The Year of the Fish
Mike Perry of Madison plugged for this 35-pound striper after discovering a new use for his jet ski. (Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan )
Brothers Ryan (left) and Jack Alviti (right) of Guilford landed these fine striped bass while fishing around Faulkner’s Island. (Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan )
If the 2016 calendar featured a unique designation, it could easily be “The Year of the Fish,” and even that would be an understatement. Whether it boils down to the amount of fish caught, the species available to be caught, or the pure numbers that inundated the Sound throughout 2016, very few anglers can dispute the assessment that the fishing has been that good.
Even at this late juncture, it still appears there’s a lot left to this fishing season. Water temperatures are slowly dropping, doing little to defray the fall activity. Even after a patch of bad weather, the ecosystem seems to bounce right back.
There are an abundance of so-called baitfish around to satisfy what appears to be an insatiable predatory appetite. This is clearly evident by the swollen stomachs of feeding fish. Obviously, the gulls and even the eagles picked up on the noticeable presence of food as they continue to hunt. And it’s not only parts of the food chain that striped bass and bluefish are responding to. Artificial lures replicating wounded fish or healthy ones in a panic are enticing, as well.
It’s been a fantastic year for the shore caster who’s enjoying multiple hookups during a single trip. Not all of these striped bass, for example, are part of the fall run heading south. The vast majority are staging in close proximity to the Sound’s tidal rivers and estuaries and, eventually, will head upriver to hold over. So, when you hear of fishers catching and releasing more than 20 or 30 fish during one tide and then recounting how exhilarating the experience was, chances are you can believe them.
Recently, though, not all stripers caught were of the schoolie variety. Some have been in the 30- to 50-pound class. Not all bluefish have been juniors, either. Many of these choppers have been upwards of 15- to 17 pounds and then some. Even the black sea bass continue to bite and blackfish (tautog) are equally biting hard, even though their numbers are considerably lower and now seeking deeper water. Yes, despite its ups and downs, this has been and continues to be The Year of the Fish and one that will be remembered for quite some time.
On the Water
Once again, it was an unbelievable week. Sure, the wind blew, gusting at times to more than 40 knots while the seas kicked up. However, when it was out of the north or relatively calm, fishing was fantastic. Water temperatures in the Sound edged downward to 58 degrees and air temps, although cool at night and warmer during the day, remained mostly comfortable.
We saw more related activity between birds, bait, and bass than previously—even where the blues were concerned. Flood tides brought some great topwater action that exploded near shore. Many fish caught and released were schoolies, but it didn’t stop there. Stripers more than 40 pounds were not bashful, taking large topwater plugs. Whether working a lipless dogger or a swimmer, it didn’t matter much.
From Menunketesuck to The Thimbles, noisy blitzes broke the end-of-the-day silence and lasted past sunset. There was so much non-stop action that some fishers actually muttered that they’d had enough.
When the striper fiasco ceased, the blues picked up from there. Often, the scenario was reversed. Alligators in the 15- to 17-pound range really gave shore fishers a hard-fought run. These fish didn’t care whether it was a plug, spoon, or bait. If they picked up on it, the battle was on. Fighting a normal blue isn’t without its challenges. However, when their stomachs are jammed with fish, they become extra heavy and generally have a lot more energy to burn.
Similar in heightened activity are blackfish. Many of these ‘togs have congregated on reefs like Southwest and Madison, where 10-plus-pound fish are being caught. Some have adopted Goose Island and Kimberly Reef, as well. Crabs continue to be the No. 1 bait whether fished whole or portioned. Wind has been the only holdup to getting offshore and holding bottom, especially when encountering southwesterlies.
Still, blackfish season is here and will last through Tuesday, Dec. 6, so ‘tog pullers are taking full advantage of the season and the overall good weather. While their season ends sooner than that of the sea bass hunters, which goes through the end of the year, both continue to be quite productive.
Atlantic menhaden are still abundant and there’s a respectable presence of hickory shad in and around many tidal rivers and inshore bays. Albies and bonito are, not surprisingly, ripping through the Sound and have been periodically mixed in with schools of offshore blues. Even though temps are dropping, expect this mixed fall run to continue provided that water temps don’t crash.
Rivers are still low, although the major ones are showing encouraging signs of good brown trout activity. More Atlantic salmon catches are materializing in the Shetucket, Naugy, and some of the stocked lakes. Pike fishing has been good and black crappie are biting, along with walleye. Basses remain tentative, though, as the pounds cool down and turn over.
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For all things fishy including the latest gear, 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...