No Bad News!

As the title states, I don’t really have bad news to report. Fishing this Past weekend was on fire. The bass have been blitzing for weeks. Mostly small fish, sure, but fun easy fishing. From the rivers and estuaries in your backyard to out front in the sound around islands shorelines and open water. If you want big fish, skip the blitzes under birds and find the rips and fast current areas, nastiest rockiest most treacherous ones you can find. The full moon turned things on for us this past week. Now we have another storm rolling in making it unfishable until the weekend (nice how it worked out that way 2 weeks in a row!).

The blackfishing was pretty great for me on Saturday. I only know what I know, but it was good for me. 15 feet of water roughly, mostly incoming tide. Limit to 21 inches / 8 lbs and threw back keepers . Had a spot in mind, it was packed with boats. Tried a new one (albeit close to a very well knon spot), had some really good structure on the fishfinder, gave it a shot and did well.

As for Albies, they’re still here but they are on the ‘strong island’ side of the pond. I hope they come here, I’m tired of the long bumpy runs and refueling every few days with my small tank. I’ve spotted a few really sparse pods on the CT side but that’s it.

Tight lines, send me your reports if you got ’em, and enjoy the fish porn

Early Fall Update and LOCAL TOURNAMENT

First and foremost, for those of you who don’t know, there is an awesome local tournament this weekend organized by an acquaintance of mine Taylor Ingraham, the Tightlined Slam. Link here: https://www.tightlinedslam.com if you’re fishing this weekend, you may as well grab a few buddies, join the tournament to benefit conservation, and give yourself a chance at the cup. The prizes and entry Schwag is awesome in and of itself.

Now, for the report. As I predicted in my last post, this was THE year we had the return of Bonito. We also had Spanish mackerel in our waters. Really exciting for the fishery. They may be all gone for the year but it’s the first time they’ve been around in about 12 years so pretty cool stuff. FYI I wasn’t fishing hard that long ago, this is what I’m told. Pics below.


Not many people are focusing on Bass this time of year. But I’ve had some great mornings/nights, particularly when we get a cold front. I’m looking forward to more striper fishing using flies and lures, mostly topwater, this fall. The bassing in the islands has been better than it was all spring and summer in my opinion.


And last but definitely NOT least, the Albies are in! What a great time of year it is. The action has been moreso on the Long Island side of the pond, but not completely. I would say it’s been an open water bite for sure, tough for shore based anglers or kayakers unfortunately. If past years predict this year, we should soon have the funny fish local in the islands though. Even in shallow water, pushing bait against shorelines. It can be pretty wild and unique. Pics of fat alberts below.  If any readers are interested in a charter to do the kind of fishing I’m writing about, check the guiding section of my site.

Tight linesi

The End for Cheese and Crackers, the Beginning for Fisherman/women

Labor Day has come and gone. This marks the time of year when most people pack away their speedos and bikinis, white pants, stow away the swim ladders, paddleboards and small boats, and prepare the Pleasure Vessels for winter storage. Cheese and cracker boating is close to an end. The nighttime/morning temperatures are getting down to the 50s. But, for others, things are just beginning. This is the beginning of the 2nd season for hardcore fisherman. The fall run. Bass and blues will start making their way south, baitfish will leave the rivers and estuaries as well, and mayhem will ensue. Our seasonal visitors, Bonita and False Albacore, will start moving in any week now. And for bottomfishing we have Blackfish season opening in October. It’s a glorious time of year.

So what’s the game plan? Well first off, the bassing is gettin’ good during colder mornings. There is a ton of peanut bunker, and cocktail blues around as well. More than I have seen in some years which bodes well for the future I hope. I managed a 33 inch striper in the islands last weekend, and it’s only getting better. It has not been calm enough to go look for tailing blues in a while, and they seem to do that on really hot days anyway. If you want to weed out small fish and target the big boys, chunking fresh bunker or small bluefish, particularly at night, can yield some monsters. You don’t have to go far, right in the islands and harbor will produce big fish.

