As March gives way to April, my excitement peaks as I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Winter is finally coming to an end and spring is upon all of us in New England. By this time of year, many anglers have suffered through enough cabin fever to drive even the strongest among them crazy. Not to worry because this time of the year presents excellent opportunities to target striped bass in the Housatonic River in southwestern Connecticut. Beginning in early March, the hold-over striped bass population becomes more active and begins feeding along the river banks throughout the upper portions of the lower river system. It is generally kicked off by a run of fish in the low to mid 30-inch range along with lots of smaller school-sized fish. These fish exit their winter deep-water haunts and move into shallower water to feed, providing shore and boat anglers an opportunity to target them.
The first striper activity should occur some time in early March, so by the time you are reading this, action should be well under way. Most early-season fishing takes place between the Route 15 Bridge and the Derby Dam. Remember if you are fishing above the Route 15 Bridge, you will need a Connecticut inland fishing license; below the Route 15 Bridge, you need a marine waters fishing license. Look for stripers to move onto the shallower flats within close proximity to deeper water, allowing them to easily move back and forth throughout the tide. Other areas to target are the coves, river junctions, points and rocky structure throughout this stretch of the river. Shore anglers can get in on this action as well, and at times will outfish the boat anglers as the stripers prowl the shallows. Prime time for shore-bound anglers to target the river banks will be from dusk to dawn as fish move into the shallow waters throughout the night. Success from shore can be very tide-dependant and special attention should be made to what tide stage produced the best results in an attempt to duplicate success.
WHAT TO THROW
The most common and productive lure is a simple 1/2-ounce jighead adorned with soft plastics in the four- to six-inch range. Let the jig sink down to the bottom, or where you are marking fish if using a boat, and work the offering back with a slow, steady retrieve, adding small rod movements and the occasional pause. I prefer to cast slightly up-current and allow the jig to work back in a natural sweeping motion. In addition to jigs, another top-producing lure is a hard plastic swimmers such as ta Yo-Zuri mag darters. As far as colors, I prefer to keep it simple and use white, black, yellow, pink, and chartreuse.
Between the last week of March and mid-April, the first migratory fish will move into the river. Typically you can expect quantity over quality during this time. It is not uncommon to catch 50 or more stripers in a single tide, but the majority of your catch will be less than 20 inches. As April progresses, expect the fishing to be good from the mouth of the river up to the Route 15 bridge. All of the well-known river access points along the Milford and Stratford shoreline will produce fish. Fishing during daylight can be productive with the best time being the last few hours of daylight into full dark. Once the sun goes down and the crowds leave, look for larger fish to move to the shallows.
TIDES AND RUN-OFF
As with fishing the ocean, most locations have preferred tide stages that can only be learned through time on the water. Some areas are better during the bottom half of the tide, allowing shore-bound anglers access to the deeper water in the main channel. Fish can be caught on both the incoming and outgoing tides, however the outgoing holds a slight edge in general. For anglers new to the river, I suggest fishing from the start of the outgoing and staying the entire tide in order to learn what areas will produce better during a particular tidal stage at your chosen location.
High tide in Derby is approximately one hour and 20 minutes later than the high tide in Bridgeport. Note that during moon tides and after heavy rain, the water level will be higher, thereby washing debris into the river. Boat anglers should exercise extreme caution when navigating the river and may want to avoid it completely during times of extreme flooding. I have seen the river cluttered with giant trees and other large debris that can destroy your lower unit or take out the shore-bound angler. Heavy rain will also stain the water as silt is washed into the main flow. Stained water can still be productive and I have done well using pink or chartreuse lures during this time. However, if the water is extremely high or dirty, I would not bother fishing. It takes several days after a heavy rain storm for the water to clear up before becoming fishable once again.
Early spring fishing on the Housatonic River offers the opportunity for Connecticut anglers to catch a lot of small to medium sized striped bass with the occasional cow mixed in for good measure.