UPDATE: After putting the finishing touches on this week’s fishing forecast, and about an hour after I put away the shovel from clearing snow from November’s Nor’easter, I landed this slab striper that we estimated to be well over 20 pounds, north of Boston.
My buddy Rick Holbrook was in town and we had made tentative plans to see if we could catch that one last striper of the year, even though the calendar indicated it was a fool’s errand at best. And that was prior to mother nature’s decision to throw a November nor’ easter at us complete with snow and 50 mph winds! When the phone rang just after I had cleared the driveway and it was my friend reminding me of our plans, I thought surely he was in jest or had truly lost his marbles. But in my world fishing friends do not disappoint fishing friends, so I reluctantly agreed. An hour later it proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made in November. The fish hit a Berkley Gulp! Jerk Shad on my third cast (I love that lure)and I finally got to test the mettle of my new St. Croix Avid surf rod and I must say it held up nicely. Later as Rick and I hunched over the heater in my truck trying to rekindle life in our fingers, I asked him what we should do for an encore. “That’s easy he said”, we get a 35-pounder in December! It ain’t over yet folks!
Try your Hand at Smelt
There’s nothing like a blanket of snow to snuff out angling aspirations—or maybe not? The smelt squad is at it in earnest with the pretense that they’re sating the unquenchable appetite of friends and family who plead for fresh smelt. Albeit the truth is more likely that it is so much fun. Wachusett Reservoir watershed has nothing if not options; the quandary being does one fish the 30-plus miles of shoreline or ply the tributaries, which are often filled with fish in the fall? While it’s hard to think in terms of the harbor with howling winds and snow on the ground, 60 degree weather is in the forecast and I’ve got a tip that there are more fish there than many would think.
Many neophytes are turning to smelt, and who can blame them? They’re a tasty New England treat, challenging to figure out and hook, and the area from Scituate through Southern Maine is the last stronghold for the stock. So you might say that they are “our” fish. For those whose smelt experience has been less than fulfilling, I’m going to pass along a few tips that I hope will help you catch more fish. Smelt are nocturnal hunters; you’ll catch more if you fish between dusk and dawn. A light source helps tremendously since it attracts forage that smelt feed on. A dock light is good, a lantern dangled just above the surface is very good, and the all-time best light source is a blue/green in-water light source specifically made to attract fish. Companies such as Fishing Lights etc. sell both portable and stationary models. The initial investment is more than a lantern but an investment that puts more smelt in the pail is one that pays delicious dividends.
As for bait, grass shrimp is the most consistently effective but there have been times when I’ve fished a plain old Sabiki rig and kept up with a friend using shrimp–but not always. And there have been times when seaworms have caught as well as grass shrimp, but again not always. Although seaworms are always worth a try since the tough worm requires less re-baiting, while the grass shrimp is usually a one for one bite swap. Don’t fret about the live versus dead shrimp brouhaha; modern smelt sharpies are using Sabiki rigs (I cut mine in half and make two) and they break the head off the shrimp, toss it into the water and thread the hook into the body of the shrimp, girding it up as far as it will go. An ice-fishing rod/reel designed for panfish makes for the perfect smelt tandem. Smelt are notorious bait stealers, and these sensitive rods detect the nibbles that a telescopic or other conventional smelt rod will often miss. And lastly, avoid chasing smelt that you see in the glow of the light, usually there are far more below the obvious and they are more aggressive.
Before I caught smelt fever, the late Phil Galetta who owned Massbait, which was a bait/tackle institution in Revere for years, explained to me that what made smelt fishing so alluring was the unpredictable nature of the fish. Numbers vacillate as does the disposition of the fish; during one outing you may have the Midas touch and during the next tide you’re doing little more than feeding the fish. It’s maddening and addictive and once you get into a good smelt bite you’ll forever be a fan. According to Rick from Fore River B&T, recent smelt best bets have been Marina Bay and Hewitt’s Cove. A friend of mine has been doing quite well at the Charlestown Marina. Odds are that if you find a lit dock or marina in the Greater Boston area, there will be smelt in some capacity; hunting them down is part of the fun.
Russ Eastman of Monahan Marine steamed out just past Stellwagen with Captain Rob Green aboard his Elizabeth Marie cruiser and they found plenty of haddock, cusk, hake, pollock and even winter flounder! With the season closed to the taking of cod in the GOM, you would expect them to have found plenty of cod and you’d be right. Each time they released a 10- to 15-pound brown bomber, they winced a little. The hot lure was 12 ounce Butterfly Jigs in gold/black/red. Mackerel were thick from port in Scituate out to the bank.
Another Russ, this time Captain Russ Burgess, recently took his Chris Craft on a little cruise in search of some culinary goodies at the Strega Waterfront restaurant when his fish finder lit up. Stacked under baitfish on a drop-off from 25 to 40 feet of water were some good sized predators that could have been cod or stripers. Russ marked a number of other schools of similar-sized fish elsewhere in the inner harbor. With the harbor still a relatively balmy 50 degrees and some sweet weather predicted over the holiday weekend, the harbor might be worth “squidding” a jig over schools of marked fish.
Castle Island is steeped in lore as a winter time cod fishery, but anglers would often do better anywhere they could access deep water where the Reserve Channel melded with Boston Harbor. We always found that seaworms were far more effective than clams, but this was probably more an indicator of how stale the frozen clams we found were more than anything. If you are looking for a seaworm fix, Darts Bridge Street Bait and Tackle in Salem tends to carry them all season long.
Eddie of B&A Bait and Tackle in West Boylston told me that the Quinapoxet and Stillwater Rivers have good numbers of rainbow trout and landlocked salmon. Spinners are taking a lot of the fish and fly fishermen are doing well with streamers. Many that are catching the salmon are thinking conservatively and releasing the breeders to spawn knowing that just a few years ago catching a salmon here was a lot less likely. Gates 7, 30 and 36 in the reservoir are all fishing well for forktail fans as the lakers swarm the shoals looking to spawn.
Sadly there is scant news coming from New Hampshire or Southern Maine as sportsmen have hung up their Shimano’s and Penn’s in favor of Remington’s.
Fishing Forecast for the Weekend
With the gift of a long weekend coupled with predicted 60 degree weather, if you have a boat at the ready set sail for Stellwagen, there is a gadoid grab bag as well as mackerel and even the errant winter flounder out there. Boston Harbor may just surprise the few that are fishing the area; unseasonably warm water temperatures are holding bait and just maybe bass and brown bombers. Warm November nights are an invitation to try your luck at smelt; pack a lantern and a gill of grass shrimp and hit a number of spots until you find them such as Hull, Hingham, Marina Bay and Summer Street in South Boston. Hopefully the first stop is all you need. While smelt may be one of the sweetest tasting fish, it’s hard to knock the sweetwater of Wachusett now as there are rainbow and salmon in the tributaries and hungry lakers in the reservoir.