October is a great time of year to “catch” the fish of your choice along the coast because nearly everything is in the region to catch. Though nothing is guaranteed, a major storm system that dumps flooding rains can negatively affect fishing every where, in fresh and salt water and especially in the rivers that connect them like capillaries in our own blood stream.
A little chop on the water helps but high winds makes any kind of angling less fun and, productive. Make those winds against the tides and they can are potentially lethal.
As long as migratory species have not left our waters and are able to slowly feed their way south or off shore to their wintering grounds, fall fishing is not only beautiful (when the leaves are changing color) it can be very productive. Everything with fur, feathers or scales is tanking up for migrations or to build fat reserves for the lean times they will face during the winter.
My personal dilemma in deciding what to do can sometimes be eased by what I refer to as a “double trouble” day that could include an early morning hunt followed by an afternoon on the water. Whether that water is fresh or saline often depends on how much time is left after mornings activities.
I’m a generalist and truly enjoy fishing for every species in this part of the country because they each have their desirable qualities. In freshwater this time of year we most enjoy casting big lures to toothy critters such as northern pike in this area and sometimes muskellunge in Ontario Canada. Sometimes the local runs are fast close to home in order to catch some fresh bluegills or perch for supper. Salt water always takes a commitment of half a day to do much of anything properly. With bluefish, stripers and possibly some tunoids in the area the likely spots for these game fish is where we focus based on reports from friends and other sources.
If the fall weather has been mild and minus major flooding rains the procession we wait for during the spring is reversed as fish return to wintering grounds. Some of the migrating striped bass stop off along the way in many of the regions larger coastal rivers and estuaries.
This time of year the key to success often depends on locating some of the many often large schools of menhaden that range from “peanut sized” juveniles to full grown adults that can weigh more than a pound. Menhaden are a favorite food source of many predators because their oily flesh is kind of like an “energy” shake is to humans.
Some of the best “catching” of the year can take place around the edges of these schools that are being assaulted from all angles by rampaging hard feeding bluefish, stripers and false albacore. Blues do the chopping while stripers often follow behind picking up the pieces and albi’s are the speedsters that ram into the schools on the surface putting on some spectacular feeding shows. Depending on water temperature the peanut bunker may also have fluke grabbing them from below when they venture near the bottom or are pushed into riled currents and shallows over the top of the many reefs that dot the shoreline.
On a positive note, there have been a few good year classes of menhaden produced over the past couple of years. Which if they are not removed from the ecosystem during their travels by commercial fisheries is bodes well for the future.
During the 1970’s I used to do some aerial survey work along the coast prior to and after the appearance of “bunker boats” that came into the sound and vacuumed those huge schools up like dust on the floor in only a few years.
During one flight when the menhaden population was as large as I’ve ever witnessed there was many large blobs of bunker under the small plane all day. The most impressive of those schools covered the bottom with shimmering splashing fish from the Oyster River, West Haven as far west as I could see towards Morningside and Pond Point. As was often the case, also visible from the low altitude we had permission to fly, were many large surface boils from bluefish that were nearly always in hot pursuit.
Sadly within a decade those gigantic schools were pretty much wiped out, though there has been some degree of improvement in the population in recent years.
Anyone interested in learning more about this incredible fisheries resource should read an informative book called “The Most Important Fish In The Sea”, by author Bruce Franklin. It may be difficult to find because it wasn’t on “best seller” lists, though it is a very interesting read for fishermen and biologists alike. The book covers the history of our menhaden fisheries from colonial times through 2007 when it was printed.
One fall fishing species I have always enjoyed but never became very good at catching is blackfish or tautog. (Scientific name Tautoga onitis.) Primary reason was preferring to target other say more popular and spectacular to catch when they are on the move and feeding heavily.
“Togs” as my buddies in Massachusetts call them, with exposed blunt teeth that would require braces were they human, big blubbery lips for protection from pinching claws of their favorite meal green crabs, lobster and mussels that required those “bad” teeth to crush.
One late fall trip to the lower Thames River, prior to 9/11, we would tie up to the large wood pilings at the state pier on the New London side of the river, drop a green crab to the bottom beside a piling and have blackfish chewing on the bait within a short while.
One such trip is particularly memorable. We had been doing well when the fish suddenly stopped biting, which would happen at times when the tide slacked or if the fish moved in to areas too far under the pier for us to reach without snagging. When that happened it was time to pack it in as long as we had at least a couple of fish to clean.
Just prior to aborting this mission, my friend Eric finally hooked a small one. As the little “tog” came into sight a few feet below the surface four or five large bluefish swarmed in. One of them bit the tail end off the little fish, while another swooped in and grabbed what was left, hooking itself in the process. That bluefish was well above average for the river, weighed some where in the low to mid teens and with that impressive attack demonstrated why they are called “choppers”. Seen them reduce herring and menhaden into fractions of themselves with half circle chunks removed, but that blackfish was a first.
With those choppers in the area, rather than sacrifice any more blackfish, we headed back up river to our launch site. On the way we saw some breaks and working birds and because there was room to cast, we took out a couple of rods and caught a few smaller blues and school stripers before we reached the trailer. It was one of many similar trips we made to that spot over the years but due to that encounter with the jumbo bluefish it was the most memorable and I took some pictures as proof.