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Fairfield Coast on the fly

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The early mornings on the water no doubt brought peace and serenity, but they came at a price. The summer of 2008 was all the same for about three weeks straight. Wake up at 4 or 5 a.m. and then run up I-95 to one of the many great beaches and outflows that decked out the Fairfield coast. All too often the story would end with a skunk, but that never was enough to keep me away. Finally the tides turned and after many outings, the experience my brother and I accumulated paid off. This particular morning felt different. Whether is was because I perfected my nail-less nail knot, which connected my new intermediate fly line to the leader, or because I was confident in a newly created sand eel pattern that I felt the stripers wouldn't be able to resist. After, a quick stop at a Dunkin Donuts, we were almost at our new secret spot. As we donned our waders and jackets it was hard to not be distracted by the sheer beauty of the environment. The air was crisp and the salt pond gave off an awakening odor. The wakes rolled quietly over one another as they made there way by a rocky sandbar, some 200 feet out from the ponds ripping current. The sun had just started to creep over the horizon, but its light had not made its way to the water yet, keeping the outflow in a dusk shadow. The outflow was constructed of two long parallel wooden breakwater barriers extending out into the sound. The interior ponds and marsh estuaries served as a nursery water for baby stripers and the many baits such as sand eels, spearing, killifish, crabs and shrimp. We found that the best time to fish this area was during the end of the outgoing tide where the ripping current allowed us to walk all the way out to the sand bar and fish a slight pocket drop-off that was usually very productive. We started the long anxious walk out along with the dropping tide. Our eyes were fixed on the water looking for either breaking fish or gentle sips. Our paths began to split at the start of a small rocky outcropping at the end of the breakwaters, and like two seasoned veterans we each headed to our water of choice. My brother headed the right to fish the small current channel that was no wider than 6 feet, but had all the makings for a stripers fancy. Its flow was reminiscent of small freshwater creeks that we grew up fishing and was naturally less intimating than the open ocean. I elected to head left and try the small pocket that was defined by a green marker buoy and very fishy looking. Cast, after Cast, we worked the areas. This was the typical outing and our focus began to stretch to which of us could throw the tightest and farthest loop. After, about 200 casts we both saw a baitfish jumping on the surface and a swirl followed it. I had just tied on a custom Eric Peterson crease fly, so I quickly made a cast to the swirl and bam, my line went tight and a Bluefish went screaming into the air. After, a few seconds another fish swirled in the distance. Soon my brother and I were doubled up with Bluefish. Following a quick snapshot, the fish were both released and our focus was regained. Now I felt the line could go tight at any second. When the action seemed to die down and the sun was almost fully on the water, I switched to a large chartreuse deceiver that I tied using craft fur. I slowly worked a two handed retrieve through the pocket trying to impersonate a wounded baitfish. Just as my brother began to reel up and yell 'Let's Go,' my line was bumped. I was hesitant to get excited, as it was probably the bottom. After a few more casts brought nothing I stopped my retrieve and cleared my line from stripping basket in order to reel up. That's when I suddenly felt a pull on my line. I had a good fish that had some weight on him. He apparently took my fly that was dead drifting in the current. He bulldogged down deep and I could feel his violent headshakes. Luckily my nine weight provided enough backbone to pull him up far enough and get him swimming. 10 minutes later I had a 29-inch keeper bass.
All the early mornings finally paid off with a beauty. When the fish was released and we were getting ready to leave, I couldn't help but think about all the hard work it took to get just one striper from the shore on our own. There's something special about catching your own fish on fly without a boat or guide. I have caught 20-pound stripers off Monomoy with a guide and hooked many keepers from our boat, but none of those fish compared to this one. The late nights mapping out waters, tying flies, finding all the outflows and exploring them really hit me, except this little treasure that we had some help on. The spot was not found out of pure genius or even accidental exploration. My brother had contacts with a friend whose father is an accomplished fly fisher and he had been coming to this outflow and having more than marginal success. We were meeting him in the morning at this unnamed spot because I had completed a fly order, which included a series of pink deceivers. After several more early morning visits to the area and many no-fish days, we finally had the knowledge to succeed along the Fairfield coveted coast.

