Updated: Dec 31, 2022
I have a hard time writing the opening sentences for a year end wrap up without sounding incredibly cliche, so we're just gonna get right into it. 2022 was a great year to be a saltwater angler in Connecticut, and freshwater certainly didn't disappoint either. I nearly doubled the number of guided kayak trips I did in 2021, and like always, I put in countless solo hours in the kayak scouting and mastering (or attempting to master) certain niche bites. New and return clients alike joined me on the water, most with their own set of goals for their trip, either to learn a technique, learn to fish from a kayak, to catch a personal best or a fish of a lifetime from a kayak, to catch as many fish as possible, and most importantly, to have fun. Quite a few personal bests and "firsts" came over the rails of my fleet of Hobie Outbacks this year for my clients, and the excitement felt by clients in these instances is felt by me as well! The majority of the trips I guided this year were targeting striped bass which wasn't a surprise, 2nd most popular were albies, and a distant 3rd were pike. There is unquestionably more demand for guided saltwater trips, and I don't see that changing in the near future, but I'm glad to also have extensive knowledge of the Connecticut River, Housatonic River, and a few other water bodies around the state with some really nice sized largemouth & smallmouth bass, pike, and panfish to be able to share with clients, either when they request a freshwater trip or conditions don't allow for a kayak trip on saltwater. In 2023 I'm hoping to have more interest in early season panfish and largemouth bass (that bite can be incredible), pre-spawn AND summer smallmouth (also incredible and some of the most fun fishing in Connecticut), and blackfish in the fall. Oh yeah, nighttime striper trips as well.
I won't go into too much detail regarding spring (ice-out through most of June really) because I wrote a lengthy blog post earlier in the year covering most of the highlights from late winter to about the tail end of the spring run of striped bass in the Connecticut River. Early season crappie and largemouth bass were great in select areas of the CT River with one client getting a near 5 lb. and a near 6 lb. largemouth on back to back casts in addition to a 40 something fish day targeting crappie, some good pike fishing here and there, mostly post-spawn/pre-summer, and striped bass fishing in the lower CT River was excellent. We had a great run, lots of fish between 28" and 36" with some much bigger ones mixed in, and the herring and bunker seemed to be in good numbers. The photos above highlight some of the best moments I experienced both with clients and on solo trips.
As summer set in and as the June full moon came and went, my focus shifted to larger striped bass in Long Island Sound, patterning their movements in darkness and low morning light. Other key bites that served as fun distractions but were important to keep an eye on at this time were river smallmouth bass and pike, as well as bottom fish in the sound such as porgy, fluke, and sea bass. Later in the summer, weakfish become a targetable option in a couple specific areas. Striper fishing seemed lackluster in the beginning of summer in some of the areas I frequented out front (many fish were still in the river, but water temps were becoming dangerous for stripers, and I chose not to target them there) but it picked up steam in July.
Nighttime was absolutely the right time, with fish reaching 46" for a few clients, and many high 30" to mid 40" fish being caught. Gravity Tackle 13.5" GT Eels were responsible for roughly 75% of stripers caught by me and my clients in the darkness this season, the other 25% or so were on live eels. For clients who don't spend a ton of time fishing from a kayak, or fishing at night, or fishing in current, or all three variables combined, I believe the GT Eel fished on a belly weighted hook or a light jig head is the best "eel-like" presentation in terms of feel. Feel goes a long way in fishing, and feel is converted into confidence. If you can't feel what the lure or bait is doing at the end of your line, you'll have a difficult time expecting it to get bit, and I think that is a big factor when casting and retrieving live eels. As tide speeds up or slows down, or depending on the varying depths at each spot, I would alter the client's presentation, adding or taking weight away from the GT Eel accordingly, and instructing them on boat position, pedal speed and direction, and where to cast to make the presentation look natural. Live eels caught plenty of fish after dark being cast and slowly retrieved, but most clients found their confidence in the artificial as it is easier to control in current and in darkness. Early summer mornings were great for topwater action from fish of all sizes, but more often than not the bite died by 8:30 am. 24/7 Lures Mully, Yozuri Topknock, and The 9" Doc were among some of the favorite plugs thrown by myself, clients, and the fish.
The Taxman Cometh
A common theme this past summer while targeting striped bass in eastern Long Island Sound was an unusual and somewhat frightening one. Brown sharks (aka sandbar sharks) seemed to wherever there were concentrations of stripers, which was just about every piece of hard structure with a decent rip this past season. There were dozens of reports of sightings or incidents involving brown sharks from Guilford to the Rhode Island border. Some anglers resorted to targeting them in areas they would normally target striped bass. Just about every day for a couple weeks, Connecticut surfcasters, kayak anglers, and boat anglers alike were having run-ins with browns or sand tiger sharks, whether it was solicited or not was a different story. Stripers were being bit in half mid fight, bottom fish being engulfed while being brought to the surface, and live eels, bunker, and even topwater and swimming plugs being attacked by these sharks that can reach 8 feet or so. I could probably write a separate blog post on my first experience with brown sharks from a kayak (second really, I had one take a live bunker last fall and break me off), but I will include it here.
