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.

2017 Season in Review, and Lessons from the Salt

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.

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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.

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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.

Spring Run in Review 2017 & August Bassin

Spring Run Season in Review 2017

At the time, I’m about a month late In writing my season report.  I’ll start it off by saying it was one for the books.  As always, there were some real monsters caught in the western sound and islands this season from May to early July, but this year there seemed to be even more numbers of big fish.  A few notable catches include a 49 pounder caught by Colin Kelly live lining bunker schools in the western sound.  I don’t know many guys who fish as hard as he does, well deserved!

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Jason Coleman hauled in a 40 inch striper on a soft plastic in some very skinny water in the islands.  Very impressive!  Another likely even bigger fish straightened out a hook in this same spot the next day.  That one hurts…

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Your author even managed to join the 40 pound club with a striper caught chunking the June new moon.  I missed the mark by 2 pounds last year, and I was clearly thrilled to hit the benchmark this year.

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Season in Review
We had a lot of bunker schools this year.  Lot of bunker, lot of nice stripers.  One difference this year is that the schools of bunker with fish on them stayed out in the middle of the sound.  A lot times around the far ends of the Norwalk islands you find schools getting harassed early mornings.  While it happened sometimes this year, it wasn’t nearly as common.  I wasn’t able to make a pattern out of it.  We also had a colder than average spring, with more rain, which kept action going for awhile.  Some say rain pushes the bait out.  I noticed this year sometime after a heavy rain (which we had a lot of) the bunker were thick in the harbor, which sort of debunks that theory.

All of that isn’t to say that big fish weren’t caught in tight to the islands.  They were there, just not pushing bunker schools around.  While there were some rumors of sand eels, I can’t say I’ve been able to substantiate that rumor myself.

August Fishing

It’s no secret that August slows down for sure.  I have managed to have days with a ton of stripers though.  Small fish (16-24 inches) for the most part, on a mix of flies, topwater, and small bucktails or soft plastic jigs.  It’s a great time, and I see no reason to stop fishing in the dog days (or better yet, early mornings) of summer.  There are also some quality bass to be had if you put your time in.  We have a TON of small bait in the islands.  Add to that snapper blues and crab hatches, and you have a rounded diet for bass and blues to keep them here through the end.  Bottomfishing has also been pretty solid.  Fishing jigs, rock piles and channel edge will yield some nice fish for the table.

Late Summer Norwalk Islands Striped Bass Strategy

Daytime: I recommend cycling between two groups of lures.  The first is sub surface (as deep as you want depending on retrieve speed and weight).  This includes small swim shads, 1/2 oz bucktails with trailers, or other soft plastics with jigheads.  The second group is topwater.  I like smack-its, creek chub poppers, doc spooks, or gibbs polaris poppers.  The bass will take of these groups depending on their “mood.”

On the fly side, i like small folded foam poppers.  I also like mushmouth flies in blue and white, and the classic clousers and deceivers, all on intermediate line.

Nighttime: Nighttime I switch over to swimmers on the spinning rods.  Typically bomber Long As, SP Minnows, and a variety of smaller Rapala X raps and other swimmers.  Bring a dark and light color of each, and you’ll figure out what they want.  It’s integral you have both, some days they literally will not take a dark lure, but will hit white with reckless abandon.  SLOW DOWN the retrieve at night!

On the fly side, I use the same flies as daytime except skip the poppers.  Again, SLOW the retrieve once the sun goes down.

Tight lines mates.  For questions, reports or input, email james.hollyday@gmail.com .

 

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.

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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 .

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.”

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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…

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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.