A Year Round Fishery:

The Long Island Sound fishery hosts an outstanding opportunity for the fly angler to hook up with both resident and migratory game fish. Each year the Fairfield coast in Connecticut is invaded with huge runs of Bluefish and Striped Bass, as well as fall runs of Bonito and False Albacore. The Stripers can be taken year round in salt ponds and at popular winter areas such as the Norwalk and Bridgeport Power Plants. The plants use the water for energy and then spit out warmer water, creating an ideal winter area for stripers to remain active year round. Starting in March depending on the first warm days, you'll see the smaller bass becoming more active and taking advantage of the free food they won't get when there migratory cousins arrive. They will start to show up in Greenwich harbor, just off Greenwich point and near the Saugatuck harbor outflow into the Norwalk islands. Then in early to late April the larger bass arrive and start to appear in the shallow estuaries and flats that will have more favorable temperatures. Compo Beach on the Saugatuck side provides good action at this time because all the bait and favorable temperatures are forced into a narrow corridor between Compo and Cockenoe Island. When May arrives the fun really starts with all the big bass here up in casting range. During this time you may see some blitzes on alewives or early sand eels, but mainly the action will be quieter. I like to blind cast at outflows with either a weighted clouser on a floating line or a straight intermediate line. The fish like to congregate at river and estuary mouths on the outgoing tides. Good bets during this time are the many outflows along the coast including Sherwood Mill Pond's outflow, Sasco Creek, Burying Hill Beach outflow, and Holly's Pond outflow. You can also find small and large fish up on the flats. A fun experience is trying to catch a striper up on the flats throwing crab patterns like your bonefishing. The Compo Beach flats are terrific during this time and provide suitable conditions because the are is basically a secluded cove the has little wave movement and the fish and easily trap all sorts of bait in the lagoon.
In the middle to late May the Bluefish start to arrive and provide outstanding fun on a fly rod. Whether using a boat or fishing from the shore, the Blues will be easier to find than stripers because they are hungry and blitzing on Sand Eels. All Beaches in Fairfield can be productive for Blues, even from shore, but I especially like Penfield Reef and Compo Beach. They provide easy wading to where the fish will be and have plenty off trapped bait. As the fishing heads into June the action can really heat up with Bluefish and shots at fish up to 16 pounds are available. This month becomes an excellent month to fish large poppers, but beware the strikes and be violent! The stripers are still there, but begin their summer migration to deeper water to escape the hot temperatures. As August approaches the bass bite begins to die down, but the Blues contain to hammer flies. An approach that I like to use for summer bass is to load up a sinking line with a sink-tip and throw on a large bunker pattern and work underneath Bluefish schools or at river mouth drop-offs. Often, big bass, some up to 40 pounds, are taken during this time jigging with conventional rods and this technique uses the same attributes that make jigging effective. The migratory Bonito also begin to show themselves usually by mid August and stay through the end of October. They usually are more of a boat quarry, but on occasion show themselves just offshore, even within range of a fly cast. Between Westport and Cockenoe Island is a good spot for shore bones because of the relatively deep water just off shore. Also, Penfield Reef provides good opportunities as the long sand bar extend s out almost a quarter of a mile before hit connects with the rocky reef.
As the season progresses and the weather cools the beach chairs on the beach are replaced with hardcore surfcasters and dedicated fly anglers. Throughout both September and October blitzing fish can be found anywhere up the coast, but usual haunts include Penfield Reef, Burying Hill Beach and Compo Beach. The anticipation also builds as the Albies usually make there way into the sound by early September. They provide a much easier target than Bonito because of their sheer numbers and that they will eagerly take a well placed fly. Again, they are much easier to land from a boat where you can chase them because they are always on the move, but they can be taken off Cockenoe Island or Penfield Reef. Throughout, the fall the four main game fish all participate in mouth dropping blitzes. As the year moves into November, the Bonito and Albies are preparing to leave while the Blues and Stripers are just heating up. The last week or two in November are one my favorite times of the year to fly fish from shore because the big cows are coming through making a desperate feed before their long migration. Outgoing tides at the mouth of the Housatonic River in Bridgeport are very consistent year after year with late season action. The river dumps tons of bait into a small area where the last of the migrating Stripers will hang out. Also, many schoolies are rushing into the river in preparation of wintering over. Stripers can be taken well into December in a number of salt ponds along the river. Also, throughout the winter Hickory Shad can be taken at many warm water salt ponds and river mouth. They are terrific fun on a small 5 weight in the middle of winter. The fishery truly never sleeps and gives even the die-hard anglers something to chase.

