This season has been an odd one in which to predict the timing of the various
movements of both local and migratory species. Even fresh water fishing has been off kilter due to the constant temperature swings, winds and storms.
As of this writing, striped bass, acres of smaller fish were observed by a friend nearly covering the “north side” of Fishers Island from the Dumplings to Race Rock Light during the early part of June.
He and his son had been on a “Quest for Stripers” beginning in Niantic Bay almost to Watch Hill with only five small schoolies to show for their efforts and very little action from terns and gulls anywhere along their route.
At one point they spotted hordes of birds leading out towards Race Point, they ran over to investigate the commotion and were suddenly in the middle of acres of mostly twenty-inch bass. Their catch and release total jumped from five to thirty-something in short order. However, they didn’t catch any good sized, say thirty inches or longer. All cookie cutters in the twenty-inch range that were feeding on some sort of small baitfish, silversides most likely before heading back in before their fuel ran too low.
One interesting thing is that most of the latter catches had “sea lice” on them which would indicate they were heading in from the ocean. Possibly the migrants from the south that had swung around Montauk Point with an incoming tide.
The fish were playing hard to get and hitting small swimming plugs and soft plastics with single upturned hooks better than any other lure they tossed into the fray.
They were on the water the day after a very heavy rain and wind storm, which in our past experience can “scramble things up, especially when it comes to stripers that have either wintered in coastal rivers or had entered earlier in the spring to feed.
As an example, many years ago when the Thames would literally fill up in its upper mile or so with giant schools of over wintering schoolie stripers. We fished those schools often during the dead of winter. The action was always fast and furious. One late winter Saturday a tremendous, flooding warm rain melted most of the snow in southeastern Connecticut flooding the Thames River, turning it into a rushing torrent of coffee (with cream) colored water, where normally its currents are relatively slow.
We methodically hit every spot on both sides of the Thames from Norwich all the way out and went for a way out from, east and west of the river’s mouth into the Sound ——- without so much as a sniff.
After that “flush job” of a storm, some of those fish returned but being it was during the transition from late winter to early spring conditions many continued their migratory journey, who knows whether they sill headed south towards their birth river or north following the general ocean flow and migratory prey.
August is a time of plenty for species of all kinds. It’s when the young spawned by menhaden, silversides, herring and other species are on the move and available often in huge schools for predators to feed on at will. The numbers game of sheer abundance is the only reason prey or even small predators survive from generation to generation. It is an evolutionary strategy evolved along with various physical adaptations that species had to evolve in the wide array of habitats encountered around the planet in order to survive the test of time.
Every marine angler waits for the late summer into the fall when huge schools of peanut bunker are pushing their way along the coast, usually with bluefish and stripers feeding on top and in the water column, with bottom species including fluke, crabs and lobster doing clean up down deep. The carnage is to anglers thrilling but horrific to the prey that takes the brunt of these feeding binges.
When the bait is super abundant there is a dilution factor comes into play that lowers the odds of your lure or hook bait even being noticed let along taken by a striped bass, bluefish, false albacore, or even offshore giant tuna. Experienced anglers clip fins or tails, add a little extra weight or hook the bait in places that limit their ability to win a sprint against a hungry predator.
One thing that helped me as a fisherman in training was sitting on my grandfather’s lap as a kid and rather than reading kids books and fairy tales, he read fishing and hunting stories from magazines such as Outdoor Life, Field and Stream and Sports Afield (the big three in this realm).
One of my earliest outdoor adventures, I’d gone with my dad and his friend to watch two highly incompetent, slightly intoxicated men try with limited success to catch enough blue crabs for dinner. Because I had to lag behind and was too small according to them to have my own net, I only got glimpses of the crabs before they were lifted out of the water.
The next day I was down by one of the same shallow tide creeks they had stumbled and laughed their way along, near the tiny summer rental cottage we were in for a week. At night I could hear peep frogs in the trees but didn’t know they came from some vernal ponds in the woods a half mile away and on solid coastal land.
I took a little walk along the paths others had created along the steep mud sided tidal creeks looking for frogs I thought might be present. (I didn’t know that frogs don’t live in salt water and the tide creek looked like a deeper version of a stream near my home. Something white began moving right under my nose, it was what appeared to be giant blue crab doing its sideways walk, came out from under the bank, picked something up off the bottom with a claw and held it in front of its mouth, and began tearing it apart with its claws. Half scared but also fascinated it looked gigantic to eyes that had only handled tiny green crabs. This giant looked evil, no way was I going to snatch it even if it had been within arm’s length.
Fast forward to my teenage years when blue crabs made my list of favorite summer meals and have been on top ever since. I’ve been catching these miserable ill-tempered delicious crustaceans for over fifty years, learned much about them as a biologist, also simply by reading books, observing, messing with and of course catching and cooking them.
Once home the catch is rinsed in fresh water, placed standing on their legs in a vegetable crisper from the fridge or where ever they will remain until cooking. If they are to be kept for more than a few hours a small dollop of seaweed is placed on each to keep them calm, kind of like blinders on a horse. Damaged or listless crabs are cooked as soon as we get home or they may spoil. By keeping them cool and calm as possible, healthy crabs will live for a few days in the fridge. This additional handling is the time when I have received most of my worst bites from these nasty well-armed crustaceans, a couple of which have left permanent scars.
Cooked leftovers can be refrigerated for a couple days without losing too much of their flavor and firmness, providing shells have been taken off and innards cleaned out and excess water drained out of crabs and containers. The cold meat can be dipped in warm melted butter or made into a salad for the finest crabmeat sandwich available.
Sadly, this year, due to the constant barrage of winter wind and snow storms followed by a cool extended spring, the odds of our local crab population coming through are slim to nothing. As of late June, all of the signs indicate a stinker of a 2018 blue crabbing season. Whatever we will eventually have to catch will be southern migrants and should begin showing up in our waters during the middle to end of this month.
This month its bass, blues fluke and possibly a “tunoid” or two if the false albacore or bonito show up along the coast. All this weird weather has clouded my crystal ball so it’s like looking into a milkshake.