Casting About the Connecticut River
By Captain Tom Migdalski.
The Native Algonquins called it “Quinnehtukqut,” or “Long Tidal River,” and were the first to appreciate the estuary’s incredible diversity of life. Flowing 410 miles from its origin at the Canadian border, the Connecticut River dumps 10 billion gallons of fresh water into Long Island Sound every day. That’s 70 percent of all fresh water flowing into the Sound, and it helps make the lower portion of the river such a fertile spot.
Today, boaters and anglers enjoy the lower river’s cozy anchorages, tidal marshes, pristine forests, small towns, abundant birdlife and myriad fishing opportunities. Fluke, weakfish, American shad, hickory shad, bluefish and striped bass are among the many species that live among the marshes, islands, creeks, mud flats, bars, reefs, rocks and pilings. It’s an angler’s playground that fishes well all season—and beyond.
The I-95 bridge—officially called the Baldwin Bridge—lies 2.9 miles north of the river mouth at Lynde Point, and neatly and precisely divides the Inland Zone from the Marine Zone. That means if you drop your hook north of the bridge, despite its tidal fluctuations and salt content, you must possess a freshwater fishing license. South of that marker you will need a saltwater license. Both can be easily purchased online.
While the waters north of the Baldwin Bridge can produce excellent early-spring action with small stripers, especially in protected spots such as Hamburg Cove, the action with larger migratory bass doesn’t begin until late April or May. These fish have a taste for herring and alewives, and often stack up off day marker “25” at the southern entrance to South Cove, on the west side of the river below Essex.
Fish this spot on a running tide, starting 50 yards north of the marker and drifting south along the reef edge. Use large metal lures, swim shads or big soft-plastics (e.g., Slug-Gos, Ron Zs, Hogys) fished near the bottom. During slack water, the fish will sometimes attack surface plugs. By late May, bluefish will also hold on this reef, providing hard-hitting action when the bass fishing is slow.
WORK THE EDGES
Continuing downriver and south of the I-95 bridge and the railroad bridge, excellent late-spring/early-summer fishing can be enjoyed at the confluence of the Back and Connecticut Rivers, in an area locals call the “Wood Lot.” Here you can idle or drift just beyond the transition zone where the depth drops abruptly from four to ten feet. Do this quietly to prevent spooking the fish, especially on calm days.
With the boat in deep water, cast a soft-plastic lure or surface plug into the shallows and retrieve it toward the drop-off. Drift with the current and continue fan-casting until you locate the fish. You’ll get most of your strikes in the shallow water, but always make a few casts to the deep side of the drop-off.
If you fail to find fish here, head south to Gibraltar Rocks, a set of three clearly defined boulder fields. This is a great spot to anchor and cast, but keep an eye on your chart plotter and be cautious of the subsurface rocks. Cast up- or cross-current and retrieve your lure just fast enough to keep it from hanging bottom. Many bass and hickory shad wait to ambush prey in the slower, deeper water.
Farther south and just east of buoy RN “10” are Sodom Rocks, another perennial hot spot for bass. Stripers also tend to gather around the cluster of rocks and the small marsh island just east of buoy R “8.” Griswold Piers, just south of buoy R “8,” is a fishy area denoted by three small rips. Lastly, at the river mouth, you can cast to the sandbars and breakwaters, which provide good action on an ebb tide.
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