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SEEKING SEA HERRING

Sea herring can be jigged up from the many piers and docks that dot the coastline of the northeast, but finding success is not always as simple of an endeavor as one might hope.
By Toby Lapinski

For a long time the term herring for me referred to the river herring seen (in ever-decreasing numbers) across the northeast in the spring each year. These fish are the primary fuel for the striped bass fishery which I target from April until some time in late May or early June. In recent years the numbers of river herring (blueback and alewife) has slowly decreased due to a number of reasons and the result has been a ban on the taking of anadromous herring in the New England states and beyond. Even when it was legal to harvest these fish for bait I preferred to use artificials and never found myself part of the “herring chunker” crowd. But that issue is for another day as river herring are not the topic of discussion today.

In recent years the other herring known as the Atlantic or sea herring has slowly crept onto my radar as more than just something that on occasion could fuel a great late-fall bite along the beaches of Rhode Island. I began to hear of guys targeting these fish for food from the docks of the many marinas and coves along the Connecticut shoreline and this peaked my interest. Now don’t get me wrong, this is nothing new in the grand scheme of things, but for me it provided a new experience so I set out to see what I could find out about this fishery and perhaps even give it a go myself.

I began by asking around to a few of my weekly contacts for fishing reports and Rich at Fisherman’s World in Norwalk, CT was a huge help. As anyone whop is familiar with the reports of late will know the area around Norwalk has become an excellent place to target sea herring. Anglers even travel from out of state to fish these waters in the winter. Rich pointed me in the direction of a few likely spots on the lower Norwalk River and advised a few key tidal stages to target. I armed myself with a few Tsunami Sabiki rigs and set out with my friend Chris Keppler on the final day of 2014 to try my hand at this fishery.

As luck would have it things would be against us from the start as the temperatures were to take a hard swing to the cold side this day after what seemed like weeks of unseasonably warm days
As luck would have it things would be against us from the start as the temperatures were to take a hard swing to the cold side this day after what seemed like weeks of unseasonably warm days. We both bundled up to combat the temps that were teetering in the 20s combined with a strong north wind. Our day began in Fairfield at a popular spot known to produce herring even when other spots are barren. Two anglers were already working the dock when we arrived so our hopes were high as we were not the only ones crazy enough to venture out on this frigid December day. One of the guys played it smart as he cast his Sabiki rig out, stashed the rod in a 5-gallon bucket on the dock and sat in his warm car waiting for a sign of a fish on his rig. The other angler took the same technique as Chris and me and went for a more active cast-and-retrieve approach. Despite signs on the dock of recent catches in the form of piles of fresh scales and slime, none of us landed anything for the hour-plus we were there before being overcome by the cold. We decided to head west and try a new spot or two.

Our next stop was for coffee followed by a quick visit to Fisherman’s World. We bought some small ball sinkers for the bottom of our Sabiki rigs and then poked around a few recommended spots in the lower Norwalk River to see what we could find. At our third stop Chris finally struck gold, or more appropriately silver, when his rig duped a lone herring. While this was to be our one and only catch of the day, I was almost as excited as Chris as at least one of us found success. We pounded the water around the dock where that solitary fish had been hooked for another hour and a half before moving on, and we both had a few more fish that quickly gained their freedom and no others joined their schoolmate in the bucket.

So while it was in no way, shape or form a day for the records, we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and made plans to continue keep at the herring fishing until the bite peters out or it just becomes too cold to be enjoyable. With any luck the next outing will prove to be more fruitfull and I'll be reporting on a fine feast of pickled herring in the coming days.

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