish? Or a traveler, from the Chesapeake, the Hudson, the Susquehanna or New Jersey? Maybe even from deep waters offshore. The striped bass is an oft studied fish, but it still feels very mysterious to me.

The first striper is always sweet. It’s a sign that Winter is over, and it’s time to really dive into the hobby we love. Game on, they’re here-No more messing around. It’s almost never a big one, but it’s symbolic. I pride myself in trying to be the first guy around to get one. Let the internet heroes commence their fishing pursuits after the first positive report shows up. It’s almost always at the same time-early to mid April. I’d say between the 4th and the 13th, like clockwork. Predictable, but still suspenseful. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been waiting 4 months, putting my hobby on pause, that makes it so sweet.

The first may not be big, but there’s almost always bigger ones to be found after the first. It’s like an oasis in the desert of a long New England winter. That first hit is usually after many fruitless casts with cold, wet hands. Even a dinky fish can be a bit jarring after so much waiting. A little sign of life. Often times I’m so trigger happy that retrieving a lure into a rock or a log will fool me.

I like seasons, what can I say. And I love the first bass of the year. We’re almost there. God bless the striped bass-may the stock be plentiful and sustained for our kids and grandkids to enjoy them.

James

Pandemic Fishing Season in the Rearview

Well, I am way way behind updating this here blog. Ive cobbled together my thoughts and some images. Expect to hear more from me in coming months as I have the “itch” like a lot of you out there. 2020 was a weird year for sure. I’ll sum up my fishing observations in 13 bullets.

1. Bass arrived early. I caught my first local bass on March 31st, a record for me. (This excludes the holdover rivers where bass can be caught all year long.). It was about 12 days earlier than the typical mid April date, it may not seem like a big deal but in the natural world, it is. Chalk that up to a mild winter in 2020.

2. Early spring bassing in the islands stunk. No two ways about it. Not many big fish and less fish in general. This was the 2nd year in a row of poor bassing during May-June period in the islands. Don’t get me wrong: we caught many schoolies per usual, but not the many ‘bigguns’ in the mix.

3. I did pretty darn well on Spring togging, my only year attempting this. Deep water and slower tides.

4. The local chunk bite stunk. Sure, the party boats fishing twice daily at 11b and other popular spots killed plenty of fish for their passengers and they’d say it was a great year. But- generally speaking, me and guys I talk to who fish hard, did not do well. Not in shallow or deep. Caught some big fish and lost a few heartbreakers (one in part particular that I saw and was easily high 30’s), but not up to par.

5. That said, we had a few epic days over a week or two long period chasing bunker schools and casting plugs+ live lining. Really limited time period (had to be there kinda thing).

6. We had a good Influx of ‘exotic’ species this spring . Namely shad and mackerel. At times these exotics supplanted our usual resident bass. There was also a lot of small bait, and I believe sand eels (2nd year in a row). Sure would’ve loved to see more stripers and blues on the small bait – although we had a few good Spring blitzes . The exotics came in May and early June when water was cool.

7. On the positive, we had really nice late season island bassing-late June through August even. This was odd given it was a mild winter, early spring, and water temps had been warm for a while. I recall a day in early August catching solid fish into slot size, in the midday sun on a beautiful day in the islands. This is really unusual for August in the western sound, especially in the heat of the high sun. Then we had a few good days with slot fish in late June early July. It really took awhile to get going and seemed like quality fish moved in and moved out quick.

8. Again, common trend the last two years-tons of mid sized blues from late august into September. Kind of fun to put kids and newbies on these fish, pull some drag and put em on the grill or smoker if you wish. Massive blitzes. Wish they got a little bigger. They went out deeper into October and 28c was the place to be, most fish on jigs then and even nice sea bass mixed in.

9. Absence of the big mid sound tailing bluefish events we have on slick days in august and July. Maybe I just missed it.

10. Absence of albies locally, sad to say. There was one single day, October 23rd, when they came west of middle ground, and came to our side of the sound. It was absolutely insane that afternoon right in our harbor, but it was one single day. And I talk to a lot of guys who spend a lot of time on the water. Other than that you had to run easy of middle ground or across to PJ area.

11. Huge pods of dolphins on the north shore. Nuff said. Spotted a whale in 2019, also a sunfish/Mola mola, then tons of dolphins one day in 2020.

12. Couple good days of bassing in October, pretty random, ‘had to be there’. This is in addition to tons of schoolie days with no big ones. Gotta put your time in around here if you want to get them on artificials.

13. Solid togging season to cap it off. I’ve said it before but limits need to be changed or these fish are going to be threatened a few years. 2 fish per man in the fall would be a good start.

Autumn ‘20 Report

I am longggg overdue for a report here. Instead of recapping all spring/summer let’s get right into the fall report. Water temps are low to mid 60s. Pretty typical, Although it certainly feels a good bit warmer than usual and like a mild fall.

There have been a few random “rogue” pods of false albacore in our waters (CT side and LI side), but by and large they have been missing this fall, which is sad. In Rhode Island: they had an epic run of them in early October which I was lucky enough to get in on. Still keeping fingers crossed that they will push into the Fairfield County waters but generally they’ve been in Middle ground area and Port Jeff. The bigger issue is getting out when it isn’t blowing hard… not easy for my fellow office monkeys glued to computers during weekdays.

As for tautog, it business as usual. Doing well in 15ish foot depths now. The “move” in my opinion is to fish new areas that aren’t crowded and get creative. Any old rock pile will do.

