Ch-Ch-ch-Changes

As I stood on the banks of the Norwalk River three weeks ago, it was very clear the ecosystem was alive with life, and the major seasonal changes were underway. The water body that seemed lifeless a month ago was now flurrying with activity. At my feet, crabs darted in and out of their holes in the mud. Egrets were carefully stalking the mud flats, periodically shooting their beaks into the water picking up prey. Cormorants were also working the shoreline, diving down for small fish. In the water, I could see silversides schooled-up, moving around the inlet in a group. Off in the distance, adult menhaden (bunker) were flipping around on the surface, filter feeding as they do. Numerous osprey diving were out of the air for these oily fish, and I saw them retreat to their nests with the 12-inch fish in their talons. Oh, I also caught some striped bass too.

first of the season
First of the year, April 10th

Report

The spring season is well underway. We have striped bass ranging from not-much-larger than your lures, to fish in the mid 30-inch range. They can be found both in the harbor and islands, as well as far upriver in brackish water in the various rivers and estuaries we have. The fish upriver are strictly chasing the herring which are trickling in. The concentration of these fish should improve as the herring spawn occurs. While we have herring now, I have not seen or heard of full blown spawn conditions yet. The fish we have now are holdovers who live in the arae all year round. The migratory fish from the Hudson and Cheasapeake bay will arrive later in May. These are the really big fish we are all after.
I have had my best striper fishing so far in sandbars around the harbor, as well as way upriver. I have managed two fish at or over 30 inches, and many more small schoolies. This time of year I fish strictly artificials. My go-to lures include Slug-O’s, swimmers including jointed Rapalas, Yo-Zuri Crystal minnows, Bombers, and my favorite: topwater. The topwater bite is hit or miss. The fish are just starting to get aggressive enough to hit topwater lures as the water temperature increases. My favorite topwater lures are the Gibbs Polaris Poppers, Smack-It’s, and various type of spook-lures.

early spring spot
Foggy morning bass, April 28th

Things to Focus On
The fishing this time of year is also very inconsistent. This is due, in my eyes, to the fluctuation of bait, and water temperatures. As I motored around the harbor this weekend, temperatures ranged from 50-60 degrees, which is a big jump. 50 degrees is generally known as the minimum temperature for stripers to be actively feeding. Which points to the importance of water temperature this time of year. An outgoing tide, and mud flats/sandbars will hold much warmer temperatures. The inside of the islands will also be a lot warmer. If you are on a boat and have a fishfinder with temperature, take a look from time to time. Also, get out there when the weather Is nice and hot. While it is really key to get out early or late in the summer, you will be able to fish successfully in the middle of the day this time of year.

early spring selection
Artificial Selection for Smaller Bait Imitation

Now onto the bait side. A few weeks ago, the Norwalk River was packed with adult bunker from the east bank to the west bank, and now there are none to be found. There was some really good fishing then. The presence of this bait will really turn things on. If you find big bait in your vicinity, not even in your specific spot, there are good chances you could land some big fish, and I would make the extra effort to get out there. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t go out if you don’t see bait. If fact, a really good fisherman I know once told me you should fish in the spots that aren’t loaded with bait. Reason being-fish are a lot more aggressive when they don’t have many options. When the water is teeming with bait, it’s going to be hard to entice a bite.
I hope everyone’s seasons are off to a great start. For any questions, or if you’d like to share a fishing report, email me at james.hollyday@gmail.com .

Spring Fishing 101 in Western Sound

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!

About

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.”

pete kriewald 45 lb record.jpg

The End: Late Season Ramblings and Report

As surface water temperatures are now in the mid 40s to low 50s, and most of the big open-water fish have made their way south, I think I am calling it a season.  The boat is high and dry, and the gear is stowed away.  Truth be told there are more stripers out there in the western sound, the tog are still biting and the weather is fine; but with weddings coming up and other ‘real life stuff,’ I’m afraid I have to call it a season.  No regrets though, we went out with a bang this weekend and it was a hell of a season all in all.  Even with lots of ‘real life stuff’ getting in the way, I have to pat myself on the back and say I made it happen with limited opportunities.  I think the fishing was just so stupid good this year It was really happenstance.  Anyway, here’s a limited report:

11/5: Good action on stripers in the islands.  Got my personal best bass on the fly at a modest 28 inches on a white and blue mushmouth.  While drifting through the rip I thought I had a snag, then line started peeling.  The fish went full 360 across the rip and around my boat while I got my legs free from the line.  Got her into the boat for a quick pic, not before snapping my Temple Fork Outfitters 9 weight.  Oh well, great warranty.  And restored my fly rod confidence.  Big flies work and I need to throw them pretty much all the time.

