September 29, 2010
Connecticut's rivers and saltwater beaches offer some of the best summertime striper fishing in the Northeast. Don't miss out on this great opportunity!
By Tom Migdalski
Photo by Tom Migdalski
For southern New England saltwater anglers, July means hot fishing in Long Island Sound. And the favorite summertime quarry in the Sound is striped bass. Thanks to strict conservation efforts instituted in the 1980s, recent years have produced an explosion in the region's striper population.
The action peaks in June and continues well into July. If you are seeking a king-sized cow bass, you'll need to invest more time fishing at night. These large, lone feeders are primarily nocturnal and will fall for favorite foods like live eels and menhaden.
But daylight fishing can produce good catches of school-sized bass. These fish are available in great numbers, and odds are that when you find one, you'll also find many of its schoolmates. According to local charter captains, now is a good time to get in on the schoolie bass bite.
"I'm very optimistic about the Sound's striper population," said Captain Dixon Merkt, of Old Saybrook, Connecticut. "There's a strong nucleus of fish in the 18- to 32-inch range, and over the last couple of years we've done very well with them. I think this year will be as good, if not better, than the last few years. What's exciting about July stripers is that when you find them, you normally find them in numbers. You're not going to catch just one fish -- you're going to catch six or more, especially if they are breaking along a rip or over a reef."
Many of Connecticut's linesiders are fish that spend the off-season in the deep channels of our major river systems and the Hudson River in New York. Once the water temperature reaches about 50 degrees (usually late April or early May), this multitude of fish migrates into Long Island Sound to spend the summer.
During the same spring period, another body of fish migrates northward from Chesapeake Bay, rounds Montauk Point at the tip of Long Island and floods into Long Island Sound, where both populations merge and create outstanding late-spring and early-summer fishing.
Action on July's schoolie bass can be good from almost any tidal location, including shore-fishing from estuaries, beaches and jetties, or by boat. Although these fish will bite throughout the day, your best bet is to fish early and late when the sun is low and beach and boat traffic is minimal.
The Connecticut coast boasts numerous reefs and rips that hold bass throughout the season. For anglers without a boat, the Nutmeg State has several great shoreline access spots as well as many party boats and private charters to put you on the fish. Listed from east to west, here are some of the top bass hotspots in your area this month.
BARTLETT REEF, WATERFORD
At the east end of the state, the highly productive Jordon Cove launch area is in Waterford.
"It's a great all-purpose spot," Capt. Merkt said, "because you can fish it from shore or boat. It's a hotspot from the rocks at first light for most species through the season, starting with the bass in the early summer and ending with false albacore and Spanish mackerel in the fall."
When launching at Jordon Cove, Bartlett Reef is out of the bay and a short run to the southeast.
"If you have a small boat," Capt. Merkt said, "try the north end of the reef where there are assorted rockpiles. They produce excellent bass fishing at this time of year. My favorite time here is the outgoing tide. But be careful of the breaking rocks at low water. If you are new to the spot, you'll need a chart.
"There's also good fishing at the south end around the spindle. Another larger rip is located farther south of the spindle, but you'll need a seaworthy craft to fish there. The entire length of the mile-long rip is good fishing, and working birds will often pinpoint the fish for you," he noted.
The Jordon Cove launch is at Pleasure Beach. To find it, travel Route 156 in Waterford to Route 213, south on Goshen Road and the launch is straight ahead. Be sure you check the forecast before launching here because a west or southwest wind of 15 knots or more makes trailering very difficult. An alternative is the state launch on the Niantic River in Waterford.
NIANTIC RIVER AND BAY
Niantic is one of the most productive fishing regions on Long Island Sound. A good shore place to try for stripers is the mouth of the Niantic River, which separates the towns of Niantic and Waterford. "That's a great spot," Capt. Merkt said. "The big bass go running through there all summer."
You can fish either the east or west bank to the south of Route 156 and the train bridge. Cast into the mouth of the river channel where it meets the bay. Early mornings and evenings are the best times here. Expect heavy boat traffic on weekends, especially during the day.
To access the train bridge fishing area in Niantic, turn north 100 yards west of the Niantic River bridge on Route 156 and follow the signs for the Black Hawk party boat parking. Walk from the parking lot toward the train bridge, where you'll find a concrete walkway that passes beneath it and accesses the beach. Fish the corner of the beach where the river meets Niantic Bay. You can also fish your way down the beach along the north end of Niantic Bay.
