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.