Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: Trout, salmon fishing has been exceptional so far this season
In the saltwater fishing, even with storm fronts coming through the area, it has allowed for a lot of party boats and recreational boats to get out on the water. There has been some exceptional fishing for groundfish with early catches of redfish, then the haddock started to show up, and now there's the usual mix of cod, cusk and a few hake in the mix as well as the unwanted dogfish. Haddock fishing has been exceptional.
There's two distinct groups of fresh-run stripers that come into our shores and rivers each spring and one group has finally started to get a lot of attention, both for the size of the fish and the quantity.
Although pretty rare the last few years and so far this year, small schoolie-sized fish have always been an early season attraction, especially for fly fishermen because they are feeding on small baitfish that fly fishermen can easily imitate. The second group is comprised of much larger fish that are keyed in on herring, most notably alewives and blue-backed river herring. These baitfish can be as long as a foot and often weigh over a quarter pound. They are striper-candy to fish from six-pounders to oh-my-gosh sized female stripers.
Herring runs started early this year in most of New Hampshire's rivers, notably the Cocheco River in Dover and the Lamprey River in Newmarket. In Massachusetts, herring have been noted in the Merrimack for some time and are currently running, not just in the rivers we mentioned but in the Swamscott River in Exeter, the Oyster River in Durham and the Salmon Falls River in Rollinsford. Large stripers have been smashing at those schools of alewives.
The best striper bait is a live or chunk alewife or river herring but these fish when on the blitz are apt to hit baits that imitate the herring also. Surface poppers can provide some spectacular hits as well as swimming plugs, rubber shad lures and bucktail jigs. Fly fishermen have to go big and flashy to get these big fish's attention or use large surface swimmers that push a lot of water.
Don't attempt to catch alewives for bait on Wednesdays, as in New Hampshire there is no fishing for alewives or river herring on “hump-day”. On some days, it's easy to catch alewives or river herring but on days when they are in a panic-survival mode, they will not hit a lure. Tiny jigs in the 1/32-ounce size will work as well as the Sabiki-types of bait rigs. Some anglers swear by just fishing the bait rig slowly while some of the jig users will aggressively pump their rods. A legal but somewhat distasteful method of catching alewives and river herring is by jigging with large weighted treble hooks.
A live bait pen is ideal for keeping your herring alive but some fishermen also find using a stringer for their bait will work, making sure to hook the fish by the hard mouth plates and not the soft tissue. Some fishermen just catch the live bait as needed, but that's taking a chance that the bait will be too scattered and in a panic when you need one the most.
Cast nets and gill nets are another way to gather alewives and herring but most states have regulations regarding this method. In New Hampshire you need a special net permit that you can get for free at NH Fish and Game Region 3 office in Durham.
Anglers fishing for stripers in the Salmon Falls River tidal area below the dam in South Berwick, Maine, and Rollinsford, need to be aware. The state border with Maine runs through the center of the river and the two states vary greatly in the striped bass size and possession limits. In freshwater angling in Maine, keeping live fish on a stringer is not allowed. Massachusetts has moratoriums on catching herring in many of its rivers. Hotspots include the waters below the Rock Dam in Lawrence, Mass., all the tributaries of New Hampshire's Great and Little Bays and most of Maine's tidal rivers, with the Salmon Falls and Saco rivers being good bets.
Dick Pinney's email address is DoDuckInn@aol.com.
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