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CT Fishing Report

You know you are racking up the fishing seasons, which sadly seem to pass at an ever increasing rate every year as one ages, which only means time flies when you are having fun, especially with a fishing rod in hand. Constant action helps push down on that time accelerator.
You know you are “long in the tooth, and gray in the hair” when you are on your fifty plus year. Via my writing and other activities, I tried to focus on learning; myself and helping others do the same. The combination of all the enjoyable but time consuming and sometimes hard work helped me become more successful in my personal fishing trips and hunts.
Bear in mind that Mother Nature’s creatures are changing and adapting just like us, the problem is natural evolution has a problem keeping up with technology. There have been changes, some subtle others not so subtle in the woodlands and waters I am familiar with and have walked and floated on my entire career. Many of the most notable changes have been due to habitat changes, variations in water temperatures, the building of dams, cutting and/or regrowth of woodlands.

An example, living in the long overgrown fields I once hunted for rabbits that are now turned into new growth woodlands and even mature forests that are now supporting populations of deer and wild turkeys. The warming waters of Long Island Sound, once home to large numbers of winter flounder, which have been replaced by more warm tolerant summer flounder (fluke).
It is funny how now I am almost as old as an “old timer”, a very nice retired man I met as a teenager while fishing for striped bass in the upper Thames River in Norwich Harbor. He was to the point he didn’t even go to the river with a rod in hand, he simply read the paper drank coffee, watched and when given the chance educated young, eager anglers like myself.
He told me he grew up on a farm in nearby Yantic, a small rural town west of Norwich, and how as a kid, when his chores were done he would hop on a train making a “milk run” in the area, get off when it stopped in town, fish the harbor and then walk or if possible hitch a ride home around supper time with his catch to help feed his family.
During our conversations, I learned how, between the time he was a teenager and when I met him (in his eighties), the local fish fauna had changed.
He caught some striped bass, and if he could get downriver to some of the smaller tributary brooks, rainbow smelt, a prey species that stripers chased like they do bunker today. Winter flounder were abundant in the lower, more saline portion of the river water and in the coves. When it was cold tomcod, a species I had never heard of at the time, moved in. He noted how and I can’t remember the years, during a couple of warmer summers some bluefish would enter the Thames during the fall. That warmer loving species was not very common in our waters at that time due to the much cooler water temperatures.
People from eastern Connecticut and many points north to Massachusetts and beyond fished on a small fleet of head boats out of Niantic and New London Harbors. Of course, every zone of high population density on a navigable harbor had its own local captains that were supported by those in that region as well. There were many smaller fishermen tending lobster pots, trawling and some even rod and reel commercial fishing who sold their catches to local restaurants, friends and in some cases to major markets.
From my area, the cod grounds during the winter were a long cold often miserable boat ride to the waters east and or south of Block Island. During warmer times the boats specialized in striped bass, bluefish and farther in the Sound porgies or scup near larger population centers.
The fishing was decent and many people took the time and effort to make the run for fresh cod pollock and hake, with an occasional rare catch of a halibut. Some disappeared due to changing temperatures, generally in this area that meant warming waters. Other species became scarce due to over harvest in those days of few or no open ocean regulations and even less enforcement.
Thankfully that statement is not as significant now as then. These days some of the species that are rare have simply expanded their ranges to cooler waters to the north. As is typical, being nature deplores a void, more southerly species move in to fill the vacant niche or in some cases create a new one.
A prime example would be in flounder. During the late 60’s when friends and I first ventured to local estuaries to catch winter flounder during the late fall and early spring, even during the winter if ice had not formed, winter flounder was our primary target with some tomcod. In some areas with smaller flowing streams, some smelt runs lingered until waters became too warm.
River herring were abundant and a popular and productive bait for striped bass and bluefish at the time. Now menhaden have pretty much taken their place in the live hook bait category.
Personally, I did well on the flatfish and tomcod, even though on the advice of the old fisherman, my mentor, from Norwich I have never caught a smelt ever, even to this day. It is one of the few species in this entire region I have not caught and like all anglers; we often catch oddball species when we are targeting other species.
Bear in mind I have caught a few fish, some tiny look-like baitfish, and some visitors from distant places that I had to bring out a book or even send a photo to taxonomists to positively identify. A couple of those fish had never been identified in Connecticut waters according to the experts but I did not do all the documentation to get credit for a first sighting being I was simply curious, not writing a fish identification book.
One of that group I remember was a bright, orange reddish colored fish about three inches long called a “short bigeye” and that it was short with a big eye, a mouth like a rock bass, and shape like a bluegill. A cool looking beautiful little fish we caught while pulling a small seine while catching live mumichogs and silversides for fluke bait I took a photo and took it home for positive identification. That is why I know for sure what it was. My old professor, Doc, at Whitworth at UCONN verified that one.
Another oddball species that is more common to our north, that I had never seen, did not hear of, nor caught was the “torpedo ray or banjo ray”. It is a weird looking, potentially large member of the skate family, which is commonly called an “electric ray” because electric shock producing organs along the top of its back that can deliver a very powerful jolt. The function as with electric eels is to stun prey to make catching them more like picking them up off the bottom or in the water column rather than chasing a meal down or ambushing prey like many predators.
The electric organs that generate the shock look like elongated soft bubble like structures that can be seen along both sides of the spine on this unique and “shocking” fishes back. Unlike a skate. The giveaway as to this species not being a harmless skate is the fish like vertical swimming tail rather than the typical long spike like tail on the skates we catch in our waters during the summer.
I am blathering here because there is not much to do fishing wise during March unless you ice fish.
March does not hold much saltwater fishing potential in Connecticut waters. Tomcod are sparse, smelt disappeared decades ago, winter flounder are far from plentiful, and the potential for winter striper fishing in our larger coastal rivers is a fraction of what it once was ten or twenty years ago
Fishing options are zero to nothing unless there is safe ice, which did not look very promising as of this writing.
After hibernating at home all winter like a bear due to the Covid 19 virus, my fishing gear probably won’t get much use until spring.
One March option I have enjoyed for many seasons is catching some panfish, preferably yellow perch in a couple of protected coves on the Connecticut and maybe even the Thames where there may still be a few white perch to catch. As much as I enjoy catching large hard hitting and fighting game fish, few things make better frying material, especially when caught from frigid waters than a mess of yellow perch or any of the panfish in our freshwaters. All the fish I eat are filleted, rinsed, dipped in a mix of milk and egg, covered in Bisquick or cornmeal and pan fried and served with an optional wedge of lemon along with any other vegetables, rice, noodles and served hot with the beverage of your choice.