Not Far Off - Striped Bass Working Their Way To Maine

Well, it is finally May (that took a while), and the striped bass are moving up the New England coast. I expect that any day now I'll get word of confirmed catches of migratory stripers from Southern Maine rivers and salt marshes. I've been hearing from reliable sources about fish in Duxbury Bay, Boston Harbor, and around Cape Ann. They've all been small schoolies, taken subsurface. Water temp at the Portland buoy this morning is a balmy 43 degrees and today is the only sunny day in the ten day forecast, but the stripers will keep moving north, and soon, we will feel whole again.

Alewive runs are off to a slow start in Phippsburg and people are blaming the high water. We've had a lot of rain and snow melt upcountry over the past couple of weeks. The Androscoggin River in Bethel is in the trees again. The snow is mostly gone but there's more rain headed our way. I don't know if all the freshwater really does hold off the alewives, but I do know that there's a lot of freshwater flushing down the Kennebec right now.

Early season stripers do seem to seek out warmer water, which you can find on shallow, dark bottomed flats and places where a source of fresh or brackish water meets the colder saltwater. Of course they have to pass by ocean facing beaches and points to get into the estuaries, so you could intercept them anywhere, but paying attention to water temps can really help when there just aren't many fish around yet.

I plan to get the Maverick in the water next week. I'll burn last year's fuel and make a few casts. It's been years since I've trailered down to Scarborough Marsh in mid-May, but maybe I'll get down that way before heading to Boston the following week to start the season in earnest.

Remember, Low And Slow If You Go, often pays dividends this time of year. Enjoy getting back on the water.

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC


How To Catch More Albies - Tips and Techniques For False Albacore - Use Your Binoculars

Here's a short and simple suggestion; use your binoculars when searching for false albacore. When we're covering some ground and burning some fuel, searching for signs of albie activity, it is amazing what we miss with the naked eye. Every time you stop to scan the water, and I encourage you to stop frequently, grab your binoculars and extend your vision. I'm amazed at how often we find a clue, maybe the first bread crumb, at a distance just beyond our sight limit. Those two terns diving can be tough to see, but may be the key to finding the next pod of fish or school of anchovies. If you've had the experience of scanning the horizon, looking, looking, seeing nothing and then once you use your binoculars, you spot 100 gulls diving on bait, you know what I mean.

The key to using your binoculars is keeping them handy. You need a spot where they are secure and protected but readily available. If they are buried in a tote bag in the bottom of the center console or stuffed in the bottom of a locker, you aren't going to dig them out each time you stop. When the boat is rocking, I make a triangle with my index fingers and thumbs and brace the tips of my fingers against my forehead to steady the binoculars. You can also employ tension on the strap to aid in stability.

I like to run the boat at a moderate speed when actively searching for these fish. I find I notice more when we're cruising at 3300 rpm vs. screaming to the next spot. Pause in likely places, areas where you've found fish in the past, water with good movement, and scan the horizon, first unaided and then with your binoculars. You may be astounded at what you'd been missing.

Peter

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC


How To Catch More Albies - Fishing Structure & Educated Blind Casting

Albie Head ShotMost of the time when we're chasing albies we're looking for fish showing themselves on the surface. The search pattern we have in our brain involves seeing signs of bait spraying, birds diving, and that distinct tunoid slashing across the surface of the water. It's easy to fall into the mindset that the fish are always just eating in open water but if you spend time in one particular location and really pay attention to what the fish are doing you'll notice that they often cycle through an area in a general pattern. It's incredibly helpful when you can get a sense of that pattern. A lot of times the pattern involves the fish relating to structure, whether it be a bar that creates a subtle rip, a drop off, a junction of jetty and beach, a deeper edge with stronger current. Even a boulder field or a big rocky ledge will influence where the fish travel. Obviously the baitfish seek shelter around structure and we're all used to fishing structure for species like striped bass, but it's amazing to learn how frequently false albacore use structure in a similar way, not exactly the same, but similar. Make a note of where the fish show themselves adjacent to some type of structure. Even when you're not seeing signs of the fish on the surface it can be worth casting to that structure.

There was a spot in Woods Hole Harbor that produced quite a few fish for us last year, especially at times when there wasn't a lot of surface activity. It's a ledge adjacent to the channel with great current running past it and it borders a shallow shelf and rocky boulder field. We would occasionally see the albies blitz for an instant, spraying bait right up against that ledge. Obviously, if you can get your offering into the water while the fish are coming up, you've got a great chance of hooking up but we were successful basically blind casting into this spot. We would only see the albies every fifteen minutes but they were hanging right in the eddy line down-current from the ledge. We'd hold the boat bow into the current and cast perpendicular to the moving water just upstream of the ledge and let our fly or soft plastic get swept back into the zone and BAM!

