Small Stripers Provide Promise for 2017
The 2016 season started with great bottom fishing, and then bass arrived in the first weeks of May. While there weren’t as many big bass in my usual spots, the numbers were better than I have seen in recent years. One thing many anglers (myself included) noted was the number of micro bass around Buzzards Bay and the Elizabeth Islands. They could be a nuisance when targeting larger fish, but it was encouraging to see so many young ones.
There weren’t many bluefish around early in the season, but by July some big fish had moved in, especially after the schools of pogies arrived. One of the things that surprised me the most was the number of striped bass along the mainland shore of Buzzards Bay for the duration of the season. Typically, by mid-July the water warms considerably and the bass vacate the area, especially during the daylight hours. Such was not the case this year, as stripers were present in strong numbers along the mainland for all but a brief period in late August, when they moved out to the Elizabeth Islands. While many of these fish were only about keeper-sized or slightly larger (with an occasional beast mixed in), they provided consistent light-tackle action without anglers having to travel very far or worry about hitting a particular tide.
The funny-fish run got off to a slow start, with bonito making a limited, brief appearance in the Westport area. The false albacore bite was also slow to materialize, with many concerned that the bay’s widespread rust tide would prevent them from appearing at all. Those worries were laid to rest by the second week of September as the albies moved into Buzzards Bay and along the Elizabeth Islands. While it wasn’t nearly as hot as last season, there were fish from the Canal to Westport until late October.
The tautog bite was on fire this fall, with anglers pulling lots of fish from the rocks well into the final weeks of November. Overall, 2016 had lots to offer throughout the season, even during the typically slow “doldrums.”
Shallow-Water Bluefish Bite
The hottest bite I got into this season was a group of huge bluefish at a point of land just outside New Bedford. The fish were tight to the shore, sometimes in less than two feet of water, cruising around and tailing like permit on the flats. They were on this point daily for about two or three weeks, daisy-chaining around and occasionally assaulting the hordes of tiny silversides that were nearby. Presentations had to be precise and gently placed or the fish would scatter, so the fly rod was my primary tool. It was both exhilarating and frustrating to watch a 15-pound fish charge the fly in a foot of water, only to turn away at the last moment. While I was able to land a good number of these fish, including a surprise 25-pound bass (my personal best on the fly), it was impressive just to see this type of activity. From what a charter buddy told me at the time, there were other groups of big blues throughout the bay displaying the same behavior. I’m not a bluefish fanatic, but when they’re that size and difficult to fool, I’m game.
Finesse Tactics Shine
Nearly all my fishing is done with light spinning tackle, throwing soft plastics and plugs of 2.5 ounces or less. While I stuck to my guns much of the time, I spent a lot of time casting the fly rod this season. Many of the locations I fish are in shallow water, making the fly rod a perfect finesse tool, especially when fish are spooked by a lure merely landing on the water. Last season, I encountered a group of big bass outside New Bedford for couple of weeks and initially struggled to find consistent success. The fish were in calm, shallow water and were incredibly skittish. They were not very responsive to topwater presentations, even a smaller example like the Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow. I was most successful with small soft plastics on light leaders, but this season I tried the fly. The fish were there again, but they weren’t the 25- to 40-pounders of last season – most were 10 to 15 pounds. What I like about using the fly rod in shallow water is the ability to move the presentation slowly without it plummeting to the bottom. When fish are finicky, sudden or rapid movement is enough for them to lose interest or spook. If you’re not proficient with the fly rod, try unweighted or very lightly weighted soft plastics to keep the lure in the strike zone longer, especially in shallow areas with minimal current.
Buzzards Bay Keeps Getting Better
It’s always difficult to predict what will happen from year to year, but it seems to me that angling in Buzzards Bay and at the islands has been improving over the last couple of seasons. The right combination of weather, temperature, and the presence of bait is what ultimately counts, but I am confident that we can expect another season of improvement. I hope the staggering number of small stripers in our waters this season is an indication of a positive future for that fishery. Only time will tell, and of course, nature will make the final call. I’m already counting the days until I can get back on the water.