2017 has been one of the strangest years I’ve ever seen in my life. I fish the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound and it seems like for some reason the striped bass skipped over us during their annual migration this year. Our run usually starts in the spring when we get fish that are coming out of the Hudson River in New York after they spawn. Traditionally this is a great time of year for fishing. The fish show up and they are hungry and looking for herring and menhaden (bunker).
The spring run is usually an explosive time of year for bass. From first light topwater to live lining menhaden, the fishing this time of year is usually hot and heavy and it’s something we New Englanders look forward to all winter. But this season it just didn’t happen. It seemed as if everything was in place for the fish to show. There was plenty of bait in the mouths of the rivers and the weather and water temperatures seemed normal but I just couldn’t find fish. Trip after trip produced very few signs of life. I was starting to think that I lost my mojo but the fishing was tough for a lot of inshore fisherman.
It was turning to early summer and I only produced one decent fish during the spring. From the reports on social media it seemed as if the fish swam right around us because the Rhode Island and Massachusetts guys were getting into fish with no problems. For me the fishing had changed dramatically. In 2016, I had the best fishing season of my life and just one year later I was having the worst season of my life. I still didn’t give up. It was a little difficult to stay motivated but it is called fishing not catching.
So, it became clear that the fishing was going to be tough. I stopped expecting late night lights out fishing and realized I’d be fishing for that “one bite a night” and I had better be ready for it. After more than enough skunks I started to get tuned into what had to be done to catch fish. From networking with a few buddies that I fish with I learned that for some reason the fish were more into soft plastics than live bait. The fish were also very spotty and most of the time when they came through it was for a very short period of time. My best bet was to be ready for anything.
I fish for bass at night 90 percent of the time. The night bite is usually good especially when ‘yak fishing because the fish will come into shallow water to feed. I have a few inshore reefs that produce some quality fish when fished right. A lot of it is timing the tides right for the spots. I don’t like fishing the fastest part of the tide at night because I want to spend my time fishing and not fighting the current or the rips.
This season I’ve been using a lot of big plastics and they have been producing the best for me. My go-to baits have been Hogy 13-inch jigging baits and the 14-inch Blambers. In water that was deeper than 10 feet I usually use the 13-inch jigging Hogy on a one-ounce Barbarian jighead and in shallower water I used the 14-inch Blamber on a 12/0 weightless swimbait hook. I think fishing the plastics was effective because it allowed me to cover a lot of water when casting these baits repeatedly waiting on the bite. I learned a ton about spots that I fish frequently due to low number of fish in the areas. Bait placement had to be a lot more precise this season if I was going to have a chance at a fish or two on a trip.
Even though 98 percent of the fishing this season was on the tougher side of things, ironically, I had one of the best days of my life when it came to striped bass fishing. This came during the Big Doug’s Shootout which is a local catch and release tournament. It was the weekend of July 14-16 when my sponsoring dealership was also hosting the second annual TBO Trifecta challenge. I started out fishing a spot that was new to me. I was out with a buddy of mine and he had some decent fish there a few nights before the tourney. The wind wasn’t our friend on this night and the water was a bit on the choppy side. We were on the water by 3 a.m. and heading out to the reef we planned to fish. Even though the water was choppy we immediately started to mark fish when we arrived on the spot.
I started out three-waying eels and I was catching a few smaller fish. The guy I was fishing with seemed to be doing alright with some bigger fish and he was using soft plastics. I decided that I would switch over but I wanted to do one more drift over the reef with the live bait before I switched. On this last drift, I hooked up and immediately knew that this fish was a little bigger than the other fish I had been catching throughout the night. After a few good runs, I had the fish on the side of my ‘yak and landed. It was a nice healthy 46-inch bass. By this time, it was close to 5 a.m. and I was just starting to be able to see. I was also hearing splashes from what I assumed were bunker off in the distance. I went to investigate and I found a big pod of them a few yards away from the reef I was fishing. I snagged a half dozen and bought them back over to the reef. Six drops and six immediate hookups! It was on. Lock and load fishing. After running out of bait I went back to where the school of bait was and when I would snag one I couldn’t get it back to my kayak without a bass grabbing it. I caught over 25 decent bass this day before the fish stopped biting. During this trip, I also landed a 39-inch bluefish that took first place in the Big Doug’s Shootout . My bass didn’t place but I was happy that I competed against boaters and was able to win first prize in a division.
Looking forward I hope that the season gets better. Maybe the fish will show for the fall run. It doesn’t matter to me because I will still be out there hunting them anyways. Sometimes the fishing is good and it seems easy to catch fish but then there are times when the fishing is slow and you’ve got to put in a lot of time and work to be successful. This why the sport I love is called fishing not catching. I honestly learned a lot from this slow season. I had to be more on point as a fisherman and more precise in my hunting all while trying to figure out the wheres and the whys to be as successful as possible.
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