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New Haven Harbor is a triangular, four-mile-long bay. Three large manmade breakwaters define the harbor to the south and are accessible only by boat. These awesome structures can provide good action for early-season blackfish.
By Capt. Tom Migdalski

The harbor is centrally located in the state, so it’s an easy drive to a ramp for most people in Connecticut. On a calm day, even smaller boats in the 15- to 17-foot range can easily access and safely fish them. The breakwaters are a short run from several marinas and launches, including New Haven, West Haven, East Haven and Branford.

Although blackfish are attracted to all types of rugged structure, the secret to April action is to fish along breakwalls rather than traditional deep-water reefs. The New Haven breakwaters are located near a shallow, comparatively warmer harbor. Offshore reefs are, of course, located in deeper, colder water and take longer to heat up in spring. But that’s not the only reason these breakwaters warm faster.
“Breakwall rocks are dark,” says Pete DeGregorio, local blackfishing expert and owner of Dee’s Bait and Tackle in New Haven, Connecticut, “and unlike reefs, their tops are above water. The rocks heat up from the spring sun and keep the water around them a bit warmer. It makes a difference.”

The New Haven Harbor breakwalls are one of the region’s top blackfish hotspots. Although blackfish are found along their entire length, experts prefer anchoring near the corners of the walls on the inside ends fronting the channels rather than the far ends facing the shoreline. As with other breakwalls, you’ll need to be anchored directly over the structure, usually achieved by using a bridle-anchoring system. This is most safely accomplished on calm days.
Proper boat positioning is very important to successful breakwater fishing. Because the rocks have a sheer drop-off, you must be very close to the structure – perhaps within only a few yards. Being off a submerged boulder by merely 10 feet makes the difference between catching a limit and returning home empty-handed.

Anchoring against the New Haven breakwaters requires calm conditions, which is usually possible on at least one side of a wall. To do this, motor off your intended spot and set a dependable anchor in the mud. Then idle toward the rocks while letting line slip off the stern until your bow is within a few yards of the wall. It’s helpful to have your partner standing on the bow guiding you in.

Your buddy then heaves a sacrificial bow anchor and rope—such as a 2-foot-long 2 x 4 tied to a cotton clothesline—into the rocks above the waterline. When that wooden anchor catches in a crevice and is tied off, the stern line is then pulled tight to bridle the boat. Minor adjustments pinpoint you over the desired area, which is usually 10 to 20 feet deep.

When you’re done fishing, and if the sea is flat, a nimble angler in a smaller vessel can pull the bow in, carefully climb onto dry rocks and retrieve the temporary anchor and rope. But if it suddenly becomes choppy, the sacrificial bow anchor can be cut loose and the boat may either be reversed out or pulled off with the stern anchor. Although it’s uncommon to anchor stern to the seas, it’s preferable to placing your prop in the rocks, especially if the seaward anchor slides or the tide is ebbing.

Blackfish nestle into the deep gaps between these boulders where they forage for crabs, baby lobsters, mussels and barnacles. Knowing this, breakwater experts don’t just randomly lower their baited hooks overboard – they actively seek out tautog lairs.

“Drop your sinker to the bottom,” explains Rich Haigh of Orange, Connecticut, a blackfish pro of 30 years, “and then tap the rocks with the weight as you move your rod along the gunnel. Do this until you find a hole, which is usually about six to seven feet deeper. Lower your rig into the hole until it hits bottom, and then wait for a bite with a tight line. Togs tend to cluster, so they’re not necessarily in every hole, and being only a few feet off the hotspot may mean no fish, so do your homework here.”

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