2018 Season in Review & State of the Species

As it’s the last day of 2018, it seems appropriate to write a recap of our 2018 fishing season.  It’s also apparent I’ve been slacking on my posts, a trend I hope to turn around in 2019.  In addition to reporting on the fishing, I’m going to offer my take on the condition of the species we target.

Spring/Summer 2018:

The spring season started off really strong for me and my chronies who I share reports with.  I start off fishing some spots from shore in the rivers and estuaries around here, through the month of April in between boat work on weekends.  I managed one keeper bass from shore in my limited outings in Fairfield county. which is about par for the course, and plenty of schoolies on light tackle and the fly rod, which I find especially fun.  Those who fish the bigger rivers in Connecticut catch more big fish.  I’m stubborn and lazy, I don’t like ‘commuting’ to the fish, and I don’t like fishing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, so I keep it local.

Come early May, the boat was in the water and I shifted my focus to bassing to the mouth of the rivers, and shallow areas close to the shoreline which will have the bait.  The season was awesome.  Seemed a manage a keeper or two most of the early May trips.  Fish into the mid 30 inch range and I was very happy.  I have never had as productive an early spring on artificials as I did this year.  I will say it seemed there were less fish, but generally more big ones mixed in.  Great early season.

As we get into later May, I move into the islands, and start making runs to the middle of the sound to look for menhaden schools and migratory bass that follow.  I also will begin chunking, using fresh caught, chopped, menhaden fished on the bottom.  I didn’t get to put in as much time as I’d like, mostly due to weather.  But late May I had some very productive night sessions.  Nothing crazy, but many fish pushing into high 30 inch range.   My good buddy fishing out of Greenwich was doing better fishing live bunker mid sound around schools.  He landed a 45 pounder among other notable catches.  Note to self, heading west more in mid/late May next year.  I did have one particularly awesome outing on the last day of May, the 31st.  I had a 36 pounder, and two others at 30 pounds, all in a spot in 10 feet of water.  Come to think of it, that was probably my best night of the year.  Rainy, wet, and rather cold.  I remember I went out to mid sound around 28C hoping to find bait getting pushed around and covered a lot of water.  No luck.  Bait was sparse and not on the surface. Came in shallow to at least do some plugging.  Found bait that was getting swept to the surface so I snagged and chunked into the night, and it was an epic one.

Into June, the prime month for big bass along the Fairfield county/norwalk Islands area, we had a good season.  One more fish over 30 lbs (37 to be exact), also in shallow water.  No record breakers or anything.  Handful of trips full of big fish well over 20 pounds.  Lost some big ones too.  Really did most damage in 10 feet of water this year.  Had some good trips plugging at night too in between chunking.  It’s a really fun way to fish and mix it up.  I caught most of my fish in different spots, which is good.  Always gotta keep expanding your ‘spot bank.’  The big bluefish were only really around in early June, on bunker schools, and also tailing.  Beyond that, we really didn’t see them that much.   Dissappointing and concerning.

Come late July, things slowed down per usual, and I spent less time fishing as well.  I got my personal best fluke at 25 inches which was great.  Did a little bottomfishing, not as much time on the wrecks for sea bass as I would have hoped.  I mixed a few early morning schoolie trips in, catching little guys on artificials and flies to keep myself active.  Meanwhile, Captain Mike Platt of Light Bite Charters had a hell of a late summer plugging up really nice bass when everyone else thought it was ‘summer doldrums’ time.  Apparently the bass stuck around and were still active and under our noses.  Follow this guy if you fish our area and don’t already.

Fall

In short, The fall striper fishing was weak.  In the fall I generally only fish lures and flies.  It did not compare to 2016/17, and the fish were mostly small, and less than usual.  I managed a couple of keeper sized fish, far few than usual.
The albie season on the other hand was fantastic.  I think this was partially me ‘figuring out’ these fish, and partially just a good season.  I had some great days, and caught them pretty much whenever I targeted them Late September through mid October.  We had some cold spells that seemed to send them elsewhere around that time.

Blackfish seasons was standard for me, and really above average for some of my buddies who, let’s just say, found quite a honey hole : ) . They had a bunch of fish well over the 10 lb mark.  I had a handful of trips where I culled some dinner and threw some back, good enough for me, and certainly leaves room for improvement.

State of the Species: As I mentioned, the spring showed more big Stripers, but less small ones and less fish in general.  In the summer months (July-Sept) I usually am able to catch endless amounts of schoolies, but that was not the case this year.  The state has already taken action, as the limit was dropped from 2 fish at 28 inches to 1 fish at 28 inches before the start of the 2019 season.

The blues, aside from snappers, were pretty much absent the whole year except for a stretch in June.  Very weird, and worrying.  I think most anglers / conservationists spend their time thinking about, and managing, the stock of striped bass.  Bluefish are an afterthought because usually they are so prevalent.  Not the case this year.  This was consistent across all anglers I know personally and also follow on social media across the northeast.

