Late spring into early summer is my favorite period of the fishing calendar, because nearly every species of fish, both fresh and saltwater are available to catch somewhere in this region or maybe in the water that’s a short distance from my home. Obviously, the distance to be traveled, which equates in some way to expense depends on the target species.
When my boat and I are both running well, so to speak this choice can be difficult for someone like myself who literally appreciates and enjoys the intrinsic value of every fish from the little guys to monstrosities I probably can’t or don’t want to deal with any more. That choice is the price assessed on a person due to a combination of aging and old injuries coming back to collect a toll for stupid decisions, random miss fortunes and or mistakes made in the past.
Within this prime time of marine fishing, both resident and migratory species are feeding on anything and everything they can get into their mouths. A favorite of what we might refer to as the “big three” in popularity, fluke, bluefish and striped bass, along with every other fish capable of taking one down or nipping off a tentacle are all feeding heavily on squid. When freshly caught and fried to a light golden brown, calamari is on my menu along with fish and my favorite blue crabs.
Over the years (in season) I’ve released literally every species I’ve targeted with two exceptions, hard earned offshore edibles such as tuna, mahi-mahi and my favorite, the ill tempered blue crab. Unlike those who are not experienced “pickers,’ I prefer a big, hard shelled, meaty blue crab and some freshly boiled tender home grown Connecticut corn. I have and probably never will release a legally caught, legal length (in Connecticut) five inch from spike to spike blue crab. Once over forty years ago I had taken a job in New York and returned to Connecticut to pick up a few small, delicate items that had been left behind during the move. It was cold, winter was a short way into the future but I’d brought a crab net in hopes a few stragglers were still in the shallows.
A few would have been wonderful. After some fast scouting of key spots mainly from the bank or bridges between Stonington and Noank, a couple hours of wasted time I spotted one half frozen “keeper” clinging to a rock a short swoop with the long handled net from a nice dry rock. For some reason, I couldn’t look for anymore and had no means of cooking or eating it anyhow, it was put in a cooler and driven the three plus hours to our new home in Cornwall, just south of Newburgh on the Hudson River. I’d do it again and with much shorter drives around here have done that same sort of thing more times than I can remember. Lobster is an expensive option, but I much prefer Calinectes sappidus, which translated from Latin means most delicious swimmer. A long standing joke of mine is to muse aloud about how such a nasty, ill tempered creature can taste so delicious.
After a long winter of occasional fish from the store, I’m anxious to get out and catch something fresh from the ocean. After a long, windy, wet winter and cool spring like this, it is difficult this early to predict how well our local blue crabs survived, at least not for a couple more weeks.
If they are around early, that’s a good sign there was half way decent winter survival. If in what I consider to be “key spots” there are none around until migrants start to move into our tidal areas late in the summer I will be buying a few lobsters this summer to go with fabulous Connecticut raised corn, melted butter or a substitute you prefer and an ice cold brew or two. My definition of a southern New England summer meal.
I’ve always loved two things this time of year (June), when calamari is on the menu of every ocean predator, including humans, (past tense because boat problems, a bad case of Lyme Disease and minor but for a short while debilitating injuries, such as stepping into a mole hole doing my semi-annual lawn mowing), have kept me off the water during prime time fishing of late May into mid June. Barring something stupid like that, I hope to get to fish my favorite spots with lures that work at the appropriate depths to catch squid slurping stripers. Better yet combine that striper trip, with some fluke drifting and if both species can be caught and fresh “early” local corn is in the fridge, an early summer fishing trip doesn’t get much better.
When possible trips would begin with some late morning or mid day fluke drifts, during an incoming tide, then switch over to casting some lures that look like a squid around dusk for stripers off nearly any of the areas many rocky reefs.
When targeting summer flounder (fluke in this area) the go to rig is what I jokingly call a “double fluke sandwich rig” which I’ve written about many times. A modification of a couple of techniques I learned while fishing with a man I called “Der Fluke Meister” (The Fluke Master in German). Can’t remember birth dates, anniversaries or doctor appointments but can speak rudimentary German after three years of Deutsch classes in high school for some reason, probably a good teacher, Frau Von Schlippe.
