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.
I gotta say I thought I knew it all after working on the Sheffield Island tour boat for 6 years. But I learned a few things here. Good stuff.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well ladies and gents, things have really started popping off the last week. I managed some quality bass in my local haunts on topwater, got in on some epic albie feeds, and also did a bang up job on the ‘tog and Black Sea Bass. It seems as though the fishing is really hinging on air temperatures. Cold nights, good morning of fishing. Moderate night, not so great fishing. As much as I am loving this unseasonably sunmerlike fall weather, I’m really looking forward to more chilly nights. We are starting to see some daily surface blitzes right in the river, around sunset and sunrise. I believe all the forage that spends the summer in the rivers are moving out, which is also accelerated during colder temps. I know the guys to the east in Connecticut are doing even better on the bass and blues, and I’m hoping they are releasing the fish pointing towards New York City.
On the albie front, it seems as though the windier days are making the hardtails more ballsy and aggressive. Generally speaking, they are getting more picky as the season goes on, or so I’m told. We should have maybe another week or two of these frustrating little football fish.
Well folks, the title pretty much sums it up. From bass, to albies, to blackfish, everything has been excellent. I attribute this to the cold front (nighttime temps early this week in 40s) and new moon approaching. Tuesday morning in particular was just an epic bass morning in the frigid cold. I do not think this is a coincidence, I think the temperature drop brought the water into optimal feeding zone for the bass. They were always there, but this week they got downright aggressive on the topwater lures! When it warmed up mid to later in the week, the jigs came out and got the job done.
On the albie front, there were some pretty epic feeds this week. Acres of bass, blues and albies mixed in, feeding on a TON of small bay anchovies out in the sound. I also think this was due to the cold front, and bait being flushed out into the open water when their internal clock told them it’s time to head south. I have never experienced albie fishing like this, which doesn’t say much, because as my fishing friends know, I have a curse.
Blackfish were chewing pretty well in the shallow water under 20 ft on asian crabs. Tons of missed fish as usual, and about a 20/80 keeper throwback ratio for me, which is pretty good. I’ve heard a lot of not-so-good reports, mostly from guys using asian crabs. I feel as though they like asian crabs early in season, and greens later in season. But I may be crazy.
We have a new moon this weekend, and a beautiful forecast, life is good. I feel like fishing is usually better a few days before and after the new or full moon, but then again, fish don’t have no rules, so get out there and “see who’s home”!
It sure seems as though mother nature can’t make up her mind this fall. We are experiencing some un-seasonably warm weather this year, it has felt more like muggy August weather then October a few times in the last week. The water temperatures are fluctuating accordingly. We have had numerous dips into the 65 degree range, and surface temperatures are in the 70s for the last few weeks. Bass are responding better to ‘low and slow’ then to topwater the last week, for the most part.
The albie fishing was absolutely lights-out on Friday, there were reports of the fish breaking just about everywhere from Fairfield to Stamford. There were some epic bass and blue blitzes as well, with fish in a feeding frenzy, eating snapper bluefish in the rips around the islands. Just in time for the weekend warriors, things died down on Saturday. In fact, Saturday morning was terribly slow all around, with the exception of the bottom fish. I’ll chalk that up to the east wind. In the afternoon, things turned around. Despite some ‘sporty’, ‘nautical’ conditions, the albies showed up on the outgoing tide, and the bassing turned on too. Sunday was also a nasty day weather-wise, though the water and air was still very warm. The bass and some chopper blues were feeding, although certainly not aggressively.
The bottom line is, we need a consistent temperature drop to turn things on for the bass and blues. You always have a shot at albies despite the warm weather, and likely will for a few more weeks. Be prepared. They can be anywhere from mid sound, to tight on the beaches. Anglers have to be willing to really cover some ground (and burn some gas) to get them consistently. The local albie sharpies are having no problem getting good numbers of fish on a daily basis…
Opening day of blackfish is off to an excellent start. The tog don’t seem to mind the balmy weather. I have reports of fish chewing well in 15 ft of water on asian crabs.
The past week brought some beautiful weather in southwestern CT, and the chill has returned after dark. The week prior we saw about a 5 degree surface water temperature change, and I expect that to continue. There have been some excellent albie bites once the sun is high in the sky, at all the usual spots from Middle Ground west to the Darien are producing at one time or another. This usual chaos of weekend warrior fisherman chasing these finicky hardtails is definitely underway.
Taking a backseat in popularity this time of year is the striper and bluefishing, which has been quite good. Quality fish pushing the 20+ lb. mark are being taken in the islands and surrounding shoreline on plugs, flies, and bait for the chunk dunkers. The water temps are almost ‘just right’, the bait is there, and fish are hungry. There is a TON of forage both big and small which have yet to emerge from their hiding up the rivers, too. Visit your local river or bay, marina or estuary, and I will venture to guess you’ll find adult and juvie “peanut” bunker finding shelter and circling around happily tailing on the surface, as well as the rain bait. They will begin to flush out, and the bite in the mouth of the rivers and surrounding areas will turn on for sure.