It was early August, we had a rainy morning and lingering overcast conditions had me itching to get out there. We had a lot of "nice weather" this summer, too nice for striped bass fishing at times, meaning high temperatures and bright sun for days on end, leaving nighttime as the only viable option. An overcast day with low, thick clouds should never be taken for granted in the dead of summer. My goal was to get out on the water later in the morning as I had a few things to take care of prior to spending most of the day in the kayak, plus I was waiting for the tide to turn.
It started out a bit slow but a nice pod of fish rolled through with the tide, just as I expected. It was a topwater kind of day, and I had a pearl 24/7 Lures Mully clipped on, which was getting blown up on nearly every cast for about an hour straight. Some fish were of the schoolie variety, some were around slot size or just over, and there were a few low 40" class fish around too. The water being pushed over the structure by the tide was rough, and that's where most fish were hanging. The transition of rough water to smooth was also holding fish. It was a typical "good daytime bite", not lights out amazing, but there were enough fish to play with and make it a worthwhile solo trip.
I finally hooked up with a sizeable bass in the rip, definitely around 40", and it was the best fish I'd hooked into that day. Long, strong runs and lots of headshakes during the first part of the fight. As the bass began to tire out, it came up to the surface about 25 yards away from my kayak, and with it, an unexplainable, violent eruption of water just behind it. I remember saying out loud to myself, "what the hell was that?", and I found out soon enough. As the water settled, a large greyish brown dorsal fin and tail tip appeared behind the striper who remained unscathed by the first attack. This brown shark then looped back around 180 degrees with it's dorsal out of the water, and made another attempt. This time, unfortunately for the bass, contact was made by the shark, and a deep red ring of blood was left on the surface, surrounding the struggling front half of a 40" class fish. I sat in my kayak in disbelief, still watching as the shark (or perhaps a different shark...) circled what was left of this poor bass bobbing motionlessly. At this point the bass had come unhooked and was floating freely. I kept my distance for a few minutes, and let the shark decide whether or not it wanted to eat, but it decided to pass. From most photographs I've seen of brown shark attacks on stripers, they prefer the tail, leaving the rib cage, entrails and head, much like a bluefish eats only the back half of an adult bunker more often than not. This was the case here too. The shark on striper bites are almost always identical, cutting the bass short right at the anal fin, and it seems to happen during the fight, which makes perfect sense because the bass appears to be struggling, making a commotion and emitting stress pheromones. I slowly approached the bass and carefully scooped it with my net to get a closer look and document what had just taken place.
The shark had to be all of full grown, 7 or 8 feet anyway. Very large dorsal, very agile. The bite radius is not that of a small shark. This was, at one time, likely a 20 - 25 lb. bass that was bit in half in one shot. No doubt in my mind it was anything other than a brown shark. It's always interesting to witness something like that, you never forget it. This particular event is burned into my brain, and every time I reach for a striper's lower lip from this point forward, I will always be aware that this type of attack could happen during the landing process. I will now and forever have an eye out for sharks behind my fish and client's fish, and try keep the landing process as short and streamlined as possible, not reaching deep into the water. I suppose it's possible to have something like this happen while reviving a bass alongside the kayak too, but less likely considering most of these attacks take place while fighting the fish. I've basically banned clients from trying to land their own fish in certain areas, which I'm obviously happy to do regardless, but keeping clients safe is priority one, so keep your damn hands out of the water!
Oh, but it gets better.
After I let the dust settle and I mentally processed what had happened (about 10 minutes later), I continued to cast the topwater plug to the zone I had been having such consistency before the "incident". I believe it was my 3rd cast into the zone, the plug was blown up on and accompanied by a very big splash, and I was on. Immediately, I said to myself somehow very calmly "that's not a striper". This fish went uptide against a ripping current, towing me and my 12'9" 120 lb. kayak with it, and was unstoppable on my Penn Slammer 4500 and Medium Heavy Mojo Bass setup, capable of subduing 50 lb. class stripers. The fight didn't last long, as this shark's teeth sawed right through my 50 lb. leader. That was my cue to leave.