On the tuna front, the rule of thumb is September 15th. I am told the last 5 years before 2018 that Albies showed up on the 15th, just easy of us in Milford/Stratford area. My good friend Mat over at ctangler.blogspot.com tells me this, and this guy loves to hunt these fish. Last year I found them September 28th, and I don’t know of anyone catching them before that rough time period. Load up on jigs and soft plastics for these speed demons, and even some baits imitating peanut bunker. On the fly side, surf candy flies are my favorite. Clousers will get it done too. Right now guys are consistently getting them in Nantucket/the vineyard, buzzards bay/north shore Mass, and Narragansett area. Also guys going offshore are seeing huge schools of them. So they are heading west right for us. Sit tight, and keep your eyes out! I fished Rhode Island last weekend and the number of Bonita is astounding. This very well may be the year they show up locally, for the first time in years.

Tight lines

James

Summer Report

It’s mid August, and we’re in late summer mode.  Weather wise, we had a really hot stretch a few weeks back, and it’s sort of stabilized.  The ‘spring run’ ran pretty late this year into mid to late July.  Bunker schools getting whacked and fish being really aggressive.  That has subsided for now though.  It doesn’t meant there aren’t fish to be caught, you just have to modify your tactics.  There’s a few things you can do.  You can wake up early and fish sunrise when the water is coolest, and plug the shoreline and islands, throwing anything from flies to topwater to jig/soft plastic combos.  At the very least you should find schoolies, small annoying blues, and maybe even big blues.  We had a stretch of big blues (like 15 pounds and heavier even) in the middle of the sound since late July/early august,  ‘tailing’ around on calm hot days, and if you throw a plug in front of their nose they would whack it.  Sight casting to these bruisers was really, really fun.  Some say they’re digesting food.  I observed some groups of 2 fish swimming in circles together; hard not to assume they were mating but I don’t pretend to be a fish biologist.  Blues of the same size can be found eating small bait in the middle of the sound this past week, really aggressively.  They were pretty much eating anything you would throw at them.  A lure With single hook is recommended for ease of the release and health of the fish (as well as your hands).  Another tactic you can do is throw swimming plugs (think Bombers, SP Minnows, Yo Zuri mag darters) at night amongst the same shoreline / island shallow structure.  Things can really turn on at night.  Keeper bass can be caught all summer this way.  It’s an old school technique and it works.  You can always Chunk morning or night too.  Shallow or deep.  You can also drift sandworms over structure, with a long 6 ft leader. This is another old school really productive technique that’s fallen by the wayside amongst fishing circles.  Or you can skip fishing for bass and bottomfish.  Fluke are in deeper water (50+ feet), and there’s less of them, but bigger ones.  Porgies are always abundant and are tasty.  And keeper sea bass are generally on deeper wrecks.  Or, you can give up on local fishing and go to montauk / the Race for generally better fishing.  Tight lines 

Spring Run Wind Down, Dog Daze of Summer Begin

Well the water is warming up finally, although it’s still a good bit behind average (hovering about 64 compared to July avg. of 69).  The amount of bunker around is starting to get to a normal level for this time of year: They’re plentiful behind the islands.  We have had some good bites on these bunker schools the last few weeks.  All the way out in the middle of the sound, usually around sunset, or an hour beforehand.  The bite on artificials in the islands has been spotty for me, but there’s been a few good days, and some nice keeper size bass inside have been taken.  When it’s on, it has generally been a visual sight fishing bite for me.  And the sand eel thing has wound down unfortunately.  Guys west of us in Greenwich to Pelham and the New York Bight are still catching quality fish, and so are we in the eastern part of the county.  I’m hopeful for this summer, I think we may have a mid to late summer strong bite with lower water temps and (finally) good big bait presence.  When It gets really hot the bunker will start to move into the islands and eventually the rivers I believe, after their spawning rituals.  This is going to get the bass really fired up, and give them an opportunity to ambush in the local rips.  Get out there and see for yourself.  Let me know how you’re doing, and tight lines ! 

 

Weird Year, Good Things to Come

I like to tell is how it is on this blog.  With the nature of social media these days and the ‘sharing/liking/upvoting’ culture, good news tends to get shared/posted more often than bad.  And fisherman tend to share more pictures of fish than of sunsets for a reason.

