By Zach Harvey
The reports have been mighty thin this week, thanks to deteriorating weather and diminishing returns for the folks still out and about, braving the volatile autumn weather patterns as they try to scratch another few fish out of the waning season. My sources have seen a bit of a shake-up over the last week or so, with much of the bait on the move. The striped bass activity from Cape Ann northward has slowed to a crawl at best, with what few fish are still around on the small side, and skunkings becoming the rule more than the exception for all but the sharpest stripermen. The groundfishing remains the primary bright spot, though weather has become a major factor — you can’t catch if you can’t get off the dock.
The charter guys have been focusing their energies around Tillies Bank and southern Jeffrey’s Ledge, where depths between 210’ and 250’ are coughing up a mix of mainly market-sized codfish, haddock, and increasing numbers of pollock. Thanks to a bumper crop of dogfish around, jigs are getting most of the work of late, since sending bait rigs to bottom is asking for trouble with the spiny gray undesirables. One giant bluefin — a fish that dressed out around 600 pounds — came off Stellwagen’s northeast corner a few days ago, and there have been confirmed reports of some fish out on Georges, keeping hopes alive for a better ending to an otherwise abysmal year of tuna fishing.
Tom at Red Top noted there have been bass moving to and fro in the Cape Cod Canal, the action scattered from the East End to the West End with no discernible rhyme or reason to the recent activity. There are still mackerel in and around the East End, and when the weather has let anyone get away from the dock, there are probably some bass still cruising around on the bay side of the Big Ditch. There have been black sea bass — about five shorts for every keeper — in the canal and on various pieces of hard real estate around Buzzards Bay and around Nantucket Sound, though the real trick has been finding fishable conditions to get out to them. On the average, the tautog guys have been faring better than those in other fisheries, since their quarry seems to be hanging on the shallow real estate (10’ to 25’) so far. A couple of the shop’s tog steadies had good catches during stiff breezes early in the week hidden up in the lee of Mashnee Island and other places one can tuck in out of the hard easterlies. The scup are headed for deeper water. There are full-size pogies on patrol inside New Bedford Harbor and the Taunton River; rumor has it those fish have had occasional bass and some blues in tow at times. No word on the tunoids of late.
Paul Newmeier at Blackbeard’s was underwhelmed by the overall fishing scene. There are still a few bass hanging in on the bayside beaches, but no huge numbers or huge fish. The outside beaches are rich in seal herd and nearly devoid of surf fishermen, especially since the government shutdown closed the National Seashore beaches to all over-sand vehicle traffic, and effectively cancelled the Cape’s autumn tourist season. Captain Bobby Rice checked in with word of school bluefin tuna showing but not chewing earlier in the week a bit southeast of Crab Ledge, but not as far down as the Regal Sword. Needless to say, a giant-starved tuna fleet is waiting with baited breath (that is not to suggest anyone has actually been eating bait) for a big late-autumn bite east of Chatham in areas long known to host a late bite. It will be a sad bit of testimony about the state of our striped bass resource if the giant tuna action outlasts the striped bass this fall.
There have been scattered showings of one-pound bunker in and around New Bedford Harbor and quite likely other south shore harbors like Padanaram — good news for those still out in search of a heavyweight bass or two before the curtain call. There were some bonito and albies logged last weekend, but a few of my sources are guessing the wind-stravaganza from roughly last Friday through Tuesday may well have put the brakes on that action for the season. Then again, it’s been a peculiar year for timing relative to longstanding rules of arrivals and departures, so there’s no telling what’s in the cards for the fish-afflicted over the next month. There have been fits and starts of blues and some better bass along the Elizabeths and around the Vineyard — the Derby standings were in flux during the final week of the tournament — but fish are definitely in full migratory mode at this point, pulling in for a tide or two then rocketing out of town again to put on some more westward miles as the season winds down. Scup and sea bass are available in good numbers and eye-popping sizes, but only if you’re willing to travel a bit in the western reaches of Buzzards Bay, Vinevard Sound, and out toward late-season grounds around Nomans. Tautog fishing is in full swing, though the fish are still in the early-run patterns — the numbers of fish still holding in shoal water (depths between roughly 15’ and 25’). The sharpies have been logging some togzilla-sized specimens, per the norm: If you’re serious about cracking 10 pounds in the blackfish hunt, you’ll be best served to get on it early and often, rather than waiting for three weeks of solid reports to head out, by which point a majority of the prime hangs will be in the process of getting cleaned off by intense pressure. There are some keeper-sized codfish in the mix for those fishing the deep-water wrecks, rockpiles, and ledges from Westport to Newport, Rhode Island.
