Let’s begin this month’s report with a look at some of the notable seasons that are opening and closing in the month of September in Southern New England. First up, the summer blackfish season in Connecticut is now closed until October 10. You can still target them in Massachusetts and Rhode Island where the limit is 3 fish per angler, 16-inch minimum with only 1 fish 21 inches or greater. The party boat porgy bonus season kicks into gear this month in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut as anglers on-board a for-hire vessel are allowed 40 fish each. Private anglers can still retain the usual fish in all three states. Sea bass fishing will once again get confusing this month based on where you’re fishing AND where you hail from as Massachusetts closes on September 4. In Rhode Island private anglers can keep 3 fish as of August 27, but anglers onboard a for-hire vessel can now retain 6 fish through the end of the year. In Connecticut there is also a split between private and for-hire anglers as the for-hire limit increases to 7 fish per angler and remains 5 fish per angler on private vessels. Just to make things a little more interesting, in New York waters the limit is 6 fish per angler. Confusing? Sure, but remember that it remains incumbent upon you, the angler, to make sure you follow all size and bag limits as they change.
Ok, with that out of the way let’s look at what’s on the menu this month.
As you probably noted in my opening paragraph, this is the start of some bonus fish for anglers fishing on for-hire vessels. This includes smaller, 6-pack type boats as well as the larger party or head boats that sail out of some of the larger ports in Southern New England. The scup/porgy bonus season in September is really appealing as that 40-fish limit can really fill up the freezer in a hurry with some super tasty and versatile fillets. What’s even better, especially for someone like me who gets tired of filleting a pile of these saltwater panfish, is that the mates onboard are willing and more than able to clean your catch in short order!
Last year I took my son and wife out for a day on the Blackhawk, sailing out of Niantic, CT, and it was a great experience all around. I have sailed with Capt. Greg and his crew a bunch of times in the past for a variety of species, but this was the first time I took the family along with me. While we brough our own rods and reels, the rental gear was just as good as what we fished with, and everyone caught a ton of fish. We worked on some of Greg’s marks in the waters around Fishers, the Race and Great Gull Island at the eastern edge of Long Island Sound. Every drop was fish-filled as black sea bass and scup came over the rails at a fast pace, with a sprinkling of fluke, stripers, a few bluefish and of course the lowly-but-tasty sea robin making its presence known. By day’s end we had culled out enough mega-porgies to make several meals, and had we been keeping all the keepers we boated, we’d have easily filled all three of our limits!
Private boaters can similarly get in on this mixed-bag bottom fishing action, and I will certainly be hopping on friends’ boats as well as running my kayak this month. Hard bottom is usually a good place to start for both porgies and sea bass with some of our best “secret spots” consisting of sand and rock. Many of the better blackfish reefs are also very good for variety bottom fishing, and one of our favorite techniques is to slowly drift the structure with butterfly and slow-pitch jigs. Depending on drift speed and depth, jigs from 1 to as much as 5 ounces get the nod. When heavier weights are required, we generally move to a different area, but if the bite was good enough on the lighter jigs, we will occasionally drift with high-low baited rigs and heavy sinkers. It’s not as much fu as the jigs, but when the bite is on and the fish hungry, I am not one to pass on the opportunity.
September is also a time to look for schools of fish working bait under diving birds. In recent years any given school can include striped bass, bluefish, false albacore, bonito, Spanish mackerel, Atlantic mackerel, chub mackerel, frigate mackerel and more. While often you can tell what is likely working under a swarm of birds by how it moves, I’ve been surprised enough times to never know for sure. Two years ago, I was drifting some sea bass numbers off Misquamicut when chub mackerel schools started moving through the area. When a school would move close enough, I would drop the sea bass rod and pick up a light spinning outfit armed with a JoeBaggs resin jig. After landing a few macks, I hooked into something that peeled a ton of line on its initial run. I assumed I had snagged a chub mack, but after a few minutes I had a massive bonito boatside. When I later filleted the bonito, I found several whole chub macks as well as a pile of bay anchovies in its belly. This thing looked more like a small tuna than a bonito, and was obviously feeding on anything and everything it could get in its mouth!
Albie fishing should be in full swing by month’s end, beginning as just a sniffle before turning into a full-blown fever in short order. Last year there was some excellent albie action seen well into Long Island Sound in September with fish pushing as far west as Norwalk. At times the fishing was maddening, as hunting albies can so often be, but there were plenty of days where anglers ran up some impressive scores. While my false albacore success has been a rollercoaster of failures and catches, the one thing I have learned is that it always pays to be prepared. To this end I keep at least three rods always rigged and ready: one with an epoxy-type lure (JoeBaggs Resin Jig, Game On! Exo Jig or Hogie Epoxy Jig), one with a soft plastic (Albie Snax, Fin-S Fish or Tsunami Split-Tail Minnow) and one with a topwater spook, usually a Rapala Jumpin’ Minnow. This lets me adjust to different feeds on the fly, as well as present different offerings to finicky fish in short order. It doesn’t always prove successful on every trip, but it keeps me busy and at the end of the day I always feel like I gave it my best effort.