It felt like I was battling an Atlantic salmon on a Canadian river. My rod was bent double, and my spool spun like a propeller as the roaring current aided the false albacore’s blistering run. With the fish’s strength pulling us into the turbulent flow, the 10-knot conveyor-belt of water carried us away from the other boats to finish the battle unscathed.
Our “exotic” location was a manmade rip from the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant located on a peninsula in Waterford, Connecticut, about three miles southwest of New London. The plant is the only one of its kind on Long Island Sound and occupies 500 acres. It draws its name from the site’s original and historic quarry, which produced high-quality millstones and building granite. The reactor’s cooling system creates two discharges that spew rivers of fast, clean, warm water into the Sound.
Each fall, false albacore—along with bluefish and sometimes schoolie stripers—hold in the plant’s warmwater discharges on its east side. On good albie years, Millstone is one of the few nearshore locations where your chances of hooking a little tunny are as high as when making the run across the Sound to major rips like Plum Gut or the Sluiceway. Here a small-boat owner can comfortably fish within casting distance of shore with a howling 25-knot northwesterly and be within about a mile of two boat launches.
The reason fishing at Millstone is often red hot is because its outflows draw and concentrate schools of tiny baitfish like silversides, squid, anchovies or peanut bunker, harboring them in the warm water for months. The bountiful bait, in turn, attracts predators. The action starts as early as mid-April with Twinkie stripers, and soon expands to small-to-medium bluefish in June. The albies show in September and they sometimes stage here until Thanksgiving.
“Anytime I’m hunting for albies,” said Capt. Dixon Merkt (retired), “I always swing past the plant and have a look. If the boat traffic is light and I see signs of birds or fish, we’ll stop to cast for a while. But sometimes the fish are holding deep in the current, and you won’t see any signs on top.”
During the years immediately following 9/11, homeland security regulations prohibited fishing near the plant—from shore or boat. Since then, the restrictions have loosened, and boat anglers are again permitted access to these prized waters, but only on the eastern outflow side. Shore-based access and fishing is permanently prohibited.
You can fish the discharges with fly or spinning tackle, and both produce their share of false albacore, bluefish and bass. With either method, the common strategy is to jockey within reach of one of the outflows—often only a boat’s length away from the stone riprap—and idle or cut your motor. Immediately begin casting across the flow, letting your lure or fly swing downstream while using a very slow retrieve—or sometimes none. Your goal is to imitate a baitfish struggling against the current, so the normally fast cranking used for bluefish or albie fishing appears unrealistic.
Methodically work the entire length of each discharge until you find predators. Fish will feed anywhere from the whitewater emanating from the steel bulkheads to the tail end of the slowest water 100 yards or more from the shore.
Avoid anchoring or motoring directly in the discharge waters because the current is strong enough to swamp a small boat. The waves are especially big when a brisk east wind opposes the outflow. Also, proper fishing etiquette dictates you don’t anchor in the middle of the prime fishing spots. That’s a quick way to make enemies. Tog anglers will also sometimes anchor adjacent to the outflows, and can do well here in early autumn.
Stripers, blues and albies often school and work the surface around the intake (west) side of the plant, and this can be frustrating because you can only fish here with your vessel outside the warning buoys (exclusion area non-lateral markers). The key and legal method is to cast from outside this perimeter.
Your tackle doesn’t need to be fancy for Millstone, but it does need to be of high enough quality to handle albies in the strong outflow current. For spinning gear, I like a 7- to 7-1/2-foot medium-action rod with medium reel having a good drag system like a Penn 4500SS. I load my reels with 15- to 20-pound mono or braid. Using a double-uni knot, I attach 12 to 18 inches of 25- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader to the main line and clinch it to the lure. But bring along some thin wire leaders in case the area is loaded with harbor blues.
Traditional albie tins are either flat and elliptical, like 3/8- to 3/4-ounce Kastmasters and Hopkins jigs, which imitate peanut bunker or baby butterfish, or long and thin like Deadly Dicks and Need-L-Eels, which imitate silversides and bay anchovies. Three- to 4-inch soft plastics are also effective on some days, but they don’t cast well into the wind and are easily mauled by toothy critters. Larger tins and surface plugs readily pull bluefish from these waters.
If you intend to keep a couple small blues for the skillet, ice them immediately on the boat because their flesh is up to 10 degrees warmer from the discharge water temps. Despite local jokes, “nuclear” fish don’t glow in the dark, but you’ll have a glowing smile after spending a trip wrestling predators in this whitewater.
|Power Plant Precautions|
|You must use common sense when fishing and photographing from a boat near nuclear facilities. For example, security is much tighter on the inflow side than on the outflow side of the plant. The obvious reason is that terrorist-types might try to float something into the cool-water intake. Off-limits secure zones are clearly marked with buoys. Linger inside this area, especially with camera or video equipment in hand, and you’re threatening homeland security. Serious stuff. Thus, you may be escorted in by the Coast Guard and then boarded, questioned, detained and background-checked.
The warmwater discharge area is normally not as sensitive because it’s impossible to send anything in against a 10-knot current. However, when you catch that prize fish and want to photograph it, do so as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. It’s a bad idea to stand there and take a series of pictures that include the plant. Security personnel will quickly become suspicious and may even seize your camera for concern you’ve recorded classified material.
“If you want to photograph a fishing trip at such a facility,” said Detective Sargent Joe DePasquale of the Waterford Police Dept., which oversees the Millstone Plant, “it’s best to call the plant’s security office, tell them when and what you want to do, and get permission. But they still might want to look at your shots.” So when planning a trip, remember this power plant etiquette: Follow all posted signs and guards’ instructions to the tee—there’s no such thing as being “just a little” over the line. And when photographing, point down at your fish or face away from the main plant. Unless, of course, you don’t mind being very late for dinner.