Anglers who have spent time learning the waters around their home port, themselves, which can be a slow process, or with the help of others, friends, family, even articles in magazines such as Boating World, know, as a TV cameraman once told me, believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see. Reason being anything on video or film can be cut, pasted, taken out of sequence or faked in some other manner. Being what one might call an optimistic skeptic —— one who strives for and hopes for the best but is never surprised or terribly disappointed by the worst.
It is close to a perfect answer to the question why do you go fishing? Obviously, the answer is more direct and common sense, to catch a fish for food, sport or both.
Successful anglers don’t want to have a fleet of boats on their favorite spots for many obvious reasons, but primarily because they don’t want someone in the way and possibly catching or spooking out the fish that one considers to be “theirs” on their never “secret spot”.
I realized there are no “secret spots” being every place any of us has or can fish are on maps and charts and have been for hundreds of years in many cases when fishing with a friend and editor who sadly died a couple of years ago.
We had gone striper fishing along the south side of Fishers Island, New York. The entire island is fishy but some spots are fishier than others. I pulled up to my favorite place right off the bat because we got off to a late start and the weather looked like it might close in on us so I wanted to make a good first impression.
In shock, he said how did you know about my “secret spot”. After noting that there are no secret spots, to which he agreed and snickered I added it stopped being a secret in my case during high school, which was close to half a century ago at the time.
We had a good laugh and a productive night, until the ride back to the Barn Island State Launch, when about half way back his “lucky fishing hat” blew off his head, hit the wake and sunk like a smooth stone, probably due to all the salt that had impregnated it over the years. Losing a lucky fishing hat is like losing a good dog, it’s a very sad, even depressing event, but you get over it the next time you have a good trip with the replacement lucky hat covering your dome.
Over the years I’ve had people say to me after a seminar I gave to the audience that I didn’t know what I was talking about.
The refute is do you want thirty boats on the hot spot you and I both may have learned or found over the years or maybe simply having either of us there first?
I learned that the hard way after printing one of my first articles for a regional magazine.
I’d fingered a place that many people know went there shortly after and it was so full of boats I couldn’t drop a line anywhere near the area where the fish hang out. It was a long while before I had that place to myself again and never said anything so stupid since.
I will mention a river that could be a hundred miles long, a thousand acre lake, or a province in Canada or a general area of the coast line but that’s all you will get out of me without some sort of torture.
Many of those guys owned much larger boats than I have ever been able to afford or figured I would be fishing with a professional charter captain. Truth is like many I have never had the cash to rent a charter boat or put gas into anything larger than the twenty foot Lund Alaskan I fished out of for a couple of decades. Excellent craft for inshore trips for bass, blues, fluke etc. Luckily I have and had a couple friends who owned larger boats that would bring me along to swab the decks after a trip. All were accomplished fishermen so we did fairly well over all but as with any kind of outdoor activity, there are always those occasional days when you should have stayed home and mowed the lawn or painted the kitchen. I suspect some of the bad trips and the miserable weather was the result of curses from a ticked off wife or lady friend.
Fishing is an addiction of sorts, a learned ability and in many cases it can become an obsession, which is often caused by an encounter with a super sized whatever it is you are targeting or possibly a different species that was encountered by accident. Regardless of the source, such events can literally be life changing in the realm of a person’s angling career and interests. I got hooked as a kid by my grandfather reading stories from magazines such as Outdoor Life, Field and Stream and Sports Afield rather than the pabulum found in the pages of many, but certainly not all children’s books. When going to school to become a teacher I had to take a “kiddy literature” course that introduced me to some of the best, funniest and in some cases even profound stories I’ve ever read and still keep a few of my favorites around, primarily for the artwork in a couple of them.
The essence of this endeavor we are all “hooked on” to me even more so than actually catching something is the initial strike be it the tap-tap of a fluke or even freshwater bluegill or the vicious blast from a hungry bluefish or striper —- it’s the first contact that I strive for. Of course, if I never landed a fish, I would probably be playing golf or something easy like that. (Joking, of course, don’t do it but appreciate the skill it takes to hit a tiny ball hundreds of yards into a coffee cup with a pool cue with a numbered flag sticking out of it.)
The sun rises, the sun sets, beautiful or even stormy skies are a tapestry of the many trips that blend together bonding and enforcing friendships and that basic interest and desire to “catch something after a successful hunt”.
Those who seek this experience are true fishermen, whether they are sport or commercial in nature. The thrill of being successful at a designated task after investing what can be lots of work and in many cases money to achieve a goal that may or may not be covered with scales.
Big small, hard hitting or good eating, we all have our personal reasons for getting our gear together and going out to cast an offering to our favorite fishing spot, be it an overhanging branch on a small trout stream or the edge of Block Island Canyon where some true monsters prowl, the reasons for doing it are the same for the anglers who put the effort in to catch their favorite species, though on different scales in totally different environments.
May is a month depending on water temperatures and weather conditions when fish of all species begin waking up from their winter slumber and/or migrating into our region.