Bass fishing has been so so. I know of one guy who has been doing damage on quality fish in the islands the past week, and I’ve found plenty of fish myself, but size is lacking sadly. This is unusual for me as usually even late summer and early fall you can find a few good bites with quality fish.

There has also been a good jig bite mid sound on the reefs and behind the islands. Find the birds, mark the fish on your finder, and start jigging: then repeat. Generally blues 5ish pounds and some striped bass and sea bass mixed in. There were some reports of really epic bass bites on fish to 40 pounds (yes 40) on jigs at certain times since late summer out there. Certainly an old school technique coming back in popularity.

Here’s to hoping we get calm weather, a shot at some fatty albertos, and some sizeable bass mixed in with their dinky cousins. Tight lines.

American Chaos, Fish Don’t Seem to Mind

2020 continues to be a bit of a sh**show in the world and our country. So much polarization, violence, hate, it’s truly a sad time. Fishing is a nice reprise from it all and an escape. To go outside and watch the sunset, watch the tides roll in and out, and watch fish feed, is a reminder of the beauty of our natural world unaffected by politics, crime, and human rights issues, and I find it extremely meditative.

Anyway, enough of that sappy stuff, onto the fishing. There are some better fish being taken in shallow in the islands the last 3 weeks. But you really, really have to work for them. I won’t lie. It’s been a grind out there. Plenty of fish but they’re spread out, and not as many big ones as I’d like. This year has been a good reminder of how Mobile striped bass are, one day they’re there, one day they’re not. One day they’re in Darien, then they’re in Westport, and some days they’re mid sound. They follow the bait and the bait has been somewhat unpredictable. Fishing some primo tides around new/full moons and sunset/sunrise will certainly amp your chances, and the bad weather days (fog, wind) have been good to me too.

This year has been full of ‘exotics’, and no I don’t mean exotic dancers or the Tiger King, I mean rarer species in the sound. Namely Shad, Atlantic mackerel, and weakfish. There have been blitzes (birds diving, surface commotion) that have confused a few anglers when the fish refused to take standard bass or bluefish offerings. Instead these were Shad and/or Macks, who will only eat the really small stuff (tiny jigs, soft plastics, sabikis). Weakfish have been caught by a few anglers targeting bass.

Lastly, and perhaps what everyone is waiting for, is what’s the story for big bass fishing. Who’s getting trophy fish, where, how. I will say this: generally chunking has not been great, yet. A few good reports started to trickle in so that may change. Live bait fishing has produced good ones. Either moving from school of bunker to school and dropping live ones to test the waters at each, or, 3 waying live ones on structure. This is a mid sound game. The fish should get more aggressive by the day. It seems it’s better fishing earlier in the day on bait now, and towards the end of June this will move to sunset.

Those who follow my blog know, June into early July is the time nail a big fish. Get out there people. Full moon on Saturday, big tides and current, big bass. Full moon is usually better to me during daylight hours not the morning, but we shall see. Tight lines

Schoolies for Days

Well spring started off with a bang in early April. Some herring moved in and a few (very few) got onto a hot upriver bite in early/mid April. Then it got cold, and wet. Really wet. 2 solid weeks of cold rain pretty much mid April. It’s been a cold spring. Sound familiar? JUST like last year.

What does this mean for the fishing? Well the water is still a few degrees behind average for this time of year. I hear from my Hudson friends that the bass up there havent spawned yet, which they do before they move into the sound or South Shore LI (we prefer the former option). A few degrees may not seem like much to humans but to fish it’s a big deal.

But, finally starting this last Saturday we had a week ish of consistent stabile weather patterns and warmth (aside from the temps in 30s coming early Saturday AM). I have been doing well fishing on the boat, catching consistently in a lot of different spots; mostly sandbars and eelgrass beds starting to fill in, all inner islands, mouth of the rivers and coves etc, as long as it’s got moving water. ‘Back bay’ fishing as they say in Joisey. No topwater bite for me yet, but a friend got a 34 incher the last Tuesday of April and again beginning of March on top🤷‍♂️. So things are looking up. Didn’t catch quite as many big fish in April as I would’ve liked but tons of 23-24 inchers the last week. Bunker is moving in too, mid sound and even inner islands. Methinks I’ll be targeting big fish from sunset onwards in coming weeks.

Tight lines, send your reports or comment below!

Quarantine Angling Report #2

Quarantine goes on, the first round of the pandemic is supposedly waning slightly, and fish are still chewin’. Weird times is all I can say. As I said in my last post, we are lucky this hobby of ours can be done safely while distancing, just make sure to use common sense.

Onto the fishing. We had a burst of really good fishing (big fish for this early too). Bass are still around but the big ones have eluded me for a few weeks. The weather has cooled down. This was the first morning on my boat ever that I was breaking a thin layer of ice pulling out of my slip. Per usual stripers are in the rivers, marshes etc. Find fast current and/or some kind of structure in these environments, and work the water column. Three essentials you need are an unweighted soft plastic (slug O, albie snax, hogy), a weighted soft plastic on a jighead (1/8-3/4 oz depending on depth), and a swimmer (bomber, mag darter, crystal minnow etc). On Fly rod, a clouser or streamer on intermediate or sinking line. Pics below.

For those of you who do some bottomfishing, I put one day of blackfishing in. I fished a handful of spots from 40-70 feet, the deeper water (60-70) is where I found fish, and even then they were a little reluctant. I managed one quality fish. Those who I talk to have said the same, shallow water has not been producing. The mouth of the housatonic river and new haven have been producing in shallow though, due to warmer water temps outside the river.

Thank you to frontline workers and particularly healthcare workers. If any of my readers are in that category or know an angler who is, please reach out to me directly.