Just as the weather began cooling, the fishing for striped bass, blues and false albacore exploded from Cape Cod into Rhode Island. Blitzes have been numerous, even as black sea bass continue one of their best seasons here. Meanwhile, charter boat captains like Mike Wisniewski working far offshore waters have been hooking big bluefin tuna on light spinning gear. The best ocean fishing in America is occurring right here, right now.
While Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay are hosting huge schools of baitfish and widespread albies, Long Island Sound remains comparatively quiet. Only the bonito seem to have made their departure from our waters. But they always do when the albies arrive.
This summerâ€™s warmer than normal waters have provided some unusual fishing off our coast, too. Shrewsbury seventh-grader William Kelleher caught two king mackerel off the Cape last week. Many veteran anglers have gone a lifetime without catching one there.
This subtropical species is most at home in warm waters (68-84 degrees Fahrenheit). They come up here in small, but growing numbers every summer, taking advantage of the north-flowing Gulf Stream. Their lateral line distinctively starts high on its shoulder, dips to mid-body, and continues as a wavy, horizontal line to its tail.
The Massachusetts record, caught in 2008 by Tim Broderick at Lucas Shoal in Vineyard Sound, weighed 8 pounds, 6 ounces. Kings under 10 pounds tend to have on their flanks yellowish-brown spots that are smaller than the prominent yellow spots on the similar Spanish mackerel, which are also occasionally caught here. To further distinguish a king from a very similar Spanish mackerel, check the latterâ€™s lateral line, which in contrast slopes gradually from the top of its gill to its tail. Also, note that the Spanish mackerelâ€™s first spiny dorsal fin has a prominent black patch, which is totally lacking in a king. Our state-record Spanish mackerel, caught by Joe Canha in 2011 in Vineyard Sound, weighed 8 pounds.
The kings that come here spawn off Florida from May through August, after which they head back to the deep waters off North Carolina. Kelleherâ€™s fish overshot its wintering grounds. Females are considerably larger than males. Captains assert that any king over 15 pounds is almost assuredly a female.
Fishermen who target king mackerel do so for their extraordinary runs, which can strip a reel. Theyâ€™re just about as fast as their rocket-shaped relative, the wahoo. Anglers also admire their flesh, which is on the grayish side because of its high fat content. Like swordfish, shark and tilefish, though, they can absorb and maintain high levels of mercury.
Helping commercial casts
Commercial striper fishermen have had great difficulty taking their limit this year. Was it because of a plunge in the population of fish 34 inches and overÂ â€” or difficult conditions?
Regulators from the state Division of Marine Fisheries appear to believe the latter reason. Theyâ€™ve consequently just added Tuesdays as an extra commercial fishing day to help the challenged commercial fishermen to take this yearâ€™s predetermined quota before all the big bass migrate out of our region.
Commercial fishermen are short almost a quarter of a million poundsÂ â€” about a quarter of what regulators had deemed reasonable to harvest in our state waters this year. Recreational fishermen that release their catch out of concern for what they perceive to be a dwindling striper population are infuriated by this decision.
There were two recent fatalities of endangered shortnose sturgeon discovered during an exit flume inspection at the Holyoke Dam’s Robert E. Barrett Fishway. The fish had been previously captured, identified and released. A third sturgeon had earlier been killed from an impingement in the liftâ€™s hopper bucket. These have been tough losses for this special species this year. Only 74 sturgeon have passed over the lift in 2018.
Fall stocking coming up
Our stateâ€™s trout fishermen are about to benefit from the annual fall stocking of trout, which begins at the end of September, when waters safely cool. Expect MassWildlife to stock 60,000 rainbows and 4,000 browns in the next month. The MassFishHunt website will detail weekly stockings on specific waters.
Fine fishing in Vermont
Vermont fisheries biologists have good news for sportsmen. Just as the hunting seasons begin for ruffed grouse (Sept. 29) and woodcock (Oct. 1), some of the best fishing of the year is occurring for bass and pike. Lake Champlain and Lake Saint Catherine, along with Morey, Bomoseen, Hortonia and Seymour lakes all have great smallmouth and largemouth bass action.
Additionally, lake trout, landlocked salmon, brown trout and brook trout are all getting ready to spawn and will be hitting hard, too. Lake trout move into their close-to-shore spawning reefs mid-October to mid-November. The ledges of Button Bay State Park, Arnoldâ€™s Bay, and the west shore of Grand Isle are hot spots then.
Even steelhead, which spawn in spring, go back into the spawning rivers in the fall. There will be plenty of action for them on Lewis Creek, in North Ferrisburgh, and the Black and Willoughby rivers in the Northeast Kingdom. Good places to fish for fall migrating landlocked salmon include the Salmon Hole on the Winooski River, below Peterson Dam on the Lamoille River, and the west shore of Grand Isle. Lake Memphremagog salmon also enter the lower Clyde River at Newport.
Green Mountain scares
There was some scary news for Vermont, though, too. On Sept. 14, chronic wasting disease was confirmed in a Quebec captive herd of red deer, within 100 miles of the Vermont border. Hunters could easily import the disease by bringing brain and nerve tissues from infected carcasses with them.
Vermont game wardens arrested Randy Gross, a resident of Barnet, Vermont, for shooting a bald eagle with a .22-caliber rifle. The punishment is a fine of $1,222, and the loss of his sportsmanâ€™s license for three years.
Barbecue at Camp Bartlett
The Leominster Sportsmenâ€™s Association will host a chicken barbecue and NRA Day at 8 a.m. Sunday, rain or shine, at Camp Bartlett, 1455 Elm St., Leominster.
The annual event, which strives to support and pass on our great outdoor tradition for newcomers and experienced shooters alike, will include safety lessons with .22-caliber rifles, pistols, shotguns, archery and black powder rifles. All inspiring activities are designed in a safe, structured, hands-on learning environment under the direction and supervision of experienced shooters, instructors and coaches.
This is an exceptional opportunity to bring a youngster for a great introductory experience. In addition to the shooting opportunities, the trout pond will be open to fishing. New this year, the event will have more than 100 steel silhouette targets for an arcade shoot. For more information, go to www.LSA-MA.org.
The local skeet-shooting world lost one of its giants with the passing of Don â€śMacâ€ť MacDermott. The 81-year-old was long the inspiration, range master, and coach for many competitive shooters in Worcester County.
TuesdayÂ â€” Apply for surplus doe tags for Zone 11, at 8 a.m. on www.mass.gov/massfishhunt-buy-fishing-or-hunting-licenses.
Wednesday â€” Apply for surplus doe tags for Zone 10, at 8 a.m. on www.mass.gov/massfishhunt-buy-fishing-or-hunting-licenses.
ThursdayÂ â€” Apply for surplus doe tags for Zone 9, 13, and 14, at 8 a.m. on www.mass.gov/massfishhunt-buy-fishing-or-hunting-licenses.
ThursdayÂ â€” Tick Talk with Mark Blazis, 7-9 p.m. at the Grafton Community Barn, 37 Wheeler Road, North Grafton. All you need to know about the deer tick, Lyme disease, and how to prevent an encounter with ticks.
â€”Contact Mark Blazis at email@example.com.