Forage and Baits:


The Long Island Sound has a variety of baits and forage that fill the stomachs of bass and blues year round. Each and every time of the year, there is something the fish can feed on from bunker to shrimp. Now, there have been reports on stripers eating everything from bluefish to Gardner snakes, but mostly they stick between a variety of Sand Eels and bunker. In the late fall and winter, there will be Sand Eels around and even some herring and shad still around the back bays and rivers. As the year turns the corner toward spring, the predominant baits become the abundant spearing (silversides) and grass shrimp. The grass shrimp are moving around estuaries preparing to spawn and these areas are the first real feeding spots for early stripers. As spring gets warmer the silversides are still abundant, while the Sand Eels have really taken over in the sound and are really the bait of choice for many fish because of there sheer abundance. They arrive in huge numbers and it may take the bass and blues all summer to finish them off. Sherwood Millpond has been a consistent spot year after year to target this bait. They thrive in estuaries, but do get pushed out to sea by the fish. As summer approaches the bigger baits start to get the attention as alewives, blueback herring, and adult bunker start to migrate the beaches. The bunker can be found along the beaches, in estuaries, out in open water or tightly pushed up in canals to the point that there are major fish kills from a lack of oxygen. Also, throughout the summer the calico crabs become a big bait as they are molting and they float to the bottom where stripers gorge themselves on these dead crabs. They also can be found in shallow estuaries where stripers will get skinny and go into shallow water, making it prime conditions for sight fishing. Into the fall, a group of highly anticipated baits all come together making or breaking the year. The amount of available bait will contribute to whether the year ends outstanding or just good. Factors such as storms, water temperature and predation all decide where the bait will end up and some years it they are packed real tight to the beach for months and others they are out offshore. The baits at this time of the year are mainly Anchovies, Silversides, Peanut Bunker, but there are some Mullet that make there way through although they are not an ordinary bait.

Access:


There are a number of places that one could enjoy the smorgasbord of action along the Fairfield Coast. The Holly Pond outflow in Stamford is best located off exit 9 on I-95 and then heading down main street and taking a right at the water, which will bring you to Cove Island Park. There are parking charges, but often they are not enforced and you can park at the rink to avoid charges. Access, to Compo Beach and Sherwood Mill Pond are best via exit 17 off 95, where you will take Charles Street to Riverbank Road, where you will take a left and then come to the small bridge crossing the Saugatuck River and the getting on Hillspoint Road, which will take you down by the Mill Pond where you can park at one of the spaces on the beach or in the restaurant parking. The road also continues from here down to the Compo Park entrance, which will have a cover charge. You can fish in the early morning though, where the gates don't start charging until 8:00 a.m. Access to one of my favorite areas, Burying Hill beach is most convenient by taking exit 18 off 95 and at the end of the ramp taking a left on Sherwood Island Road and then a right onto Greens Farms Road. This will take you over 95, before you reach a small estuary and pull off, reading Burying Hill beach. There is plenty of parking at the end of this small road and often there is no one there except during the nicest beach days. Another area close by is Sasco Creek, which is found by continuing past Burying Hill Beach on Greens Farms Road and heading to the end of the road by the creek and Black Rock harbor. There is a huge parking lot and a beach pass is normally required, but if you park near the creek in the nearest part of the lot you will not be bothered if you are fishing. The last popular spot is Penfield Reef where access is easy right off of exit 21 on 95. From the end of the ramp take a right on Mill Plain Road to Boston Post Road where you will take a left. When you come to Reef Road, take a right and follow that all the way down to the coast. There is a small lot for 2 or 3 cars around the corner and a walking path to the beach. These above mentioned access routes are only to the most popular areas, but many times a short walk down the beach or a drive to a newly mapped out section will provide plenty off solitude and good fishing. You can even discover your own secret spot with a little research.