But hooking up and hopefully catching whatever it is you are “hunting” is the reason for all the investment in cash and energy and the essence of this lifelong endeavor for many.
May is the month, (long before the internet could alert human predators as to the tiniest movements of their quarry), when via my phone calls to tackle shops, charter fishermen and friends to find out what was transpiring in the natural progression of life in the Atlantic so I could submit various columns and articles to publishers throughout the northeast. It is sort of a “keystone month” when it was possible most years to get a read on what was ahead for the season based on the abundance of various species ranging from bait to some of the top predators.
These days anyone can simply pick up their phone that’s the size of an old pack of baseball cards, choose an ap and find out everything there is to know from where the fish are to where they will go, what they are eating. The damn thing does everything short of sticking a fish on the hook. I don’t like them but the hypocrite in me has caught fish based on the information various fishing partners have gleaned from punching a few keys and talking to a satellite orbiting on the fringe of space.
All that information is essentially based on the simple key to catching any species from bluegills to blue fin tuna, “food” or in the case of anglers “bait fish”. Where ever the prey happens to be, predators are there chowing down or following a tide or two behind.
I love fishing for and catching literally everything in our waters and have over many years had the pleasure of fishing with someone who is better at catching every one of those species than I am, from expert carp fishermen, to tuna, billfish and shark specialists to “Mr. Bluegill” a man who simply loved catching sunfish in a small pond in northeastern Connecticut.
I have learned something from every one of those dedicated anglers and in some cases showed them a couple of tricks in exchange.
For a good portion of my saltwater fishing has targeted striped bass and fluke, in that order. Originally blues and bass were a big thrill, hard fighting, very exciting to chase around the Sound. I still enjoy fishing for bass and blues, but over time, the subtle, lazy drifting on the currents for fluke feeling the bottom and line for often very light strikes began to appeal progressively more. Few things I enjoy having for dinner more than some freshly filleted and baked or broiled fluke, freshly picked Connecticut local corn and a cold brew. The only thing I like better is the same fresh corn with a plate of freshly boiled blue crabs.
One key to catching them is paying attention to both of these marine predators, their favorite prey species, squid and where they are and where they are headed.
When I was going through this learning curve, one of my old fishing buddies ran some lobster pots and when he would occasionally bring a squid into the boat, he’d let me know which meant fluke were sliding along the bottom, while stripers, bluefish and every other predatory species in the region was chowing down on them throughout the water column.
We would go to my favorite spot, one of the many reefs in the eastern end of the Sound, look for diving gulls and when boils started showing on top, typically later in the afternoon or early morning under low light conditions, lures ranging from bucktails with squid strips, or pork rind, various soft plastic squid imitations and my favorite the Yozuri Hydro Squid, a swim bait that those hungry calamari slurping stripers could not resist.
Point is when squid move into the area locate them and catching their nemesis is a likely hood whether it’s jigging on the bottom for fluke, trolling or casting lures, trolling or casting the water column for bass and blues it’s a great time to be on the water. Like with any style of fishing being in the right spot, at the right time is the key. Using any up to date information will improve the odds of success. The only thing that occasionally foils even the best thought out trips can be when an alternative bait source moves in and draws the stripers of the squid onto something different. Every year there is a brief time, which has frustrated many anglers when the water column is so full of tiny copepods that stripers ignore the other larger baits in the area and literally “filter feed’ on this super abundant source of energy for a brief time. The prey is so tiny and abundant switching to tiny lures or flies that could and should be used for trout in a stream probably will not work simply due to the huge dilution factor involved.
I’ve learned to simply give up when that happens. Either move in along the beaches to do some fluking or go home and fish a lake the next day or so.
Over the winter I began culling through the many thousands of photographs, slides and more recently digital photos for photos I wanted for some articles I was working on. That became a much larger job than expected because I was organizing literally tens of thousands of photographs taken over the course of a couple decades. I’d been simply taking fresh photos rather than dig for old ones for a long time. It was easier and more fun than doing an archaeological dig in a drawer or notebook. Once digital cameras became affordable all of my photos are now on the computer, labeled and organized so searching out photos is easy, as long as I have an idea as to what year they were taken and many of the best are under files that are set off to the side with fast easy access, the way my computers photo program is set up.
Anyhow among the literally thousands of photographs in my extensive collection are some images of times that have come and gone twice in my experience and are circling around again. The days when you could pull a boat up to a reef during May with circling gulls and boils under the flock cast something that even vaguely resembled a squid and hook a striper or bluefish occur every season. The true region wide blitzes are simply smaller when the population is down. At the present time it is in between a fairly recent peak and a valley before that which based on improving numbers of over wintering stripers in the state indicate some form of improvement in the overall striper numbers.
Any time now if not already squid will be moving in along the reefs that guard the mouth of Long Island Sound, into the Sound and northward up the coast providing excellent fishing opportunities everywhere they show up. Many people enjoy simply catching squid off the docks where they move in for protection from the predatory fish after dark which is a fun way to catch a meal along with fresh fluke bait for the next day.