Long Ago, Hickories Made My Fun Fish List
In anticipation to the kickoff of the fall migration season and with most attention, rightfully so, given to one of the most popular sportfish, bluefish, (Marone saxatilis), especially north of the Chesapeake to Nova Scotia, it is understandable that striped bass (Alosa mediocris) is overlooked. The run of striped bass down the Striper Coast has traditionally had quite an impressive following. Compared to hickory shad, which are generally considered forage, little thought is given to catching hickories for recreational sport, let alone anything else.
Nevertheless, unlike American shad that are coveted for their roe and smoked, plank-cooked, deboned flesh, hickories are mostly looked at as quick meals for stripers and blues that recreational fishers catch for bait. It was not until their numbers declined and daily limits (6 hickories or 6 in aggregate with American) were placed on these shad that we started to see a rebound, at least with the hickory stock.
These anadromous herrings live in the ocean and spawn in freshwater rivers, transitioning through stretches of brackish water, where anglers generally hookup with them, but not before a formidable fight on light gear. However, in Connecticut, they typically do not venture far upstream from the briny and, to date, it is hard to believe there is no documentation of them spawning here. However, they have been reappearing more often in the spring and in the fall, so it is this old salt’s belief that they are spawning in our inland waters. They can be found from Florida to the Gulf of Maine with the largest populations in the Chesapeake Bay.
The best fishing locally can be had in early spring and well into the fall. Hickories will prey on small fish such as juvenile shad, menhaden, and other small fish. When fly fishing, use small weighted streamers, deceivers, epoxy shad flies, and similar ones attached to a 5 to 7 wgt outfit. While casting with spinning gear, the choice options are shad darts, willow leafs, small spoons, and jigs. These fish work the bottom and will break the surface reminiscent of a poor man’s tarpon.
After the fun is over, dress the fish—removing scales, head, tail, innards—and then rinse. Then, smoke your catch for about 4 to 5 hours using soaked mesquite or hickory wood chips. When cooled, patiently remove the flesh from the soften bones and then store in small Ziploc bags.
On the Water
Low pressure developed off the Atlantic coast after Hurricane Ian and then deepened in place before weakening and exiting to the east by midweek. A weak high pressure built, followed by a cold front that moved across by the weekend. Above-average daytime air temps returned to the normal range of the high-50s to the mid-60s, giving fish another wakeup call before another frontal system approached. Seas remained unsettled offshore, but in Long Island Sound, they moderated to around 1 to 2 feet or less, while water temperatures edged more toward the low 60s under October’s Full Migrating Moon.
Not only was there was an uptick in the albie bite as rainbaits were pursued along the riplines in the Sound, but fishers were also treated to feeding sprees when schools of peanut bunker were chased into a few key tidal rivers. Flies, epoxies, and quick retrieving metal jigs scored some very nice catches and even bruised a knuckle or two in the process.
The fading influence of Ian and another drop in water temps further cranked up the striped bass bite as they fed on live forage, eels, plugs, jigs, and soft plastics. Once things settled down nearshore, slot limit fish and better were caught and released as they returned to the shallows. They pounded the peanut bunker and made dents in the hickory shad runs, while out on the reefs, they took to diamond jigs, live and frozen baits, and an assortment of soft and hard lures. For those fishers looking for exciting lightweight schoolie action, they turned to the lower tidal rivers casting sinking flies or deceivers, as well as swim shads, small bucktails, soft grubs, or seaworms.
Bluefish of varying size classes have fallen to chunk baits, plugs, spoons, and jigs. Double-digits have been putting up quite a tussle since the storm’s influence dissipated and seas became more navigable. This chopper bite should continue as long as water temps hold and storms keep giving us a break. We are into October, so take advantage of the remaining snappers either before the split or when they are driven out by the weather. If weakfish is on your wish list, keep on the hunt since their time in the Sound is not over. Try drifting a bucktail baited with a squid strip or pork rind over some bottom structure, but be sure setup is near the bottom.
Porgy pounders are still on slabs in deeper water, while mostly small scup are being caught closer to shore. It has been mostly squid offshore or squid and seaworms in tight. Look for quality black sea bass stacking up offshore or at least heading in the direction of deeper water. A wide range of smaller fish are being caught in shallower water, although a few keepers may be picked up. The fluke season wound down on Oct. 10, so if you have not netted your doormat, you will just have to wait until next season and figure out why not.
Even though the Sound’s water temps are slowly sinking, it is not too late in the season for dogfish, sand sharks, skate, sea robins, and northern kingfish, nor have the blue crabs wound down. On the contrary, aside from stormy weather, catches have been good as hand-lining, scooping, and trapping continue to produce. It is a great time of the year to paddle through an estuary with a net in hand and gather an appetizer or meal to enjoy either at day’s end or in a bubbling sauce over pasta at a later date.
With fall trout and salmon stocking well underway and the weather moderating, it is time to hit some of those rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and trout parks. While water levels and flows may be compromised in some instances, fish have been stocked in those waters deemed acceptable and non-stressing to the fish. In addition to the numerous Trout Management Areas and other waters, check out the Shetucket and Naugy rivers for recently stocked Atlantic broodstock salmon. For the bassers, the bite is hot, coupled with pickerel, panfish, catfish, some pike, and carp to round out the fall menu of local active species.
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 the latest gear, swing by the shop (203-245-8665) open seven days located 21 Boston Post Road in 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.