The False Albacore were pretty prevalent in the western sound this year.  This was the second year I really got into them and targeted them specifically, so I don’t have much experience here.  However, I’m told they are very cyclical.  They used to never be in the sound for years, and there have been an upswing for around the last 8 years I’m told.  I hope this stays this way because they’re quickly becoming my highlight of the fall.

Blackfish numbers were the same as they usually are for me.  But I’m not a hardcore ‘togger.  You will find very mixed reports, primarily because they require a lot of skill and sometimes strong boat maneuvering and anchoring.  Point being: those who crush them really crush them always, those who don’t, don’t.  It takes a learning curve.  All that aside, I think we need to reconsider the limits on these fish.  It’s great that there is such a limited season and limited commercial fishery (90% of harvest is recreational, see this ASMFC doc here), which I think is because they are hard to target commercially aside from traps.  And we are blessed with a very rocky state that is full of places for these bottom dwellers to live (CT has the highest harvest by weight of tautog of any state from Mass to North Carolina!) But, these fish are really long lived.  Check this out, a legal sized tautog (16 inches) is  7 years old based on the mean!  With a regulation of 3 per person (Dropped from 4 in 2017), of fish 7+ years old, that’s a lot of mature fish dying, many of them likely females.  A 20 inch fish (as big as I get them commonly) is about 10 years old.   Bigger than that is a really quality fish, but you get my point, they’re Old!  My sentiment that we should reconsider is actually backed by the ASMFC, as blackfish are officially overfished as of 2011, which likely lead to the decrease in harvest.

State of the Species: As I mentioned, the spring showed more big Stripers, but less small ones and less fish in general.  In the summer months (July-Sept) I usually am able to catch endless amounts of schoolies, but that was not the case this year.  The state has already taken action, as the limit was dropped from 2 fish at 28 inches to 1 fish at 28 inches before the start of the 2019 season.  There’s two main schools of thought in the bass world, the party boat/’catch and cook’ crowd, and the ‘catch and release’ crowd, with a great divide between those two.  The surf guys are more often catch and release.  Depending on who you ask, you will get very different stories.  Some will say the bass are in serious trouble, especially surf guys.  Some will say it’s business as usual.  You’ll also get a different story from different styles of fishing, you have guys fishing fly rod only and guys fishing live/dead bait (the real thing!) with different results.  And different reports from Maine to Maryland.  It’s really hard to judge and I’m not going to even pretend I can make an educated judgment as to the state of the stock, given I’ve only really gotten in to this ‘fishing game’ hardcore for 7 seasons.  I was happy the limit was dropped from 2 to 1 fish last year.  I don’t keep bass really unless I can’t revive them, which is really rare for me.  Or for a random special occasion, usually for a family member once a year.  Although my season was somewhat normal, there were less fish, particularly smaller ones in spring and summer and bigger ones /fish in general in the fall.  But people I respect who have been fishing much longer than I have report the fish numbers are down, and there are major issues with the way the fishery is managed and stock sizes are judged.  If you’d like to learn more, I recommend you read some of John McMurrays pieces on at reel-time.  Reel time

The blues, aside from snappers, were pretty much absent the whole year except for a stretch in June.  Very weird, and worrying.  I think most anglers / conservationists spend their time thinking about, and managing, the stock of striped bass because they’re prettier and more coveted.  Bluefish are an afterthought because usually they are so prevalent, they’re ‘bycatch’, because people generally don’t like to eat them as much and they’re ‘easy’.  Not the case this year.  This was consistent across all anglers I know personally and also follow on social media across the northeast.  There are no blue around.  I hope these fish begin to be studied and monitored moreso, because

The False Albacore were pretty prevalent in the western sound this year.  This was the second year I really got into them and targeted them specifically, so I don’t have much experience here.  However, I’m told they are very cyclical.  They used to never be in the sound for years, and there have been an upswing for around the last 8 years I’m told.  I hope this stays this way because they’re quickly becoming my highlight of the fall.

Blackfish numbers were the same as they usually are for me.  But I’m not a hardcore ‘togger.  You will find very mixed reports, primarily because they require a lot of skill and sometimes strong boat maneuvering and anchoring.  Point being: those who crush them really crush them always, those who don’t, don’t.  It takes a learning curve.  All that aside, I think we need to reconsider the limits on these fish.  It’s great that there is such a limited season and limited commercial fishery (90% of harvest is recreational, see this ASMFC doc here), which I think is because they are hard to target commercially aside from traps.  And we are blessed with a very rocky state that is full of places for these bottom dwellers to live (CT has the highest harvest by weight of tautog of any state from Mass to North Carolina!) But, these fish are really long lived.  Check this out, a legal sized tautog (16 inches) is  7 years old based on the mean!  With a regulation of 3 per person (Dropped from 4 in 2017), of fish 7+ years old, that’s a lot of mature fish dying, many of them likely females.  A 20 inch fish (as big as I get them commonly) is about 10 years old.   Bigger than that is a really quality fish, but you get my point, they’re Old!  My sentiment that we should reconsider is actually backed by the ASMFC, as blackfish are officially overfished as of 2011, which likely lead to the decrease in harvest.

Tight lines, hope everyone is staying busy and looking forward to another year in the salt.

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