Updated: Dec 27, 2020
This year has certainly been a wild ride to say the least, one I doubt any of us will forget for a very long time. To be very clear, this will not be a blog post that will focus on the absolute dumpster fire that was 2020 (I think we all know what it would say if it were), but to chronologically summarize the fishing I experienced this year, along with highlights from guided trips with some great clients. I am really looking forward to what 2021 has to offer for all of us, and I am beyond excited to be starting out the season with all the pieces of my Guide Service put into place, my Online Shop up and running, and other exciting things that I have in the hopper. Aside from what I'm working on with my own business, I am happy to be joining forces with New England Dive, a Hobie Kayak dealer and dive shop in Wallingford, CT, along with several of my closest kayak fishing buddies. We have some great things in store, so stay tuned as those plans develop! Anyways, on to the fishing recap. I will attempt to keep the summaries short, all while providing some useful information.
Late Winter/Early Spring
As you may know, I am a huge fan of fishing the cold water period. There is something magical about catching fish in the winter months on ultra finesse presentations. 2020 started with some great open water fishing for bass and panfish. The river coves were waivering back and forth between open water and just enough ice to make fishing impossible, but when conditions allowed, the fishing was steady for assorted panfish species, pike, pickerel, and bass. Female yellow perch are engorged with eggs, and some of the bigger ones almost look comical. The quality of the black crappie in the Connecticut River backwaters continued to amaze, with some fish pushing 17" caught this spring. The pre-spawn pike bite is something I always look forward to. There is a very short window before they spawn to get a large female on artificial lures, but timing it can be tricky. Many of the spawning areas warm into the optimal temps for them to "do the dance" quickly. I've always found better action in migration areas of the main river as opposed to the creeks and coves where they do the deed. Sure, there are always some angry males willing to take a spinnerbait or swimbait in the creeks and coves, but getting a big pre-spawn female to take a swing at a lure isn't always easy once they have moved into the spawing area. I didn't spend a ton of time looking for pike in the early season (we were quarantined for most of it), but during this year's pre-spawn I had one solid chance at a big one that followed my swimjig all the way to shore, but I couldn't get her to commit. She looked healthy, broad shouldered with her shovel nose right on the paddletail trailer of my swimjig. All she had to do was open her mouth!! Oh well, pike fishing can be frustrating, and it does seem the pike population in the CT. River south of Middletown is hurting a bit. All I had to show for my efforts locally were a few male pike with the biggest being maybe 30", and a ton of large pickerel hanging in the same areas pre-spawn pike usually stage. Some of these pickerel were giants, and I got fooled into thinking I was fighting a pike by a couple of them. As water temps started to warm into the mid 40's, I switched into jig mode for largemouth bass.
The Pre-Spawn Jig Bite
I will typically start putting more time into bass toward the end of February and early March, when water temps are inching into the low to mid 40's. I have a very hard time fishing anything other than a jig with a big floppy trailer, as it has been my go-to largemouth lure in the transitional month of March for many years. Bass will start feeding more frequently as waters warm, and you can bet they move shallow to soak up some rays on a sunny day. Crawfish are beginning to move around a bit in the mud and submerged brush, and the bass will take notice. I had some nice trips to a few local ponds that warm quickly in the spring, as well as a few different river creeks and coves, throwing nothing but the jig and having lights out action for hours. I'm not too particular about the brand of jigs I'm using, but any grass jig or Arkie Jig will work for the way I fish them in the spring. I like a little bit lighter jig for this application, so typically a 3/8 oz jig is what I will throw, and I'll bump up to a 1/2oz if it's windy. I focus on water ranging from 1-12' deep, but typically 4-8' is where most of my fish are sitting. I look for a mix of wood and rock, or wood and weeds, or weeds and rock, or all three combined. Rip rap river shorelines that are in the sun for most of the day will warm quickly and hold a good amount of fish.
Spring Run Stripers
Every year, by the middle of April, my focus is usually 95% shifted to targeting striped bass, as holdover stripers in the rivers become more active and willing to hit topwater presentations, and fresh fish are starting to filter into the sound on the heels of the river herring making their way to their spawning grounds. It wasn't the best spring run on record, that is for certain, but it wasn't the worst. According to the data, this year's herring run was one of the best in 30 years. There were reports of herring showing up in creeks as early as the last week in February. The larger migrating stripers were a couple weeks behind the biggest push of herring in mid April, and the two didn't collide head on the way they usually do. The bunker also showed up a couple weeks earlier than any bass big enough to eat them. We had an explosion of schoolie stripers in the 20-26" range, and most of the "keeper" sized fish that were around early on were averaging 30". I suppose using the term "keeper" is outdated, now fish 28-35" are referred to as "slots". I strongly believe that the slot limit is a great start to managing our striper stocks a bit more carefully. The slot size however will have to be changed intermittently to allow fish from 6-10 years old grow above slot size, otherwise entire year classes will virtually be wiped out before they can reproduce. Yadda yadda yadda, striper conservation... Do your part, safely handle and release. Hopefully we will see more positive changes to benefit the striped bass in coming years.
With the run being slow to start, finding consistently bigger fish was tricky. I had a few solid trips to the mouth of the river with fish around 38", but no record breakers or banner days. Honestly, I had more fun with the holdovers that were keyed in on herring up river. The action was consistent at least, and fish 26-30" were willing to hit topwater at almost any time of day, so long as the water was moving and some bait was present. Of course, that bite fizzled as water temps started to warm and herring began exiting their spawning grounds.