Outstanding Week of Striped Bass and Blackfish
When it comes to planning, two fish species that serious fishers put the time and effort into are stripers and tautogs (blackfish). Not to undermine other fish that inhabit Long Island Sound during the season, but for the most part, it is just hitting the reefs and structure at the right tide for scup and black sea bass, taking your best shot at hardtails (unless one is privy to some real-time info), and spotting bird activity for bluefish that are running the tide or weakfish that are doing the same, but less obviously. You get the picture.
Not so with stripers and ‘togs. Sure, tide and time also influence these two, yet there is so much more to it. They both hunt, but in different ways. Ambushing is all part of the game, be it due to camouflage or outright aggressiveness. Due to the lack of a quick-replenishing oxygen system and the propensity for short quick runs, striped bass rely on their power and ability to make quick turns, negating the need for long, drawn-out chases.
A fisher must take this into account when selecting a location to fish. There should be forage close by and a place to lunge from, like a structure causing a ripline or an area like a trough or cut along a beach where baitfish can be trapped during a dropping tide where the only option of escape is into a striper’s waiting mouth. One must also pay attention to the type of forage available and how best to imitate and fish it. Additionally, knowing that stripers are basically nocturnal and use their eye rods and cones separately to see black, gray, white, and color, one can fish them more effectively during the day and in low-light conditions.
On the other hand, ‘togs are a passive-aggressive fish. They are coy and use stealth to approach and mouth bait (unbeknownst to most fishers) while first contemplating whether to eat or not. They are also known to strike a crab with little hesitation before attempting to retreat to a rocky hole and shut the bite down after a short spree. These fish are very water-temperature drawn and seek the protection of rocky structure, justly avoiding fast current, primarily due to their broad body and short pectoral fins. Be in touch with your fishing line and rod. Above all, when hooking a ‘tog, do not give it an inch.
The fall season is in its early stage and, so far, this pair is more than carrying their weight for most serious recreational fishers. These helpful little tidbits will go a long way in improving your catch while differentiating stripers and ‘togs from most fish in the Sound. Be safe, dress accordingly, and fish smart!
On the Water
A cold front passed to the east, dropping early morning air temperatures into the 40s, before a weak high-pressure system built in from the southwest. Low pressure then followed from the Great Lakes before lifting into Canada, making room for more high pressure and warmer conditions coming from the south and west. This pushed daytime temps into an unseasonably pleasant mid-to-high 60-degree range. Meanwhile, seas remained rather calm, except for a few earlier days of gusty winds and small craft advisories. Still warm, Long Island Sound water temperatures fluctuated between 60 to 63 degrees before some rain, falling air temps, and less daylight resumed in keeping with more of a fall weather pattern.
The cooler mornings and gradual drop in water temps energized the blackfish bite even more than it had been, and this fall season started off with a bang once weather, winds, and seas cooperated. Crabs are the No. 1 bait catching the most ‘togs. Nearshore rocky structures, boulder fields, breakwalls, and jetties ran the gambit, from stacked-up ‘toggers and vessels on the weekends and better days to a bit more room during the week between weather events. There were plenty of shorts under 16 inches thrown back, fish caught from 3 to 5 pounds, and some prized white chins hooked both from shore and offshore using ‘tog jigs, rigs, and single-hook setups. Providing that the weather holds, this could easily turn out to be the season that ‘toggers wanted.
Striped bass seem to be stacking up more each day, especially near shore and in key tidal rivers that are holding schools of baitfish. Topwater plugs, soft plastics, small jigs, and flies are hooking really good-sized released fish, along with many within the slot limit. In fact, when the rain showers were over and the sun was heading toward the horizon, thick schools of linesiders could been seen blitzing through beach troughs, chasing schools of silversides and anchovy-size fish, while lines of fishers were testing their skill and tackle. Slices of this action can also be found on several of the offshore reefs that dot both ends and the middle of the Sound. Fishers using live eels were also feeling the hungry strikes and subsequent runs of some magnificent fish—ones that could be turned and others that just melted line away and kept on going. The only memory left was a momentary glimpse of a dorsal fin. And so, this storybook striper action keeps generating more chapters and plenty of anecdotes.
When the stripers took a breather (and sometimes when they did not), bluefish joined in, compounding the existing feeding melee. It was easy to tell when that occurred. The hit was quick, the strong run was short-lived and, in many instances, your fishing line went slack almost as fast, leaving a surgically precise cut end. However, more often than not, wire leader saved the catch and perhaps a favorite lure. In addition to topwater plugs and fluttering spoons or metal jigs, blues have been taking chunks and other live baits, including menhaden and hickory shad.
So far, there is no letup in catching porgies and black sea bass. Sizes in both species are mixed, but quality fish still favor the deeper offshore reefs, while smaller ones generally are found near shore. Squid remains the top bait whether fished on a rig, jig, or single hook. The remainder of the bottom fishery (dogfish, sand sharks, sea robins, northern kingfish, and toadfish) are still competing for food, and fishers interested in these fish should bait up with chunk baits (mackerel and bunker), clams, or even squid. Be generous! Almost ignoring periodic blasts of cold air and reveling in the rather warm fall water, blue crabs continue to feed, but have somewhat toned down, responding to the changing of seasons.
Recently stocked inland waters are bringing sweet water anglers out in pursuit of trout and salmon. Lakes and ponds are drawing largemouth bassers where that fishery is active and thriving. Smallies are also active in those waters, as well as some of the key rivers. The fall bite has also seen favorable catches of pickerel, black crappie, perch, catfish, bullheads, and some northern pike. It is a good time for live baits, traditional artificial lures, and flies.
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