The fat lady is not singing quite yet for the saltwater fishing season. With the spring-like weather we had this past week, plenty of anglers took advantage of pleasant conditions and capitalized on a number of opportunities. There are pockets of red hot striped bass, bluefish and hickory shad fishing going on from shore and boat in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Even more impressive is the blackfish bite, which is firing on all cylinders across the region. Other anglers are shifting gears from saltwater to sweetwater. The Connecticut River is offering some good northern pike and crappie action, while the Shetucket and Naugatuck Rivers have been stocked with huge Atlantic salmon.
Striped bass are on the move, and if you are lucky to be in the right place at the right time, you can hit the mother lode. That’s exactly what happened to OTW contributor Dave Pickering during a few outings this past week. Using Cocoahoe Minnows on jig heads with shrimp fly teasers in front, he and his sons cleaned up with about 200 schoolie striped bass along the south shore recently and a few bluefish and feisty hickory shad mixed in. Steve at Saltwater Edge agreed that there are plenty of stripers to be had in the surf line and that rubber swim shads and shallow swimming plugs with Red Gill teasers are doing the most damage on 24- to 28-inch bass. Larger fish are still hanging around as well, as Amanda of Watch Hill Outfitters reported that some 25- to 30-pound bass and 10-pound bluefish have been landed from South County breachways on live eels this week.
The blackfish bite along the south shore and south of the Bay bridges is definitely worth writing home about right now. Captain Jack of Quaker Lane Outfitters shared that tog are starting to move to deeper water, like 40 to 70 feet, but the lesser known shallow-water rock piles can still be productive. He said to keep it simple with green crabs on high/low rigs and that it’s more about locating the areas that have yet to be pounded day in and day out by tog fishermen.
Chris at Block Island Fish Works lamented that the fall striper bite has been rather lackluster around the Island compared to the phenomenal summer season they had out there. He took a boat ride along the south shore of the Island on Tuesday and didn’t see any life or mark a single fish. The water temperatures are still hovering around 58 degrees, but there is a noticeable shortage of bait. The few surfcasters still plugging away along the beaches are experiencing a slow pick of fish at night using mostly needlefish and metal-lip Danny plugs. For black sea bass fishermen, the waters around Hooter #5 off Clayhead have been steady, with an average of five boats combing the area daily using high/low rigs with squid strips.
Overall, blackfish is probably your best bet right now in Long Island Sound. Jack at The Fish Connection noted that tautog are beginning to move into slightly deeper water, like 20 to 30 feet. Green crabs are overwhelmingly the bait of choice and can be fished on blackfish jigs or high/low rigs, but the method stays the same – put your offering near rocks and hold on tight. Bob at Hillyers said some of his customers aren’t giving up on the shallow water spots just yet. One angler recently landed 42 tog in a single outing in 10 feet of water near Black Point. Other eastern Sound spots he mentioned that are worth trying are the mouth of the Thames River, Two Tree Channel, Seaside, and Little Goshen Point. More to the west, Cappy of Captain Morgan Bait and Tackle said that rock piles in 25 to 35 feet of water have been the ticket, especially around Southwest and Kimberly Reefs. He noted that there are a ton of shorts mixed in, but the occasional double digit tog will come to those willing to hop around.
As for the fall migration of stripers and blues, reports seem pretty hit or miss in the Sound at the moment. Jack at The Fish Connection said that stripers that will winter-over in the Thames River are already moving into the Norwich Harbor and are being caught on 5- to 7-inch soft-plastic baits. Mark at River’s End mentioned that there are some school-sized striped bass falling to chunked bunker and mackerel at the mouth of the Connecticut River. He also noted that the classic late-fall spot of Long Sand Shoal is producing big bluefish on live eels and more schoolies on top with poppers.
The best news came out of the western Sound, however. OTW contributor Captain Chris Elser did very well off the Milford and Stratford area this week using live eels and egg sinkers to get them down. He landed four bluefish between 17 and 18 pounds and striped bass up to 33 pounds that are feeding on mullet and shad. Chris told me he’s not taking it for granted as these fish are on the move and can be gone any day now.
In freshwater, Andrew from Fishing Factory III told me that northern pike and crappie action is heating up in the Connecticut River coves. For trophy pike, he suggested casting big spinner baits, 7-inch swim baits, or fishing large golden pond shiners under a float. The golden pond shiners are often the most productive option and they can be caught with Sabiki rigs in the same places the pike hang out. Slab crappie are also being found in areas like Chapman’s Pond and Wrights Cove. One of the more effective ways to catch them is with small curly grub jigs tipped with pinhead shiners.
The CT DEEP completed their initial fall stocking of Atlantic salmon in the Shetucket and Naugatuck Rivers, as well as Mount Tom Pond and Crystal Lake. This batch included about 400 broodstock salmon ranging from 3 to 18 pounds. Sometimes it’s more about ticking them off then getting them to eat. Retrieving a brightly colored single-hook, free-swinging fly or lure in front of their face could do the trick.
Best Bets for the Weekend
Mid November can be very hit or miss for migrating striped bass and bluefish. One day can be epic and the next can be dead – it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. That being said, Rhode Island’s south shore is one of the best places to intercept these traveling fish. Try using live eels on an outing tide along one of the breachways or break out the light-tackle rod, Cocahoe Minnows and teasers and have fun with schoolies in Narragansett. For more consistent action, you can try your hand with the red hot blackfish bite. Tog are beginning to move to deeper water, so find those less popular rocky areas in 25 to 35-feet of water and bring plenty of green crabs and extra rigs. If you’re up for a change of pace, give targeting northern pike or crappie in the Connecticut River coves a shot, or take advantage of the great fall fishery of Atlantic salmon in the Shetucket or Naugatuck Rivers.