Millstone Nuclear Power Plant's warmwater outflow holds schoolie bass, bluefish and false albacore throughout the summer. The discharge is a great spot to cast from a boat, as are the rocks surrounding this large peninsula, especially on the east side. In years past, access was permitted from shore off Millstone, but in this post-9/11 era that fishing opportunity was lost and the area is closed to shore-fishing.
Security is understandably tight around high-risk structures, such as nuclear power facilities, so be sensible when fishing and photographing near Millstone or any other nuclear power plant.
Security is much stricter on the west or "inflow" side than on the east or "outflow" side of the facility. If you cross the west side's well-marked boundary line, you are asking for a serious run-in with facility guards. However, the east side's warmwater discharge area is more accessible and usually has good fishing.
When casting around Millstone Point, follow all posted signs and guards' instructions carefully. And don't attempt to take photos of the plant: That's considered a violation of the Homeland Security Act and you're likely to be boarded and escorted to shore by
the Coast Guard.
For supplies and local information, contact Hillyer's Tackle Shop at (860) 443-7615, or find the store beneath the Route 156 bridge at 374 Rope Ferry Road across from the state launch.
For information on eastern Long Island Sound light-tackle charters, call (860) 434-2301.
The Race is one of the best striper hotspots on the East Coast. It's located eight miles southeast of Niantic Bay at the mouth of Long Island Sound. It is commonly accessed from the Jordon Cove or Niantic River launches in Waterford.
Big stripers hold in The Race all summer, thanks to the schools of baitfish that congregate there. You'll also likely catch large numbers of hungry bluefish.
This rugged stretch of water is not for the inexperienced boater or small craft operator. Expect choppy riptide conditions even on calm days, which become extremely rough when a stiff breeze opposes the current. Waters 250 feet deep rapidly shallow to 70 feet or less to create a massive rip line. The Race is one of the few spots on the Sound that's best left to the pros. Instead of venturing out yourself, you can hop on one of the many charter or party boats that fish here every day.
For popular party boats that ply The Race, call the Mijoy from Waterford, which sails daily at 6 a.m. and 1 p.m., at (860) 443-0663; the Black Hawk from Niantic, which sails daily at 6 a.m. and 1 p.m., at (860) 739-9296; or the Hel-Cat II, which sails daily from Groton at 9 a.m., at (860) 445-5991. Expect fares to run about $35, including bait and tackle rental. You'll also need to bring money to tip the mates and pay for the optional fish filleting service.
If you are looking for large bass, the top place in the state is The Race at night. This type of fishing, however, is even more dangerous than fishing The Race during daylight. Your best bet for jumbo bass after dark is to assemble a few buddies and hire a night charter.
For information on fishing The Race, contact J&B Tackle, 25 Smith Avenue in Niantic; call (860) 739-7419, or visit them online them at
HAMMONASSET BEACH, MADISON
At the midpoint of the state's coast, you'll find Hammonasset State Park in Madison a short distance from Interstate Route 95. This beautiful beach offers camping, a picnic area, nature trail and great shoreline striper fishing. It's an excellent place to bring the family for a few hours of fun while you fish.
Try casting off Hammonasset Point, which is only a few minutes from the Meigs Point parking lot. Head toward the mouth of the Hammonasset River where it meets the Sound and look for a large bouldered area. This spot holds fish waiting for forage to be swept out of the river into open water. Be cautious of strong currents and slippery footing when wading this area.
The most popular and productive fishing spot in the park is probably Meigs Point jetty, which is at the east end near a small boat launch. Come prepared with heavy line and extra sinkers or lures. Large rockpiles off the jetty attract and hold bass and bluefish, but it's also easy to lose some tackle in them. Expect strong east-west currents off the jetty when the tide is at peak flow.
The action peaks in June and continues well into July. If you are seeking a king-sized cow bass, you'll need to invest more time fishing at night.
Anglers may get to Hammonasset Beach State Park by heading south on the connector off Exit 62 on I-95. Expect crowded conditions on summer weekends. In-season visitors must pay a daily-use fee. Fishing at night is often productive and allowed with permission from the park ranger.
For more information, call Captain Morgan's Bait and Tackle on Route 1 in Madison at (203) 245-8665.