The set up is based around a jig, heavy enough to reach the bottom and drag lightly, with the prevailing tidal drift speed and winds. Six inches to a foot up from the jig to a three-way swivel, six feet back to an un-weighted fly or single hook, bait both hooks with a strip of squid, (the fresher the better) and if possible topped with a live mumichog, fresh silver sides or other small preferably live fish (peanut bunker are great) or four to six inch long fillet strip from a fresh menhaden for scent and added attraction. A jig with what could be tentacles sticking out the middle is to the eyes of a predator a “squid snack”.
This rig that is best used in under fifty feet of water where it is very effective at catching small to “decent sized” four to six pound fluke. Lots of action and with a couple of skilled anglers using sensitive enough tackle to feel that initial “tap —-tap” that often occurs when a fluke grabs the end of the teaser before lurching ahead or working its way to a hook. Stinger hooks at the end of the fish strip or a long section of squid catch many of these initial short strikes. A good technique when many short fluke are in the area so they don’t get gut hooked, or seriously damaged. Simply set the hook as soon as a strike is felt and most of the time the small fish are lip hooked. The big ones often engulf the entire lure anyway, are destined for the fish box so if they are deep hooked it’s not a waste of this resource. Above all quit and leave the area after limits are on ice or in the live well. This is when to start casting the reefs for bluefish and striped bass.
A buddy who tried but failed to “get me into a ten pound fluke” a size he achieved numerous times had a different approach but I have never quite reached, uses much heavier gear in deep water. The places he took me to drift were often in a hundred feet or so of water where my light rigs were nearly useless. With him, we caught fewer but larger fluke, I caught fish to seven pounds but never caught one with a double digit body weight. Nine pounds is my personal record and that was in ten feet of water with my dinky “double fluke sandwich rig”.
Then around dusk and as the tide turned, we’d make the run from the beaches to the south side of Fishers Island to cast or troll tube and worms close to the rocks for some striper action. Unless I had a friend who wanted to bring a keeper sized bass home, they were all released. I even replaced the treble hooks with large single hooks on many of the plugs to minimize hook damage to fish that were being caught mostly for the fun or is the quote “halibut”
One of the best trips I remember due to the “even” numbers involved and the ease with which we caught our four fluke each, followed by forty stripers ranging from mid twenty inch shorts to a dozen between three feet on up to forty inches.
By then the tide was back out, approaching dead low as we came into Barn Island Launch, a shallow place, so the spot light came out to aid in getting safely to the launch ramp. My buddy that evening, like me, loves blue crab more than anything else we can catch in this area. Almost as soon as we started running into the shallows, with the outboard on tilt and a trolling motor on the bow, he spotted a big crab sitting in a hole in the eel grass, I pulled out a second light and began scanning and spotted another before the first was scratching around in what had been a bait pail. The striper run immediately became a crabbing expedition and a couple hours later when we got to my place to clean fish and split the crabs we had forty four blue crabs, big, full of meat and nasty as always.
That evening the winds didn’t even blow up and give us a bumpy wet return trip to the launch from the south side of Fishers Island. There was enough moon light and power left in the spotlight battery to keep us out of the lobster pots when trolling for stripers and heading home. With all the crabs and decent stripers, we caught that was as close as possible to what I’d call a perfect June fishing trip. My friend that evening was someone that I didn’t get much chance to fish with, in fact, that was our only outing despite working out of the same office but at different jobs during the work week. He often provided me with some great permits on farms for deer hunting so I wanted to take him on a successful trip and we did that eighty four times that night. Crabs being the bulk of our catches.
I have to keep reminding the devil who had me sign some agreement in blood from a striper spine poke shortly before that trip, which I’ve still got a few fish and crabs left on that contract. Like any good fisherman that evil buggar has patience and persistence on his side, which reminds me of an old joke that can’t be printed here about persistence, fortitude, a flea and an elephant.
The longest day is June 21, prime for both fluke and stripers. If the local blue crabs survived this winter they may be around for an added bonus at the dock. Enjoy a safe and productive season on the water. To hell with bed bugs, don’t let those crabs that will hopefully be abundant this summer bite. I wear many scars from those nasty ill tempered miserable but delicious crustaceans.