Connecticut River - the “long tidal river” named by the Algonquians of southern New England - starts at the northern tip of New Hampshire where it beings its southerly 410 mile journey through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut where it ends in the Long Island Sound. The CT river offers up many different looks, feels and recreational opportunities and one of my favorites is fishing. The CT River offers up many different species of fish from Carp, Catfish, Northern Pike, Walleye and one of my personal favorites, Small Mouth Bass. It also is home to many migrating fish species like the American Shad, Atlantic Salmon and River Herring (also known as Alewife) and these migrating herring are the reason the Striped Bass make the journey from the ocean up river every spring as they follow the migration of river herring. These striped bass will follow the herring some 70 miles into Massachusetts just to feed on this migration only to return to the ocean later on.
The opportunity to catch stripers ranging from 10" to15" fish all the way up to 50" fish from anywhere in that 70 mile stretch is what makes the river striper run one of the most anticipated events of the spring. Starting in Late February early March the forums start buzzing with people looking for those first catch reports of bass and it builds into a all out frenzy with reports of the herring run.
There are many ways to fish for stripers such as drifting live bait, trolling, anchoring up and fishing with some type of chunk bait or sand worms or just working the shoreline with lures and plastics. We setup the kids with a live bait setup - it is illegal to use river herring as bait so many people use large shiners instead - and the first drift was underway. It took my friends oldest son Zack about 5 minutes to miss the first fish, but Scott's youngest son Junior - not really his name but that is what we call him - made his first opportunity count by doing everything right. Waiting for the fish to run with the bait and then click over the bail and set the hook home and just like that the first striper of the season was hooked up and the fight was on. After a really decent fight we were able to net this healthy 22 inch striper. The smiles says it all doesn't it.
Junior's 22" Striped Bass
After a few pictures we released the fish back into the river and then a round of high fives was in order. I thought this was a good sign of the fishing that was to come and we definitely had opportunities but the fishing wasn't on fire by any shape of the imagination. As we setup for another drift we continued to scan the water for any sign of fish or herring and we did see some sign of herring but no sign of any fish chasing them. On our second drift, Zack missed another fish on his live bait setup and Junior hooked into another one, this time a little smaller. After his second fish Scott and I were beginning to get nervous because this isn't normal for Junior.
We had opportunities on every drift with the live bait, but I just had a feeling and decided to bang the shoreline with a pearl Houdini to see if I could catch one just hanging out waiting and sure enough I did. About 10 feet from shore my Houdini got hammered and I knew right away he was a decent fish. The legal size limit to keep a striped bass is 28 inches with a 2 fish per person limit. The fish was taking drag and working me around the boat and I got a couple of good looks at him and every time he made another run. Junior was manning the net and giving me grief so I put a little bit more pressure on him and I had my first keeper sized bass for 2010 in the boat. I decided to return it to the river to keep feeding on those herring and get just a little bigger.
My first 2010 keeper
After that I concentrated on helping Zack get a handle on what he was doing wrong and it wasn't long before he was hooked up with his first CT river striper. After a nice little fight we were taking some pictures and releasing another bass back into the river.
Zack's first CT River Striper
We continued to have some hook ups and some misses but Scott wasn't having much luck and you just can't let the Captain of the boat not enjoy some of the fun, plus if we all out fished him he might not bring us next time. Scott had some opportunities earlier in the day but just wasn't connecting but when he finally did he went on a 3 fish catching streak with the largest being another 22 inch fish.
Scott's contribution to the boat.
Ok, I apologize Scott. That wasn't very nice or fair to use the picture of this little one so how about this one.
We continued to fish our normal spots and try a few new ones and we boated 10 or 11 bass, missed probably as many more with only the one keeper sized fish. There is plenty of discussions on the forums about the the run being over or just beginning but either way we will continue to try our luck in the river before moving out to the sound for the season.
As morning changed to afternoon the river got more crowded with kyakers, water skiers, jet skis people cruising the river and plenty of people along the shoreline taking advantage of the great weather and this great resource known as the the long tidal river.
For more information on Striped Bass fishing in the Connecticut River check out these links.
CT Outfitters for tackle, licenses, bait and fishing information
Capt. Blaine Anderson - Fishing Guide - From the river to the sound
CT DEP - information about licenses, limits, access points
CT Fisherman - The best CT fishing forum around.