August is an interesting time to fish this region. With the exception of the cold loving species and some closed seasons nearly every species possible is swimming and feeding between the beaches and continental shelf. Anglers may encounter a wide range of species inshore, including fluke, scup, bluefish and stripers, possibly some bonito and or false albacore (depending on water temperatures and storm patterns). In the past, giant bluefin tuna were spotted, lost and even caught occasionally in Block Island Sound right up to the southern Rhody beaches, near Montauk Point, Narragansett Bay and even in the Race on rare occasions. A friend had a physical sighting with a depth finder print out to prove one foray of a small pod of mid sized tunas into Long Island Sound to the Clinton area.
During the 80’s there were successful tuna tournaments targeting the giants bluefins, “horse mackerel” as the old timers called them due to their gigantic size, that were held out of Point Judith, Galilee and Block Island. (I had the pleasure of fishing with members of the now defunct New London Tuna Club on a number of occasions in the United States Atlantic Tuna Tournament (USATT) two of which they won during that time frame, before closures and over fishing put the breaks on the fishery at that time.
Previously I’d seen a pod of tuna on the surface along Misquamicut Beach one fall during the 70’s and during the fall of 1966, when a friend and I cut high school to catch bluefish and stripers in the Race for a Labor Day gathering my buddy’s mom was planning. It was a good deal, she gave us money for gas and bait, all we had to do was catch a bunch of bluefish and clean them for her party.
I had not done much saltwater fishing at that time. The blues we caught during those trips averaged six to ten pounds tops. Blues also ran well up inside the Thames River during the late summer and fall as their population greatly increased from the late 60’s on.
Always impressed by their aggression and pulling power, with a sickle shaped tail (designed for speed, not for suspending in place like large fanlike tails on the majority of the fresh and saltwater species most people are familiar with.
That day we were catching smaller, what locals called “harbor blues” in the two to four pound range, a slight disappointment because my expectations were to play with the six to eight pound class fish we’d caught in the past.
Action was fast and furious, with maybe half dozen blues ranging from two to six pounds on ice in a garbage can. A fish that felt just like the others struck and I began the long crank to the surface. Somewhere in-between something very large grabbed that bluefish, spooled all the line off what was a much too small reel, broke the butt off my cheap “boat rod”, stripping the reels gears and reaching the end of the line and parted the thick, stiff, fifty pound test mono like thread. Mono filament of that time was much larger in diameter per pound of breaking strength than it is today, so that same reel could have held nearly twice as much modern line. But, it probably would not have made any difference in the out come, what ate that bluefish was a monster.
For years we thought it was a shark. However, a good deal of first hand experience since has led me to conclude it was probably a fairly large bluefin tuna, based on the prey it took and speed with which it ran.
As insult to injury, I had to very slowly pull the line back onto the spool using my thumbs because the guts of the reel were totally stripped so the handle spun like a disengaged propeller. My day was over, my friend caught another fish or two and we headed home.
Years later when we began venturing off shore in search of tuna and shark, I had the thrill and sometimes physical pain of catching yellow fin, albacore and small bluefin tuna, but never a giant “horse mackerel”. However in the USATT I did have the experience of helping land a half dozen giants others hooked ranging in size from 340 to 525 pounds.
Bluefins are an incredible species that are literally “made for speed” with dorsal spines that can retract in a grove along their backs, pectoral fins that also tuck into pockets to reduce drag, a fixed anal and posterior dorsal fins like boomerangs, a stiff, boney sickle shaped tail complete with keel fins that can turn to help swing their relatively stiff caudal fin and a sleek perfectly evolved profile that from both from the top and side that is an airfoil-like shape, beginning with beak like jaws to pierce the dense water in which they live, swim and thrive.
A highly evolved marine predator that due in part to its mass which allows them to increase their body temperature a few degrees above ambient temperature, larger older bluefins are able to hunt well north into Canadian waters in search of the energy packed, oily mackerel on which they prefer to feed. All tunoids, especially giant bluefins are a great example of a perfectly adapted boney fish while the more ancient sharks with their cartilaginous skeleton are both examples of a species perfectly evolved as a predators.
Unless the weather patterns this month are totally abnormal or the region sustains major influences from tropical storms, August is usually a slightly hotter extension of July. Just about every summer time species is now available and feeding in preparation for migrations and or winter survival, with fluke, scup and bluefish dominating inshore fisheries for at least another month. Based on my observations there appears to be a fairly decent blue crab season ahead for Connecticut waters later this summer and into the fall.