Where Are All Those American Eels?
Basically, being an eel fisherman, three-waying them when out on the reefs or casting them in the suds has been a bait of choice. Striped bass love them, the pickups go without saying, and the runs speak for themselves. However, an attack of a bass on a topwater plug, drifting a bucktail with a trailer, or stripping the right fly can evoke quite an adrenaline rush, too.
That being said, over the years, some of the biggest and best linesiders taken by this old salt were taken on a juicy chunk of mackerel on a small 4X treble hook with pinched-down barbs. Today, with the advent of inline circle hooks being mandatory when fishing for striped bass with bait, the technique of lifting the rod and reeling eliminates the basic hookset and that point in time when a fisher has that initial control.
Has anyone noticed that American eels have not been as plentiful as in years past? The reason is overfishing, some predation, as well as dammed-up migratory rivers in places like the Chesapeake Bay area that are now seeing funding for dam removal. Note that American eels are among the few catadromous species of fish that live in freshwater but reproduce in salt water. Striped bass, on the other hand, are anadromous. This is because, at certain times, river fishing for stripers is explosive.
According to the 2023 stock assessment, the American eel population (Anguilla rostrata) remains depleted in U.S. waters. The stock is at or near historically low levels due to a combination of historical overfishing, habitat loss, food web alterations, predation, turbine mortality, environmental changes, toxins, contaminants, and disease.
The American eel is ranked by NOAA high in vulnerability, which includes stock status, other stressors, population growth rate, complexity in reproduction, and habitat specialization. Climate exposure is rated very high, which includes sea surface temperature, air temperature, ocean acidification, and sea level rise. The rankings listed are out of 24 used in computing the overall ranking score and are rated at 95% certainty from bootstrap analysis.
Remember that striped bass are opportunistic feeders taking advantage of any forage that is naturally available — from mudding crabs to finfish. If you are having some difficulty in securing live eels, chances are so are the bass. Long Island Sound’s menu is quite diversified; therefore substitutions can be effective if presented naturally and fished accordingly.
On The Water
Unseasonably warm weather for October blanketed the region when high pressure took over. That lasted for a few days before slowly weakening and giving way to an approaching frontal system and the remnants of Storm Philippe. The associated cold front passed through, creating a drop in air temperatures and unsettled weather. Patchy fog, some rain, gusty winds, and periods of rocky seas followed. Air temperatures trended downward, while Long Island Sound water temperatures took a few degree drop, setting up for the opening of the Fall blackfish (tautog) season.
Prior to that, though, bluefish raged on. There is no denying it! When acres of Atlantic menhaden band together after forcibly being corralled in a wide cove or bay, bluefish do what they do best. They systematically reduce the size of the bunker school in such fashion as to create blitzes and sore casting arms. Fish scales fly through the air, silversides are coughed up by the mouthfuls, and gear gets torn apart as part of such an event.
When the weather broke, that is exactly what happened again in the western part of the Sound, when topwater poppers out-shined other artificials. And if you think fishers there had a monopoly, think again. Similar occurrences transpired throughout the Sound, although in some cases, diamond jigs, casting tins, and trolling lures were equally productive. In the mix, trollers and casters are still connecting with weakfish on their runs through The Race and mid-Sound reefs.
Following a similar pattern of feeding but in shallower and/or much deeper water, striped bass have been picking up the pieces or creating their own feeding scenario. Top water wide-mouth poppers, soft swim shads near shore, and diamond jigs and bucktails out by the reefs, all connected with bass all over the slot limit range, including good size gals over 40” that took plugs, live/frozen baits, and definitely squid trailers. Many die-hard striped bass fishers, a majority of whom follow the Striper Coast during the run, believe the best time of the year for striped bass fishing is the fall. Year after year, the results bear this out as it is doing presently.
Here today, gone tomorrow, albies are popping up throughout Long Island Sound, indiscriminately taking small anchovie-sized lures and similar fly patterns. What is unusual is that several interactions between them and anglers have been in shallow water, where bait seems to have congregated. This has been keeping anglers on their toes, alert to any signs of these speedsters ripping through schools of bait. Temperature cool-downs that edged up again before trending downward, coupled with the amount of baitfish around, has once more created this run-and-gun atmosphere. Yakkers and small boaters — be on your toes!
Black sea bass are gravitating to wherever a food source is located, meaning that the pecking order has brought some of the smaller fish into the fold, away from the shallows. Squid remains the prime bait in deeper water, where chances of hooking into fish in the 3-4 pound range are more likely. Porgy are more size-oriented when schooling and can be caught throughout the Sound’s humps and reefs, still exhibiting snatch-and-grab feeding traits. Squid and clams are good bets.
Not to belabor the point, generally docile coastal sharks that call Long Island Sound their seasonal home are feeding on normal forage, as well as taking bites out of fishers’ catches — namely striped bass. Consequently, shark fishing has notched upward. Additionally, our regular other bottom fishes remain active and are taking soft baits, squid, and chunks of mackerel or menhaden — whole or cut. It is a great fall fishery, so take advantage of it!
Halfway through the month, the new moon darkened the sky — four days after blackfish season re-opened on Oct. 10. Water temperatures slightly dipped, hinting to another good fall tog season. Searching for that prize white chin may still be a challenge, but the 3-5 pounders should give plenty of action, along with a few seven-pounders, if predators do not get to them in open water.
Inland anglers have been looking at catching native brook and brown trout, with good results, in those rivers having good flow/water conditions. In the lakes and ponds, it has been all large and smallmouth bass, carp, pickerel, and panfish.
Fly Fishing Clinic: Now accepting reservations for October. An outstanding opportunity for the experienced or intermediate fly fisher! Booking inland and marine fly fishing lessons for 2023 with top flight, highly experienced instructors and guides. From trout, salmon, steelhead, and sea-run browns to striped bass, bonefish, permit, and tarpon, etc., techniques learned and honed will improve your fishing.
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, flies/fly fishing, rods/reels, clam/crabbing supplies, fishing trips, licenses/permits, and much more, 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 and Authorized Penn Premium Dealer, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better.
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