The Weekly Bite: October 9-16, 2010
October 16, 2010
Since your editor and site co-director, Tom Richardson elected to flee to the other side of the Atlantic for a brief reprieve from the relentless deadline schedule he’s created, he asked that I step in to handle the Weekly Bite in his absence.
New England at Large
With that, there’s quite a bit happening along the New England coastline, with the pace and sheer volume of fishing opportunities growing at an exponential rate as you move south and west. The bluefins are still holding together up in the Gulf of Maine, around Stellwagen, along the Northern Edge of Georges Bank, east of Chatham and suddenly south and east of Block Island again. The groundfishing from the Cape northward is gaining steam, but has yet to hit its fall apex. Stripers are definitely on the move, and many of that fish’s devoted (read: obsessed) followers are watching 2010’s fall migratory run with heightened intensity amid growing concerns about vulnerability within that stock.
The million-dollar question is: what’s still in the pipeline? Are there still fish in Maine? Where did those big fish that just left the Canal go? When we lose the shot of nice fish we’ve been working on at Block Island, will there be reinforcements? Does the fact that a 37-pounder is leading the striped bass division in this year’s MV Derby?
Meanwhile, southern New England just lost two major fall fisheries in scup and sea bass, and with blackfish season now getting into high gear, many are wondering how much pressure that bucktoothed brawler can withstand in terms of displaced fishing effort. The bluefish are all over southern New England and they’re absolutely huge—tackle-busting slammers that fuel memorably insane fall blitzes. And it looks like, after a downright horrible fall in the canyons, it could be coming together late.
Add to this a steak of weather that has left most of us shouting obscenities at our weathermen. With another hard winter looming, we’re fishing harder than ever, mindful to wring every last second out of our fishing calendars before the big curtain call and the onset of the Dark Months. There’s lots to do, whatever your angling inclination, but you’d better get at it before it’s gone.
Suds ‘N Soda in Greenland lamented the endless sequence of blows that’s kept most boats tight to the pilings.
- There are still fits and starts of stripers pushing through, and plenty of mackerel around outside. Most of the recent activity has been in the rocky areas, and because bait has been hard to come by, surfmen have been using mostly artificials, topwaters and tins by day, Slug-gos or Ron-Z’s in the dark. Biggest fish to come back to the shop over the last week taped between 40 and 44 inches. Further from home, there’s a pick of mostly market-sized codfish and some cusk in the 250- to 260-foot depths around Scantum and Old Scantum. The groundfish are in their fall transition from softer bottom on to the hard pieces. The late-week NE wind had put a pretty big damper on all angling activity as of Friday afternoon.
Mike at Surfland in Newburyport noted:
- The dredge crews were just packing it in on Friday afternoon after completing beach restoration. The NE wind cranked seas up a bit, and frustrated most attempts to get out by boat through the week. Schoolies and occasional keeper bass were taking clams or sea worms along the Refuge beaches, but word on bigger fish has been pretty scarce, save rumors of bigger fish still in Maine. Kay has been pondering shutting up shop a bit earlier than usual this season, due to the lack of fishermen around thus far.
Patrick at First Light Anglers noted:
- There were some significant bass blitzes among big shoals of peanut bunker at Cranes and Coffin Beach in Ipswich just before the wind really came on out of the NE on Thursday. Some of the bass are still substantial. Manchester Harbor had schoolies, and there bass of mixed sizes up in the Annisquam as of Friday. School bluefins, mostly the smaller ones, were spotted here and there between Ipswich Bay and Stellwagen. Those fish are on the move, chasing halfbeaks and spike mackerel, and the few boats that have encountered them have been hard-pressed to put a cast into them. Not much word on bottom fishing, thanks to the relentless autumn winds.
Peter at Fin and Feather reported:
- Bass are in their typical late-migration pattern, blasting through in unpredictable waves. It’s now a matter of keeping one’s head in the game, grinding it out day after day until there’s a blitz. Boston Harbor is loaded with mackerel and some better bass into the 30-pound range, Peter’s sources say, and the school bluefins popped up a couple miles outside Thachers Island before the wind.
