A Setback for Northern Striped Bass Stock
A break from New England, Chris Vossler (left) of Guilford joins nephew Dean Legg (right) of Amesbury, Massachusetts to fly fish Naples, Florida for tarpon, peacock bass, largemouths, and more. Photo (Illustration courtesy of Captain Morgan)
A lone beachgoer attempts to photograph seagulls as they disperse to gather on a less-intrusive spot on this quiet beach. (Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan)
As the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Striped Bass Advisory Panel contemplated new component parts to Draft Amendment 7, unusual events affecting the overall stock’s health unfolded. The new options discussed and considered after several earlier ones were dropped involve management triggers, measures to protect strong year classes, and a rebuilding format.
The status and understanding of the stock has changed considerably since Amendment 6 was adopted in 2003, resulting in the necessity of the current comprehensive review and adoption of a more robust approach to its management. The Plan Development Team has been updating these new options, along with the Draft Amendment 7 document, for the board meeting scheduled this month.
Items delved into, for example, were deferred management actions prompted by various triggers and slot and size limits, as well as age and length analysis affecting the spawning stock biomass, harvest pressure and release mortality, conservation equivalency as it pertains to protecting years classes, low recruitment, and stock assessments.
While these discussions were ongoing, one of those unusual events referred to earlier had taken place. It was an unfortunate one that occurred on Jan. 3, involving huge numbers of stripped bass, estimated well over 1,000, being washed up on the beach in Dingwall Harbor situated in the northeastern tip of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia within reach of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
All were striped bass ranging in size from 6 to 42 inches and, according to commercial fisherman Ray Briand of Dingwell, “There was no physical damage, no smell, mostly fresh, gills bright red...washing belly up.” The harbor itself is brackish and was partially iced over with many bass under the ice and away from view. Nova Scotia has its own stocks of striped bass and an event such is this has been described as rare.
There are no “projects or industrial activities occurring that are likely to have caused the mortality,” stated Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Scientific thoughts, though, do point to a sudden drop in water temperature beyond what striped bass are capable of enduring as a realistic explanation. This is a classic example of how what Mother Nature unleashes on a critical habitat can have a negative effect on a stock’s wellbeing and what science must take into account when considering its assessments and management protocols.
On the Water
Milder weather gradually lost its grip as a weak low pressure moved through the area, followed by a cold front. Low pressure then dominated, giving us a blast of New England weather as high and low pressures flip-flopped during the weekend before moderating into more of a typical winter pattern. Seas reacted to multi-directional winds ranging from calm to 25- to 30-knot gusty conditions, while air temperatures fluctuated from the mid 40s to mid 30s as the Sound’s water temps generally hung around the low 40s. All that as we cleaned up from quick moving Winter Storm Garrett that dumped double digits of the white stuff along our eastern shoreline, followed by a deep arctic cold snap.
There was a noticeable fish reaction to the colder temps, even though conditions have been on the milder side. With more days now being in the normal range for January and a mixed bag of precipitation hitting the shoreline, reading the water effectively, noting barometric pressures, and being familiar with prevalent bottom structure can be the difference of hooking up or not.
Whether you’re Atlantic salmon fishing in the Shetucket or Naugatuck rivers or trout fishing in many of the popular stocked rivers and streams, seeking out areas that provide a source of food and protection, as well as offering optimum oxygen and water temperatures, are success magnets. This is the time of year where an angler is more on a one-to-one basis with their quarry than any other time. Presentation is key and the ratio of casts to hookups can be higher than one may be used to, be it from using hard to soft lures including flies or live bait.
That being said, even though trout activity has eased due to a dip in temperature and weather conditions, the fishery is still holding up quite well. What this stretched-out season has shown is that fish will remain active as long as favorable conditions prevail and, as they gradually deteriorate, one’s method of fishing must also change. This is evident as soft water becomes hard and tip-up flags begin to flip.
As with the sweet water, saltwater conditions have slipped into more of a wintry mode, also affecting activity. Small finfish, some crabs, and bivalves are being picked over by gulls gathered by the tide lines when not jostled by photographers, birders, or beachgoers. If not basking on rocks at low tide, harbor seals are looking to maintain their diet of fish, crabs, and clams, although shrimp, lobster, or squid would be an eye-catcher if available. After all, it takes quite a bit of food to maintain the weight of a 5- to 6-foot seal, tipping the scale at 175- to 250 pounds or better. Speaking of clams, the best time of year is upon clammers!
Since Connecticut’s holdover population of striped bass dart in and out of the Sound taking advantage of the food supply, most of the fishers are working the upper range of the major tidal rivers. True, some schools prefer to tuck in at the lower end, but chasing herring up river is where anglers generally target for their catch and release fish. Remember, inline circle hooks when bait fishing are a yes and using protected blueback herring and alewives are a no. Soft plastics and small jigs have proven to be a game changer.
This is also the time of year when fishers get their national and international thoughts energized. Some will attempt to travel south to fish the warm waters of Florida and even farther to the Caribbean, while others look to more remote fly-in places. Many locales look to the north toward New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, where the chances of hard water setting up is greater and there are realistic opportunities to catch memorable fish. However, whenever planning to travel, check your destination’s COVID requirements, as well as those of any intermediate stopovers.
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 permits, swing by the shop (203-245-8665) open seven days located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison. Masks required inside. Until next time from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better.