Connecticut's First Stripers
by Frank Daignault
onnecticut's most reliable early season striper destination is the lower Connecticut River. Linesides are coming off open sea migration where feeding opportunities are at this time limited and they bee-line to this location because of favorable water temperatures and enhanced foraging opportunities. This is a perfect spring situation because the river is loading up with spawning alewives which augment grass shrimp, sperling and killies. Season considered, it is where stripers have to go.
The coastal, more tidal section of the river is really a huge marsh bisected by one of the largest flows in the northeast. While the estuary is big, tidal and flow enhanced, it is a good small boat location because it is protected. You can launch in Old Lyme at Great Island on the east bank; or, on the west, under Route 95 at Baldwin Bridge. For those who know their way around, this is not a bad spot for flats wading in the deep night; however, while the main flow is too deep for that, it is possible to wade along the sod banks and back marsh coves where stripers will prowl either after dark -- when you'll hear them -- or at daybreak. Even when wading, the best of it is accessed from boats.
At the Connecticut DEP. Marine Headquarters in Old Lyme, (east bank), the state completed a new fishing pier in '93. The spot is open all night because its intent was to eliminate the parking hassles associated with night fishing -- something that all wise striper fishers should do. The pier extends from the south end of the state property, beneath the Old Lyme railroad bridge, to the mouth of the Lieutenant River. Most using the pier are bait fishing while the rest of us leave the end of the pier with floating lines and wade the bars down on a dropping tide.
The mouth of the Lieutenant River is a reliable estuarine choice with fly fishers because of the flow which joins the larger waters. Current is always frequented by stripers and many anglers believe that the river there carries the sniff of baitfish. This local tributary creek is also popular in spring because of the warmer water locally which escapes the freshet cool flow from the north in the main Connecticut. Patterns -- largely deceiverish streamer variations -- are dressed to imitate shiners, sperling and sand-eels. Later in the season some use baby bunker patterns.
DEP Marine Headquarters can be found by taking Exit 70 from I-95 to route 156 south; then take a right onto Ferry Road and continue to Land's End. There are signs.
We zero in on this area because it is accessible for boats and shore fishermen. However, as a secondary consideration, the entire river to Hartford (a fresh water license is required above Route 95) is tidal and linesides can be found anywhere along the way. One reason is the burgeoning alewife run which takes place late March. To a mid-sized on up striper an alewife is fillet mignon and stripers will stop at nothing -- not even the Enfield Dam 60 miles upstream -- to get them. At this first major obstacle on the river, just south of the Massachusetts line, late April witnesses the beginning of a period when bass and bait mingle. If you could see what is caught wherever alewives can be found, you would appreciate the size potential of striped bass which the Connecticut hosts. The sweet water stretch from Windsor to Hartford holds spring stripers. Below Hartford there is a locally popular sandbar and drop-off in Glastonbury at the confluence with Roaring Brook. Bass are also found at the mouth of the Salmon River in East Haddam; and in Haddam the Connecticut Yankee Power plant draws fish when off season water temperatures are out of suitable range elsewhere.
Note that bait and predators here have different arrival times: alewives late March, small stripers early to mid-April. Even then the later into the season the more one's chances improve for a real moby striper. Alewife runs vary in intensity and many of us believe that stripers are in the river to feed upon spent fish later rather than the fresh and strong new arrivals of the early season.
This is the time for rapidly unfolding conditions and sets of conditions. Some years snow melt -- like last year from New Hampshire and Vermont -- infuse the river with cold water which drops its temperature to below taking ranges.
The size of available stripers is largely determined by timing. As with the rest of the Striper Coast, small fish -- perch size to 24 inches -- arrive first, early April on average. Keepers, and the first cows, are on time mid-May but June is safe for all sizes. Timing isn't from the photo period but rather from the total of prior temperatures. While there is widespread belief that there is a limited native striper population in the river, officials say that more likely what are being seen are holdover fish from another source -- probably split between the Hudson and Chesapeake. More likely the wild card in the size opportunity equation are probably arrivals rather than residents. With that in mind, anything can happen sizewise.
Up to date information on the coastal sections of the river can be had by calling River's End Tackle in Old Saybrook at 860-388-2283. Way inland Hartford Club Sports can report on less tidal stretches. Call 203-296-0110.
Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved
Frank Daignault is the author of Striper Surf, Twenty Years on the Cape, Striper Hot Spots, The Trophy Striper, Eastern Tides and Fly Fishing the Striper Surf.
Autographed books can be purchased directly from Frank; Order Form »
Articles by Frank Daignault