Pete Santini at Fishing Finatics said:
- There’s still quite a bit off activity in and around Boston Harbor, though he’s seen a marked decline in fishing effort in recent weeks. Winthrop Harbor had bunker with some large bass in tow mid-week; the old standby snag-and-drop technique accounted for stripers to around 30 pounds and a scattering of blues in the 8- to 10-pound class. The plugging worked out well for Santini and Russ Burgess, who landed fish to the 40-pound mark slinging wood after dark at Deer Island and along the Winthrop beaches. A mix of cod and pollock, the latter in big numbers as they prepare to spawn, have been taking a variety of jigs on the 200- to 220-foot humps and bumps around Stellwagen’s NW Corner.
- Speaking of groundfish, Santini suggests that small boaters will get a solid shot at some market cod soaking clams and sea worms, or swinging small jigs in the 60-foot channel depth at Presidents Roads (the mouth of the Hahba). There are rumors of some school bluefins—a good percentage of them just shy of the 73-inch saleable-fish category—east of Chatham around the BB Buoy. Pete hasn’t gotten any reliable word of school fish around Stellwagen for at least a week, but there have been scattered football sightings just east of Cape Ann. Those latter fish appear to be of the “you never catch the ones you see” persuasion, fish on the run in small groups, up and then gone before you can freespool the reel and get a cast off.
Peter Belsan at Belsan’s Bait and Tackle in Scituate said:
- There was still some decent bluefin action around Mass Bay. One boat returned to Scituate with a 74-inch large-medium/giant earlier in the week; that crew wasn’t providing much detail about the area they landed the fish. There are still school tuna patrolling the southern end of Sellwagen, anywhere between the SW and SE Corners, where guys are trolling bars, jigging, casting or swimming live baits like mackerel or pogies (the latter are becoming increasingly difficult to find).
- The football bluefins are not in a hugely reliable feeding pattern, nor have recent weather patterns been particularly conducive to anything but sleeping late. The codfish limits drops from ten fish a day to two after Halloween, and Peter suggested folks loking to put up some fillet for the dark months might make out well jigging the 70- to 80-foot ledges, rockpiles and gravelly patches not far from Scituate. Those grounds have plenty of bait and decent shots of market-sized keepers, plus pollock and the other usual suspects. Bait rigs sporting fresh sea clams or any one of a host of jigs—Butterflies, diamonds or the old standard Norwegians—should get the job done nicely.
- Floundering was good before it closed, not in the harbors but out front in the slightly deeper water, but it could come together again in November. There were some good bass at Peggotty Beach last weekend, fish into the 20s and low 30s. There’s also still quite a bit of bait around (peanut bunker in the North River, mackerel out front) so the bass have a compelling reason to stick around, or stop over for a quick feed as they shoot south for the winter. With water temps now in the mid 50’s, Pete thinks the blues are about done for 2010. The best of the smelt bite was way early, but there are still some around.
Dan at the HookUp! in Orleans reports:
- Capt. Eric Stewart landed a pair of giants at the beginning of the week, one 105-incher that dressed out at 500 and change, the other an 84-incher. Dan said both fish came from the Northern Edge of Georges Bank, well to the east of Cultivator Shoal and a stone’s throw from the “Fence” (the US-Canada line). That bite, originally set off by the scallopers in early summer, has been drawing quite a bit of attention this season, thanks at least in part to a general dearth of consistent giant activity elsewhere. These fish have by all accounts always been out there, but there’s been no real reason to steam more than 150 miles eastward and northward from Chatham until recently. Stewart took both fish chunking—the main mode out there.
- Much closer to home, squid bars have been taking fish in the 100 to 300-pound range, with an occasional larger specimen, east of Chatham, anywhere from a few miles out to Crab Ledge, the BB Buoy, the Regal Sword and the Channel. There has been no major giant bite within civilized range—though there’s still high probability of one taking shape over the next month. Stripers, schoolies and some larger, have been making appearances off Nauset Beach, but on the balance, 2010 remains a pretty rotten year for Cape Cod linesides. One of the shop’s customers had a pick of cod, pollock and cusk up on the NW Corner of Stellwagen, but nothing to rave about.