There were about four other similar spots in Woods Hole that we really started to understand last fall. We were applying techniques familiar to us from fishing stripers in heavy current around rocky structure. It was fascinating and tremendously satisfying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Lackey's Bay at the north end of Naushon Island seemed to always have a school of albies in it for three weeks last September. While we didn't always catch up, we would usually land a couple of fish. Often a couple of fish would break the surface for an instant. A number of times we were spotting fish underwater on clear sunny bright days, never seeing them feed on the surface. They were working around a large ledge and a boulder field on the outer edge of the bay anywhere from 6 to 15 feet of water. We would start our drift at the ledge and blind cast as the tide moved us over the boulder field. We'd often hook a fish every drift while other anglers chasing the sporadic surface signs caught only frustration.

Some of the structure isn't quite so obvious. It's demarcated by current lines, seams, and eddies. Fishing where the fast water meets the slow water can be really productive for false albacore at times when searching for surface feeds isn't paying off. If you've seen the fish come up in a particular area and you're drifting, waiting, watching, pay attention to where the water is moving. These fish love fast moving water and strong current.

Waquoit BuoyIn 2013 one of the pieces of structure that produced for us pretty consistently for about five or six days and then intermittently for the next week or two was actually the bell off the entrance to Waquoit Bay. When the tide is running hard that's a popular spot to fish, as the water pours out of the bay bringing bait with it. There are a lot of places where the fish will show up, anywhere from right against the jetties, to the fastest moving water, to what is essentially a back eddy either side of the fastest current, to some of the bars that are just to the east of the jetties. For a stretch of time we would drift by the bell, casting as close to it as we could get without getting fouled and find fish. Sometimes they were just up-current of the bell but most frequently we'd connect in the eddy just down-current of the bell. We'd make our cast slightly up-current and try to have it swing right into the eddy lines created by the buoy. The bay anchovies were using the buoy as shelter and the albies were onto them. Of course the last two years we went 0-for in that patch of water immediately down-current of that buoy, but that's albie fishing. Thankfully, that lesson paid dividends beyond 2013, as we found other pods of false albacore relating to buoys and the eddies they create.

 


How To Catch More Albies - Tips and Techniques For False Albacore Fishing

Early morning fish off Falmouth Cape Cod
Albies eat best at this time of day

For quite a few years now I've been intending to share lessons learned from chasing False Albacore around Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, the Elizabeth Islands, and Buzzards Bay. I catalog albie catching thoughts in my mind and mentally file epiphanies for future blog posts and then...the alarm rings at 3:00 AM and I'm making colossal egg sandwiches and loading ice onto he boat and before I know it I'm running in past the jetties at Waquoit Bay admiring the post sunset glow on the horizon and thinking about rerigging leaders, how many packs of Owner 5132 Twist-Lock hooks I need to restock in the tackle bag, rustling up something for our supper, a beer, and then bed. I try to eek out every opportunity I can to chase these amazing fish in September and October and then all of a sudden the frenzy of the approaching ski season takes over, and my thoughts on how to catch more albies get stashed away until the next August. The forecast for the next five days is not conducive to the routine above, so here goes...

How To Catch More Albies -- Fish At First Light

First albie of the day
First albie of the day

After four months of setting the alarm for 2:30 AM for striper charters it is tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that albies only feed during daylight, so we don't need to be out there until after the sun is up. And to reinforce that specious logic, we all find epic feeds at 9:30 in the morning and even 2:00 in the afternoon, but day in and day out the time when these fish will be least selective and most aggressive is just after first light. It's not always true, as timing of the tide and water movement play heavily in albie behavior, but, if you pick the right spot to start your day, 12 minutes after sunrise you can can be on fish that are fighting each other to eat whatever you're throwing.

 

Early albie run - get fishing before sunrise
Running the boat along the south side of the Cape

If you are going to take the morning to fish I highly recommend that you be out "on station", where you want to fish, before sunrise. There's no better feeling than getting out there with everything rigged and ready, making a couple of test casts with each rod, sipping your coffee, eating your egg sandwich, sharing the spot with maybe one other boat, waiting and watching. Most mornings the wind is down, nobody is motoring through pods of fish, the ocean is yours. We have developed an informal contest of guessing how many minutes after sunrise we spot the first fish, with the prize usually something special in the cooler, like the last remaining half of the Maria's roast beef sub.