The bad weather days and low light are getting it done, per usual. Striped bass fishing is not for softies after all. Windier days with murkier water require the bigger more commotion-causing poppers, and flashier, bigger swimmers and flies. A tipped bucktail, or a jighead and soft plastic are always a good bet. There are some real monsters after dark too.
This weekend we have low tides right around sunrise and sunset, which is certainly not optimal for bassing skinny water. I might use the opportunity to sleep in somewhat, and fish the incoming. Albies have been taking a while to ‘wake up’ too, so you shouldn’t miss much there. Both days we have a prevailing South wind in the forecast, which should help push open-water bait towards and not away from our side of the pond, hopefully. The tog season begins on Tuesday, and I can say I’m certainly looking forward to trying out some gnarly rock piles and wrecks I’ve been marking all summer.
As we are merely two and a half months from the stripers’ arrival, I’ve written a primer for early spring fishing for those new to the game, or even those who aren’t.
Typically stripers filter into the rivers and flats of the western sound in mid April. Striped bass are generally categorized into “holdovers,” or fish that spend all year in the same location, and migratory fish, which spend the winter in deep canyons off Virginia, spawn in the Hudson or Chesapeake Bay, then ‘run the coast’ from the spring to the fall. In April you have the holdovers starting to become more active, feed and stray from their winter holes. Migrators are making their way up the coast and eating heavily. Temperature fluctuate greatly in the spring in New England, and the fish react accordingly. For me it is feast or famine, but it’s a very exciting time, particularly when the getting is good.
In the early season you have to focus on a few things.
1. Bait presence. No surprise here. All year round, fish follow the bait. The spring is unique in that stripers will go FAR upriver in chase of herring. Herring have made a remarkable comeback in our waters since the peak of 20th century pollution, and they go upriver to brackish water to spawn. Bass will follow. You will be really surprised how far up they will go where the rivers in the western sound are in dense urban areas, and are narrow and brackish. Aside from herring you have Bunker moving in, grass shrimp, spearing and other small baits.
2. Warmth: The fish will follow warm water. Late afternoons will produce some good schoolies. Outgoing tides are preferred because it will flush warm water from the river, bays and flats. Night time is always the right time for bigger fish though.
3. Spring structure: As mentioned, fish are farther upriver then they will be most of the year. They will also be on flats. I actually do most of my spring fishing from shore. I like to focus on outflows, or areas where marshes or bays drain out, usually in a narrow cut. I also fish bridges, rips and drop offs in the river. The early spring is, by far, the best time for land-based fisherman, 100%. The sad thing is most newbies miss out and don’t start until the summer in July, when the shore fishing is almost dead. The migratory fish will be out in the islands just starting to filter in. Areas from shore to focus on include the Norwalk River, Saugatuck, Mill Pond, Housatonic, Southport Harbor, Holly Pond outflow, Five Mile River, and the Mianus River, and not to mention the various Norwalk Islands as well.
4. Lure Selection: This is really dependent on bait that is around. In the bays and rivers, I am throwing predominantly soft plastics, small swimmers, half ounce bucktails, and just about any flies. When you are in the elusive school of herring or bunker with fish feeding, #1 you are in for some good fishing, enjoy it. #2, time to step up the presentation. Big swimmers and soft plastics. 9-12 inch hogies or slug-o’s. Danny plugs and big swimmers. Big hungry fish, very exciting stuff.
Get the tackle ready, spring will come sooner than you think. Tight lines!
You might ask, what’s so special about the Norwalk Islands? The fishing surely doesn’t compare to Montauk, Block Island, Eastern Connecticut/Rhode Island or even the Cape, so what’s the deal?
The answer is that Norwalk Islands are an almost one-of-a kind area in its varied topography that results in a phenomenal, yet difficult, fishing structure. This is an area that boasts almost every type of structure present in the northeast. Ice-age glaciers 18,000 year ago formed deep canyons rising from 100 feet to 20 feet, countless sandbars and shallow rips, boulder fields, and varied bottom composition from gravel to mud surrounding the 13 islands. That doesn’t count the man-made structure from mooring fields, wrecks, docks, oyster beds, navigational rock piles, and deep dredged channels. The amazing thing is, It would take a lifetime to learn all the spots in this confined area. I have caught fish in no less than three spots on every island large or small, and that’s scraping the tip of the iceberg. Every year I find more and more structure that holds fish at a particular time, right under my nose. The protection of the islands also allows one to fish in weather conditions that would typically keep a small boater tied up in safe harbor.
The Norwalk Islands are a hidden gem, rich in history, and a beautiful area to spend time. Despite Fairfield County being the most densely populated region in CT, the fishing pressure is actually relatively low. Every year there are 40 pound bass caught in the deep water rips surrounding the islands on bait. 20 and 30 pound bass are not uncommon in the shallow areas of the islands for those who know the secrets, of which there are many, and put in the time. Double digit fluke and blackfish are also caught, and don’t forget the gator bluefish. See the image below as evidence of the fish that the islands hold. This is one of the most notable catches of the Norwalk Islands’ history, a 45 pound striped bass on the fly taken by Pete Kriewald in the 70s in skinny water that was at the time a world record on 20 pound tippet. This is from Lou Tabory’s book “Inshore Fly Fishing: A Pioneering Guide to Fly Fishing Along Cold Water.”