September 24, 2013This will be the last report for 2013. It’s been quite a year for some of the fisheries, with the saltwater, inshore fishery for striped bass being a year to remember, but with the offshore groundfishing continuing to have problems with the two key species of cod and haddock. The cod situation was scarcity of fish of all sizes. The haddock population has rebounded, given the huge amount of under-legal sized fish, but catching a legal sized haddock was an accomplishment. Overpopulation of dogfish tormented anglers on cloudy or rainy days while late in the season the big sharks, mostly blue sharks, loved to feed on the groundfish being reeled up by sports anglers—making the saying that “half a fish is better than none” quite apt!
The freshwater fishing, in most part, was equally as good as the previous year with some fisheries such as Sebago Lake’s togue (lake trout) providing lots of action and keeper-sized fish. Runs of Atlantic salmon were not up to par. In fact, the federally-backed stocking program in New Hampshire’s Merrimack River and Connecticut River (shared with other states that these rivers flow through) has been terminated, after several decades of disappointing and very unstable adult spawning fish returning from the sea.
Good news was the steady landlocked salmon fishing in Maine’s and New Hampshire’s big lakes, as was great bass and panfishing, with Maine’s improving and spreading musky fishing starting to gain a lot of regional attention.
“Big pollock are some of the best choices for the saltwater anglers this time of year, as the schools of these feisty and good eating fish move onto some of the offshore ledges and are being targeted by both sports and party boats,” according to Seth Legere at Kittery Trading Post’s fishing department.
“Most of the best fishing for this run of big fish is well offshore, and should not be taken lightly by sports fishermen whose boats and equipment are not well suited for the twenty or more miles out to sea where most of the best fishing is.”
“Jeffreys Ledge is at least twenty miles off the coastline and at least that long, so you’re going to have to take a round trip that involves up to 60 miles of running. Because of the structure of this ledge being an upwelling of bottom that runs shallower than the surrounding deeper water, rough seas are often the case. But it is the character of this more shallow bank of bottom that causes baitfish to gather there for shelter and that’s what brings in the big schools of groundfish, and in the early fall pollock will make up a huge percentage of the catch.”
“If you are at all doubtful about your vessel’s ability to safely navigate this long journey or conditions that can be tough, there’s no problem hooking up with a party or charter boat to get to the fishing grounds, as this time of year in our waters the majority of fishing pressure by the party and charter boats is by all-day boats. The eight-hour days that they fish will generally be made up of about two hours travel to and from the fishing grounds and approximately four hours of fishing. But if the fish are hitting, those four hours of hauling in these big fish will be enough to satisfy even the most avid of anglers.”
“Fishing with clam bait will catch some fish. Cut bait such as mackerel or herring is a better choice, but the veteran pollock anglers will use this opportunity to fish with heavy jigs, in the 10 to 16 ounce range, rigging with either fly or small rubber teasers a couple feet above the jigs. Rigged this way, it’s not unusual at all to have fish on your line at once and these fish can be up to twenty or more pounds! (Most of them will run in the ten pound range)”
“Veteran pollock fishermen usually will bleed their fish before putting them on ice in large coolers. Although pollock are fairly firm fish, poor treatment after the catch will make for a lesser quality fillet. Keep them out of the sun and quickly onto some ice.”
“Jig rods should have some backbone. The jigging motion can be dampened by having a rod with a soft tip and a lot of bend. And also a soft rod that bends easily will not set your hook as easily as a stiffer rod.”
“Your reel should be capable of holding at least 200 yards of line, with forty pound test mono or fifty pound test braid being the minimum for insuring not to have line parting. This isn’t as remote a thing as you would imagine, as sometimes jigging will produce a fish on the jig and one on the teaser. A pair of twenty-pound pollock can produce some incredible strain on your line and other gear. Reels with a fast rate of line retrieval are often lacking in strength so choose a happy medium retrieve speed of a two speed reel.”
“If you are a dedicated bait angler or if using a heavy jig is too rugged for your liking, choose a rod with some backbone but with a soft tip that will telegraph the pollock’s strike. And as we previously mentioned, cut bait such as mackerel, herring or squid will often out-fish clam bait when you target pollock,” Seth suggested.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: At Suds-n-Soda Sports in Greenland, Master Guide Tim Moore suggests that saltwater anglers give fishing for black sea bass a try. “We’ve been having fantastic luck on these fish. They seem to be a replacement for the once large population of flounder that were missing, as they are getting more and more prevalent in our area and are not hard to catch. Because there is a relatively new surge of these fish here, currently there are no state or federal regulations on size, bag limits or seasons, but that is about to change for next year as the Feds are going to implement some regulations.”
