A series of funerals and painful, but not life threatening injuries has had me gimping around on land rather than rocking, rolling and bouncing on the Atlantic since early summer. Over the past coupled of weeks friends from Cape Cod and southern Massachusetts to eastern Connecticut have been reporting doing well on quality striped bass, sea bass and fluke.
I did make a long range freshwater trop to the Ottawa River, southern Ontario stretch not far from where it dumps into the St. Lawrence Seaway. To put it into perspective, the St. Lawrence is like a small sea or long sound, the Ottawa is something like four Connecticut Rivers in its average flow rate. Over a mile wide and as deep as two hundred feet in a couple of areas we’ve cast our way along.
It is a very “fishy” place with loads of smallmouth bass, yellow perch, walleye, pike and our target species muskellunge, the largest toothy critter in the freshwaters of North America. One old logger in northern Maine called them “Alligatah’s without legs” and that’s what they look like, facially.
As a comparison. They hit as hard as nearly any fish, with perhaps the exception of tunas, jump, but don’t run as far or as fast as a striped bass of equal weight. The thrill of hunting for this freshwater denison is the fact they are very challenging to hook plus they often strike at point blank range. The 45 incher I landed this year hit a large spinner bait with no more than three feet of line from the tip, two feet of which is leader material.
Depending on weather patterns, if warm weather hangs around and tropical storms don’t wash or blow saltwater visitors out of the region October can be one of the most productive months of the year to fish Connecticut’s coastal waters for scup (porgies) tautog (blackfish), bluefish and striped bass, with sea bass becoming progressively more popular over the past few years.
Scup are the ocean equivalent to sunfish in freshwater, abundant, aggressive, relatively easy to catch and excellent eating. A big one will run two pounds, a world record class scup is twice that weight. On appropriately rigged light tackle they are as much fun and challenge to catch as any species in our waters. High low rigs baited with squid, clams or sand worms is all that’s needed along with a good stretch of cover where they are holding and a means of maintaining the boat over the top of the school. Catching more of these spiny thick scaled little scrappers than I care to fillet is not a difficult job but an enjoyable way to spend a few hours fishing with friends and family.
Blackfish, are slightly more challenging because they tend to hold in more specific spots and due to their relatively small mouths, teeth and method of striking are more challenging to consistently hook and land but well worth the effort. With almost human like teeth, thick blubbery lips to protect them from the crabs and shellfish they feed on they are one of my favorite marine species to catch and take home for supper. I have to admit due to conflicts over the decades between fall fishing and hunting another interest of mine I’ve not dedicated the necessary time to consider myself a blackfishing expert, in fact nothing close.
For many years when I was in college and early on during my saltwater fishing experience, which goes back to my mid teens, my fishing buddy and myself would go rod and reel fishing for bluefish and stripers, when the tides slacked or the fish became hard to catch we would don masks, snorkels and a second hand wet suit top (couldn’t afford the whole suit in those days) one would run the boat down tide and anchor,the other would jump out and swim the shallows looking for blackfish to spear.
One thing that helped when you are in the water with these fish,when they are feeding on mussels you can hear them crushing the shells off reefs from quite a distance so all the was necessary was to follow the sound and keep your eyes peeled, get within point blank range and dinner was not quite on the table. My best was a , maybe 30 inch monster monster that weighed around 18 pounds, which was four or five pounds heavier than the IGFA record at the time but that was rod and reel, this fish had no choice unless it ducked the spear. On rod and reel ten pounds is my best ever. That one got caught snacking on a mussel bed in less than five feet of water on a once dense, now barely existent mussel bed that was like a black blanket over the entire reef I speared. That area kept me in tautog throughout grad school and beyond.
The most highly anticipated fishing of the fall for many is the coastal run of bluefish and stripers. This year with loads of menhaden of all sizes in the area bodes well for those who don’t have boats to locate and stay with these mobile forage fish, which some times mix with the bottom species causing frustrating bite off's and even bitten fish from large “choppers”.
A few years ago while fishing for blackfish around a large pier that is now closed to fishing was bringing in a barely legal size blackfish that was made into a short by a large bluefish. The blue along with a few others followed the bleeding kicking half tautog to the boat, he dropped the now hook bait back down and hooked a bluefish that was in the 16-17 pound range.
Based on catches from here to Boston Harbor, stripers though decent at the this writing should improve over the next few weeks and peak some time during October.
As long as my boat doesn’t die like three window air conditioners during the recent heat wave, I plan to spend a few days on the Sound over the next couple weeks and will have a better more first hand report for readers for the next issue of Boating World. My apologies for letting editors and readers down lately.