• by Bob Sampson Jr.

CT Fishing Report

June is prime time for marine fishing in this area. There are probably some schools of menhaden cruising the coastline that are being harassed by both bluefish and striped bass. Evenings over and around the regions many reefs, especially those that run diagonally across the mouth of the Sound from Watch Hill to Fishers Island and from Race Rock to Long Island are all top notch striper waters. Some of the early run fish are already heading in our direction, with the older larger members of the spawning population, like experienced lovers of our own species, moving more slowly and taking their time, as they feed their way north in the pursuit of whatever prey happens to be most available so they are, shall we say the “daily special”. About now there should be some adult menhaden (bunker, mossbunker or whatever their local name is) should be in this region, spreading out to locate their own food sources, comfortable temperature regimes and to keep their tails out of the mouths of the bluefish and stripers that eat them like candy when given the opportunity. Every predator on the planet whether it is microbial, insect, fish, amphibian, reptile or mammal seeks and eats the prey that is most readily available and easiest to catch. Humans are not much different when we go to a restaurant for an “all you can eat special”. This time of year when near the coast I scout around to see if there are any blue crabs in the areas tide creeks and shallow coves. As with fishing, there are a few key locations that usually harbor some crabs and can used as a sort of litmus test. If they are there, they are likely to be present everywhere by late May or June. If at least a few crabs are not present then, winter survival may have been poor and crabbing probably won’t improve until late summer or early fall. By then a few crabs have generally traveled northward from warmer southern areas where winter kills are less prevalent. Over the years I’ve observed that long, cold, snowy winters take their toll. As nasty, ill tempered, fearless and miserable as blue crabs are by nature when being handled or otherwise “messed with”, they do appear to be fairly sensitive to rapid environmental changes. I’ve often noticed more than average numbers of dead crabs, not shedders, but dead full of rotting meat crabs, after a heavy, flooding summer rains. This indicates they have a specific and narrow salinity range they are able to tolerate and sudden rapid changes apparently take a toll. Its a standing comment from me that over the decades I’ve spent fishing and hunting in this region, the only species I’ve have never nor will ever pass up a chance to catch, shoot or otherwise bring home for supper, is a blue crab. I have taken photos rather than shot deer because I had plans that night, or left blitzing blues and stripers for the same reason. If I catch one legal blue crab any time or anywhere, it takes a ride home in a bucket. During the 1970’s while completing my MS degree at UCONN, in Storrs Connecticut, working and living in Cornwall, New York State I made frequent trips back and forth, often making time to fish the more familiar waters of Southeastern Connecticut where I grew up. After one of the three hour plus drives to meet with my major advisor at UCONN, Storrs Campus we finished up early. There just happen to be a crab net in the back of the car and enough time to check a couple of my favorite crabbing spots along the coast. I was craving a fresh live blue crab meal and decided to invest the additional time and effort for the chance to catch some. It was too late in the fall, I knew it but took the chance. The water was very cold and crystal clear due to the lack of even microscopic life, so every place was barren, without so much as a mummichug in sight. At the last stop before, where a shallow backwater flowed into a larger cove, I noticed a big blue and white claw sticking out from under the edge of a rock. There was no way to net the crab so I decided to take the possible nasty bite and grabbed it with my hand, pressed its claws against its face and in one fast swoop dropped it in the bucket with a hand full of seaweed to keep it cool and fresh. The crab was initially so cold it never even moved or tried to pinch me. After thawing out during the three and a half hour drive home to Cornwall, New York in a pail it was warmed up, alive and ready for a battle it could not win. That year the region was struck and literally frozen in place by a massive blizzard, I'm terrible with dates but it could have been “The Blizzard of ‘72”. It was a cold miserable and long winter that wiped out what had been a pretty decent and improving local population of blue crabs in coastal Connecticut, that took a couple of years to rebuild.

This past winter didn’t bring much snow but this spring has been so protracted, rainy and cool I do not expect to put my “crab pot” on the stove until late July or August. I hope I’m wrong but my guess is the crabs in this area probably suffered a high winter mortality rate this year. My hands bear numerous scars from the many times I got careless while handling these nasty crustaceans over a life time of crabbing. The dumbest mistake I often make is after the catch is home and being rinsed and sorted in the sink. Inevitably, after a beer or two, is when I often become a little too brave. Shortly after the leaves appear on the trees and local waters have had a few weeks to warm, I will make a “scouting” run to see the damage this fickle year did to the local blue crab population. I will be excited and happy to see and hopefully, catch even a single one. I have and never will pass up a chance to catch and keep even a single legal sized crab. If they are absent this summer the next best thing in my summer time kitchen is fresh locally grown corn, veggies along with some sort of freshly caught fish. After a long cold, wet spring we are all ready to put a bend in a fishing rod or maybe put something nasty, ready, willing and able to draw blood all ticked off in the bottom of a long handled scoop net. I am looking forward to that first painful pinch of the 2019 season, along with the inevitable fish spines and occasional slip with a filleting knife. If a person doesn’t have a nick, scratch or cut on their hands during the fishing season, they have been sitting on them too much.

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