Timing is Everything When Fishing for Striped Bass
It did not matter whether Faulkner’s light hazily shined through the pre-dawn fog or the sun gradually climbed above the horizon acting as a backdrop for one of those remarkable sunrises—fish were foraging through every school of baitfish within reach. Even prior to kickstarting their southerly migration, they not only crisscrossed the offshore shoals and reefs, but also devoted much of their time to pursuing menhaden, shad, sand eels, crabs, and the like in estuarine habitats.
However, it was specifically during this exceptional fall run that striped bass exhibited every bit of their aggressive hunting skills and quick maneuverability that sets them apart from much of the overall Long Island Sound fishery. Even during mid-day tides, these linesiders reacted to artificials like topwater plugs, swimmers, jigs, and flies as though it would be their last meal.
Of course, what did matter was the tide. Sometimes the magic moment was around slack. Other times, it had to be moving. And even on one occasion during mid-to-late afternoon, there was a never-ending school of slot-limiters chasing a thick school of spearing at a beach about 3 feet from shore. This was the type of season where if one fished for striped bass, a rod coupled together with one or two of your favorite lures were an essential part of every-day carry.
As the saying, “Timing is everything” goes, it could not be applied any truer than fishing for stripers this year. It was the previous day that a small school of chopper blues were spotted finning near one of the shore’s craggy shoreline spots. They were in close proximity to a school of menhaden, but did not seem to be interested. However, several were caught and released on topwater plugs.
The next day, we decided to run by the same spot just to see what, if anything, was happening. This time the water was frothing and boiling with baitfish breaking the surface. Guessing that the birds were sleeping on the job or our timing was just right, we slowly motored over, expecting to have some more good bluefish action. Not so. Every fish seen (lots of them) had stripes. The fish were of slot-limit size or smaller, but the school was thick and feeding voraciously on peanut bunker. It was one of those days that took place in one of those seasons. Timing was indeed everything.
On the Water
Back into the throes of fall as the tug of war between weather fronts, high and low systems, and tight gradients rule the atmosphere. Throughout it all, we experienced more rain, a few thunderstorms, and gusty winds that eventually leveled off. Multiple lows approached and dissipated to the northeast before a cold front moved in, followed by a high-pressure system and warmer air temperatures toward the weekend. Long Island Sound water temperatures hovered around the low-60s (even dipping into the high-50s at times), while air temps dropped to a frosty stage in certain areas. At times, seas built to 3 feet, but subsided to under a foot during changes in the atmosphere.
It has been a rocky week as the darkness of the new moon highlighted the color orange in many outdoor Halloween decorations, and the weather played in concert with a continued awe-inspiring striped bass run. It is worth repeating that this fall’s run is on course to be the best in recent years. Linesiders are engulfing topwater plugs, live eels, peanut bunker, jigs, soft plastics, and flies. Many of these tightly knit schools have been blitzing the beaches, bays, sluiceways, and lower tidal rivers, while offshore they could be found along rip lines and passages adjacent to islands. Along the way, many throwbacks have been encountered during the search for slot-limit fish and above. More recently though, fishers have come into a run of 42- to 47-inch stripers that have been running through.
The tautog bite has been interrupted by recent blustery and wet weather conditions. However, that could have more to do with the ’toggers opting for better days. Ideally though, colder water will fire up the bite even further and, looking at the nearshore trend, that is already happening. A majority of the legal size (16 inches) ’togs caught still remained between 3 to 5 pounds, but we are seeing white chins either approaching double digits or exceeding them. On bluebird or semi-bluebird days, the breakwalls, jetties, rock piles, and other bottom structure spots are drawing fishers. Slack to flipping tides, within an optimal temperature range of 50 to 68 degrees, is the time to fish as they move to or from shallow or deeper water. Crabs are the attractor fished with ’tog jigs, rigs, or single-snelled hooks.
Bluefish into double digits are steering fishers to diving gulls or top water blitzes which, for the most part, have been spotty despite of all the schools of Atlantic menhaden and hickory shad runs. Gators are chopping down umbrella rigs, diamond jigs, and chunks and are after schools of silversides. Weakfish will be found in the same waters, but typically closer to the bottom, and will take bucktails and squid or strips of real or imitation pork rinds.
For a more relaxing trip, head out to the deep reefs and bottom structure for dinner-plate size porgy slabs or 3- to 4-pound black sea bass. Fishing closer to shore will most likely keep you busy with undersized throwbacks. Squid is the bait to use! Try dropping jigs for the sea bass with or without them tipped with bait, but get to the bottom. In addition to this prolific fishery, sand sharks, dogfish, northern kingfish, gray triggerfish, and toadfish are feeding as much as water temps allow. Blue crabs are back and active in the estuaries after the murky water cleared from the heavy rains.
Another batch of trout were stocked, firing up anglers to hit the rivers, streams, lakes, and trout parks. Catches were brisk both for the conventional and fly rodders. A handful of anglers were spotted along the Shetucket and Naugy rivers for broodstock Atlantic salmon, although catches were spotty. Largemouth and smallmouth bassers had a different story to tell since their waters continued to be productive. The rest of the normal fishery was (pickerel, perch, crappie, catfish, and a few more pike, bullheads, and bowfin) into their fall bite, but were influenced by the transitional weather like most.
An avid fisherman, contest winner, and shop friend, Robert Shorey of Clinton, left family, friends, and the fishing community when he passed away in September from ALS. His humor, wit, presence, and angling skill will be missed. Rest in peace, friend.
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 fishing trips, swing by the shop (203-245-8665) open seven days located at 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.