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Steve Barron of Westbrook found the Long Island Sound honey hole that produced this 13-pound tautog. (Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan )
Jan Russo of Guilford hooked into this fall black sea bass while on the hunt for tournament ‘togs with her crew. (Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan )
The Menhaden Management Board approves key agenda items at the 75th annual Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting in Bar Harbor, Maine. (Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan )
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The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is celebrating its 75th year. It all began in 1937, when the Eastern States Conservation Conference convened due to concern for declining fish stocks—primarily sturgeon, lobster, shad, and striped bass. The idea of an interstate compact to promote fisheries conservation was then hatched.
From that initial concept to the present day, the ASMFC has developed into a protector of valuable Atlantic marine fish species. It grew from an organization that recommended into one with regulatory authority, reporting to the then-state partners, federal agencies, and Congress, and was signed into law on May 4, 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Entrusted with coastwise management authority, ASMFC systematically reviews, thoroughly evaluates, and acts upon fisheries to ensure important fish stocks are protected. Recently, this year’s annual meeting (like those in the past) did just that when considering various views and scientific approaches to conservation. Boards associated with numerous fish species and groups met to hammer out recommendations based on technical reports and other input, while those in attendance listened, exchanged comments, and ultimately voted on motions. Following are a few things from the four-day, 18-item agenda of particular interest to fishers of the Sound.
An invigorating discussion ensued during the Atlantic Menhaden Management Board concerning the 2017 annual harvest quota. Given the healthy condition of the stock, a modest 6.45 percent increase from the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 2016 was passed for 2017, setting the TAC to 200,000 metric tons (mt). Connecticut’s share amounts to 34.54 mt or 76,152 pounds. Also discussed in detail and approved was Public Information Document for Draft Amendment 3 for public comment, which will be instrumental in gaining data on fishery changes, management measures, and other pertinent info affecting the amendment.
The Tautog Management Board reviewed regional and coastwise assessment update results. Among the various regions, stock status indicates that blackfish (tautog) is being overfished in Long Island Sound. Action will be taken to reverse course and increase the spawning stock biomass via a regional approach through working groups and Draft Amendment 1 for public comment.
The Summer Flounder Board initiated Draft Addendum XXVIII for Alternative Management Options, including regional options, to achieve the 2017 Recreational Harvest Limit (RHL). The intent is to set regulations to account for shifting distribution, abundance, and availability, allowing for improved stability and regulatory consistency among neighboring states. Bear in mind that a 30 percent reduction in the coastwise RHL was approved in August based on the 2016 stock assessment update that found fishing mortality higher and population estimates lower than projected.
It was determined by the Atlantic Striped Bass Board that striped bass are not overfished. However, the Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) continues to decline toward the threshold limit. Recreationally, more fish reaching legal size limits were being harvested in the Chesapeake Bay area, while fewer fish were leaving for the ocean and being caught.
According to the Technical Committee (TC), this lends credence to why there was a large discrepancy between the 2015 harvest numbers and the TC estimates. It was its determination that significant contributing variables were changes in effort, size, age, and distribution of the 2011 year class relative to Chesapeake Bay. Striped bass trips in the bay area increased by 50 percent, but corresponding ocean effort decreased by 27 percent, skewing recreational numbers, while validating commercial estimates. Work continues as the TC develops recommendations to bring the SSB threshold levels, fishing mortality, and other target levels within acceptable parameters.
On the Water
A prelude to what may lie ahead became apparent when air temperatures dropped to 32 degrees and a brief flash of snow whisked by the state. Winds gusting at more than 45 knots sprayed the shoreline with frothy brine as small craft and gale warning banners were stretched out. Water temperatures dipped to 61 degrees, yet not as cold as Bar Harbor, Maine, where they dropped to 51.
All of this fall weather may have kept vessels secured to their moorings and dampened fishing, but that was only temporary. In between weather fronts, fishers were still able to pull fish from the Sound, bays, and rivers, especially under the new moon. So far, there’s no indication that fishing is slowing down. Menhaden are still here in numbers, hickory shad are having a run, and there’s ample rain bait around.
Blackfish season is in full swing as heavier ‘togs are being pulled from waters around 35 feet. The walls have been reasonably productive, but mostly with smaller fish. If you’re looking for white chins more than 10 pounds, then go deep and mix up your presentations by using rigs and jigs. Whole or partial crabs rigged so their juices flow is key and braided line will give you the sensitivity edge. Check out reefs like Madison and Kimberly, as well as rock piles by Goose Island and the outskirts of inshore harbors.
It is definitely striper season! The estuaries are producing good numbers of small- to medium-size linesiders, while the reefs are beginning to hold fish more than 28 inches. Timed right, fish more than 40 inches feeding along the shoreline (especially those close to structure and tidal rivers) are being caught. Live eels, surface plugs, swim baits, and bucktails have been producing. Go with good mackerel if chunking.
Bluefish are still bending rods and causing frustration. Best bets: Use plugs for top water action and spoons, deep swimmers, and umbrellas for sub-surface fishing. Choppers continue to feed on menhaden in many lower tidal rivers where blitzing schools are often encountered. Many of these fish are topping 15 pounds and putting up quite a fight. Flood tides are producing excellent catches on most reefs and shoals throughout central and eastern Sound.
Black sea bass catches remain good. Fish in excess of four pounds are in deep water, but one needs to move around to find a sweet spot. Squid is working, however, use a whole ‘togging crab when looking for a choice humpback for dinner. Plate-size scup are on offshore reefs like Charles and Kimberly, where fall fishing is quite good. Although there are albies and bones in the Sound, recent success rates have favored its western parts.
It’s Atlantic salmon season and fishers should check out the Shetucket and Naugy rivers. Trout fishing has improved and it’s worth a trip to rivers that benefited the most from recent rain, although many are still low. Most freshwater species have suspended and slowed down, responding to colder temps. However, with warming temps looming, they should perk up again. Walleye, pike, and crappie have been the exception.
Note: Email us pics of your catches to share with our USA and international fishing friends who keep up with the latest fishing news and frequent social media.
For all things fishy including flies, swing by the shop (203-245-8665) open seven days located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison. Until next time, from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better...
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