Fishing - Change is in the air, but keep on casting

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Transition to autumn means the end of the show for many anglers, but rewards await the persistent

Transition to autumn means the end of the show for many anglers, but rewards await the persistent

Like the never-ending political drama on our TVs, fishing is also now at a time of change. Winds shift to the north, families return from vacation, kids return to school and game fish begin their fall migrations, often bunching up in numbers and providing opportunities for great catches … for those still in the game.

The buzz this season has been the number of large bass caught in our waters. During July, four stripers from 66 to 75 pounds were brought to boat from Plum Gut to Valiant Shoal to the Watch Hill Reefs and over to the rocky shores of Block Island. The question on most minds was: Would the existing record of 78 pounds be broken?

A follow-up question to that might be: Where do I catch one that size? Like winning the gold with a dollar scratch ticket, the odds are not in the favor of the weekend angler or someone with limited time because of family and job constraints.

If, however, one wishes to pursue such a goal, my advice in the past remains the same: charter a boat with a reputation for catching outsized bass. Not only is it the shortest distance to Point B, but it’s great schooling, watching what lures or baits are used, where and how they are presented, along with asking questions of the mate on deck with you — a fellow well-schooled in fishing.

From Maine to Virginia Beach, there are skippers that consistently produce bass of more than 40 pounds. Booking a trip with him or her is money well spent in my book, saving hours of trial and error on your own rig. As a bonus, the boat is often big enough to fish through marginal days, something the average skiff can’t handle, and is a big asset to anyone fishing on a tight schedule.

In Southern New England, two of the top performers at this are Capt. Bruce on the Otter (860-235-6095) out of Groton, Conn., and Capt. Bob on the Dot-E-Dee (860-235-7846) out of Niantic, Conn. Bob was at the wheel when they caught that 66-pounder this year and Bruce yearly boats fish of more than 50 pounds, a testimony to their accuracy.

Reasonable expectations

Back to planet Earth, with perhaps less lofty goals. The fall offers anglers a chance to tangle with tuna in Massachusetts Bay. Down past Chatham is a fishery where one can use relatively light tackle to cast to schoolies of less than 150 pounds. Just last week Capt. Dave Jermain and I were out in a favorite cod hump when slackwater tuna began chasing bait all around the boat, some leaping clear of the water three rod lengths from the bow.

Being the alert one, Jermain tossed a Crippled Herring jig at the breaking fish, cranked it five times and hooked up with a creature we battled for 45 minutes before he bent the hook on the jig and got away. I heard stories and saw photos of bluefin to 160 pounds landed in this sport with spinning rods, the fish chasing down a surface popper with hooks beefed up to match the quarry.

Also on tap north of the Cape is a ground fishery with one’s choice of cod, haddock or pollock. The latter fish are not as favored on the table as the other two, but they put up a great fight, taking up station around humps with very steep edges or church-like steeples rising up out of the bottom. They show up on your depth finder often as marks off the bottom, ready to chase a jig that’s reeled upwards not yo-yoed near the bottom, which is the standard method used for cod.

Farther down the northeast shore, many keep their boats at the ready for tautog or blackfish season, often the last fish of the year. Spots like all the lumps and rockpiles in Fishers Island Sound that yearly provide fish to 15-plus pounds are close to the gas dock and provide a lee if a heavy southwest wind is making other grounds uncomfortable at anchor.

While not as favored as blackfish, large porgies are around. They’re great fun — and eating — at places like Race Rock and the bottom off the northwest side of Fishers Island.

The biggest sea bass of the season are often caught during the fall, many heading over to Block Island, some with larger boats going farther outside to the offshore wrecks where it’s sometimes possible to land a bumper crop of sea bass by keeping baits close to the structure and trying to avoid the dogfish that always seem to be lurking close by.

Eye to the sky

Light tackle anglers long for a good run of either bonito and false albacore in our waters, though of late the areas of eastern Long Island Sound have not been as productive relatively speaking as a run over to Montauk Point. Keep an eye though on freshening winds from the northwest and a tide turning to flood, heading up into the Sound, right into the breeze, creating a rough ride home.

Many years back, three of us were having a grand time trolling up bass at sunset in the Elbow rip off the point, using wire line and snapping a Redfin swimmer just like a bucktail — not watching the change in weather.

When we rounded Shagwong, we knew we were in for a long run back to Connecticut in a 23 Seacraft. As it got dark and we slowly made our way to The Race, we saw more than one blue light from Coast Guard boats tending to trouble.

Fall offers wonderful fishing, but also declining weather, so stay on the alert. Winds from the north may roil waters offshore, but often along the south coast of Rhode Island one finds a lee, and is able to cruise the beaches in a small boat looking for gulls wheeling over fish, driving bait fish to the surface. One trick often used to catch bigger bass out from under the schoolies is to use a sinking lure like a bucktail and pork rind, rather than a popper. Cast off to the side of the melee, and let the lure sink down, possibly halfway to the bottom, then begin a slow retrieve.

Finish with a flurry

As we get into middle to late November, one is likely to see gannets dive-bombing the water, often taking on the color of the afternoon sun going lower in the sky, the air cool, the whole scene right out of the best shot ever seen from a faraway land on the Discovery Channel.

During those times, sea herring show up, sometimes bringing large bass with them. A few years back we started the day casting into the breakers just after a very cold sunrise at Charlestown, R.I. The catching was good, but the biggest bass were only about 24 inches. Off to the south, birds started circling, so out we went. Arriving in the middle of the general area of birds, we saw more schoolies on the surface, but by allowing our lures to sink down, we caught bass to 46 inches before the school broke up the bait and moved on.

Fall offers much to fishermen that don’t mind pulling the boat after Thanksgiving or beyond in some states, providing many opportunities to those that watch the sky. There is still much to do. It’s like the bumper sticker said, “So Many Fish, So Little Time.”

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England and Long Island waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.