From Eastman’s in Falmouth:
- This shop populated by no-BS local sharpies, rated this year’s bass fishery “horrible” bordering on unnerving, with the possible exception of the spring run, which saw some bang-up days. When a 37-pounder is leading the MV Derby’s Boat Division and a 31’s looking like a lock for the top surf slot, we’re not exactly in a banner big-bass year. Even the sharpest charter guys are logging long hours and sprouting gray hairs to put together a handful of keepers for their clients. The Cape’s south shore and many of the historically fool-proof reefs, wrecks and rockpiles around Nantucket Sound are still coughing up keeper bass—but no monster and no real numbers. Word has it there are lots of mixed-size stripers working their way down the Bay beaches.
- Jim recommended working the creek mouths from Barnstable to Sandwich on dumping tides for a shot at a better fish in the next week or so. A bright spot this fall has been the bluefish run out in the Sounds, leaning more toward the Islands than the mainland side. Fish in the high teens, blues like we haven’t seen in recent years, 16- and 18-pounders have been taking lures and baits meant for bass all fall. The blues are beginning to thin out, but it wouldn’t be shocking if someone broke 20 pounds sometime in the near future. Scup and sea bass are now closed, but blackfish are a go on the shallower rocky bottom. There were big albies around on the north and east sides of the Vineyard before the gales. Eastman’s, incidentally, had nothing nice to say about this fall’s wretched and relentless winds.
Doug at Dick’s Bait and Tackle in Oak Bluffs had a surprisingly encouraging amount of fishing intel.
- Despite two straight months of vile weather this fall. This being Derby time, no one on the Vineyard is broadcasting his fishing locations, tactics, tides or timing, unless he’s lying about all four. The disinformation is about as rampant as the fish-report lockjaw this time of the year. Needless to say, the late-week weather did nothing god for the boat contingent. The surf guys had fish to 26 pounds slinging eels on the north shore Thursday night into Friday morning. The action was getting pretty solid off Gay Head until the weather went from unpleasant to abysmal, and most sane skippers doubled up on their docklines and headed home to patch things up with their families after more than a month of fish fever.
- Blues are around in the Sound, and they’re huge; a woman whose name escaped Doug raised the bar for top chopper with a 16.5-pounder. One of the south side ponds was breached recently; some enterprising surfmen loaded up on the mullet that washed up on the beach, and subsequently soaked them on the bottom for some big blues and bass into the 20s. Until the season went into its mandatory two-week closure on 10/12, sea bassing was still holding strong on the hard bottom at Squash Meadow and L’Hommedieu Shoal on the north and east sides.
- The tautog are stirring up in the stones from 8 to 20 feet of water: a 10-pounder landed on the shop’s scales earlier in the week. The albies were holding strong right through the nor’easter: Doug spotted a huge school of them tearing up bait Friday morning just off the Steamship Authority docks in Vineyard Haven. They’ve been making regular appearances off East and West Chop, Eastville and other perennial fall hot-spots. Doug ran into a buddy Thursday night at Cumberland Farms; the fellow had a school bluefin he estimated at around 250 pounds in the bed of the truck. That fish presumably came from “Out East,” and given recent weather, probably not all that far east.
- With water temps still hovering the low 60s, the tautog are still up tight in the rocks, where they’ll remain until a real cold snap takes hold and puts the water in seasonal free-fall. Naturally, all the 400-knot winds from every point of the compass rose over the last week have done a job on the water, putting a load of sand and silt out in circulation, and putting the blackfish off the feed. Look for rapid improvement when the wind swings NW (the classic autumn “clearing wind”) and the water returns to its normal green-blue, rather than “chocolate milk” hue. The earliest part of the run could prove your best shot at true trophy tog. Since these chisel-toothed cellar dwellers set up on specific structures en masse (meaning that whatever fish a place is going to get, it gets all at once, and only once), they’re unusually vulnerable to “pinpoint” overfishing. Once a spot has been hit hard for a couple weeks, the fishing there will head down the tubes. There will be no reinforcements. Green crabs do most of the damage, though blackfish specialists have strong feelings about certain secret baits like Asian, mole, Jonah and most importantly hermit crabs. At the risk of sounding cynical, the best tog bait is the kind of crab you can’t get. Big blues are still around, albeit in diminished numbers.
