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CT-RI Fishing Report

For open-water fishermen in Southern New England, February is nearly universally considered to be the toughest month of the year, and this is especially true for the saltwater purist. To be completely honest, there are very few options available this month locally for a boater looking to wet a line, but as we move into March things get much better and the light at the end of the tunnel begins to show itself. There are boating activities to be had in both February and March in the form of boat shows, however, and I’ll add a list of the major local ones of which I am aware at the end of this month’s installment.
Now is the time of the year when on any given evening you’re likely to find me hovering over my rod-building bench while I lay down some threads on a new stick with a Boston Bruins game feed running on my phone nearby. With the Bruins having their way with the rest of the NHL so far this season, all is good on that front for sure! As for the rod, I only have a single new build planned for now: a tuna jigging rod to match up with a Shimano Ocea Jigger 4000 HG that I recently purchased. I was back and forth on buying vs. building a rod for this reel, heavily considering a new St. Croix Rift Jigging Rod after seeing them in person at ICAST last summer, but for now, I think I am going the custom route. (I may still grab a Rift spinning rod for throwing topwater as the rods were extremely impressive!) I own several tuna spinning jig rods already but want a conventional outfit to even out the stress inflicted on my body by hours of jigging and lengthy battles with oversized bluefin. My thought here – perhaps more accurately my hope – is that by being able to swap up the muscles being worked from one drift to the next then I’ll be able to enjoy the time even more and not pay for it as hard the day after a trip to the tuna grounds as I have been. I am also a tackle junkie so I jump at any excuse I can come up with to buy new gear! So far, I have been looking at blanks from United Composites, Black Hole, and a few others, but I am leaning toward the UC Zeus 4 based on some solid recommendations from several trusted confidants.

Fishing-wise for February and March not much has changed since last month. I discussed the cod fishery in January and referenced the head boat option, and it remains your best bet aside from the odd chance that your boat is still in the water – or more likely of an opportunity if you trailer it – assuming you’re desperate enough and a weather window opens. From those I spoke with recently, fishing for cod in January was so-so at best. There were fish to be caught, but no great numbers or size, for the most part, was reported aside from a pop here and there. It was what winter cod fishing has been for some time now, and that’s a way to spend a day outside, on the water, with a chance at a couple of cod and some bycatch for the table. Boats are not generally running consistent sailing schedules right now opting instead to be at the ready, making announcements of planned trips as conditions warrant. It pays to follow your favorite boats on social media and sign up for their email notices as when a trip is planned, it often fills up in short order.
If you’re really in need of a fishing fix right now, holdover striper action in the larger tidal rivers (Housatonic, Connecticut, Thames, Providence, etc.) has been anywhere from good to very good in the early winter so far due to the mild weather seen up until the time of this writing. Of course, the cynic in me says that we’ll eventually pay for the warm weather in the form of a cold, late blast from Mother Nature, but only time will tell for sure. Assuming things remain as they have been, fishing the deeper stretches of the rivers and adjacent flats with soft plastics pinned on jigheads is your best bet for action. I dove into this in greater depth last month so I will not repeat myself here today aside from reminding you to bend down the barbs on your hooks when targeting holdover stripers and again plead with you to resist the urge to run up crazy numbers.
Also, of note on the holdover striped bass front, a collaborative project between the CT DEEP Marine Fisheries Program and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries is being conducted to study post-release mortality of striped bass in the Housatonic River winter holdover fishery. Throughout the winter, DEEP and MA DMF staff will catch striped bass with rod and reel and tag them with specialized acoustic tags before releasing them. If you should catch one of these tagged striped bass, please record the id number on the tag before releasing the fish and report the date, location, and tag number to the CT DEEP Marine Fisheries Program by calling 860-447-4341.
Last up for now we are smack dab in the heart of the annual winter boating, fishing, and outdoor show season, something that never disappoints! For February and March, you have at least four major shows in Southern New England; more if you’re willing to travel to New York or New Jersey. First up we have the Progressive New England Boat Show at the Boston Convention Center on February 15-19. This is a huge, and I mean HUGE show when it comes to our local boat show season and not one to be missed if you’re in the market for a new sea sled. Following the Boston show is the Springfield Sportsmen’s Show at the Big-E Fairgrounds, February 24-26, in my old stomping grounds of Western Massachusetts. This show has become more of a hunting show in recent years but is still worth a visit if you are an outdoorsman. Then we have the big one as far as saltwater fishing is concerned with the New England Saltwater Fishing Show at the Rhode Island Convention Center on March 10-12. Also referred to as the RISAA Show, this is one of if not the best pure saltwater fishing shows in the region! Last up on the official show circuit is the up-and-coming Connecticut Fishing & Outdoor Show at Mohegan Sun Casino, March 24-26. This show is well attended by both vendors and fishermen alike, and its convenient casino location makes for a solid option to grab a bite to eat, play the slots and maybe even catch a concert after walking the showroom floor.
There are also many local tackle shops and marine stores running in-house seminars, used tackle sales, and events this winter to help ward off the shack-nasties. This is also a good time of the year to get your gear in for service if you haven’t already done so. Whether your local tackle shop can handle it, or the manufacturer requires sending the reels in for authorized service, the earlier you jump on this the better!