Fall is the time of year when literally every species of mammals, birds and fish are filling their “reserve tanks” which in many cases are fat cells, in preparation for the approaching winter. Which is a good thing for fisherman in both fresh and saltwater. On the ocean where species are more diverse, generally larger and more aggressive the feeding frenzies can be literally spectacular and extremely productive for anglers who are fortunate enough to find them selves in the middle of some feeding sport fish.
Among the popular game species, the most aggressive and high on the top pound for pound fighting lists of many anglers is bluefish. With a sleek body designed for speed, propelled by a forked tail, which is found on all of the fastest swimming fish, a fairly large mouth with double edged, interlocking teeth than can take cookie cutter bites out of their prey and inflict serious damage to anglers who make a mistake or do something stupid such as placing a finger too close to that set of jaws while removing a hook.
Many years ago, I found a set of heavy wire jaw spreaders in a boat while on a freshwater pike fishing trip in Canada. I picked them up figuring they may come in handy for dehooking fish with teeth and they are. They are great on fluke with large enough mouths, pickerel and pike in freshwater and most other species that can’t be held safely. Knowing how powerful a bluefish bite is I put the jaw spreaders in the mouth of a mid sized blue to see if they could do the job (even though if they held I’d never trust the gadget or the fish not to inflict damage if possible). I was surprised at how easily that fish simply closed its mouth almost completely before the spreaders popped free. I admit I take chances with bare fingers because I can grasp things better and have been cut and nicked a number of times, because I honestly do my best to minimize hook damage to any fish destined for release, partially for selfish reasons. I want to catch them over again as many times as they grow and hopefully one of those times the fish has reached record book size.
I have caught many respectable fish of literally every species in our fresh and salt waters, but none have made any sort of record book, though I have lucked out in a tournament on occasion. I simply enjoy the processes from planning a trip, to picking the spot to toss a plug and how best to cook anything I may be taking home for supper. Everyone who is reading these words understands the point even if they may not agree with all that’s been said above or here after. There are as many ways to catch and cook a fish, as there are to skin the proverbial cat. Though I’ve never skinned a cat, proverbial or other wise, other than a bobcat some one had legally taken and tagged but balked at the cost of mounting his prize once he got it home. He gave all the papers and me, I skinned the bobcat and had the skin tanned and used it as a teaching aid in my classroom for over twenty years. I was a very hands-on teacher, which the administration was not sure of, but my students loved.
Back to the bluefish, those super aggressive fish that I believe if they grew to a hundred pounds or so no one would go swimming in the ocean during the times of year when these fish are prowling the coast line.
Blues are an abundant relatively easy species to locate and catch these days it has not always been like that. They like all fish are governed by water temperature and over our history here in New England when our waters were much colder than today bluefish, being a mid and south Atlantic species by nature, were rarely caught north of Long island, where now they make their way to Maine and even some Canadian Provinces in recent years.
Climate change? Certainly. The earth’s climate has been changing since the oceans formed and will continue to do so as long as there is enough water in our atmosphere. What the doom and gloomers say about the world ending by 2020 if we don’t stop using fossil fuels is nothing new. I lived through the supposed end of the world in 1984 (the title of a popular book at that time), the first time some moron took the fiction book literally and made it an issue, the world was supposed to end, then again in 2000 and I expect to be fishing when the world ends again in 2020 according to a few political morons who know less about the nature of the planet than they do politics.
My dad used to fish the Race with a friends when I was a kid and at least for him catching some bluefish was a big deal, because “they pulled so dam hard” as he would say. I agree. Not too long after I saw my first bluefish in the kitchen sink as a kid I was able to go out on the Sound and the waters around Fishers Island with a friend who had a big enough boat and we caught them ourselves, countless numbers over the years.
At that time striped bass populations were waning due to over fishing combined with some poor breeding yeas in the Chesapeake and other breeding areas along the Atlantic Coast. As stripers became harder to find and catch in numbers bluefish filled the vacuum quickly and with large numbers.
During the early years of my writing career if you can call it that, in essence when I first began writing a column for the local paper the Norwich Bulletin, bluefish began invading the coastline in incredible numbers. They ran up large rivers chasing the also then super abundant menhaden schools that are an important food source from birth throughout their lives for literally every predatory fish in the Atlantic. I called 1972 “The year of the Blue” in something wrote for the paper or one of the then numerous smaller regional magazines.
Since that time anglers have come to expect the “blue invasion” this time of year. Bluefish are hard fighting fish that if they grew to be a couple hundred pounds we would still be wondering what they looked like because no one would have ever caught one. Then again the same could be said about tunas, billfish and a number of other fast swimming aggressive species, all of which are due to those qualities at the top of many anglers list of “favorite species”.
There is something exciting, like opening a present when bait is pushed to the surface with boiling predators all over the surface, giving anglers who are close enough a glance at a dorsal fin or tail for identification, with an occasional fish totally breaching the surface. It is about as thrilling and exciting as fishing gets, tossing a lure into a fray and not knowing what might grab the lure.
Many of us have had a false albacore or bonito, or even a juvenile bluefin come out of nowhere in the midst of a bluefish or striper blitz and streak off like a freight train. Its a shocker the first time it happens in fact every time something bigger, faster and nastier makes a surprise visit to a place they are not supposed to be or at least are not expected. That’s the stuff “big ones that got away” stories are made of. Those pleasant surprises are one of the reasons we cast into the ocean’s grab bag of fish.
Now, as long as Hurricane Dorian, which is brewing a week away from this writing, doesn’t totally mess up the fall migrations, which it will certainly have some effect on October is a prime time to wet a line anywhere for any species.
When I was younger, more energetic and a heck of a good deal more stupid, during October I would set the alarm an hour before dawn to sit in a tree with my bow waiting for the dumbest whitetail in the area to bungle within range. Usually nothing was that unlucky, so I’d go over to my club meet a friend with my dog, have breakfast and hunt pheasant with the members on their Saturday hunts which took place for six or eight weeks after the Connecticut small game season opened. Id usually have a fishing rod in the car and go to our private pond to try for either bass or trout, to go with the inevitable pheasant that would be in the cooler on ice.
Then sometimes, in those days before we had any kids and if my wife was doing something with her friends or possibly working the night shift, I’d launch my small boat and try o catch some stripers often big ones that were cruising the south side of Fishers Island. Days when winds were not too high and the gods smiled I literally had a deer hanging, some pheasant in the fridge and when I took a shower late that night I was washing a combination of sweat and striper slime down the drain.
What I would call a near perfect day. Hope our readers experience a number of perfect days on the water as well as at home and work this month, when the leaves are gorgeous the weather just cool enough and everything that walks on four legs, flies and swims is around to chase.