 

 

 

Ready for the albies
Ready for the albies

More often than not, the first signs of fish are not quarter acre blitzes, but single splashes or small pods busting bait for brief periods of time however, these fish want to eat. They are usually not fussy. A well placed cast gets rewarded and a lot of times a not so well placed cast turns out to be right in front of albies that weren't showing themselves on the surface.

 

 

 

Sunrise false albacore
Get fishing early for albies

So re-rig leaders, restock fly boxes, and change out hooks (more on that to come) the night before. Have the coffee maker loaded and set the alarm. Check the running lights on the boat and have your headlamp and wool hat draped over your to-go mug. Leave the dock or the ramp in the dark. Enjoy the spectacular run to your selected spot as the horizon brightens and start you trip feeling like your are ahead of the fish instead of chasing behind them.

 

 

 

Catch more albiesPeter

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC

 


Low Water Upcountry Makes for Clear Water Downriver

Skinny water bassBy focusing on shallow water in and around the lower Kennebec, we were able to avoid any kind of a summer slow down in our striper fishing. No dog days here, just lot's of solid outings with good water visibility on the sand and mud flats and along the beaches. While the low levels of water coming down the river have given us great fish sighting condition, the limited fog and rare drizzly day have cut down on the visible surface activity that we expect in late August. There have been days when the weather, tide and bait supply all align and the bass are going bananas, but usually conditions dictate stalking fish in the skinny water, which is more than ok with me.

On three charters this month that stand out in my memory we experienced an overnight weather shift from a hot, humid, southwest flow to a much cooler, drier pattern with a breeze out of the north or northwest. The change in the fish behavior was dramatic and unmistakable. Flats that were filled with waking and slurping striped bass the morning prior were much quieter, with fish revealing themselves only briefly. The noseeums were almost non-existent at dawn. Strikes were often halfhearted or a single tail slap or chase-chase-chase-ok-nevermind. Our best results on those days came late morning, when the sun was high enough to be able to spot the fish and cast to individual bass or small pods of stripers up on the flats.

If you've never chased striped bass in clear, shallow water, you owe it to yourself to experience this side of the fishery. It is demanding at times but oh so rewarding.

We are seeing more young of the year alewives dropping down river on their way to the ocean, and a strong outgoing tide can produce some good surface feeds when the bait and bass intersect. On one of those challenging weather morning, we tracked down a dispersed group of stripers on a flat that had decent current washing across it at the end of the out tide. The north wind had robbed us of much of our visibility into the water but the bass were popping these little alewives as they were swept across the flat. It was a fun way to finish the trip as the stripers put all fear aside and demolished anything that we threw near them.

I've been getting good reports from other guides about the fishing along the beaches from Popham to Small Point, which is in keeping with trends of past years. Our nights have been noticeably cooler recently and it is clear that we have one foot in summer and one in fall here in Maine. This is a fabulous time to fish and with the clock ticking on the season, there's no time to put off a trip. Get out.

I'm furiously rerigging lines, restocking fly boxes, reordering jigs, as I prepare to head to the Cape for albie season. I have the fever...in a bad way.

Peter

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC.


Prime Time for Flats Fishing Stripers in Maine

If you love to chase striped bass in shallow water, get out there NOW. This stretch of hot weather has not deterred the fish from moving up onto the sand and mud flats of Midcoast Maine. There will of course be times when the fish are more fussy, but for the most part, they have been very willing to oblige with an eat if you make a good presentation and offer them the right treat. We've had a lot of windless mornings, and the bass have been happy to show themselves with their tell tale V-wakes. Late morning through early afternoon, no wind allows us to see into their world and spot the fish cruising lighter colored bottom. I'm not seeing stripers over 30 inches yet, but have been getting reports of some bigger fish showing up in Southern Maine and around Portland.

I blew off cutting our overgrown lawn last evening to get out myself for a couple of hours either side of sunset, and I'm so thankful that I made the right decision. Between 6:30 and 7:30 I landed ten or more fish, all between 24 and 28 inches, out of two feet of water, in one of the most gorgeous places on the coast of Maine. I have another full day of teaching fly casting ahead of me and then have to get on a plane to Michigan for three days (this trip is killing me!) so I needed  a fix to sustain me through the coming week. I'll update with more details and suggestions from the Detroit airport.

Oh...and I received word (via Littleton, CO) that the bluefish were tearing up the pogies in Maquoit Bay yesterday.

