A Morning Trip to the Beach

Got out this morning. Not at dawn, mind you, but early enough to catch the ebbing tide. The place I picked is a state park. Haven’t been there in a long time, but I know the shoreline fairly well.  In fact eons ago I caught my first striper on a fly here.

A bit inland from the beach, a small salt pond sits, surrounded by a nature area. Pretty spot. The pond winds slowly around the property and then exits to Long Island Sound, forming a good rip on a dropping tide. Here the exiting water runs over a shallow sandy bar that quickly falls away to bluewater. It looks fishy, and is easy wading.

Its the kind of spot you’re apt to find sand eel. In fact the adjoining beach to the west has nesting terns.  And wherever you find nesting terns, sand eels can’t be far away. Terns love them and select their nesting ground accordingly. Well as the day worn on I got a striper. And my new waders didn’t leak a drop. All is well in my little house.

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Lough Shindilla in the Maumturks

Lough Shindilla

This morning I came across a picture that brought back memories of a spring day roughly 10 years past. Out for a hike in Ireland’s Connemara, I came upon a lake alongside the road. Situated near the Maumturk Mountains, it is was in one of the most picturesque parts of Eire. I treasure my time there.

The day was damp and threatening rain, but the soft diffused light gave the lake a magical quality. Cattails sprung from the clear shallows, while a distant island gave home to windswept trees. They may be Scots pines, once believed to have gone extinct in Ireland. I took my tripod out of my backpack and mounted my camera. With a 28mm lens I composed the picture with the lake at my feet and the mountains touching the sky. Click. The memory was born.

 

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Bass & Blues Finally Arrive

Good news here on the Connecticut side of the Sound. Striped bass and bluefish rode into town on the last moon. That’s a wonderful sign. The stripers are mainly schoolies, of course, but a few larger bass are mixed in, especially where you find menhaden. Naturally the bluefish are following those menhaden too. And my son reports hooking a fairly big bluefish. Nice. And I hear very big blues are now on the southside of Long Island. Maybe they will come up our way.

My friend Judy Hall sent me a picture of a striper she recently caught on a fly. This schoolie appears to be about 4 or 5 years old and in good shape. By the way Judy is a highly experienced travel agent who specializes in planning adventures for anglers world wide.

Bluefish Landings

Frankly I’m pleased to hear about some blues. The stock assessment indicates that bluefish are hurting puppies. Landing have dropped like a stone since 2018. No wonder our present limit is 3 fish. Hell, I remember a time when there was no limit on bluefish, none. Take as many as you want! Any size you want. Fill up the boat. Fill up your cooler.  Throw the rest in the dumpster. People thought bluefish would endless. Of course that kind of thinking lead to problems. Back then I was Connecticut’s recreational advisor to  the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Bluefish Management Plan. And I remember the struggle to get the bluefish creel limit lower to 10 fish.  Some folks in the room actually thought that was too restrictive.

Bluefish reproduction success is off too, and has been since 2007. But I’m hopeful we’ll see a turn around. In the past, much of our fall fishing in Long Island was driving by marauding bluefish. Not anymore. One thing we can all do is to reduce hook & release mortality on blues (and bass). Bluefish often bleed when hooked. Lets crimp our barbs and handle blues better. And please get them back in the drink as soon as possible. And the same goes for striped bass. 

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Has the Spring Migration of Stripers Shifted Eastward?

Hey got a thought for you. Is it based on rock solid, irrefutable, undeniable scientific information? Hell no. It is based only on observation and experience. But if you’re still willing to listen, read on.

I hope I’m wrong about this, but it appears the spring migration of striped bass has shifted eastward. Why do I feel that way? First off, the spring striper season here in Long Island Sound was way off. Typically there would be tons of schoolies in the lower Connecticut River. Didn’t happen, my friend. Second, the striper fishing in the Sound was poor last year as well. Even though the bait was so thick you could walk on it. And the fall was terrible.

Going to stick with me? Okay, here we go. A few weeks back something highly unusual took place. Schools of striped bass attacked the Rhode Island beaches. Likely the 2015 and 2016 year classes. Sure bass do hit Rhode Island in the spring, but this scene wasn’t typical at all. Were these the spring bass the Sound was missing? Maybe. 

Did I get there? No, this took place during a period the Rhode Island troopers were patrolling the beach roads kicking out out-of-state plates because of the pandemic. Damn.

