N.H. Weekly Fishing Report - August 27, 2009

This week, marine biologist Kevin Sullivan reports on seacoast catches -- including a longstanding record broken twice this summer!

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1 Fish, 2 Fish, Red Fish, Bluefish...........Blackfish?
By Kevin Sullivan, Biologist II, Marine Fisheries Division/Durham

That's right, this summer in New Hampshire a rarely caught fish by recreational saltwater anglers has been making its presence known. Although quite common in the waters of our southern neighbors such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the tautog (called by a common name of "blackfish") is not a very abundantly caught species in New Hampshire's Atlantic coastal waters. However, last month, a new state record was set not only once, but TWICE! The previous state record tautog was landed in June of 1999, and weighed in at 3 lbs., 12.48 oz and 18 1/4 inches long. Because of their scarcity this far north, that record had stood for 10 years and one month to the day; that is, until Graham Oakes of Derry, NH came along...

Graham was fishing on July 16 from the jetty situated along the inlet to Hampton Harbor that is accessible from the Hampton State Park. He fished what he referred to as "the bed" near the end of the jetty and was able to win a game of outsmarting a 4-lb., 3.8 oz, 19 1/4" tautog, which won him the title of New Hampshire state record holder. When asked about his experience seeking out these less common fish, Graham told me he likes "'tog", he "knows where they hang out," and he catches 3 or 4 each year in New Hampshire. To all of you wondering how he does it, Graham let me in on his secret and said I could share it, so he's up for the competition. Graham's approach that has proven successful was cut strips of clam that he rigs in a popular freshwater setup known as the Carolina Rig.

The story doesn't end there and Graham's competition came quicker than anyone would have guessed. Only four days later, Roland Groux of Hampton, NH, landed an 8-lb., 10.8-oz. tautog that was measured at 21 3/4 inches. This prize fish was also caught in Hampton, but was landed within the confines of the Hampton Harbor. Roland now currently holds the new state record, which is a considerable jump from the previous weights. There are still a few months of prime saltwater fishing left here in New Hampshire, so if enough anglers begin setting their sights on tautog, there's a chance at a bigger one. Just ask Graham and Roland!

For those anglers that are still focusing attention on striped bass and bluefish, this season has been a learning experience. Much like last year, the numbers of both fish have been more dispersed and have put our fishing knowledge to the test. Most bluefish caught in recent weeks have been landed in the waters of Hampton and Rye, but the striped bass catches have been seen at most heavily used fishing access sites. In the summer months of June, July and August, the warming waters tend to slow down the voracious feeding behavior of striped bass, and push them into a holding pattern where they hang tight to rocks and ledges waiting for the food to come to them. During these months, stripers landed tend to lower in number but increase in size.

A great approach for these stripers is to use whole live fish (Atlantic mackerel, pollock, menhaden) or frozen bait on an unweighted or lightly weighted leader. Fishing from shore or in a boat, try to get near the rocky edges of one of the points along the coast, such as Rye Ledge, Odiorne Point, or Great Boars Head. Move in fairly close to the shoreline, toss the bait into the waters near the large rocks and back the boat away from the shore as you let our your line to keep the bait from being pulled away from the rocks as you move away. If there is a cow striper hiding in the crashing surf between some of these rocks, they'll take the bait as it swims or drifts down.

Experienced striped bass anglers in New Hampshire also can tell you that the months of September and October bring about more opportunities to land striped bass. In these months, the striped bass that came up this far north in large groups and then spread out into our rivers, harbors, and bays are now trying to 'carpool' back to the warmer southern waters for the winter. How does this benefit us as anglers? Well, as all of the stripers begin to congregate at locations such as the mouth of the Piscataqua River, they begin to move as a large school down the shoreline of New Hampshire, no doubt feeding along the way. To take advantage of their behavior, try using live eels as bait from a sandy beach such as North Hampton State Beach, Wallis Sands, or Hampton North Beach after sunset. For those anglers that are used to landing fish by hauling them over the side of a boat, it is a whole new experience when you wade out knee-deep in the surf and land a 40-inch striper like you might expect a fly-fisherman to land a 12-inch brook trout in a raging river.

Remember, if the fish aren't biting every trip, it doesn't mean that they aren't there, it means that now is the time to challenge yourself to reach for a different lure, or mark a new spot on your map that may produce the trophy fish like Graham and Roland caught already this year.

Good luck and tight lines!

P.S.: The New Hampshire legal size for haddock in 2009 has been reduced from 19 inches to 18 inches, so get busy offshore and fill your coolers.

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