Hurricane Irene made landfall along the Connecticut coast on the morning of August 28, 2011. Even though she had weakened significantly by then, it was still a crazy large system that packed a serious punch. Strong winds brought down countless trees, branches and power lines, leaving over 600,000 people in the dark across the state. It was Irene's storm surge, however, combined with an exceptionally high moon tide in Long Island Sound, that wreaked the most havoc along shoreline towns.
My hometown of Milford was directly in Irene's cross hairs. After the worst of the storm had passed, many residents braved the elements and hit the road to survey the damage. It was a pretty wild scene out there. Below are some photos and a brief video documenting Irene's aftermath in Milford. Over the next week, we'll begin to see what affects Irene had on the fishing around the region.
Finding a broken artifact is much more common than coming across a full, intact piece these days. As my uncle has told me more than once, "there are only crumbs left." Of course there are some great stone tools left to be found, but compared to what has been picked up or built upon already, he has a point. This morning was no different, except that I was very surprised when I saw these two broken pieces laying right next to each other. Was this point broken then discarded by the native who made it? Or was it lost on a hunt and broken sometime in the hundreds or thousands of years since? I'll never know but it's pretty cool to think about. It was a very cool way to start my day and now it goes into the shadow-box table it goes with the other crumbs.
American eels, rocky areas and late tides continue to add up for large striped bass in Long Island Sound. The spots may have changed, yet the tactics and results remain the same. After a recent honey hole dried up, it was time to dipstick neglected haunts for a pulse. Early this week, at a locale much closer to home, one lone 14-pound bass was caught between four anglers. Not the results we had hoped for, but a keeper-sized striper from shore in August can be a small victory in itself.
Last night, we hatched a different game plan. Will, Aaron and I focused on two areas in the eastern Sound that I hadn't fished in two seasons. These were known 'big fish' spots that had flexed their muscles to us in the past. The tide was turning from slack to ebb when we arrived to the first location. The moon was so bright that we didn't need headlamps to light our path along the rocks. Despite the well-lit sky, we could still make out the occasional shooting star thanks to the Perseid Meteor Shower.
Confidence was high at first, but it slowly waned after drifting eels for a few hours with not one hit to show for it. Aaron switched to a soft-plastic bait on a wobble-head tin that looked very sexy in the current. Will ventured off to try other spots within the spot. I added a small egg sinker above my offering to get down a little deeper. None of the adjustments helped the cause. The decision was made to cut our losses. We arrived at spot number two about half way down in the outgoing tide. Will donned the wetsuit while Aaron and I chose waders. The wetsuit let Will get out a little farther than us, but on this night it wouldn't matter.
After he waded through neck-deep water and found his perch, Aaron and I flanked his left and right. I clambered up on a giant boulder, not giving much thought about how I would land fish from it. On just my third drift, something heavy inhaled my eel and I drove the hook home hard. Instantly, it tail-slapped the surface and took off like a banshee. I didn't call for assistance until the fish pushed water for the second time and really showed her size. Will couldn't hear me between the wind and water, but Aaron made his way over to lend a hand. When the bass came close, I used the roost to my advantage and steered the fish into a crevice between boulders. Aaron risked water going over his waders as he clutched the lip of a 44-inch striped bass.
Photo credit: Aaron Swanson
The fish that lay across my lap was the second longest striper I had ever landed. If it wasn't my heaviest, it was very close. Except for a notch in the caudal fin, it was in perfect shape. The warm water and lengthy fight had taken its toll though. There were a few moments where I thought I would be lugging out the hefty bass back to my truck. However, I didn't give up on her and cradled the bass in current as I felt life slowly creeping back in. It took a full 15 minutes for me to comfortably let go of the fish in the shallows for a trial run. After passing, I brought her out to deeper water where she kicked from my hands. As awesome of a feeling it is to land a nice fish, releasing one is that much more rewarding.
Aaron climbed on the rock where I had hooked the bass and started bombarding the area with casts. After getting my act together, I fished off a rock to his left. Will, unaware of what just went down, continued working the water to our west. For another hour, we covered every inch of the place without another touch. Just one one bump, one fish; right after waltzing in. And as we were walking out, Will finally heard the story and turned right back around for more. With the alarm clock sounding in just a few hours, Aaron and I hit the road after another memorable night.