“We’ve been having good and predictable fishing for the black sea bass in the Piscataqua River and Little Bay areas. Key is to fish bottom in depths of at least 20 feet with rocky structure holding most of the fish. Our rig is simple, a metal jig of an ounce or more tipped with a strip of squid, but we think any cut bait would work well. Just keep moving and trying until you find a concentration of fish. Drifting is ideal for this.”
In the Lakes Region, Alan Nute at AJ’s Bait and Tackle in Meredith on Lake Winnipesaukee reports that the fall fishing will change a bit as the water cools. “Some of the fish will seek out traditional fall spawning areas, especially lake trout. They will concentrate on ledges that are surrounded by deeper water and will school-up by the hundreds, if not thousands. The best method to catch these fish is to first find them on your depth finder and then drift jig with conventional jigs. But this method will only work on relatively calm days that allow you to fish almost straight down with your jig.”
Dianne Timmins, Regional Fisheries Biologist in New Hampshire’s North Country reports: “As we approach the fall, I think of apple picking, apple pies, bright oranges and reds and spawning brook trout. I think of a busy netting season on the horizon and wonder how brook trout have fared over the crazy “summer” we had. Floods, droughts and chills—that is what I think about when someone says summer 2013. And it all went by so fast.”
“We have already begun to perform some of our brook trout assessments, and it reminds me of why I love my career. Brook trout are my favorite fish. They have endured many challenges over time, most of them human-induced, but some resulting from natural causes, and they still thrive in many waters throughout New Hampshire. Let’s take a look at the population within the Ammonoosuc River.”
“The lovely, picturesque Ammonoosuc River runs from Sargent’s Purchase down through urban Littleton before it flows into the Connecticut River in Woodsville. This river, once very wild, continues to support both wild and hatchery brook trout. This river has been a focus of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture. This is the third year habitat and population assessments have taken place. These assessments provide information on aquatic species, as well as the habitat they reside in. Through these surveys, we have identified areas impacting brook trout and have begun the process of drafting recommendations for restoration.”
“Some of the restoration projects include buffer restoration/stabilization including tree and shrub plantings. Other areas of impact include stream crossings and protection of land. The headwaters of this system were still quite serene until Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc. Now there are a lot of exposed gravel bars, eroded banks, and large wood jams surrounded by new channels. These are some examples of natural impacts.”
“Most of the human influences are centralized around town centers – development along the stream bank, which prohibits the growth of trees that normally would provide natural shade and cover protection from predators; roads and parking lots adjacent to the stream reduce insect life and impact water quality; and inadequately designed stream crossings which reduce or eliminate migration, to name a few. Why do I mention these, you ask? I mention it because as I go into the fall, I am reminded of these beauties. I think about things I can do to make the streams better for brook trout and all wildlife in general. For example, pick up trash or make sure I practice carry-in, carry-out when I go fishing. Also, while walking along streams and small brooks, be cognizant of the plants and trees within the riparian zone. Don’t walk right along the edge and knock them down. Also, as you get ready to walk in the stream, remember brook trout are gearing up to mate and making “redds” in the gravel to cover their eggs. Try going rock to rock versus walking in the stream, whether you are fishing or hunting.”
“On that note, areas to fish, of course, include the Ammonoosuc and the Gale River. The upper Connecticut is beautiful this time of year. If you are heading out to the ponds, make sure you check the regulations. All of the wild trout waters closed Labor Day; so make sure you choose one of the other trout ponds that close October 15, like Streeter Pond or Big Millsfield. Big Greenough is still open until September 30, and it is definitely worth the trip. If you feel like an adventure, grab your float tube and head into one of the Trio Ponds in the Nash Stream State Forest. Good luck!”
MAINE: Master Guide Stu Bristol of Lyman says that although much of his fall will be taken up chasing “feathers” and buckskin, he always takes time to spend a few warm fall days on the Saco River.
“What’s nice about this river is the diversity of fish. On one cast you may hook a nice smallmouth bass and the next cast might net you a hook-jawed brown trout. Also, some of the backwaters are filled with pickerel.”
“Another spot we’ll hit this fall is Sabattus Lake where the best panfishing we’ve seen is available, especially outsized crappie and some wonderful white perch. When we get our fill of them we’ll often try for a northern pike. This lake is full of them and depending on their mood, you’ll either get your arms sore or think there isn’t a pike in the lake!”
Captain Tim Tower of the Bunny Clark fishing boat reports: “I love the marathon trips in the fall. This gives me an opportunity to go further off shore and fish the deeper edges, some of which I have never fished before. One of these new edges was where we caught our largest halibut of the season (so far) on the marathon trip of September 16, 2013. And if you haven't fished a place before, you don't know what you are going to catch. You might fish a spot that hasn't been fished for years and land a huge cusk. But, more often, this time of year you will find the white hake. And sometimes you will get the big ones.”
