Saturday, October 21, 2017

O Big Bass, Where Art Thou?

I've been having a hard time wrapping my head around this fall run. It is not playing out the way I expected it to, nor the way it probably should be. There seem to be far fewer stripers in Long Island Sound, especially form Niantic west, and the average size is abysmal. Not to mention the lousy numbers of bluefish. There are some big fish around, there always are a few, but not in the places I've been fishing and hardly at all during the day. It's October, last year I was finding 28-36 inch striped bass, which really aren't all that big in the whole scheme of things, in most backwater spots I fished from late August into early November, and right now a lot of these spots are holding striped bass but the are more in the range of 12- 28 inches with the bulk being 12-18 inches. After hearing reports that more keeper sized striped bass had been showing up in these areas of late, Noah and I went out looking in places I know should be producing big stripers right now. What we found, though not all together depressing, did not impress me.

To preface the following photos: yeah it looks quite spectacular, but that chaos was being perpetrated by very small school bass. Visually spectacular, kinda fun to fish, but also fairly frequent.

Yeah, we caught fish and I'm complaining. It should not be this hard to find big striped bass that are fly catchable. Really. This is getting ridiculous. I put my time in and its not as though I'm completely inexperienced. Something is wrong here and I'm not quite understanding what it is. 

"I am a man of constant sorrow, 
I've seen trouble all my day."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Plot Twist Bliss

This morning dawned cold and breezy. Mark Alpert got on the water not too long after the sun did, and like I had felt like doing the fish seemed to be sleeping in. We came out of the launch are and saw a lot of dead water, water that often is full of bass, blues and albies this time of year, chowing down on bait fish. This morning we saw no pops, no splashes, no birds working. Sometimes that means very little, there may be a blitz unseen below the surface. But this morning our blind casting to structure moved no stripers and working the teaser spook brought up no blues. 

The first fish we saw popping were not clearly identified and never came into casting range. The next, quite some time later, took some time to show their true identity. They were false albacore. But they were moving very fast and were gone as fast as they had shown. We moved west to fish a rip that could have any kind of fish available in the sound depending on the timing. There were albies there, but they were working as singles or pairs, and although their movements were predictable these are tricky fish to catch with the fly rod. It was exciting to see these fish around, they are beautiful to watch in the water, but I'd be lying if I said my confidence levels were high. 

Sometimes the fish gods throw you a bone, and in this case it came in the form of a smashing take on Marks fly, dangled in the water just of the stern as we stopped to set up a drift.

That was really just a little taste of tunoid, and it got me hungry. I missed one fish blind casting but it became abundantly clear that the fish in the rip were behaving in a manor that made them too hard to catch with any reasonable frequency. We decided after a bit to move east, aiming for some ledges that have held big striped bass in the past. We didn't make it. We rode right into albie city. This time they were more numerous and moving slowly enough to get in front of. It didn't take long before Mark and I were doubled up.

We landed our evil twins as quickly as we could. When both of our fish had been returned and swam off strongly we turned and looked east again to see another substantial pod of fish working. We motored that way, and as we traveled an unexpected scene unfolded. Acres and acres of false albacore had gathered; not in one solid blitz, but an enormous spread of almost evenly distributed fish popping and splashing, with concentrated pods throughout. No cast felt inadequate, fish were breaking all around the boat in all directions and beyond. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and to say I was high would be an understatement. It didn't take long for us to double up again. I can truly say it would have been nice to have heavier rods as we could possibly have caught a bunch more fish with beefier tackle to bring the hooked ones in faster.

Mark's fish took a bit longer to land, and it's no wonder why, it was a bigger one!

There's something magical about that. We went from mild frustration to all out excitement in just a short window of time. It was incredible, some of the best albie action I've ever seen, even though they were quite picky. Seeing fish is what makes me tick, whether the are in the water or out. I will leave you all with this photo. Look closely, as it shows one of the most exciting moment in fly fishing here in New England: the moments just before fly and false albacore intersect. In that moment the angler feels something most people will never quite understand. I'm not sure I do and I've felt it time and time again. It's not a bad feeling, but then it isn't great either. Uncertainty. Fear. Ecstasy.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sea Bass, Tautog, Scup, and Albies

Over the last four days I've been bouncing around between sick and busy, not really an optimal situation. I didn't even fish at all on Saturday because my sinus infection was giving me vertigo... not fun. But on Sunday night Rick called and asked if I wanted to go out on his boat to target tautog,and maybe some albies if they were around. I hadn't done any bottom fishing for a while so that was an easy yes. I made sure I was ready to switch between dropping flies to the bottom and casting for bass or albies, which just meant I had two reels for the same rod rigged very differently. I'm still not willing to go in depth about my deep fly rig, but that isn't just because it's blurring the lines between what can and can't be considered fly fishing. There are just some things I've learned that I consider to be too hard earned and valuable to publicize. 

So I was gear to the teeth when Rick and I got onto the windy and wavy Long Island Sound yesterday, ready for a broad variety of fish and methods. We very briefly gave some scattered pods of albies a look before anchoring and looking for tautog. I alternated between conventional and fly gear, covering all bases. I definitely caught more fish on the fly, most being black sea bass, but the biggest fish I got was a 19 inch tautog on the conventional rod that came home with me for dinner along with one porgy. 

Rick caught an oyster toadfish, something I've been hoping to get on the fly for a while. They are not exactly a pretty fish.

The sea bass though, were savage. I could not keep those little buggers off the fly. I caught a ton of them ranging from 8 inches to about 14. They are beautiful fish and a lot of fun on the fly rod but I really was hoping to get some tautog. Even the live green crabs weren't bringing the tautog out that well though.

After a while fishing a couple spots hoping for tog the only keeper we put in the boat was my 19 incher. The tog were not playing nice and the albies were showing more and more, so we went to chase those funny fish.

I was the first to hook an albie, and it went rather poorly. I had the fish on for just a short time when it surged and managed to break off. Unfortunately it was my only real chance, but Rick made up for it by hooking and landing two really nice ones.

Every time I have a day like this here I have to take a moment to recognize how great the fishery we have is. Yes, it could and should be better, especially as far as striped bass go, but the diversity and quality of fishing that can be had in just one small area in Long Island Sound is exceptional.