Spring Run Recap And Summer Strategies

As usual this time of year, I’ve had a long lapse between posts due to the amount of fishing I’ve been doing.  It’s been a weird spring/early summer.  We started off with water temperatures a bit cooler than last year, then we had some extreme heat.  I’ve concluded The striper population in the Norwalk Islands this year has less fish, but generally larger fish.  The endless amount of schoolie bass we usually have to fish for just aren’t around this year, which is slightly concerning to me.  Perhaps they are just somewhere else because of lack of bait prevalence.  The funny thing is that this year there is an influx of what I think are really tiny sand eels.  The only fish on them are really tiny snapper blues, an early arrival this year, but that’s starting to change.  Those small bluefish I mentioned also grow and eat at an extremely rapid pace.  They make an excellent quarry of larger cannabalistic blues, as well as bass and even fluke, so that’s something to think about when selecting lures…

My season was characterized by a really good chunk bite in the shallow island spots I like to target.  Many trips I had multiple fish over the 30 pound mark.  I had a few good trips plugging after dark too, with plenty of action on keeper bass.  However, the topwater / plugging game for me before dusk was weak since May.  Friends of mine have done much better, particularly full time guide Mike Platt, who is solely an artificial and fly guy targeting Bass, blues and Albies.  Mike covers a lot of water and has had a stellar season.  He reports that the fish this year are in the same spots, but often different tides.  He says the bass were basking in the really skinny water after gorging on bunker.  Often times they react and hit the lure not for feeding purposes but almost out of anger or defensive purposes.

Slightly east of us in Fairfield some friends are also reporting a generally stellar season, and a good bounce back from last year which was off.  In that area The fish seem to be coming in waves, where for a few weeks they’re chewing good and then it gets real quiet for awhile. 

I hope that gives everyone a good idea of this season to date.  My fingers are crossed for a good late summer bite, and as I’m typing this I’m getting reports of blitzes in the islands on small bait.  Fingers crossed this keeps up, and we are setup for a good albie season.

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 .

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.