Over the years many of us have experienced and fished our way through both bumper and drought years for pretty much all of the species in this part of the Atlantic. Changes in weather patterns, conditions on breeding grounds that for some species can be many hundreds of miles from where we catch them were the usual reasons.
In my earlier years, the financial burden of college kept me from buying a boat until graduation. I did have a friend whose parents kept a small wooden boat barely capable of getting to and fishing the Race, those fast flowing dangerous waters between Fishers Island and Watch Hill Light House from their summertime rental cottage. Those trips were all high adventure to me. Catching hard fighting bluefish and striped bass, which were beginning to wane in numbers due to over harvest, a myriad of regulations that were not protective enough and a few other factors of lesser importance. At that point in time, spring striper fishing in the Thames was good but as things warmed up it wasn’t until late fall when waters cooled and the bass came back in chasing menhaden that I’d return to the river for some winter striper action with an occasional bluefish in the mix.
During 1972, which at the time I referred to as the “Year of the Blue,” the Thames was literally inundated by bluefish to the point stripers were difficult to hook until cold weather drove the choppers back out to sea. People who were used to using fairly heavy monofilament were losing hooks to the double edged serrated teeth of the bluefish that were superabundant and willing to grab anything that moved or smelled like a piece of bunker.
From that point on anglers began to look forward to and expect to be into bluefish during the fall. Their presence often attracted fair numbers of anglers to the access points along the river.
One day I had caught and released a couple of bluefish and noticed an old man watching who would clap every time I caught a fish. I asked if he wanted one but declined, saying he was simply enjoying watching me have some fun with those scrappy fish.
We talked for a while, he didn’t tell me his age and I didn’t ask but he was probably closer to a century old than fifty. He told me how this was the first time in decades he’d seen bluefish in the river in such large numbers. Also noting he was more of a “fisherman” than a catcher of fish. I did enjoy the local history lesson he’d provided and from that point on I would always stop to chat with him when I saw his car in the public lot near the docks in downtown Norwich.
Fast forward to the 80’s, when I first met my, now long time fishing buddy Eric Covino.
We instantly hit it off and began talking about fishing, made plans to go out the following day and have been chasing pretty nearly everything that swims in the waters of this region ever since. That includes some long drives to prime muskellunge spots in Canada and northern Maine.
We found ourselves on the Thames River one cold late fall Sunday morning around Christmas break. It was very cold, barometric pressure was very high and Eric had a brand new depth finder he wanted to play with and hence us on the water during such miserable fishing conditions.
He turned it on, muttered something, either this machine is not working or we have forty feet of stripers under the boat - which was the case. It was fairly clear water for the Thames that day, with the sun almost straight overhead I could see a wavering of many school stripers six or eight feet below the boat.
We fished with single hook, barb flattened hooks because most of the fish were not legal size and went back into the water. We did that kind of winter striper catch and release fishing for decades until the numbers of bass declined again a few years ago.
These localized winter striper fisheries are directly proportional to the abundance of stripers in the coastal fishery. Big numbers of bass make big numbers of smaller fish which often move into coastal rivers during their fall migrations and either decide to stay or get stuck when water temps drop to winter levels.
This month, anglers along the coast are gearing up for the fall striper and bluefish runs. I have heard fluke fishing has been poor this summer so far, but one of my buddies has been catching a few blue crabs in his favorite spots to which I’ve sworn to secrecy. Everyone has their spots to catch their favorite fish, crabs, etc and they are sacred. Like many, I was out of touch with the world for over a week without any power after that major wind storm that blew through the region early last month. The gas stations I frequent and being low on fuel I couldn’t drive around to find one with power for their pumps, so my dog and I sat home reading until mosquitoes and darkness drove us off the porch and to a restless or no rest night on a lumpy mattress.
I will be getting to my local crabbing spot sometime soon and Eric and I have plans to wet a line so things are looking better after that long, literally dark stretch so many in this region went through a month ago.