With hurricane season past and northerly winds beginning to blow into the reason, anglers must pick their days, especially when venturing out in to the ocean in a boat . Most have already pulled their boats and are preparing for the upcoming holiday season, only a hearty few anglers brave the surf to cast from shore or have the ability to get their boat out of the water quickly when winter winds blow into the region.
Options are limited not only by the potentially bad weather but closed seasons depending on one’s species of choice.
The winter striper fishing that was at one time a decade ago are once again improving but reduced a great deal from the last peak of abundance. The trade off was some incredible fishing for very old, very big fish that eventually die off due to age and are whittled down by constant fishing pressure from both commercial and recreational sources. A couple of my friends have been making regular trips to fish the Housatonic over the past few winters, when they and myself would only have maybe a half hour drive from home, including launching time to fish the upper Thames River. The Thames fishery that all but dried up a few years ago is rebounding proportionately to the improving population numbers. Leg injuries kept me pretty much gimping around my home for nearly all of last year. Now its simply painful walking but with a normal gait rather than a dragging leg. Luckily last winter didn’t bring much snow, so I never did a face plant onto ice or snow.
On a positive note, my buddies at the Fish Connection had a number of customers who caught some fish during the winter and experienced some catches like the past up as far as the Greenville Dam on the Shetutcket River branch of the Thames in Norwich, where fish thirty pounds to the low forties were reported being caught as they fed on the large schools of adult menhaden that moved into the lower river during the spring. As in the past some of these fish evidently followed some bait source to the Greenville Dam creating some quality catches in the upper river. A positive sign for the future.
This time of year, with closed seasons in order for many species, one of the best fall options until winter cold shuts things down until spring is scup or porgy. These tough skinned, spiny bantam weights are as big as they will get this year and feeding aggressively as they begin to migrate to warmer waters for the winter. If an angler can find a school of like sized older and there for larger fish they will be in for an action packed trip, followed by some finger pricking cleaning and great eating.
Scup are a popular market species that are excellent table fare. I look at them as the saltwater counter part to freshwater sunfish, which are smaller on average, equally spiny and in my book better eating. As much as I enjoy catching bass, pickerel, pike and muskellunge to catch and release, I always bring a light rod some small jigs and night crawlers along to catch yellow perch or bluegills for the table, during lulls in the action or if the predators are taking the day off.
I do the same thing during the earlier portion of the summer and fall when fluke fishing. There’s often a rod rigged up with some smaller jigs that can be baited with pretty much anything to drift near the edges of reefs to catch porgies and black sea bass, if any are present. They tend to prefer smaller, strings of rocks and if possible wrecks or isolated rocks in areas of relatively clear bottom. The larger ones tend to hang in areas with more current and deeper waters that are more difficult to fish. Frankly I haven’t figured out the proper methods and don’t want to do the work in a place where stripers and bluefish, which can chop off anything with those double edged, serrated
More than one time a couple of good sized porgies have saved the day when company or the family was “promised” they would have fresh fluke for dinner. Filleted, battered and fried or baked in the oven they are excellent table fare. I’ve honestly not invested the time and effort into becoming adept at catching either sea bass or scup.
Its like a swear word in many places, but I am a hunter and spend a good deal of time in the woods chasing game birds and or deer during the various seasons with appropriate weaponry.
Scup and sea bass are both open in Connecticut waters until the last day of December, which is well past the point where most anglers have cleaned, lubricated and stowed their fishing gear for the year.
One of my friends does not hunt and gets into chasing tautog or blackfish. In my book one of the best eating fish in our waters. They do not make large migrations but rather based on water temperature move in and off shore to find appropriate temperatures and obviously food. These odd looking fish that appear to need a trip to the dentist and braces when viewed head on.
Hard fighting and great eating tautog are a crab, mussel and clam eating species that hang around the areas larger, deeper reefs and telephone sized wooden pilings that can be found in most coastal areas where docks and boats are built and moored. If covered with beds of mussels, whether rock or wood, hungry tautog will be present to take advantage of the food source.
When I was younger, didn’t have a sea worthy boat a buddy and I would go snorkel diving and spear fishing for “togs” out of off his families 17 foot wooden lap strait boat along the rocky points from Groton Long Point to the south side of Fishers Island.
There were large mussel beds in all the spots we dove and those places were full of good sized blackfish, feeding on the mussel beds that in the best places blanketed the bottom and rocks. The best time for us using only snorkels was during a calm, over cast day. Those tautog would often be up in very shallow water looking for crabs, or a tad deeper, eating shell fish. I quickly learned to listen to distinguish the sound they make when crushing mussels off the rocks, from the clicking sound that smaller rocks and pebbles make when being washed against each other in the breaking waves along shore. Follow the crunch, like those annoying adds on TV with the actors crunching what ever it is they are promoting with a dog like open mouth, over accentuated bite that my mother would slap me for doing at the dinner table as a kid. My dog Kota has better table manners and closes her lips to chew.
During November, during the second portion of Connecticut’s split season for these shell crushers which runs from October 10 through December 6. once I had some venison in the freezer I’d go fishing for blackfish with my buddy Eric Covino. Years ago before 9/11 we would tie up to the large pilings at the “state pier” drop our green crabs vertically along the pilings and catch all the blackfish we wanted. Since that horrific day boats can no longer tie to the pilings, so when we went it was out in the Sound around the many reefs and rock piles in along the Connecticut shoreline, and never did as well as when we would could tie up to those shaded, barnacle and probably mussel covered pilings, out of the winds, bundled up like babies in a crib and in short order catch what ever the limit was at that time. During this third fraction of split of the Connecticut season, which is a good thing for the fish and protects breeders in the spring and these long lived fish from over harvest by the periodical breaks in the season.
Hard pulling excellent eating with delicate flavored white fillets “togs” are one of my favorite marine fish to eat. Baked or broiled with a squeeze of lemon and some butter there are few fish to rival their delicate flavor and firm but tender (an oxymoron of an expression if I’ve ever written one) flesh late season blackfish are one species I’d give up a day in the woods to catch this time of year.
(To fish for black sea bass, black fish, and what ever is in season in Massachusetts waters, try contacting Captain Jason Colby for information bookings and rates on his boat at (email@example.com.)