Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fall Run Fun

I've been very fortunate to be part of some memorable fishing trips this fall. One particular experience that will stay with me for a long time involved three different states and insane amounts of fish. It started before dawn on a Monday in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. There, on a dock along the lower Connecticut River, I met friends Billy and Andrew and boarded an impressive boat, a Contender over 30-feet long with twin 250-horsepower outboard engines. Under brightening skies, we left the river mouth and set a course for Block Island.

Following a short, smooth run to the "Porkchop," we opted to take a quick look around its Great Salt Pond for signs of false albacore and bonito before getting to the meat of the trip, black sea bass fishing. As we slowly made our way through the Coast Guard channel, a helpful surfcaster let us know there was some life around with a point of his hand to water he couldn't reach. There was a small pod of false albacore speeding around the shallow pond, wreaking havoc on balls of bay anchovies. I had never seen albies in such a skinny, confined area before. Elation quickly turned to frustration, however, with the realization that these fish were much pickier than ones I had encountered in deeper, choppier water. We spent a good half hour giving in to temptation, but it proved fruitless in the end with only one long-distance-release and no other hook-ups.

After abandoning the fussy little tunny, we turned our attention to the primary reason we trekked to Block Island in the first place. Billy motored south and we posted up on the outskirts of Southwest Ledge, where I was given a crash course on bottom fishing for black sea bass. Thankfully, my partners that day were well versed on the subject and showed me the finer points of rigging and jigging for these delicious fish. We used rigs similar to what you would employ for summer flounder; some had hooks with colorful skirts around them below spinning metal blades that help attract fish. Whatever rig we went with, it was always tipped with some sort of bait. Andrew had secured several dozen mummichogs from the Connecticut River before the trip and had also brought along a box of frozen squid. Add in Billy’s leftover ballyhoo from a recent offshore outing and we had a nice menu for hungry sea bass to choose from.

With the help of good electronics, we honed in on broken, rocky bottom in a range of depths from 40 to 80-feet of water. Whenever Billy saw what he liked, he shut off the motor and we dropped down in a hurry using lead sinkers up to 12-ounces. As far as presentation, the tide and currents did much of the work for us. All we had to do was pay attention to the contour of the bottom by feel, reeling up or paying out line depending on the depth.

The bite started out on the slower side, but it picked up as we made our way to deeper water with the building tide. It seemed like every significant rock pile that we drifted over produced two or three keeper-sized fish to go with many more shorts. We knew to be ready when one of us latched on to a good fish because more often than not another one was hugging the same rock. A few of the better sea bass were over the four-pound mark and absolutely gorgeous fish, especially up close where you could see their brilliant blue hues.

By mid afternoon, the cooler was filled with enough tasty sea bass to warrant a break from food fishing. We decided to make the 11-mile run over to Montauk for the turn of the tide and to check if the epic fall blitzes it was known for had materialized yet. I had been to "The End" only once before and did not get to experience the craziness that I had read about and seen in photographs so many times. Much to our delight, this trip would be quite different.  

Even from over a mile away and cruising at 40 miles per hour, we could still make out dozens of boats dotting the water around the famous lighthouse. As we inched closer, it became more apparent that we were about to witness a special evening of fishing. When we arrived to the outer rips, there were individual pods of false albacore busting as far as the eye could see. Billy set us up for a long drift and we were into fish instantly with multiple double and even triple hook-ups. Over the next couple hours, the fancy footwork on board the Contender would have made the cast of Dancing With The Stars green with envy. Soft-plastics, metal, flies - it didn't matter. Anything remotely close to representing a bay anchovy was getting destroyed if albies were within reach.

There was enough action happening along the outer rips that each boat was playing nice and working their own patch of productive water. In tight to shore was another story altogether. We made sure to stay well out of casting range of surfcasters, but the same cannot be said for other boaters that were drawn into the ensuing chaos like moths to a flame. Tens of thousands of striped bass and false albacore were whipping the water into a white froth and every single angler that put an offering anywhere close to this mess was doubled over, which of course resulted in some crossed lines and headaches. More than once I had the urge to let loose a cast into the melee, but thought better of it. Instead I broke out the camera and just watched the madness unfold. I had heard about these blitzes, but to see them up close was pretty amazing – just a surreal amount of feeding going. It wasn't all just small stripers either. Andrew took advantage of a nice space between boats and hooked into a plump keeper-sized bass and we saw others reel in bigger.

As the sun began to creep lower in the sky, the blitzes worked north and west around the point. We followed the party since it was on the way back home and were treated to a spectacular sunset in the distance. On cue, the surface action began to subside with the dropping sun and one by one the boats headed for the barn. Unlike most of them that headed to marinas on Long Island, we had a much longer trip across the Sound in the now-sporty seas. The Contender plowed right through the swell at high speed and we held on tight for an entertaining ride home.  Back at the dock, Andrew and I cleaned the boat as Billy filleted the day’s haul. We each brought home a freezer bag full of sea bass meat, but it never made it to the freezer. I split my share between some family and friends that all reported back with rave reviews. The phenomenal meals on top of incredible fishing made for one hell of a fall trip. I cannot wait to do it all over again next year!

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