Fishing - The spring thing: back on the water

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Time to take the cover off the boat, dust off the rods and start searching for the season’s first fish

Time to take the cover off the boat, dust off the rods and start searching for the season’s first fish

That itch you feel isn’t a medical problem but a sign the season is changing — days lengthen, the first robins appear and maybe, just maybe, the morning traffic slog isn’t feeling as bad as it was. We might also mention it’s time to take the cover off the boat, spring is waiting in the wings.

The “first” fish in our waters today are striped bass, either holdovers in the Housatonic or Thames Rivers or the first of the arrivals from the west. Bass dropping out of their river homes in the Hudson to make the run to the east are the first migrants to make it past Cape Cod.

Whatever their movement area anglers welcome them with open arms. A warmer day afloat, with a chill still in the air is a rejuvenator, a sure sign winter is about over, despite the inevitable threat of one last bout of snow. I can remember many April plans dashed because of six inches of wet snow on the cars and sidewalks.

First cast

Small plastic baits like the Zoom Flukes or Fin-S Fish are fine when fished on a half-ounce lead head, mostly around the edges of river channels or areas of the shoreline early in the day. Any spot where a stream — no matter how small — enters a larger body of water is a good place to prospect for April stripers.

While nowhere near the numbers of the small bass, there are some signs of a revival of winter flounder in certain sections of New England. BostonHarbor has a fishery as does NorwalkHarbor and the NianticRiver (the latter spot produced best in May 2007 after a very cold April that saw little if any catching). For the first time in several years it was possible to target flounder with a reasonable expectation of catching enough for supper.

Gone, though, are the days of filling a half-bucket with flats, which I blame on inept fishery management that saw numbers of this once ubiquitous creature reduced to the point of anglers giving up trying to land one. I only hope they are on the mend and the recent modest recovery continues.

Big boys

As April gives way to May, look for the first bigger stripers in the western part of Long Island Sound, possibly caught around the Devon section of the HousatonicRiver or maybe along some of the beaches around Greenwich or Stamford.

As the fifth month wears on, boat anglers will catch bass over 20 pounds in the bunker schools around HempsteadHarbor or from Greenwich down past Rye — if the patterns of the past four years hold true in 2008.

By the third week of the month, look for trophy bass up past 40 pounds, a few in the 50s and one or two in the magic 60-pound range, the fish of a lifetime.

One local expert, Capt. Ricky Mole, owner of Fisherman’s World in Norwalk, recently told me the spring run is probably the best time for locals to have a crack at a trophy striper.

Holy mackerel

While our striper stocks are in good shape, mackerel are another story. I remember the days when newspaper fishing editors used to write about mackerel “plugging up” the Sound. The fishing was so good they could be caught at times from shore like the Meigs Point jetty. Those days are gone just like our bumper crop of flounder. Today there is a small run of fish around Newport, possibly lasting a few weeks, then the fish move on.

One of my sources for local fishing news, Capt. Al Anderson of Wakefield, R.I., used to tell me about enough mackerel in the ocean to support a fishery all summer along the rocky shores from Scarborough up past Narragansett, R.I. Those fish are all but a memory, another victim of poor management.

There is a better run of mackerel off Gurnet Point on the south side of Boston, those fish supposedly pushing through the Cape Cod Canal and stopping off the Gurnet for a time before heading north — but not before providing a fishery around Minot’s Light, well within range of boats from Boston Harbor. The timetable for this fishing is usually around mid-to-late May.

Cod and haddock

Also in May we start to see the first of the many private boats heading out for cod on the rocky bottom inshore from Marshfield up past Halibut Point or further out to Stellwagen or southern Jeffery’s. They may also be found out into the deep water east of the latter two spots, with all fishing subject to closures of certain areas in an effort to stem the decline in our cod population.

Cod are yet another fish I believe is suffering from the lack of courage to make needed hard decisions in fishery management.

While cod stocks are not healthy, we have good numbers of haddock mixing in with the cod along with pollock, cusk and wolf fish to make a worthwhile day on the water some calm, warming May Saturday.

Just remember to bundle up as the water is still in the 40s. It may be 60 in Boston that day, but 20 miles out the air will be cool.

Close to home

If the day is so-so, don’t overlook the inshore grounds. On several days the last few years, we had fair to good fishing as guests of Capt. Pete Shea.

Departing Lobster Cove in his 35-footer, heading out only four miles off Halibut Point (anchored amongst the lobster gear), we caught some keeper cod and the occasional larger wolf fish, a gray-black critter with a mean disposition. They come up snarling and snapping, not the place for one’s finger (inexperienced anglers should be wary of doing the unhooking). On the plus side, they are great eating.

The short travel on those trips not only eases the fuel bill but also provides fishing time on days when the weather may improve for a run further out. Just as easily, the skies might lower, canceling the day, with all aboard glad they were not 25 miles out when it blew in earnest, the temperature dropping quickly in a short time.

Spring might have some fits, stutters and abbreviated trips, but the clock is ticking away, the fishing season getting better. It is time to put away the snow shovel and concentrate on circling the calendar for vacation or maybe those times when you’ll just too “sick” to do anything but climb in the boat and head out on the water.

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.