You have a choice: either go with the flow, pull the boat and prepare for another l-o-n-g winter … or bundle up, watch the wind and squeeze another couple trips out of the season.
Up and down the Northeast coast, there are fishing opportunities as we approach Thanksgiving.
Boaters from Buzzards Bay to Long Island Sound eagerly target blackfish at this time of year, checking the online forecast on Wednesday, hoping the light and variable prediction holds for Saturday. Many bait shops are still open, offering green crabs — the preferred bait — and rigs galore. A pair of heavy fishing scissors is often a good buy, letting you cut the crabs in half without sacrificing the blade of a good fillet knife on the hard shell of the crabs.
Most wrecks and rock piles from Westport, Mass., to Norwalk, Conn., offer blackfish of various sizes; the key is often anchoring. In the case of the famed tugboat wreck off Norwalk, you want to anchor right on the edge. Anchor on top of the structure and you will loose rig after rig to the watery junk pile most shipwrecks become over time. The GPS numbers for many of these places are available on charts for sale in the very same shops you bought bait. And one of the silver linings of fishing this late in the year is less boat traffic on wrecks often busy during summer months.
While coming and going from the blackfish sites, stop on reefs, ledges and rocky points to cast or troll a lure for late bluefish or striped bass. Even later in November you still find blues, often tackle busters in water still above 50 degrees, along with stripers.
The late, great angler Capt. Don Cameron often dazzled his customers at his Quonny Bait & Tackle in coastal Rhode Island with his catches of late-season bass and blues in the boat he kept in Quonny Breachway, fishing with his buddy of many years, Steve Jordan. The pair fished off Fresh Pond Rock or nearby East Beach in Charlestown, R.I. For those areas it’s an easy run to rocky ledges and reefs, like the Stone Pile off Weekapaug Breachway where boats anchor for tautog.
I’ve talked to many anglers that make a cold morning of it, either casting for bass or blues followed by tautog followed by a trip back to the ramp and marina in time for the 1 or 4 p.m. Sunday football game. Down off the south side of Long Island or nearby New Jersey, anglers and boaters extend their season with late-season bass and blues, the fishing lasting longer than that of their New England counterparts. It’s very common to see boaters out after bass off the west end of Long Island in December.
Boaters in western Long Island Sound have the added benefit of running over to the famed rip off Eatons Neck, an underwater hill that comes up out of 200-plus feet of water. The rip line there is a magnet for bass stopping to feed before continuing on to their winter grounds in the Hudson River. That fishery often lasts into December, giving people more than ample chance to get in one last trip.
Fishermen to the east might try the North Rip of Block Island, another late-season stop that Capt. Al Anderson of Wakefield, R.I., showed me many years ago. We dropped diamond jigs to the bottom, then yo-yoed the lure up and down as the tide pushed us toward the high spot of the rip. Our catch would be bass to 25 pounds and large blues, some feeding in water colder than 50 degrees, which is the bottom end of their tolerance for cold water.
If we couldn’t find any bass, we’d sometimes steam around to the south side of Block Island to drop the same 6- to 9-ounce jigs to the bottom, drifting over the rough bottom called the Apple Tree, catching November sea bass. The many rocky lumps on the south and southeast sides of Block Island also offer decent-to-fantastic catches of jumbo porgies during the 11th month. My friend Capt. Jimmy Koutalakis of Arlington, Mass., often trailers his 31-foot Sea Vee from Massachusetts to the Point Judith, R.I., ramp for the express purpose of a freezer-filling trip, perhaps his last for the year.
Jimmy sometimes doubles up on his Block Island trips by bringing a bucket of live eels and drifting them over the rocky bottom of Southwest Ledge, catching large bass that stopped there to refuel and feed before heading south to the winter grounds below Delaware Bay.
Up in Jimmy’s native Massachusetts, small-boat anglers often get in their last trips looking for mackerel off the South Shore of Boston, out in Massachusetts Bay or on the broken bottom along the 20-fathom edge from Cohasset down to Plymouth.
Years back, Capt. Roger Jarvis and Charley Soares spied a mark of fish on Roger’s fishfinder on his 26-foot Fortier about halfway to Stellwagen Bank from Gurnet Point. Dropping jigs down, they caught big mackerel near the surface, some smaller striped bass under the mackerel schools and, farther down, school codfish, presumably following the bait just like the stripers.
Today the late fall cod fishing on these inshore grounds is halted at some point in November by closures to protect the spawning stock. Be sure to keep abreast of regulations before planning that Saturday outing.
Anglers in eastern Connecticut have long extended their fishing season, even with a small boat, by fishing for over-winter striper bass in the Thames River, starting down by the mouth up to the Montville power plant and then, as the days get colder, following the bass as they move upriver to their winter grounds in Norwich Harbor. There you can fish for them all winter, provided you have a Connecticut freshwater license.
Small boats can be launched in Norwich along Route 2 only a very short distance to the grounds. Most of the catching is on small jigs jigged slowly up and down. You can also troll small umbrella rigs along the intersection of the saltwater and freshwater layers that show up as a fuzzy line on most fishfinders. The only thing that stops many is stiff winds or the river icing over after Christmas.
While trips in outside waters extend your season a couple weeks to a month, fishing in the upper Thames can keep you active most of the winter. If anyone would like more information on this unique fishery, call The Fish Connection in Preston, Conn., at (860) 885-1739 and ask for Capt. Joe or Jack Balint. This father-and-son team has plenty of expertise on the river and can answer any and all questions.
You’ll need some warm clothes and careful checking of the weather, but “stealing” a day or more in the late season adds spice to one’s boating/fishing life. And don’t be surprised if after a successful venture, as you sit watching a football game, you wonder if you can squeeze in a few more.
This article originally appeared in the New England and Connecticut & New York Home Waters Sections of the December 2009 issue.
Tim Coleman died May 3, in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do best at that time of year: scouting the salt ponds and outer beaches for spring striped bass. He was an exceptional saltwater angler and a prolific writer. Thousands of readers lost an advocate and authentic storyteller for fishing in the Northeast, and anyone fortunate to have known Tim lost a good friend.