One of my favorite species to target in the summer months are smallmouth bass, specifically river smallmouth. I used to spend a fair amount of time targeting smallies on Candlewood Lake in friend's boats but knowing how insanely busy that lake can be in the summer, I stay away in the kayak. The diversity of target rich habitat, the differing currents from one area to the next, and the very situational fishing are just a few things that have always drawn me to rivers. There are several rivers that hold smallmouth in Connecticut, some better than others for producing quality and quantity of fish, and even though my favorite areas to visit are a good hour or more away, I make time to get up there as often as possible every year. Conditions can completely disrupt a river fishery, so when flows are manageable throughout the summer, it's a very worthwhile trip to take. Low water can pose its own problems, but fish are usually concentrated to select channels, holes, or riffles. It is very much so a 90% of the fish are in 10% of the water kind of deal. I constantly monitor stream flows for these areas, even if I'm not planning to visit, just to keep an eye on things and to know what to expect if I decide to take a ride for a solo trip or if clients wish to target smallmouth. It is not uncommon to have 50+ fish days and to see fish in the 2.5 to 4 lb. range, and when you're talking about river smallies, they fight like nothing else. This year I only got up there a handful of times, but had some fun fishing while there. River Smallie trips are something that I try to tell all of my clients about, both kayak and wading trips, whether they like freshwater fishing or not, because it's really an adventure fishing experience like none other. Miles of river, several different stretches with very different habitat, the surroundings are beautiful and quiet, the fish are stacked up and aggressive, and no matter how big a river smallie is, you know they're gonna pull hard!
On any given river smallie trip, a fish like this can come along and completely steal the show. It was not a mere by-catch while targeting smallies, but rather a change in gears and calling my shot, just about casting on top of it's head. As the smallie bite continued on in a couple areas, but only producing smaller than average fish, my wanderlust got the better of me and I decided to check out some different habitat down river of the deep, rocky bend I had been catching small to medium sized brown bass one after another. I found a large patch of vegetation with a tiny feeder creek adjacent to it.
I put down the light spinning rod and picked up my old but gold Mojo Bass Spinnerbait rod paired with a just as old Shimano Curado, and cast the swimjig with an Indiana blade affixed to the hook by a piece of surgical tubing up near the mouth of the feeder creek. 2 cranks of the reel was all it took, and WHAM! Out from the edge of the matted vegetation comes this absolute dragon of a pike, crushes my jig, and I was on! This was hands down one of the best fights I've ever had from a pike, and by far the biggest I've landed in the kayak (I can't tell you how many giants I've lost over the years during the landing process), and my 2nd biggest pike overall. I was shaking while netting this thing, just hoping the hook stayed buried. I got the fish parallel to the kayak, steered it head first into the net, and the pike was under control and in the yak. My girlfriend Magda was there with me, and she captured the moment phenomenally! 41.5" and likely pushing 20 lbs., a very healthy pike.
Banner Albie Year!
Another topic that I won't go into too much detail about, this year's unbelievably strong albie showing. I wrote a detailed post in September on the lights out start of the albie run. After that first week or so, we had some strong winds tailing off of a hurricane/tropical storm that was moving north, and fishing fizzled out locally. Some fish stayed around but most went south and west but remained in the western sound, around North Shore and Montauk too. Personally experiencing back-to-back double digit albie days soon after their arrival, it felt like it was going to be a non-stop albie beatdown for weeks to come. The fish had different ideas, clearly. They came back around eastern CT in mid October, finnicky as ever, and they stayed into early November. It's always nice to have a second shot at these fish, especially when they stay that late in the season and in such large schools. They were unfortunately hard to fool some days later in the run.
It was nice to have alternatives to striper fishing, or to be able to add albies to the species list of stripers and bottom fish for clients this fall. Albies from a kayak is a bucket list experience. There is so much emotion and excitement in albie fishing, whether it's from shore, boat, or kayak. I can confirm that the excitement is definitely heightened doing so from a kayak, and I think my clients who experienced it or anyone who has chased albies in a kayak for that matter would agree. Chasing these fish down, having them push bait to the surface directly next to you or in some cases all around you, and the yakside strikes when they follow an epoxy jig all the way to the kayak are truly amazing. Just watching them blitz in the numbers they had this year is of National Geographic proportion.
Fall Run Stripers
The fall run of striped bass was yet another annual phenomenon that did not disappoint in 2022. Being incredibly busy with guided trips this fall made most of it feel like a big blur. There were certainly some stand out trips, but the overall consistency of striped bass fishing experienced made most days blend together. We were often lucky enough to have blitzing fish of all sizes for at least the better part of the morning, if not throughout the entire day, and topwater was all you needed. Other days, not much was happening on the surface and other presentations had to be put into effect, namely a GT Eel on a jig head, a Ben Parker Magnum Flutter Spoon, or a carefully presented weightless or jigged soft plastic like a Fin-S Fish. I realize fall is a busy time of year for a lot of people with kids going back to school and soccer practice, but fall is WITHOUT QUESTION the best time of year to get out there. I was considerably busier with guided trips this fall in comparison to last year, but I still had quite a few gaps in the schedule during times of complete mayhem fishing. September through mid November is amazing, so book your trips accordingly for 2023!
