July, being the time of year local species are active and looking for easy meals and cooler waters in which to spend the summer, I like fishing for pretty much anything and everything in both fresh and salt water.
Last but not least, some time from now through September, some blue crabs will begin showing up in warm, shallow tidal estuaries and salt marshes along the coast.
If they have been present since late May or June, there may have been some significant over winter survival by our local population. However, based on the conditions this year odds are not high of there being an early strong run from local crabs.
I joke but it’s the absolute truth. in all the hunting and fishing I’ve ever done throughout my life, I’ve passed up shots at many game species and released fish of every species I have ever caught, except one ---- blue crabs. Their scientific name “Callinectes sappidus” refers to their swimming ability and means loosely translated “most delicious swimmer”; which I fully agree with. Hopefully by next column some of us will have had the pleasure of boiling some fresh caught local blue crabs along with delicious Connecticut grown sweet corn and a cold brew or drink of your choice. That first meal of the year that is essentially all “home grown or caught”, cooked to taste and served to friends and family is always as important a meal to me as a Thanksgiving or Christmas roast turkey or Easter ham or the first hot dog or hamburger grilled over an open charcoal grill in the backyard. All culinary delights of the first order.
July is the month when it’s possible to do the double trouble trip, fluke during the light of day, followed by stripers around dusk or at dawn followed by the fluke drifting. Either way works if the tide is moving, and winds are not too strong as to push the boat against the prevailing tide. A brisk drift is better than no drift at all.
For many charter boats and people who own seaworthy ocean-going craft, now is when to make those long runs to fish for shark and tuna, with a few of the regions head boats taking overnight runs to the canyons for the yellowfin, albacore and other denizens found along the edge of the continental shelf.
Signing up for an overnight canyon run on the large head boats is a relatively affordable way to experience this form of angling adventure. The only problem is on the big boats, if a giant bluefin happens along odds are it will never be brought to gaff, plus to keep them, the boat or angler is required to have a bunch of paperwork. A successful offshore captain should have, but check, I am not sure what the regs are this year and am too lazy to go on the internet to find out, that’s the angler’s job.
Nothing is better than live bait, whatever is appropriate for the species being targeted. Next best is freshly caught and then frozen stuff that’s been “frosted” for as little time as possible.
By now stripers have moved in with a portion of the population continuing north. Bluefish are in along the coast chowing down on anything and everything they can get into their mouths. There may even be a few weakfish around for anglers to play with. One of my friends caught a couple small twenty-inch class weakfish also called squeteague in some areas late this past May, which hopefully means there are more where they came from. This area hasn’t had much in the way of weakfish action, at least not much other than random catches for a few decades. They are a welcome addition to our fish scape indicating something positive have taken place in the coastal ecosystem.
I recently picked up an interesting lure from Live Target called a Glass Minnow “Bait Ball”, which is designed to appear to be a tightly packed egg sized cluster of minnows. Looks good in the box but I’ve not run it in front of a bluefish, striper or freshwater predators yet, and do not know how it is balanced or how deep it runs. Based on looks, which never tells all about a lure, it certainly may have potential this fall when schools of peanut bunker, silversides, and other small shiny baitfish are being fed upon by every sort of predatory fish.
July is a prime time to drift for fluke, my go-to rig is what I refer to as “double fluke sandwich rig”, something I’ve written about for years. It’s a basic set up with bucktail jig, heavy enough to reach and touch bottom, but not so heavy as to anchor the boat. On the hook is a soft plastic teaser topped by a couple strips of squid, strips cut from a fillet from a menhaden, or better yet a whole fresh caught squid, which can be difficult to obtain on demand. Tie the jig to a short leader six to ten inches to a three-way swivel and to that tie six feet of lighter mono going back to a fly, lighter jig or even bare hook, baited the same way and if possible top both hooks with a live mummichog, silversides or other small baitfish. Peanut bunker are excellent during the late summer and fall.
Some people I know use high low jigs, very effective, especially in deeper water with a hard-running tide. The basic idea is to have two working baited hooks in the water that are not very far apart. I often rig two rods this same way, using one in each hand, with a rod holder near each so if one gets a bite, the other can be put down while the strike is dealt with. Fluke have a telltale “tap-tap” strike, while porgies tend to jiggle around and other fish glom on and run.
Let a short amount of line back, by tipping the rod to the water, letting the slack drift out and set the hook. This method is a good one because the fluke are generally mouth hooked so if they are short they aren’t gut or gill hooked which could kill them after being released.
Often a fluke will slip up behind the jig, nip the end of the bait, then nail the lighter stinger or teaser hook as it floats past. Rarely, when fluke are abundant and competing for food, doubles may be caught. Done it myself a dozen or so times over many, many outings, but those occurred during some exceptional trips. The best double I ever had was a pair of six-pound summer flounder. Until they were near the surface I thought I had a record class fluke on the hook.
Funny thing as the pair neared the surface I was peering into the water and about ten feet down could see this huge brown blob that suddenly split in two like tearing a piece of paper. Then I realized there would be no need for “official scales”.
Fishing for fluke with a couple of friends during a perfect tide at a perfect time of year is one of the things I enjoy most about summer, next to spotting and scoop netting that first keeper sized blue crab of the season. Either species, cooked fresh is one of the simple pleasures in life that keep my fingertips sore and often bloody from the crab’s sharp spikes and fast claws.
I often get bit when a large male is muckled on to a hard-shelled but short female that sometimes goes unnoticed when seaweed is scooped with the crab --- then it’s too late. Either way, they are both angry over having their tryst interrupted, plus blue crabs are by nature the most ornery, miserable species I’ve ever dealt with and that includes ticked off bees and guard dogs.
This year has been such a roller coaster ride weather wise, it’s difficult to determine how well our local crabs survived, due to the lag time between writing and printing of this column. I will have done some scouting by the next issue.
It’s been so miserable rainy and cool, many would be fluke fishermen haven’t even got their boats in the water yet, so I haven’t talked to any friends who have even drifted for fluke as of this writing.
However, odds are being there are bluefish around, stripers are on the move and there are most likely some schools of squid cruising and hanging around the area, so there’s a good bet there are fluke feeding on them from below while stripers and blues harass them in the water column on up to the surface.
What I call the squid bite is my favorite time to cast for striped bass around the areas reefs. With some cooperative weather and tides, I often drift for fluke during the afternoon, then switch over the stripers as the sun sets or start with the bass on the reefs and end up with some lazy drifting for fluke along some of my favorite drifts. Throw in that corn in a few weeks from this writing and its “summertime in southern New England --- mosquitoes, ticks and all.