anuary, what does an avid angler do during the month of January?
Organize tackle, which may have been done as it was stored for the winter, spool line on that new rod and reel Santa left under the tree or possibly drill a hole through the ice or cast into the frigid open water for some freshwater pan fish. Bear in mind, the random, shore line casting that will fill a pail with sunfish during the summer probably won’t work. Most fish in the regions freshwater lakes often school up and settle into areas where they may be able to simply remain undisturbed in a cold induced stupor for days even weeks at a time. Occasionally they will grab a snack in the form of an easy meal that may come their way. The only species that will be somewhat active will be yellow perch, pike and pickerel, which are cold loving. When there were walleyes stocked by the state anglers who preyed on them in northern tier states, where the species are a natural part of the fish fauna are best caught when it’s cold and or dark. Which is dusk until dawn and any low light time under the ice, where like during open water times they move into the shallows in search of food.
Though “bantam weights” yellow perch and sunfish have sweet tasting, delicate white meat (when cooked) that is available year round. However many anglers who are geared up for large, hard fighting marine species, simply don’t have the gear or confidence or experience on our lakes, ponds and large river coves to bother. The challenge with these little scrapers is more in locating concentrations this time of year than getting them to bite. Bear in mind that in our larger rivers, many fish pack into coves and back waters to conserve energy by not fighting river currents during the lean times that winter brings. Physiologically fish metabolic rates, because they are cold blooded, are essentially the temperature of the water they are pulled from (with the exception being some of the super sized marine species such as tuna and large sharks) increase and slow with the water temperature. On a graph their caloric intake will mirror that same line which would (I don’t know for sure) I suspect to be close to a one to one ratio (temp vs. food requirements), increasing from left to right until the upper temperature limit is reached, then there would be a rapid decline to zero on the food intake side, because the fish is dead or in the oven cooking. (A sort of stupid but accurate depiction and joke.)
One option is to do some cod fishing offshore and to our north. It is usually cold, miserable and potentially dangerous, but it is worth the effort for some delicious cod, pollock, and hake, all delicious eating, mild flavored, deep cold water species from the North Atlantic. Check with head boats, and fishermen in the areas you choose to ensure there are open seasons or quotas and things like that have not been filled.
When the waters around here were cooler and the populations of these cold loving marine species were higher, the local head and some smaller charter boats would run to the Race, Montauk Point and Block Island depending on the time of year to fish for cod and pollock. When I was shall we say operating on my learners permit as a marine angler back during the 1960’s and 70’s, the waters offshore from Block Island were a cod fishing mecca of sorts. Not so much these days when people make the run to fish for tuna during the warmer months, stripers, bluefish, fluke and sea bass closer to the island at various times during the year.
To demonstrate how much things have changed during a human life time, a fraction of an eye-blink in geologic time, I’m pushing 70 years, sixty five of them since catching my first fish, a tiny bluegill.
That fish was a five or six inch long as a little kid I wa
s so proud of that catch, which we brought home to show my mom, it was in our freezer for months. Neither mom nor dad knew what to do with one tiny fish. It disappeared the following spring when we moved from an apartment to my childhood home near Mohegan Park woods in Norwich.
That basic interest was because grandfather, who loved fishing and hunting but frankly didn’t do much once he moved from his birth area in Maine to Connecticut, due to work and not knowing the waters around here. He fished and hunted vicariously by reading me the stories from Outdoor Life, Field and Stream and Sports Afield, rather than the pabulum most kids are “fed” at bed time or when visiting grandparents.
I’m sorry he never got to see any of my “fish stories”, as he called them, in print. He died a few years before I began writing my column for the Norwich Bulletin, a daily newspaper in southeastern Connecticut. As time went on I have contributed to this magazine along with pretty much all of the regionals here in New England, my top accomplishment as a magazine writer, a feature in Outdoor Life, back in 2006 or 2007, plus four Connecticut and Rhode Island focused fishing books beginning in 2003.