Late in the night of Thursday, August 4, 2011, a potential world record striped bass was caught in my home waters of Long Island Sound. On Friday morning, On The Water called and asked me to cover the story for them. This is what happened: Potential World Record Striper
As much as surfcasting is in my blood, it's always a treat fishing productive stretches of shoreline from a boat. Not dealing with taxing walks over rocks is one of the bigger perks. Another is the amount of ground that can be covered efficiently. Some dyed-in-the-wool surf fisherman may claim that catching striped bass from a boat is 'cheating', but I bet my best rigged eel that none of them would have turned down this trip.
After working late one recent evening, I met Mike & Derrick at the boat launch just before 10 PM. We had to hurry to catch the last of the low-incoming tide, which had been fishing well lately. It was a beautiful, calm night and the dark sky was littered with stars. There wasn't another boat in sight and the shoreline was devoid of headlamps. Things happened fast and furious when Mike cut the engine. My second cast produced the first hookup of the night. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bluefish that severed my leader. Not a big deal I originally thought, but before I had time to tie another rig on, a wave of large striped bass moved in and the melee began.
The captain struck first and by the sound of his screaming drag we knew it was a better fish. After a couple good runs, it surfaced boat side and Derrick lipped her as I snapped away with a camera that usually doesn't see saltwater action. It was also nice having Mike's 60-pound Boga onboard, so we didn't have to ponder the weights of our fish. This one was a clean 32-pounder and a great way to start the night.
Immediately after that bass was released, I went back to tying a Uni-knot when Derrick hooked up on his next drift. The fish pushed a good amount of water on the surface giving us a hint to its size. The blistering runs that ensued gripped our attention as she sped away from the boat. Eventually, as the bass tired and drew closer to us, we were treated to amazing trails of bioluminesence in its wake. Mike soon corralled the leader and buried his hand in the maw of the 37-pound bass, which the tape revealed at just around 46-inches long. The trip wasn't 30-minutes old before two bass over 30-pounds were caught and released.
After some photos and a successful release, I finally had a chance to finish retying my rig. Of course by then things had quieted down, at least in terms of size of the fish eating our eels. The good thing was that a slow and steady pick of smaller bass, ranging from 22-pounds to schoolies, remained for the rest of the incoming tide. All the while, a lack of wind allowed us to make real nice drifts tight to shore without having to jockey the boat around much. After a lull, the captain decided to make one final pass in front of an erratic boulder before moving west a few miles. On cue, my eel was slowly taken by a heavy fish right in the money zone. She was all business right from the hook set and took off like a bat out of hell. My 8-foot rod was bitched and braided line was pouring off the reel at a dizzying rate. Not able to do much other than hold on, my heart sank to my stomach as the 40-pound main line went slack. There was no rubbing or chaffing, the braid was sliced by a rock like a hot knife through butter. As difficult as it is to judge, I still believe that it was one of the larger bass I'd ever come in contact with. Oh well, that's fishing!
Rightfully so, the lost fish kept us around a bit longer before the decision was made to hightail it for a dipstick at another one of Mike's haunts. If nothing else, it would give a rest to the water we had hammered for a few hours. So we left fish to find fish and you may be able to guess what happened next; we came up empty at spot number two. After about a half hour with only a cigar'd eel to show, we floored it back to the original location for the beginning of the outgoing tide. The bass were right where we left them and some larger ones seemed to be around again. I hooked up on what felt like a decent fish, but it didn't really put on the afterburners until it got up to the boat. A close-quarters battle ensued before Mike lipped the bass and I joined the 30-pound club for the night.
Not long after the fish kicked away from my hands, Derrick came tight to another. And again, the noise his reel's drag was making suggested it was a quality bass. Mike and I held off casting to avoid any trouble while Derrick fought her to the boat. After the Boga disclosed that it was 31-pounds, he revived it as I got some photos of the release. That made the fourth and final bass over the 30-pound mark for the night.
I wish the second wave of large lasted longer, but it was over as quickly as it started. After Derrick's last fish, we were running low on eels and the clock showed 2 AM. It was a weeknight and unfortunately, some of us had a thing called work in the morning. Energy drinks were cracked and a few last casts were made before heading back to the launch. It had been a hell of a night with some real nice fish and good laughs. Hopefully it won't be too long before we're back out there again, pitching eels and waiting for a bump.
Editor's note: This is the first guest post on The Connecticut Yankee, written by my long-time friend and fishing partner Aaron Swanson.