Tight Lines,

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC


Strong Fishing in Maine Continues - Stripers of all Sizes Ready to Oblige

The striper fishing here in Maine continues the strong start we saw in early June. There are many more age classes of fish now scattered all over the Kennebec River and surrounding waters. The micro bass have also run way up the Penobscot River and I'm sure have filled into many of the smaller estuaries and rivers east of here. It's been quite a few years since a kid in Bangor could ride a bike down to the river and catch a couple of striped bass.

The menu for the stripers is still varied. Macs abound, herring of all sizes seem to be everywhere, and there are schools of little sand eels and spearing in most of the bays and along beaches towards the mouth of the Kennebec. I've also seen photos of schools of pogies over in Casco Bay, but I have yet to launch over in the New Meadows to check out that side of the peninsular. I plan to get out the minnow seine next week when my niece and nephew arrive. We'll make a couple of "tows" on the edges of some of the firmer flats. I expect that there are plenty of small shrimp around the mouth of the Back River, which is an often overlooked target for these fish. Fly anglers have the best shot at fooling what can be fussy customers when the bass get really focused on the shrimp being swept along with the tide.

Much of June in Boston Harbor was disappointing for us relative to last year. That long stretch of brutally windy days earlier in the month really seemed to shut things down for a while. I haven't fished there since last week, but fishing seemed to be improving with more striped bass of decent size moving into the harbor itself chasing herring. I heard reports of some good sized bass that people were catching under the schools of mackerel around the outer ledges. According to Capt. Bill Smith at FishBoston, he had a great July last summer. Given the good reports from this week, I expect things in the Haba are trending in the right direction.

The schools of 30 to 50 inch bass that have been hanging off Ptown, Billingsgate, and other Cape Cod Bay locations may stick around or may start to spread out around Mass Bay and points north. We had a good (not great) day focused on chasing these fish, finding best surface results first thing in the morning about halfway between Race Point and Peaked Hill Bar and then again late morning on the north side of Billingsgate Shoals at the bottom of the tide fishing deep in about 25 feet of water. The fleet of boats around Race Point rivaled anything I'd seen off of Chatham and seemed like a scene out of Long Island Sound.

About a week and a half ago we found some tuna crashing the surface for very brief feeds. We got off a few casts but never had the feeling like we were just about to get bit. There we quite a few stick boats working an area on the east edge of Stellwagen Bank but we were finding the surface activity closer to Race Point and Peaked Hill Bar. Holy Hannah, there is some bait out there.

You could cut the grass after work this week, or get up and on the road early to beat the traffic, but I'd suggest you go fishing instead.

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC


Invasion of the Schoolie Stripers

IMG_5208

The lower Kennebec River is full of schoolie striped bass right now. The first charter of the season started a little slow on Thursday morning but finished with a flurry, as we drifted over a couple acres of busting fish and diving birds that wouldn't quit until the tide did. Most of the stripers were micro-sized to 20 inches, but we did land some fish up to 26 or so inches. The bass were pushing herring of all sizes to the surface and the living was easy. What an introduction for some people new to fishing. Four fish per angler on each drift gets people pretty excited about this sport.

I was on the water Saturday afternoon taking friends to lunch at Five Islands and we made a quick stop at one of my favorite spots where the dropping tide sweeps past a series of ledges, rocks, and islands. One of our friends jumped at the chance to try to catch a fish and promptly went six for six. What a way to start.

I didn't have a charter on Sunday so I got a chance to fish with a friend, Capt. Dan Wolotsky of Sweet Action Charters, who also happened to be free. We had a blast and were into fish from the first cast at 5:00 AM until about 8:30, working our way down river from Morse Cove towards the mouth, finding stripers at almost every place we stopped. Once again most of the fish were little little guys but we also landed ones of all sizes up to 26 or so inches. Once we lost the outgoing current at about 8:00 our success rate slowed considerably but we still found fish willing to eat. I dropped Dan off at the ramp at Morse Cove around 10:30 and promptly ran into yet another school of micro bass chasing inch long bait to the surface. After quickly landing a bunch of fish I left that action to scout some more locations. My intent was to haul out around 11:00 but I kept running into fish and 11:00 became 12:00 and 12:00 soon looked more like 1:00. I finished in the narrows at Fiddlers Reach with little stripers coming to the surface on both sides of the river along almost the entire length of the shoreline.

Enjoy these schoolies. Get out with a friend who hasn't fished in years or take a kid fishing. Play around with your six weight and your smallest poppers. Experiment with different tackle. Just go and have fun.