That said, this has been a slow start to the season, at least for me and across the board with guys in my ‘fishing network’ locally.  The worst I’ve personally had in my last 7  years at least.  Inconsistent, and the usual quality stripers, I’m talking 30+ inches, have been really hard to come by.  The little guys are also in less numbers, and less spread out than usual.  My usual spots that are generally producing two weeks ago, are for the most part dead.  Some folks attribute water temperature, others point to the heavy rain this year.  My sister works at a farm, and she tells me this is the most rain we’ve had in 5 years, and also one of the warmest.  Generally colder temps bring drier air, which means less moisture in the soil and in the trees and plants.  This winter was warmer and wetter, meaning more freshwater in the soil, trees, and also the water bodies from ponds, lakes, tributaries, streams, larger rivers that flow to the sound, and of course the sound itself.  For a farm, this really hurts their crops by over-saturating them.  I think in the sound its hurt our fishing by infusing more brackish, stained, coffee-colored water.  Water clarity has been pretty poor in the early season spots, surprisingly clear in open water behind the islands.  And we are 2-4 degrees behind average temps for this time; not a huge margin, but not insignificant either.   To add to all that not-so-great news, there’s also a noticeable decrease in the amount of bunker/pogies/menhaden this year.

But I’m not here writing to tell you to hang up your rod and reel and take up golf.  It’s not all doom and gloom.  We have a unusual arrival this year, sand eels.  The last time I can remember seeing them in numbers was 2011.  This is triggering an open-water bite that feels like fall fishing.  Terns diving, small fish on the surface and some nicer ones lower in the water column.  And a good fluke bite!

The fishing in general, and weather, is looking up big time.  I’ve had my best outings over the last week.  Wind is laying down and sun is coming out.  They’ve had a good bite in North jersey/new York Bight, and guys are still catching big fish way upriver in the Hudson.  This means a lot of the fish have not left their spawning grounds or wintering grounds.  There have also been fish up to 40-50 pounds caught in the western sound, off Fairfield County.  Jamaica Bay has had a killer run of big bluefish.  So we’re probably just a few weeks behind schedule and dealing with murky water.  If I could offer any advice, it would be to find clean water, keep your eyes and ears open for visible signs like bait and birds, and don’t be afraid to fish unusual, lower tides when the water isn’t running as fast and is cleaner.  Get out there and find out for yourself.  And send me a report telling me how you’re doing at norwalkislandsfishing@gmail.com .  Tight lines Sheeple.

Our Striped Friends Have Arrived

Well the fish showed up! And damn it felt good to bend a rod after 4 months (minus some vacation rod bendage).  There are some really quality fish too for this time of year.  After work Monday afternoon I hurriedly threw a few plugs and plastics in a bag, and rushed to an early season spot I fish in the Norwalk river.  The spot felt a lot different then it did on Saturday when I last did some exploring.  Most notably was the amount of egrets stalking and gulls hovering above the marsh.  A few casts in and I see my plug being followed by a quality ‘keeper’ sized fish (although I don’t ‘keep’).  A few more casts and I land a smaller fish.  Then wham!  My plug gets hammered.  Set the hook, and he’s giving me a run for my money in the current.  The fish comes thrashing to the surface and i see it’s a nice one.  Then poof, he’s gone.  I inspect my lure and see the fish broke my rusted underweight hooks right off.  I’ve been spending too much time on my boat and haven’t gotten to the tackle maintenance yet.  When i threw those plugs in a bag I didn’t look, clearly.  I could not get them to eat my gray Fin S Fish on a jighead, all they wanted was this white Rapala.  The next morning I woke up at an ungodly hour looking for revenge.  Nope, it got cold again, and the wind was from the east which goes against the outgoing tide in this spot.  Not a bump.  We’ll see if i can get a photo shoot with the early season brute that made me look like a fool next time.

Almost Time

If the fishing calendar repeats itself (which it always does) we are about a week out from striped bass moving into our local waters. Year after year the fish show up in the middle of April like clockwork, plus or minus a few days depending on what kind of spring we have. Egrets and bald eagles (yes, we have bald eagles in Fairfield county) and osprey have arrived, the first sign that there is prey in the area. As for early season strategies, keep it simple with soft plastics on a half ounce jighead. If you’re a fly guy or gal, tie on a clouser. Focus your efforts in the rivers, any river will do. Structure to fish is bridge abutments, estuary mouths, and the end of rivers where they meet fresh water and (more likely) dams. Urban Areas at the end of these rivers that you think seem like a really odd place for stripers to be in, will hold fish. Why? Because it’s where river herring are going to spawn in areas of relative safety. However they’re not really safe because the bass will be on their tails. Experiment, make some casts and have fun. You don’t know until you go. 

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. unlike the spring/summer when I am hunting for trophy fish.  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.