Tackle:

Rods:
The Fairfield coast fishery supports a great your round fishery of line tearing, knuckle busting, game fish. With that, they require certain tackle that will be up to the toughest of tests. There are two approaches to gaining the right tackle that is required. You can go crazy and designate certain rods for certain fish or situations and you can be more cost efficient by getting and all-around outfit. In terms of all-around tackle I will lay it out like this. I prefer a 9 or 10 foot 9 weight rod for a mixed bag and a variety of scenarios. A 9 weight will provide you with plenty of backbone for the shore bound angler and I would only recommend a heavier outfit if you are fishing from a boat or near rips where more backbone is required to pull fish up. For anglers who want to designate or have multiple rods I would strictly recommend the following. Larger Striped Bass: 8-11 weights. Schoolie Bass: 6-8 weights. Large Bluefish (8-16 Lbs.): 7-10 weights. Snapper blues; 4-7 weights. False Albacore: 9-11 weights. Bonito: 8-10 weights. Basically, the range of acceptably useful rods stretches from 5 weights all the way up to 11 weights and if you have one of every other weight (5-7-9) you will have plenty of rods for the different jobs and have light enough tackle for some of the smaller fish.

Leaders, Lines and Flies:
The Fairfield coast may not fully compare with the variety of say a Cape Cod, where the situations stretch from pristine flats to deep rips, however, there is still a use for a variety of lines and leader systems. As fly lines go you can go wrong with an kind of intermediate fly line. They have the right sink rate to get down enough from the shore and with an added clouser for weight they will be fine. I find they also help poppers make more noise and bigger splashes because the line is pulling them down apposed to skipping the across the surface. A sinking line also comes in handy during the high tide periods, fishing off boats and fishing off deep-water jetties. Floating lines also have their place in shallow water conditions or when sight casting, however they are not the most convenient and an intermediate is by far the line of choice. The simplest way to effectively cover all aspects of line is to have one reel, with a spool loaded with an intermediate and another loaded with a sinking line.
My leader system is probably more complex than you need. I use both fluorocarbon and mono as they both work in different conditions. I found that mono is a little sturdier and harder to break while fluorocarbon is better in casting to spooky fish. It reflects the colors, unlike mono, which will simply be a clear material. For leaders select either mono or fluorocarbon, but never mix the two, as they are not designed to hold tight with each other. Again my system is a little more complex than necessary. I use a variation on the 50 % method that starts with 6 feet of 50 Lb, 3 feet of 30 Lb, 1 and a half feet of 15 Lb. followed by 3 feet of 12 Lb. This is one of my normal setups, but it can always be changed to fit the conditions. A simpler leader that will get the job done is a taper of 50 to 30 to 25 or 20. That's all you really need, but some of us get carried away. I like to use almost all triple surgeons knot because I found it to be much stronger than the normal blood knot. I also use either a loop knot or improved clinch knot for the fly connection.
My favorite part about tackle is without question the flies. They seem so creative and realistic to me and I can never get enough of them. I have my standard vest, which includes 5 boxes of flies. I have a clouser box, a deceiver box, a small fly/ candy box, a popper and snake fly box and a 'big fly' box. For the early season herring runs and the summer bunker population I keep about 20-30 large yak hair or slinky fiber hair flies that range from 6 to 13 inches. Heck, I even have a striper crab box. I have a small candy box, which gets its name from the plethora of surf candies and variations that depict all the small baits, including sand eels, spearing, anchovy's and killies. I have a box devoted to deceivers and clousers, as they are the two most important flies. I carry all colors from naturals like white and olive to Chartreuse and Hot Pink. I also carry a box consisting of snake flies that range from 3-inch chartreuse to 6 inch black patterns. The poppers in that box are some weird hand tied concoctions and some crease flies. That's my long list of flies and I really only use a few of them, except in the most specific of situations. The Fairfield angler needs really only to carry a variety of clousers, deceivers, and snake flies.





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