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gilles & Fallon Guide Service, LLC


New Saltwater Fishing Season Has Started

Saltwater Fishing Season - Let's Go

How do I define the demarcation line for the start of my saltwater fishing season? Preparation begins after the last trip in the fall so that doesn't work. Other people have now caught striped bass in waters that I fish in Massachusetts, but that doesn't feel quite right (kind of like "electricity" when tagging team mates free in capture the flag...?). I have yet to catch a bass and I haven't yet run any early season stripers charters in Massachusetts or Maine. How about this for qualifications? I spent yesterday helping my A#1 client take delivery of his brand new Southport 272 and then fished for stripers myself for an hour at sunset. I'll take it.

Southport 272
New Southport 272 - the ideal striper fishing boat for Boston Harbor, Cape Cod, and the Islands.

The Southport 272 (here's one review with photos) is a gorgeous boat that is incredibly well built. We went for a short sea trial in Boston Harbor from the Smith Yacht Sales base at the Hingham Shipyard and I spent some time playing around with the electronics, getting to know the impressive systems set up by Navtronics. The boat is equipped with an Optimus 360 Joystick Control from SeaStar and holy hannah, is this a game changer. I'll post much more about this boat, the way we set it up, how we equip it, and what we learn as we start to use it.

Cohasset Harbor Early Season Striped Bass Hot Spot
Cohasset Harbor early season striper fishing hot spot

When I got back from the boat I noticed that the tide was dropping out of the huge saltmarsh that drains the Gulf into Cohasset Harbor. I rigged a couple of rods and headed over to the location where I caught my first fly rod striped bass in May of 1992. I can tell you the exact spot on the ledge where I was standing, casting a Mickey Finn streamer (last fly I'd used to catch landlocked salmon on the West Branch of the Penobscot River back home in Maine) on my Sage RPL 5 weight that my folks had just given me for my UMaine graduation gift. I wasn't able to repeat those results, but it still felt great to be fishing for stripers again and I drove home with no doubt in my mind that the saltwater fishing season of 2016 has started for me.

Hope to see you on the water soon. If you're interested in a striped bass trip around Boston Harbor, Cape Cod Bay, Vineyard Sound, let me know. If you live in Maine or have plans to visit Maine this summer, I'd love to share with you the Kennebec River striper fishery that drew me to settle in Phippsburg, ME. A striper charter on the Kennebec and surrounding waters is an incredible way to experience the coast of Maine. I run half, full, and multi-day charters and focus on chasing shallow water stripers with fly and light spinning tackle.

Fish more,

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC

824 Main Rd

Phippsburg, ME 04562

mainestripers.com

207-522-9900

pfallon@mainestripers.com

 


False Albacore Cape Cod Week One

Albie Snax Week one of chasing False Albacore around Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard was filled with long runs, warm days, clouds of peanut bunker, and enough albies to keep us smiling and searching for more funny fish. We found fewer instances of wave after wave of surface crashing albies vs last two years and spent more time blind casting (and blind catching) than I ever remember. We burned a lot of fuel, covered a lot of ground, and learned a few things. And we caught fish.

A typical day would start exiting Waquoit Bay in the dark and running to Edgartown to be in place for the 6:08 bite. Once activity and tide slowed significantly there we began searching, checking the outlet to Cape Poge Pond, State Beach and then running the length of the eastern side of the island down to Wasque. Nothing happening there so back through Vineyard Haven Harbor and over to Wood Hole. A few hours in and around Woods Hole and we'd blast to the West End of the canal to work flats and beaches around Onset and Mashnee and then make the run back to Waquoit at sunset.

This past weekend required much less traveling as the albies really picked up their activity in and around Wood Hole. There were pods of fish hanging in Lackey's that were not crashing the surface or making single distinct splashed, but casting to very subtle signs such as nervous water or subsurface flashes really paid off. Wood Hole had both churning water voracious feeds and fish hanging out of sight in the strong current. A little farther down the islands towards Cuttyhunk, there were pods of false albacore happily cruising the surface of the still water. They were the most fun to fish. Make a good cast and you were rewarded.

The most consistently productive locations for us for the week were Wood Hole, Lackey's, Edgartown, and Upper Buzzards Bay. The south shore of the Cape from Falmouth Inner Harbor to New Seabury didn't produce for us, a real change from previous seasons. Of course by today it could be on fire.

When the fish were down, we spent a lot of time fishing structure, working eddy lines, casting around rocks and pilings and boats and we caught a lot of fish this way when nothing seemed to be happening. The traditional small metals and Hogy Epoxies took fish in these spots but the real workhorse was the Albie Snax from Long Cast Plastics. More about techniques and lessons learned later...

Peter

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC