Each day of sun surely increases water temperatures and our hopes of again going fishing. Spring means rivers are coming alive with fish moving in all directions. Holdover stripers are starting to move out of Pettaquamscutt Pond, heading down the Narrow River for the sea. Herring will pass them in the shadows as they head up-river, seeking their historic spawning grounds. Flounder will reappear, searching for sandy bottom to prepare for mating. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave us, “Indeed the river is a perpetual gala, and boasts each month a new ornament”. Fresh water lakes and ponds are warming steadily, blackbirds are here to wake us and plenty of ponds still have plenty of stocked trout.
Finding those striped bass can be far more challenging than when we casted for them last fall, as they swam up to over-winter. During fall, the best fishing is at night, often on a falling tide, where ebbing waters cause eddy’s and pools in many spots. The first presents swirls of confused baitfish being rushed in all directions while the latter offers a low calorie-consuming spot for hungry lazy stripers to focus on easy pickings. Sluggos and Storm Shads work well when there is no light and can be very effective right along the shallowest of waters.
A few years back, a sleep deprived, post-second shift angler walked down to a right regular section of the river, planning on a traditional one beer kind of late night outing. Around a few reeds and ankle twisting rocks, he cast a yellow and white shad into the darkness. Anyone who fishes at night understands that in the absence of light and the din of road noise, oceans lakes and rivers make very different sounds than when under the sun. We often don’t hear everything that makes sound when we speed by. This may be may be even more so for a river at full running tide, when the shores and beds are scraped and realigned, when certain nocturnal shorebirds seek their prey and fishermen wade or walk, listening for auditory clues of baitfish or predators chasing them. It certainly adds another dimension of challenge.
Standing in the rain, swinging an orange swim shad, he managed to pull in a solid 30” bass on the first cast from less than a foot of water. That’s part of the magic of fishing local rivers: big fish sometimes wait below bridges and atop sandy flats a stone’s throw from the double center line. If you don’t check out those too-obvious spots, you will never know what’s there.
The following few casts came back empty but after switching to a small orange shad, everything changed. One big bass took exception to the treble hook and bolted; bolted fast enough to quickly begin stripping the gears out of a veteran Abu Garcia reel. All those splashing sounds echoed as if in canyon walls. After many minutes of back and forth, the striper was pulled closer and as he held the rod high above his right shoulder to reach for its mouth, the frayed 20# braid split, unceremoniously dumping the exhausted bass back into the shallow river, flat on her side.
With no thought to work clothes or water temperatures, he jumped down off the rocks, grabbed the striper before it had a chance to recharge and hauled it up, scraping hands and legs as he went. As cold water drained from his boots, with no one to witness the trophy or hear his hoots, he sat back, took a breath and admired his catch. 36 7/8” long, 231/2” around, a solid 24 pounds and right there on the side of the road. Fantastic.
Those same fish head down river, typically lighter after a long winter and in far more sporadic patterns. Paddling a kayak can be the best way to cover more water and to target the river’s corners and eddy’s, giving you access to hard to reach spots like the pork barrel and the stretch just above Lacey Bridge. Some years there are mussel sets near the shore which which will attract stripers. Best bets now are swim baits which mimic buckies’ sleek lines and shiny skin. Speed is important here as spring bass are notoriously slow and those herring can move slowly after expending so much energy in their up-river migrations. Lure retrievals should be just as slow, even painfully slow. It will likely take a few attempts to find the bass but each day water temperatures inch higher, increasing your chances of scoring the first bass of the season before many even have their equipment out of the garage.
River herring have started moving back into the river, heading for the narrows and head of tide at Gilbert Stuart then hopefully all the way to Carr Pond. These schools ride the incoming tides and their return represents critical protein an Omega 3 oil sources for stripers. They will spawn in Carr Pond and out-migrate sometime late summer. Some high tides bring schools of thousands while others are blanks, which is the same on the Saugatucket. Many buckies there are following instructions, pushing their way up the fishway; others are avoiding it, swimming up the man-made stream and pooling up just below the dam. Volunteers under the shadow of Bill McWha are walking the gangplank to net them and move them over the wall. Things didn’t work out the way we all wanted for the redesigned fish ladder but what’s important now is that we get them over the damned wall and into the upper river and ponds to spawn.
Fresh water ponds are warming quickly as well. Small pumpkin seeds and largemouth bath have been spotted schooling up around the docks of Indian Lake while bright green vegetation has started to bloom along the warm edges. Look for bass there and alongside any newly-fallen trees which small baitfish and largemouth will use for cover. Freshwater tournaments are just starting and soon bass will start looking for sandy flats to make their beds. Spring is finally here.
Todd Corayer is a life-long fisherman who lives not far from the Saugatucket with his wife, who supports his fishing mainly to get him out of the house and a young son who regularly catches more fish than him.