Striper Tagging with Paul
I was lucky enough to be able to assist Paul with his data and research for his senior year thesis. Paul was studying the migratory patterns of striped bass and was spaghetti tagging fish he caught and recording the catches through Gray Fish Tag. All of his submitted data can be found there. The reason behind tagging striped bass is to help further our understanding of how these fish travel, where they travel to and when, and why. When the tagged fish are ultimately "re-captured", the hope is that the tag will be reported and logged on Gray's website, along with where it was caught and the size of the fish. We filled out a combined 19 tags on fish up to 41.5", and nothing under slot size. It was really an honor to be called on for help with something like this and to actively catch some of the tagged fish, and even tag some myself. This was my first time tagging stripers, which is something I've wanted to do for a long time, and I'm happy to be contributing to the ever-growing database surrounding these fish. Thanks for the opportunity Paul, and I can't wait to see where these fish travel on the striper coast!
As things started to slow down in the salt and consistent, strong wind became an issue as far as getting out there safely, I began slowing down myself. Though I'm happy to guide nearly all year (I would guide every day if I could), part of me is happy to have a bit of a break when weather turns in November. Blackfish started off with a bang, but good weather days were awfully limited. I unfortunately had to postpone several guided trips toward the end of the season due to weather that will be made up for in the coming year. I guided a few trips for black crappie and white perch in freshwater, but was hoping to be busier with those kinds of trips because they're really fun bites to put clients on this time of year. Easily 100 fish days.
Over the past 5 years or so I have spent less time during the late fall/early winter traveling to the tidal Housatonic for holdover stripers for a variety of reasons. I had all intentions of getting to Candlewood this fall/early winter, but just never found the time. A bite that will be missed by the few who knew how to fish it properly is the late fall through winter fishing at the recycling plant in Hartford. The plant was decommissioned this past summer, and is no longer functional, meaning no more warm water discharge. I'm sure smallmouth, perch, carp and holdover stripers will still use the structure and current breaks in that area, but it will never be the same without the induction of warm water those fish became reliant on every winter. Of course there are positive ecological effects on closing down a dirty, dilapidated, eye sore of a building that is rotting into the river, but I wonder what kind of ecological effect losing that warm water discharge will have on the Hartford area fish. You have to figure that their fall migrations will now be forever altered, at least for some.
My lack of time spent on the water this late fall allowed me a good head start on tying Hair Jigs before Black Friday, and jigs have been flying off the shelves, shipping out to those that are looking to put one last good largemouth or smallmouth in the boat before just about everything is frozen, and as holiday gifts as well. I also sold a good number of Gift Certificates between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I look forward to those trips in 2023!
New Kayaks in the CT Fish Nerd Fleet
Probably the most noteworthy addition to my gear for client use this year would be the two brand new Hobie Outbacks. If you've joined me on the water previous to me owning these, you may remember a Camo 2017 and a Papaya 2018 for my clients to use. There was nothing truly wrong with the older kayaks, in fact one of my clients who joined me in the spring loved the Papaya 2018 so much that he purchased it, but it was time to let them go and keep my fleet up to date. The piece of mind of having two new Mirage Drives with Kick-Up Fins boosts my confidence in safely putting clients on the water for long trips. The newer style hull is much more nimble, stable and more comfortable to spend a full day of fishing in as well. As always, clients who have their own suitable kayaks are welcome to bring them for their trip(s), but these kayaks were purchased to be used. A big thank you to the guys at New England Dive in Wallingford, CT. for being the best Hobie Dealer around, always having the good stuff on hand! Check them out for all your Hobie kayak and accessory needs, they will also help you with Hobie warranty claims and direct you to someone who can work on these kayaks as well (me).
I'd like to thank everyone who has supported CT Fish Nerd, LLC in 2022, by joining me for a guided trip or many guided trips, those that bought Hair Jigs or Gift Certificates, those that called on me for Kayak Rigging & Repair services, those who have shown support on social media or checked out my website, and those that have helped me achieve my goals along the way. This is not an easy business to make a living in, and I appreciate the continued business and support more than you know. It was a heck of a year of fishing, and I'm already looking forward to what next year has to bring. There are so many great options for kayak fishing trips in Connecticut over the course of the year. If you'd like to book a trip or multiple trips for the 2023 season, please visit the Contact page and leave me a message. I will promptly and personally return your message, and we can discuss all the fine details, dates, and options. Wishing you all the very best in the New Year.