“In August, white hake leave their spawning spots (having done their job for the season) and move to the edges and higher pieces of bottom. Of course, they like chasing the bait the same as any fish does. But hake are also content on feeding on other species of hake (also found on the edges and in the mud) and on flounders or any fish that moves. It was just such an edge that we found some new looking hake during the marathon trip of September 20, 2013. In fact, all the edges had some hake. One of these spots had the most. And on that spot we landed four white hake of trophy size. The largest of these hake was a 34-pound Maine state trophy caught by Micah Tower (ME). It was right in the middle of the drift when he caught it using a jig. This is the sixth largest hake that has been landed on the Bunny Clark this season. And it's Micah's second largest hake caught off the same boat this season.”
“We haven't caught as many big hake as we have in previous years. But I think this is because the commercial fishing effort on them is greater. This pressure is due to a decrease in the normal targeted stocks of groundfish and the more restrictive regulations on the more commonly caught groundfish. So I am grateful to see any big fish at all. And, at least this way, I don't take them for granted. Besides, I would never forsake the hake, it is and remains my favorite groundfish to catch and eat. Special fish like Micah's are the kind of fish we like to see caught.
In the Sebago Lake area, both Dave Garcia at Naples Bait on Long Lake and Greg Cutting at Jordan’s Store in East Sebago like the new regulations opening up a lot of water for year ‘round fishing. “You need to check the regulations to see what waters and what species are available but there’s plenty of places to fish, including right here on Sebago Lake,” Cutting reports.
“In fact, it appears that last year there were open water anglers out on Sebago Lake just about at every opportunity when there was sufficient open water and the wind was allowing boating. Most of the fishing pressure was on togue (lake trout) but some of the areas were occasionally producing both crappie and pike, both through the ice and in open water.”
Dave Garcia mentioned the phenomenal ice fishing in the area. “Lots of the smaller ponds are now being stocked with really nice brook trout to support the ice fishing crowd. Along with that you’ve got the pike waters, especially in the Belgrade Lakes Region. Along with Sebattus Lake for pike, the pike have made their way into a lot of the rivers that feed in or out of the lakes, the big Androscoggin being one of them.”
“We’re a bit limited here in the Rangeley Lakes Region as both trout and salmon have short seasons, but winter comes quickly here in ski-country so it’s natural for us to give up a little fishing time for other recreation,” Reported Ken at River’s Edge Sports in Oquossoc. “The fall run of both trout and salmon here is short and is very dependent on river flows. But there are a couple weeks of fabulous fly fishing for both species if Mother Nature decides to give us ideal fishing conditions. But because ice fishing is not allowed in the Rangeley Lakes, it’s the snow machine riders that seem to take over, along with the ski-bunnies.”
“There’s very little open water opportunity here in the Fish River Chain of Lakes in the late season which comes to a close on September 30”, according to Master Maine Guide Tom Wolters at Madawaska Lake. “But there are tremendous ice fishing opportunities here, with Square Lake’s good population of both average-sized landlocked salmon and some good brookies, and Long Lakes reputation of really big salmon and nice brookies. Right here at Madawaska Lake the state has instituted a trout stocking program that is designed for ice fishing and it has become very popular.”
“If it’s panfish you want, Cross Lake has a big population of yellow perch and Long Lake also in some of the shallow coves will provide plenty of perch action.”
MASSACHUSETTS: “We’re pretty lucky here in this state. We have no closed fishing seasons and we can catch fish like striped bass year ‘round as well as the traditional freshwater species. The stripers love to get into the freshwater rivers; especially the Charles River where they gather around the river locks in Boston to feed on yellow perch and other freshwater fish. Our Fisheries Division does an incredible job with their trout stocking to support the ice anglers, and we have dozens of local ponds that produce some great fishing. And all the while, where there’s open water fishing available it’s legal to fish, with very few exceptions.”
“Right now and for the next few weeks it’s often that the giant bluefin tuna take over out on Stellwagen Bank, and that is a real hoot! This year, so far it’s been slow for the tuna but it wouldn’t surprise us a bit if it takes off now and also could concentrate around Cape Cod.”
“We have party and charter boats that will run late, right into the winter months if conditions are right, and cod, haddock and pollock are usually hitting pretty well in that late season,” Pete noted.
At Surfland on Plum Island, the word is that the big bluefish often visit the area for a few fleeting days in the fall and that the stripers will start to migrate anytime now, but this can create some incredible surf fishing if you’re lucky enough to hit one of their feeding binges, and often it’s both bluefish and stripers crashing the baitfish.”
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