My fishing partners have been making good on their predictions this year. Right around the time of the herring run this spring, while fishing a tidal river, Derrick proclaimed to Kierran and me that one of us would be getting a new personal best (PB) from one our rocky locales out east as the summer progressed. Last week, Kierran said that before long it would be him on the other side of the camera, documenting rather than experiencing, another personal best. They both turned out to be right.
The July new moon occurred on the 30th this year, but our mid-summer surf schedule has generally carried our nighttime efforts through two calendar days. In this case, the turn from the 30th to the 31st marked my 28th birthday. I caught my first striped bass, a keeper nonetheless, on my 22nd six years ago (after trying for nearly a year) and have tried to make it a point to fish the date with each passing year. While I haven’t caught every year on that outing, I managed the best present I could ask for this time around.
Strategy in the dog days is usually the same. While fishing in the western Sound can be good, the somewhat cooler waters of the east have historically provided better action for us. Proximity to deep water, prominent rocks, current, eels, and foregone sleep are generally the keys to finding some fish in Long Island Sound from shore in August.
The long walk to this spot can be a bit of a drain, but after a quick breather we were in action. My lack of a wetsuit wasn’t as important this time as it was the prior week because the full tide had us pushed up against the shoreline. Kierran continued his hot hand, hooking landing and releasing two fish, one in the near 20-pound range before the tide started to crank, moving the current seam we were plying out of our casting distance and taking the action with it. To this point, all Derrick and I could manage were bumps and missed hook-ups. A break for a Red Bull and some discussion of a short walk led us to move a few hundred yards west, where we were able to reconnect with the current that had moved out of our reach.
Photo credit: Aaron Swanson
We were immediately tuned to the presence of fish as we each had bumps in our first couple of casts. I was first to hook up and land a mid-teen fish before Kierran kept us going with a near clone of his first. This fish was hooked deep and went home to his table. He landed another smaller fish, and I dropped a bluefish before a bit of a lull had us thinking about heading back where we started. We decided we’d take a couple more casts and then move again. Kierran fortuitously told me to “make them count”.
I had a subtle take on my next cast and hauled back but didn’t make great contact. Figuring the fish was coming at me I caught up, felt more pressure and set again for good measure. It’s probably a good thing I did because the fight that ensued would test my tackle. The fish sulked for a while and had me thinking it was probably similar in size to the others we had taken thus far. Then my rod flattened out and line dumped off my spool. The new moon current aided the fish in its attempt to head for Long Island and my rod and braid groaned under the pressure. I managed to turn the fish and we had a standoff before I finally started to move her toward me before trading line back and forth; I don’t know how long it lasted but it seemed like forever. She moved some water in tight and our lights shown on a gaping bucket-mouth. My partners grabbed and subdued her and as we went about getting ready to get a couple pictures I went to wipe what I thought was some weed off of the fish’s flank and found a tag. It was the first time I had seen one of those in person – pretty cool and I’m looking forward to finding out where and when she was tagged. Like a week before, the 30-pound Boga on Derrick’s belt wouldn’t do any good reading this fish so I’ll be happy to stick with the 43-inch measurement we got. She bested my old PB by only a half inch but being as thick as she was I’d venture to guess she had a few pounds over her predecessor.
Photo credit: Kierran Broatch
Photo credit: Kierran Broatch
After a successful release, we probed the area for another hour or so before we lost the tide and depth we needed and we called it a night. After I reached my front door around five in the morning, I realized I didn't drive home so much as float. I couldn’t have been more thankful to take my turn at a new best, under the circumstances, another year, good friends, enjoying myself in the best way I know how.
Editor's note: I usually release most of my striped bass and it's not because I don't like to eat them. Much of the decision is with conservation in mind; the other part is because it's not fun walking with a heavy bass after fishing all night, then filleting it when the sun is coming up. However, cooking and eating a fish that I just harvested from the sea is a cool feeling once in a while. Having family and friends enjoy it with me only adds to the experience.
One of the fun things after keeping a fish is checking its stomach contents. When I reached into the belly of this bass and felt a large snack in there, I was guessing in my mind what it could be. It turns out it was a partially digested summer summer flounder about a foot long. It was awesome to see the food chain at work--a striped bass sucks down a fluke off the bottom, then falls for my eel, then ends up on my dinner table. The striper steaks were covered in red onion, garlic, butter, and olive oil, then wrapped in tinfoil and essentially baked on the grill until the thick fillets were cooked through. It was delicious.