I have spent the last week out on Block Island, staying at an ideal outpost to monitor the comings and goings of the striper fleet around the Southwest Corner and westward toward Montauk. The early-week gales seem to have put at least a temporary kibosh on the striped bass bite, though I’ve had confirmed word of a good many blues on the prowl as recently as Wednesday. For what it’s worth, the view to the west suggests that more than a few boats are taking advantage of the government shutdown (in conjunction with the lack of Coast Guard funding for federal-waters fishery enforcement) to fish the countless world-class rips, reefs and rockpiles out in the EEZ between Block Island and Montauk. The latter has been turning out some fast-and-furious striper action in recent weeks, while Block seems in need of a fresh batch of migratory arrivals to reignite a fizzling fishery. The Newport and South County beachfronts have been running hot and cold, with a nice shot of better bass on the feed in the western reaches — call it Quonochontaug (Quonny) westward to Watch Hill — where beach and boat anglers have been sticking a steady supply of bass to around the 30-pound mark and some gorilla bluefish plugging, live-lining, and trolling, especially at night. Newport still has all kinds of bait, but seemingly not enough predators to cause it much stress — at least as this report heads out the door.
The blackfish bite is off to a fine start, with quality fish logged in the shallow, early-run spots tight to the Newport cliffs/slate, around Jamestown, and various pieces in the middle to lower reaches of Narragansett Bay. There are good fish along the Narragansett rocks, out on Nebraska Shoal, and dozens of other high spots to the west. There are still scup and sea bass hanging around in the deeper water off Newport, around the Bay mouth, and the South Shore beaches, but you’ll need to play Musical Rockpiles to zero in on the concentrations of right-sized fish. The best bet in that department is Block Island — the east and south sides in particular — where you’ll find some slammer scup to around 3 pounds, and sea bass to 5 and a groundskeeper codfish or two on some of the wrecks and reefs less-traveled.
A couple of my longtime sources in the eastern part of Connecticut had reliable intel when we touched base late Wednesday afternoon. There have been blues and bass of varying sizes (schoolies to teen-sized fish for the most part) somewhere between the ferry landing at Fishers Island to Race Rock, and the middle Race, the fish often — but not always — marked by birds and bait. The charter fleet, noted one of my sources, hasn’t exactly been raving about the size of the stripers they’ve been catching in that rough (in at least two senses of the word) zone.
The crew at River’s End Tackle noted there are still bunker up in the Connecticut River, along with blues and some better bass, but added that the action out front has left much to be desired in the waning months of what has been a very tough season for the striped bass faithful. Montauk has had the best striper action in recent weeks, with the south shore of Rhode Island the second choice.
While the scup and sea bass have begun to filter out of the near-shore real estate, there are still some decent numbers of better fish available south of Fishers and out on the deeper reefs of the eastern sound.
The better bet of late has been the blackfishing. A few of the sharper tog specialists have been working hard in very shallow water — including up in some of the rivers and other estuaries — in depths from 8’ to around 20’, catching blackfish to well north of 10 pounds. Once again, if you’re serious about targeting trophy tog, you’d be wise to work in the early part of this season, fishing shallow, and fishing before blackfish are the only viable target.
With water temps still in the upper 60s, the western reaches of Long Island Sound are in a “betwixt and between” phase: The migration has yet to reach their waters, and the “residents” are pretty dodgy. What blues or, to a lesser extent, schoolie bass, are around are coming into some of the western harbors at night on the tails of scattered bunker schools. There has been some diamond-jigging underway around 28C and 11B, blues in the 6- to 8-pound range the bulk of the catch. The scup are still on the hard pieces, though not in the numbers or sizes of earlier points in the season. Fisherman’s World mentioned Budds Reef, Goose Island, Greens Ledge, and Pecks Ledge as likely locales at this stage. Blackfish are stirring in the shallow stones, but the bite could really use a couple more weeks of cool-off to get moving.