11/6: Heavy wind in high teens.  Searched for bass in the morning and found topwater action early AM In a very shallow harbor.  Landed a few fish on topwater and made the stupid move to leave fish to find them.  Got slammed around in a tight chop and got nothing else.  Time to switch to tog.  First few spots in the nearly 20 mph wind I got slammed around a lot with no quality fish.  Nearly lost my anchor twice when the flukes went deep in some gnarly structure, but a little tricky boatmanship and some muscle got it free.  Moved to my most weather ‘protected’ tog spot tight to shore out of the wind, sort of.  Took awhile for them to show up, but they did.  Managed two nice keepers and a ton of shorts.  Fun way to pass the day.

11/25: First time out in 3 weeks.  Zipped around and checked things out in middle of outgoing.  No birds, got the skunk off with one schoolie in a rip outside of the Norwalk River.  Merely a scouting missing and one to run the boat.  Nice day on the water too.

11/26 Part I: Went out in the morning 8:30-11 with three dozen green crabs, tog on the mind with stripers on the back burner.  Made three drops, the first two (exploratory in new spots) yielded nada.  Third spot in 20 ft of water the fish started chewing hard.  It took probably 10 minutes for them to show up, but they showed up in force.  I got three keepers in about a half hour, more than enough to make some quality meals for my whole family, so I called it a day to go in and do end of season boat work.  Two at 17 inches, one big old whitechin at 21 inches.  Pretty typical blackfish day for me with mostly fish around the legal limit and always a few big ones to challenge my light tackle.  Still no 10 lb true togzillas for me.

Part II: Went out around 2 after lunch/boat work to switch the game up and hunt for my last stripes. Rumor has it there were some fish breaking off Southport, so I was eastbound and down.  Didn’t make it to Fairfield and there were birds going nuts and my fishfinder was lit up.  Upon closer inspection there were herring getting annihilated by stripers.  I’ve never fished a herring bite before.  They were Frantically speeding on the surface and it seemed like the bass were just playing with them.  I got in on the action and it was fish on every cast: poppers, flies, and soft plastics, in order of least success to most success.  All small fish.  So I got bent for awhile, then got bored and sought out some more big tog  (unsuccessfully) before heading back to safe harbor.  Good times.

 

 

 

 

Fall Run is ON!

Ladies and gentlemen the fall fishing is in full swing.  All reports are pointing to excellent fishing for blues, bass, and albies.  Perhaps the best I’ve experienced, and the best is yet to come if my logs are correct.  I have managed to get out myself a handful of times with excellent results over the last few weeks.  The new moon provided excellent action as it usually does.  I have heard tales of absolutely epic albie blitzes with the tunoids blizting over wide areas, although I have not witnessed this myself.  Keeper size bass are there and ripe for the taking, as are chopper blues to keep the drag screaaming.  The rivers are loaded with bunker like I haven’t seen before this time of year: both adult and juvenile bunker.  Blitzes can be witnessed way upriver on some afternoons and mornings, and it isn’t even necessary to go far from the dock.   I have yet to see that much bait move outside the river/harbor yet, the menhaden have generally been confined to the rivers/mouth of harbor.  When those fish make their way out on their great migration, all hell is going to break loose.  I just hope I’m there to capitalize.  My guess is the next new moon in October 28th is going to be the ticket.
Tight lines homies!

Transition Time & Season in Review

It’s been a while since I’ve reported here, and I’m overdue for a proper review of our 2016 Spring run.

We are in a transition period now, the waters are as hot as they will be all year (around 74-80 degrees depending on time of day), the bass seem to be in a holding pattern, bottomfish are deep and finicky, and blues are sporadic.  There are hints of fall becoming more evident with shorter days and cooler nights.  The fall migration of striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito is looming.  The harbors and rivers are chock full of peanut bunker and spearing.  Eventually these fish will leave their safe haven of the hot rivers and seek the open water to make their way south, with the gamefish on the chase right behind them.  It’s an exciting time of year, it can be chaotic and frantic.  The fall run often brings high winds, choppy water, and fast moving bait schools getting annihilated by everyone in town.  Blues and schoolie bass or false albacore slashing through schools on the surface, and older wiser and lazier bass below them picking up scraps 10-20 feet down.  Even sea bass and the feared sea robin will join the party.  It’s run and gun fishing.