- There are still some very nice bass clinging to the reefs up and down Newport’s slate and sand oceanfront, and the guys with a steady supply of fresh bunker are sticking some heavy fish without much fanfare. The mullet ran the Newport beaches earlier in the week, creating some wide-open blitzes of mixed-size bass and blues. Rumor (substantiated to some extent) has it that the lower reaches of the Sakonnet River had pogies and some trophy-sized striped bass as of a week ago, but the fellows in on that action have been understandably tight-lipped. Largest fish I caught wind of from that neighborhood allegedly scaled 43 pounds. The tautog are in tight to Castle Hill, and on the inner reaches of Brenton Reef, Seal and Elbow Ledges, affording the smaller-boat guys a chance to tuck up in the lee out of the northerly winds. Nevertheless, the skiff fishermen are uncommonly discouraged here in October, coming up on two months and a handful of fishable days since the Labor Day weekend washout.
- If the weather’s not enough, the recent loss of scup and sea bass has just eliminated yet two more fisheries with the potential to save a lot of otherwise fruitless days on the water. Unless your boat can get over to Block Island, Watch Hill or stand up to the perilous conditions along the Newport Rocks, it will soon be a tog-or-bust situation. Last year was certainly not a banner year for RI blackfishing, and with every bit of available angling pressure—much of it displaced from other historical fall fisheries now off-limits—pointed at the beleaguered tautog, many are wondering how long that resource can take the strain. We dodged a major bullet in this year’s blackfish regs, but it can’t happen again next year—at which time we may all have to start weighing the pros and cons of fall golfing or catch-and-release dogfishing.
- Though the folks willing to work hard are taking some respectable stripers and some monster blues up in the Providence River on bunker, and along the Prudence and Patience Island shorelines on live bait or tube-and-worm rigs, the most reliable action on most fronts has been unfolding around the mouth of the Bay on both sides of Jamestown. The Narragansett shoreline from Bonnet Shores in the north all the way south to Point Judith Light has been alive with bait and predators. The mullet run was still in high gear mid-week, fuelling some fast-and-furious striper activity tight to the shoreline. There’s also plenty of white bait around, and the sea herring should start rolling in over the next couple weeks.
- There haven’t been many huge stripers, but a pretty fair showing of fish in the teens and 20s, with an occasional 30 thrown in to keep everyone paying attention. Bigblues are roving the East Passage, and there have been shots of better bass along both sides of Jamestown’s south end. Tautog fishing is a much brighter spot in Narragansett Bay’s autumn line-up. The fish are still hugging the shallow structure, piled up around the Warwick Light, Rocky Point, the mouth of Mount Hope Bay and most other middle- and upper-Bay reefs, ledges and rockpiles. Most of the jetties from Portsmouth down to the Naval War College have plenty of whitechins. Further down, the high spots around the old Brenton Tower rubble are starting to see some bigger blackfish. Scup and sea bass are maddeningly thick in many areas folks are trying for tog, pouring a bit of additional salt into the wound of a fall with severely limited sinker bouncing choices. The mouth of the Narrow River—right in by the green can off River Rock—served up a couple of tog bailjobs before the NE wind mucked that bottom up to a degree that will require a few days of settled weather to get the bite back on track.
Al Conti at Snug Harbor Marina had some long-awaited good news about the local bluefin tuna situation.
- A couple of boats, the Ikon and the Outer Limits headed down to the Mud Hole early-week during a brief window of civilized weather and were thrilled to discover school tuna in residence after more than a month of dead water in that area. The Outer Limits had fish in the 80- to 100-pound class, all on the chunk. The draggers have been working in and around the Hole, their haul-backs creating mats of discard whiting and hake “floaters” that provide easy pickings for the bluefins. It remains to be seen what impact the recent gales have had on this fishery, but at least there’s a glimmer of hope.
