Hopefully, this doesn’t jinx us all, but we’ve been quite lucky regarding fall storms so far this season. Aside from Hurricane Ian, which did its share of damage, as of the writing of this month’s column things have been quiet in New England. And this follows a predicted ‘above normal” season by the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, back in August. I guess it’s true what they say about meteorologists being the only ones allowed to be so bad at what they do and keep their jobs…
Assuming we continue with this trend of a moderate storm pattern heading into November, much of what was on the table in October remains a viable option. Even if the weather does turn sour, more often than not, it’s the anglers that I find giving up long before the fish tell say that it’s time to call it a season. A few days being tied to the dock is sign enough for many to pull the boat for the season, and a lot of marinas require boats to be out by November 1 so you’re going to encounter far fewer private boaters on the water this month than any time of the season.
Blackfish will remain a top priority this month in Connecticut and Rhode Island waters with the season ending on November 28 in the Nutmeg State and remaining open through December 31 in the Ocean State. In general, the fishing moves deeper as the season progresses and inshore waters cool, but I have never been able to say definitively if this is more a result of the movements of the fish or of the anglers themselves. I say this because there have been plenty of late-November tides where I made a solid catch of blackfish in the very same shallow waters I had them a month or more earlier. Blackfish do make east/west migrations throughout the season, so there must be something to the deep-water idea, but I’m not sure how important it is at this stage of the year. Another factor in the deeper movement and related success might very well be a result of the shallower spots getting fished out as the season progresses. 4-to-6 weeks of constant pressure on a finite pool of fish takes its toll. Take it for what it’s worth but don’t forgo the shallows if the deep spots fail to produce and vice versa.
Another tactic that has proven highly effective in past years is to target smaller structure as the fall blackfish season progress. This means instead of heading to the popular, giant reef, give the spots that you never see boats at a shot. I have had success in this manner by targeting many small, isolated rocks spread over an area, especially when a weather window opens, and I can hit them from my kayak. Some of these spots are as small as a single rock, while others encompass an area smaller than the average house, but the key seems to be in finding structure that can only be fished with one or at most two boats. A trolling motor, which has become quite a common accessory in recent years in the salt, makes this tactic even easier. This is the structure that usually takes time and energy to locate, but the payoff can often be high.
It’s not just blackfish on the table right now, however, as cod fishing receives increased attention in the late fall and early winter. While the cod fishery isn’t anything near what it once was, it is still very possible for small to medium boats to target them. Most dedicated cod fishing takes place east and south of Block Island and Montauk, but I’ve had them mixed-in with blackfish and sea bass on the inshore hard bottom north of the island quite a few times. Years back there was a quiet winter shore-bound cod fishery that produced fish in excess of 60 pounds along the South County shoreline, but your chances are better at winning the lottery than encountering a fish of this caliber in local waters in 2022. Regardless, what produced in days of plenty still produces today. Clams fished on a hi-low rig are a best bet, but always keep a jigging rod handy for when the motivation hits you or you run into schools of herring or mackerel. Cod, especially the larger ones, feed on fish just as much as they grub on the bottom. Most of my cod success in recent years has been on jigs as I prefer the more active approach, but it’s the fool who sets out for cod without some bait on hand.
Black sea bass is also a good option in November, and they can be found in the same spots as the aforementioned cod and blackfish, quite often filling-in the catch between the other target species. Sea bass do make a dedicated migration east to deeper water as the month progresses, so if they are your species of choice, it most certainly pays to fish east in search of productive bottom.
I’ll throw in a wild card here, too, as it’s not something I see garnering much press. In my years as the editor of another publication, it was my responsibility every week to edit the reports compiled across New England. It doesn’t usually take me too long to notice patterns, and I quickly came to notice a short but regularly occurring run of weakfish off Block Island every year. The bite usually lasts anywhere from one to three days, and it’s not really something that could be targeted, but when a cod boat found the school, it was common for anglers all around the boat to top off the day’s catch with several fine weakfish each! The action is always had on clams, and usually by the time word gets out it is too late for anyone else to capitalize on the event, so here’s another reason to have at least one person on the boat fishing clams at all times.
November also marks your last reliable shot at striped bass in Southern New England outside of the over-wintering rivers. Expect to find the bass heavily keyed-in on bait this month with your best success to be had when and if you can find schools of bunker, mackerel, hickory shad or sea herring. There is always a shot at some excellent daytime blitzes which pop up about anywhere as the final waves of stripers migrate through the region, and I always keep a rod rigged and ready when blackfishing this month. There was a time when November was THE TIME for giant stripers, with catches of 50- and 60-plus-pound fish being made on the regular, but it has been some years since I got wind of anything eclipsing about 55 pounds in the eleventh month locally with a 40-pound-class fish making news. This is not to say it’s out of the question, but you’re far more likely to find large schools of 20-pound-and-under fish this month than over that mark.
Well, that about wraps things up for the year, see you in the spring!