NEW HAVEN HARBOR
New Haven Harbor, a triangular, four-mile-long bay, is the second largest commercial port in Connecticut. Three breakwaters mark the harbor's entrance, inside of which the waters are shallow except for a deep, well-marked channel running north through its midline to I-95.
On New Haven Harbor's west side is the West Haven Sandbar, also called "Sandy Point." This is an excellent striper location for anglers without a boat. Bass are attracted to the area because of the confluence of the Quinnipiac, Mill and West rivers, which dump baitfish into the harbor just above the sandbar. New Haven Harbor is known for its schoolies and trophy stripers. The 75-pound, 6-ounce state record was caught here in 1992.
The sandbar juts into mid-harbor from the West Haven beach, and the entire bar is above water at low tide. However, although you can walk almost one-half mile out, be prepared for the flood tide with a pair of chest waders for the return trip. Expect rough, roiled water and loose seaweed with an east wind, which blows across the harbor into your face. The best times to fish the bar are early morning and evening near a high tide with a west wind. The water is very shallow at low tide.
To reach the West Haven Sandbar, take I-95 to Exit 43, head southeast on First Avenue (Route 122), which becomes Beach Street. Park in a special lot across from the restaurant. Signs mark the parking and access areas.
For local fishing information, contact Dee's Bait and Tackle in New Haven at (203) 562-7025.
HOUSATONIC RIVER, STRATFORD
In upstate Connecticut, the Housatonic River is known for its excellent trout fishing. Near Long Island Sound, however, the Housatonic turns into a wide, swift tidal river. With its deep channels, rockpiles, sand flats and muddy marshland creeks, the Housatonic River is one of the top schoolie bass locations in western Connecticut.
The most attractive location for both fly-casters and surfcasters is on the Stratford side of the river. Near the mouth you'll find Short Beach, which has excellent access and anglers can walk several hundred yards into the river. At low tide you'll need to be near the main channel for the best action; however, at high tide the fish will forage up to the shore.
Parking near the beach can be a problem during summer weekends, but striper fishing is always best in the early mornings and evenings, when recreational beach-goers will be fewest.
To find the beach and parking, take I-95 to Exit 32. Take Route 113 behind the Bridgeport Airport.
Off Stratford at the midpoint of Long Island Sound is a large reef called "Middle Ground," also locally known as "Stratford Shoal."
With its deep channels, rockpiles, sand flats a
nd muddy marshland creeks, the Housatonic River is one of the top schoolie bass
locations in western Connecticut.
Middle Ground is widely regarded as the top all-around fishing spot in the western Sound, and it's one of the best places to find stripers and bluefish each summer. The shoal averages about 17 feet deep at low tide, surrounded by about 70 feet of water except on the north side, where you will cross waters that are 150 feet deep. Only anglers with larger (17 feet or longer) boats should venture here because the sea becomes rough when strong tides and winds converge. Three navigational buoys plus a foghorn and lighthouse mark Middle Ground.
A launch is in Milford on the Housatonic River's east side. Take I-95 to Exit 34. Turn west on Route 1, and then go north on Naugatuck Avenue. The launch is on the left. Parking is available for 80 cars. A fee is collected on weekends and holidays.
To get there, motor downriver to Stratford Point, and then head south across the Sound for five miles. This spot is clearly marked on local charts. For more information, contact Stratford Bait and Tackle at (203) 377-8091.
Connecticut has a two-fish, 28-inch limit on striped bass. Limits on stripers have changed several times in recent years, so check the latest regulations before heading out.
Bluefish mix with stripers in most areas. The current bluefish limit is 10 fish per day per angler, regardless of size. But if you are not going to eat them, consider releasing them.
For more information and a free 2005 Connecticut Angler's Guide, call the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Fisheries Department at (860) 424-3474. For a boating guide, call (860) 434-8638, or check out the agency's Web site at
For visitor information, contact the Connecticut Office of Tourism at (800) CT-BOUND or visit the agency's Web site at
For marine weather forecasts and local tides, visit
www.wunderground.com. For waterproof navigation charts that mark all the fishing hotspots in the above areas, contact Capt. Segull's Sportfishing Charts at (888) 473-4855;
www.captainsegullcharts.com, or consider sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
Now is the time to grab a rod and get in on the hot July bass bite. Striper fishing should be good this month at these and many other shoreline and boat-access spots in New England. Make an effort to get up before sunrise or stay until sunset for the best action.