- Incidentally, Conti heard from another source who was out codfishing at Coxes Ledge in the same timeframe. That angler reported seeing bluefins crashing on the surface. The striped bass fishing remains very good at Block Island’s SW Corner. The charterboats whose trips have fallen on the fishable weather days continued to rack up big scores of big bass, fish from the teens well into the 30s, with a 40 thrown in some days.Most of the action has been on parachute jigs and wire, thoughthe live-bait guys are also taking a share of the heavy fish. Thanks in part to all thewave action around SW Point, the fish have been feeding fairly tight to the Island. The North Rip has a mix of big blues and mostly smaller bass, which are taking a variety of trolled offerings on wire or diamond jigs out in the deeper water. Scup and sea bass went out on a high note, and the blackfishing is excellent on any of the shallow-water rockpiles from Watch Hill to Little Compton.
Keith Reynolds on the Scurvy Dog has been taking advantage of any available lees and those rare days when the wind’s not threatening to blow the windows out of his house.
- The tautog fishing is off to a very good start amid heavy, heavy fishing pressure. Reynolds has logged tog past the 10-pound mark in the calm confines of the lower Thames, and other quality fish around Fishers Island Sound and along the reef-studded New London-Waterford-Niantic oceanfront. Striper fishing, which has been a tough go through much of 2010, continues at a slow and steady pace. The south side of Fishers has had some decent slugs of fish, including fish to 40-plus pounds for the guys soaking fresh bunker or slinging eels in tight to the stones. Wicopesset Pass, a classic piece of striper water, has been hot-and-cold. Big blues—some of them absolute behemoths coming perilously close to the 20-pound mark—are also in the mix, in their biggest numbers out in the Race.
Pat Abate at River’s End Tackle posted the following update on October 15:
- “School bass are dominating the news. Good runs of schoolies are taking place at Watch Hill and Montauk at a blitz rate at times .Closer to home, there’s a scattering of schoolies along the shoreline from Westbrook to Waterford at a “pick” rate. When the wind’s put some white water on the beaches in RI, it’s [also] been putting small bait close to the rocks and sand with mostly smaller bass in pursuit. If the wind is out of the east, it’s even better. It’s been another week of boaters staying close to the dock. Those that were able to drift some eels at Long Sand Shoal had some medium to larger bass. We’ve been getting bunker from local netters, so they’re still around, just hard to find. Some of the bigger blues are still close to shore with teen-sized fish common of late. Surfcasters along the RI Beaches have been scoring all week. The blues have not been blitzing—just mixed in with the schoolies. Shore casters in the Connecticut River are also picking away at blues. Most blackfish reports to date are positive, with some variations in size and numbers between spots. The larger reefs such as Bartletts and Hatchetts seem to have smaller fish while the shallower, smaller ones have fewer, larger fish. The smaller rockpiles inside Fishers Island did well this week. The false albacore seem to have evaporated in the wake of the recent nor’easter, though that fishing could bounce back once more, as it has following the last couple major blows.”
Nick at Fisherman’s World reported:
- We’ve been seeing a lot of huge bluefish in recent weeks, but not so many bass, short, long or otherwise. On the days they can get out, the shop regulars have been chunking fresh bunker out at Buoys 28C and 11B, and catching slammer bluesinto the high teens, along with the occasional keeper bass or schoolie. Biggest blue to cross theshop scales in the last week was an impressive 18-pounder taken from shore in Norwalk Harbor on a chunk. The diamond jigging around can 13 outside Norwalk is seeing about the same ratio of blues to bass as the mid-Sound buoys.
- The other big news is the tautog fishing which by most accounts is of to an encouraging start. Nick named Cockenoe Reef and Shoal, Copp’s Rocks and Greens Ledge as good places to soak a whole crab for a shot at a sizeable tog. Water’s still unseasonably warm, so the best of the blackfishing at this point is pretty tight to the shoreline in the 10- to 20-foot range. That activity will move progressively deeper as the wind spends more time NW and the waters of the western Sound creep down through the 50s. A few brave souls ventured out to the canyons in search of a late pop of tuna, and were rewarded with a mix of 60- to 70-pound yellowfins and 40- to 50-pound true albacore. All activity during the last weather window mid-week was on the night chunk/live squid/jig bite.