Anyway, onto the season in review.  I didn’t have hardly enough time to fish, but I managed a few (3) outings that made up for it.  A stark contrast from last year.  I did manage quality fish in limited time, including my personal best fish which I was amped about.  She weighted in at 37 pounds.  It was preceded by a fish tying my PB at 30lbs, and four others in the 36 inch range.  This was the same week as last year when I had my best fish of the season at 28 pounds, the new moon in the first week in July.

This spring could be characterized by sporadic runs of really good migratory fish.  It was almost as if you could tell the big schools were passing through at certain times and on the feast.  The islands held some really good fish at times, and other times it was famine.  As usual June provided the most consistent fishing.

Enjoy the fish porn…

monster

 

katfishmonster2

 

 

 

Primetime Bassing

Well for a striper fisherman in fairfield county, this is THE time to catch your trophy fish, and we’ve been on fish pretty good for a few weeks now since late May.  Safe to say if you’re putting your time in at the bass hours, i.e. early AM, late in the day, or under the cover of darkness, you have a good chance at hooking up.  We have had some solid waves of migratory fish coming through and stopping in at the islands.  Hopefully some fish find what they’re looking for and stay.  So far the prevalent bait I’ve seen is silversides, some really longer than usual ones up to 5-6 inches.   There have also been peanut bunker around, as they have been all winter.  The usual assortment of topwater poppers, swimmers, soft plastics and flies are doing the trick.  When the fishing has been really good, the fish have been keyed in on these silversides for me personally.  I have yet to see really thick large schools of bunker locally, but supposedly they are definitely in to the west of us, east, and out in the middle where I know guys are live lining.  This weekend’s full moon tides should be one of the best times to fish the whole season.   I’m sad to to say I’ve only put in 3-4 outings this season, so I wholeheartedly plan to make up for that starting tomorrow night.  Of those 4, 3 have brought big fish though.  Fish porn below.  Tight lines!

Spring Has Sprung

best fish of season 2
Best of season so far, just under keepah size

Ok folks, it’s been awhile since I checked in but the spring run is on.  Truth be told it has been a tough season for me so far.  The weather seems to be god awful on weekends with either high winds or torrential downpour, and beautiful on weekdays when I’m kooked up in my office.

First fish came for me on April 16th, and It’s been on and off since then.  Good night April 21st although I had to work for it.  Good night April 28th east in Fairfield with best quality fish so far blitzing on small bait in an outflow. This past Thursday AM had some nice fish on topwater in the mouth of the norwalk river.  All reports have been from shore so far except for this Thursday.

I have friends doing ok a bit west of here with bigger fish in greenwich and stamford.  One well  known report of a 42 lber in stamford.  The usual wire trollers in greenwich are catching fish in 20s.  Not my cup of tea personally.  Some reports of good fish upriver in the norwalk and saugatuck a few weeks ago.  I haven’t personally seen any herring or adult bunker, in fact all I’ve seen is spearing 4-5 inches.  I may have missed the herring run upriver.  In JBay in Brooklyn the fishing seems to be excellent.  Guys on Housy are doing ok, not killing it recently it seems.  It sure seems to me as though we had sort of a ‘false start’ in that the water temps are here (mid 50s), but the big bait is not.  The rain has slowed things down a bit.

This weekend I will be going full bore.  Late night tides and approaching full moon SHOULD in theory turn things on.  I’ll be likely doing plugging and fly casting during day hours and chunking at night with some plugging mixed in.  I will be focusing on the mouth of rivers/creeks, and possibly out in the islands.  Hoping to find the bait and let that dictate my efforts.

 

Good luck out there.

 

 

 

T Minus 2 Months ‘Till Striper Time

Well Folks, based on my logs from previous years, I think we are 2 months or less away from stripers in our local waters around the islands.  Last year with the brutal winter my first fish came on April 25th; I think we’ll be closer to the middle/early part of the month this year.

With the warm weather in the 50s (and rain) on Monday, it certainly reminded me of early springtime.  Early spring to me means shore fishing back bays, creeks, tidal inlets and the rivers for newly arrived migratory stripers.  Warm afternoons and outgoing tides get the bass out of their winter hibernation-like habits, and into feed mode.  That combined with the little critters (grass shrimp, crabs, sandworms, silversides) and larger critters (herring) coming out of hiding in the aforementioned areas leads to some killer fishing.  Fishing around the first full or new moon in April or May after dark always leads to my first sizeable fish of the year.    Time to re-spool, stock up on your flies, plugs and plastics, and get ready for action folks.

More to come.

JSPRING FISH PIC