As I grew (literally out of childhood, which was spent during the warm months on a bike with a fishing rod across the handlebars) and began expanding my angling horizons throughout this region and poking into southern Canada and a little in northern Ontario, Province. I learned that every fisherman has something to contribute to one’s knowledge base in the vast majority of cases.
The best filtering mechanism to separate avid, usually skilled anglers from someone who is simply passing some time with a fishing rod in their hands or riding their boat around is to ask one simple question: “What are you fishing for?”
If the answer is: “Anything”, they probably are not catching anything.”
If the reply is a species or two, they most likely have some experience, knowledge and are expecting to and probably will catch, whatever it is they are targeting —— or they wouldn’t be there wasting their time in the first place.
The sick joke Sammy Kenneson used to tell about starving people going to where the food is applied here in the case of catching a fish. Go where the fish are, or take up another past time.
The “”inter-drool” or the garbage pool” that everyone has at their finger tips in a phone the size of a pack of baseball cards, where everyone is an expert, has to a large degree taken away opportunities for aspiring outdoor writers who fish and hunt to work with experienced, talented and knowledgeable magazine and possibly book editors. There was a kind of step ladder leading up from a column in a local newspaper, where I got started and working up to the editors in progressively larger magazines is or has been largely lost to the instant everything world we live in today.
Now all one has to do is go on “facegoop”, “schmuck book” or whatever it is everyone becomes stars on with a billion “hits” so they can claim their five minutes of undeserved fame and no fortune, as they pose with their catch, whatever it may be from a new born baby to their favorite cat.
The bottom line whether your target species is bluegills or bluefin tuna, is the fact that every species has its own unique qualities that make fishing for and catching them enjoyable, challenging or a good alternative to the fish and seafood department in the local grocery store. I only go for things such as shrimp and lobster which I can’t catch myself.
In the past, a January article would probably focus on over wintering striped bass in some of the large rivers and power plant outflows around the region. In Connecticut, the Housatonic River has been a better producer than the Thames, where I grew up fishing for striped bass, with the winter fishery being something my buddy and I got into during the 80’s when we had a decade of essentially mild or “no” winters.
Sadly for a few years, the Thames has not been worth the effort to launch to catch and release a few under sized stripers. We never kept them anyhow, it was our alternative to ice fishing or potentially a very nonproductive freshwater trip.
Got some good news recently. Over the Thanksgiving Holiday a couple of friends, who keep a boat in the water until winter drives them off the ocean got into a bunch of small school stripers off the reefs between Watch Hill and Fishers Island. Good news because the fish were all under 24 or 26 inches, they were fishing single hooks, barbs flattened and simply having some fun the day after eating a big meal on “Thanksgiving Day”.
Not bad considering they were goofing around. Those fish and the migrating mass of bass they were plucked from and put back into will likely be entering Long Island Sound and heading towards wintering grounds in the Hudson, Housatonic, Thames, and other places. They do not home like salmon but in my experience appear to follow bait into these rivers and estuaries and essentially become thermally trapped when winter temperatures often suddenly dominate the region. They simply wait it out for spring.
When the population of stripers was much, much larger than it is at the present time, I used to mark twenty foot thick schools of mostly schoolies in the upper Thames in Norwich Harbor. We marked five to ten foot thick schools in the Housatonic late last winter.
Having those schoolies around is a good sign and last spring when some adult menhaden pushed into the lower Thames there were some adult stripers and early run blues on them for a few weeks. I was recovering from a miserable bout of Lyme disease so didn’t get out to sample the reportedly fast and furious action.
I hope Santa was good to all of our readers and you had a happy and safe holiday season. A couple more months and the spring run of stripers will be revving up, so get those rods spooled with fresh line and organize your tackle boxes so all you have to do is launch or make a drive to your favorite fishing spot.
One concept I like to joke about is my fishing theory of relativity: “E = MC-2 (squared) where “E” the energy (required to make a catch) equals “M”, the mass (of the target species), times “C-2”, its catch ability squared) or something like that according to Einstein, a genius who was smart enough to not chase pea brained fish around, due to their unpredictability.