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!

colinfish

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…

jasonfish

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.

40fish

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.

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 .

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