Okay allow me to backup a bit. Stripers migrate for only three reasons. To spawn. To find food. And to avoid environmental problems, most notably changes in water temperature. Now in the spring migration, the spawn is over, at least for the smaller bass. We can eliminate that. Long Island Sound has gobs of bait. We can eliminate that. That leaves us with environmental condition. Well as you know, in the Sound the trend is hotter, and hotter. Let me give you some facts. The average surface water temperature across the season in Niantic Bay was roughly 50 in the mid 1970’s. By the eighties the temperature was running closer to 52 degrees.  By the late 1990’s temperatures were often running 54. In 2012 it hit 57 degrees. More recently it has been around 54. So if stripers are shifting eastward and northward, temperature is apt to be the reason. And a shift in the spring would likely produce a change in the Autumn migration as well. Which would help explain the poor fall bite in the Sound.

Shifting migration routes have happened before. Back around 1990, the striper spring migration shifted eastward and northward, most notably toward Martha’s Vineyard, producing legendary bites in places such as Lobsterville. Where such action hadn’t taken place in memory. It was the best fishing of my life, bar none. This bonanza lasted roughly ten years and then faded away. It wasn’t temperature that time, it was food. Huge schools of sand eels and juvenile sea herring brought on the hungry bass. The sand eels were so thick, they blacken the first fifty feet out from the beach and ran literally for miles, and miles down the shore. 

Consider this too. Tagging data research done many years ago showed that striped bass migration routes were affected by environmental conditions. Typically striped bass coming down the coast in October would venture as far west as the mouth of the Connecticut River before turning southward to exit around Montauk. (These are Chesapeake bass) But if winter came on quickly the bass preferred to head directly from Cape Cod and Rhode Island to Montauk, bypassing Long Island Sound. It was all about survival.

Time will tell if  I’m right. Keep your eyes on the water.  And keep you eye on other species like bluefish. Like all fish they’re sensitive to water temperature too.  

UPDATE 5/30 Some decent schoolies and a few big bass have arrived in the lower Connecticut River courtesy of the moon! So they’re about a month late. Along with them are some bluefish. 

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Tying a Shrimp Pattern fo the Northeast

Tying a Shrimp Pattern for the Northeast

Dreary day. Once again I’m stuck inside. And once again I ended up behind the tying vise. Oh well might as well get something done. Right?

This time we’ll talk about imitating shrimp. There are two types found in nearshore waters along the New England coast. The grass shrimp and the sand shrimp. The grass shrimp is the more common of the two, but both are abundant. It is found in salt ponds, marshes, estuaries, often preferring to live in vegetation such as seaweed or eelgrass. The sand shrimp lives in the same locations, but is a bit more nocturnal by nature. Both are roughly the same size ranging from an 1′ to almost 3″. (hook sizes 1-4#). And both are pale colored leaning toward grey. Given those similarities fly tiers can treat them as one and the same critter.

Attractor Style Shrimp

Realistic Style Shrimp

As you see, I have two patterns for you – an attractor for discolored water and a realistic fly for clear. Let’s start with the attractor. The material list is as follows. (I”ll list materials for the realistic shrimp at the end of the post.)  Size 1# stainless steel hook, white thread, tan Pseudo Hair, neon rubber legs. Tan colored Crystal Chenille. And some mono shrimp eyes. (These tend to be overpriced , especially the Enrico Puglisi Brand. But you can make your own. There are videos on the subject on Youtube. And I wouldn’t be afraid to substitute black bead chain eyes.)

Cut a 2.5″ piece of Pseudo Hair. Tie the blunt cut end directly behind the hook eye, allowing it to hang over a little. This becomes the shrimp’s tail. Then lash the remaining hair along the shank so the pointed ends of the hair extend over the bend. No need to get fussy here. You can trim later. Tie an eye of your choice on both sides of the hook. I have orange ones on hand, but other colors will work just fine. Put a drop of super glue on the eyes to hold them securely. Trim the mono ends.

Now add the rubber legs to both sides of the hook. Three legs per side should do the trick. You can use any color rubber legs you like. I’m using a color called Fire Tiger to jazz things up. I want the fly to be visible even in stained waters. Afterall, that’s the beauty of attractor patterns. They can be quickly seen. 

For the final step, take a 5″ piece of the Crystal Chenille. Strip one end to expose a small bit of the underlying thread core. Tie this core to the hook near the shrimp eyes. Wrap the chenille forward toward the eye and secure it. Apply head cement. Trim the Pseudo hair and bingo you’re in business.

Okay let’s look at the  realistic shrimp. Obviously everything is toned down. The rubber legs are pale green this time. The body is 30 pound mono covered with clear UV acrylic. And in this case I opted to add a lead dumbbell. Your choice. Why? The dumbbell is useful in deeper location as shrimp often hang near the bottom. A floating pattern might come in handy too. Why? At night, sand shrimp can drift on top in the current. Stripers love to rise up and softly “pop” them. 

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