SEACOAST FISHING FORECAST - 2008

These Are the Good Ole’ Days!
by Joshua Carloni, Marine Biologist I, Region 3/Durham

Growing up in northern New Hampshire, my favorite fishing adventures consisted of taking a trip out to the garden, digging up a tin full of worms and venturing out to a secret stream in search of some tasty brook trout.  My friends and I would wander for miles, hopping from rock to rock searching for those great fishing “holes.”  If we were lucky, we would spend the night camping out in the woods listening to the sizzle of fish frying over the fire.  It wasn’t until my early twenties that I got my first taste of the pure excitement of saltwater fishing in New Hampshire.  A friend of mine presented me with the offer of accompanying him aboard his vessel the “Sea Squirrel,” where he guaranteed me that we would catch some stripers.  Sure enough, after one of the most thrilling days of fishing I’ve ever experienced, we were enjoying some grilled fillets of freshly caught striped bass.

Signs of Spring
Since moving to the seacoast nearly six years ago, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all this truly diverse area has to offer.  For me, after a long winter in New England there’s nothing like watching the world come alive along the seacoast.  One of the first signs spring has truly arrived is the annual river herring run.  Every spring, thousands of alewives and blueback herring begin their voyage towards fresh water rivers to lay their eggs.  You’ll know that they’ve arrived at the coastal dams (to ascend the fish ladders) when Great Blue Herons line the shore and hundreds of cormorants dive in search of a needed meal.  Not far behind the herring and birds are piles of hungry striped bass looking to refuel their systems after a long migration from down south.  I would recommend trying your luck catching springtime stripers just below the dam in Newmarket on the Lamprey River, or below the dam in Dover on the Cocheco River.  Last year, fishermen had luck with both hard and soft plastic lures resembling herring or shad.

Once the river herring have fulfilled this awe-inspiring annual ritual, the stripers and predatory birds descend into the coastal waters to feed on a variety of other forage fish.  This is around the time I prefer to make a few trips every year for the most exciting style of fishing in New Hampshire….live bait.  There’s nothing like getting up early and racing offshore at about 20 knots through the lifting fog, in hopes to catch some mackerel and pollock for striper bait.  I recommend fishing areas like 2KR or the West Sisters off of Kittery.  Use sabiki rigs, with tiny pieces of bait on the hook, fished at a variety of depths until you find the sweet spot.  Once you’ve filled the live well with enough fish, head back inshore.  Try “live-lining” the fish around structures, or near dropoffs on either side of the tide.  This is a really exciting way to fish, and it can produce some monster stripers.  It’s all about feeling what the fish is doing; don’t pull your bait away too quickly once it starts to “move” around a little.  Give it a try, you’ll know what I am talking about.

Josh Borgeson and haddock
Fish and Game Biological Aide Josh Borgeson weighs one of the plentiful haddock caught during a May party-boat fishing trip. Fish and Game biologists ride along on several party-boat trips a year to gather valuable biological information on New Hampshire's recreational fisheries as part of the Marine Recreational Fishery Statistics Survey.

Cod and Haddock Await
Don’t forget about the excellent groundfish fishery in New Hampshire.  Hire a charter boat, ride along on a head boat, or grab a nautical chart and head offshore in your own vessel.  Although April through November all produce a large number of groundfish, springtime can be one of the most exciting times to catch Atlantic cod and haddock.  Large female cod, wisely named “cows,” migrate inshore in the spring to spawn.  These fish can weigh up to 60 lbs. and are sure to give you one heck of a fight.  A popular spot to catch these monster cod is the “mudhole,” located just southwest of the Isles of Shoals.  Don’t hesitate to book a date with one of the many knowledgeable captains out of Hampton, Seabrook or Rye.

For charter/party boat listings, visit:

Try for Winter Flounder
Another fish species that travel inshore to spawn in the late winter early spring are “blackbacks,” otherwise known as winter flounder.  This fish, which you may have heard stories about from your father or grandfather, used to be quite the sought after dinner fare in New Hampshire.  The stocks collapsed in the 1980s and hit an all time low around 1993.  As the population declined, so did the number of fishermen.  In recent years, monitoring programs by the N.H. Fish and Game Department have shown an increase in winter flounder numbers, yet still not many fishermen are targeting this species.  For the past two years, my friends and I have talked about taking a trip to Dover to fish the Scammel Bridge that crosses the Bellamy River in early spring.  It has turned out to be one of those conversations that still hasn’t become a reality.  You know, the “we should do that sometime” type of thing.  I’ve got a feeling that the people who actually make that conversation a reality this year are going to be dining on the tastiest fish in New Hampshire!  Don’t forget, you can still catch winter flounder throughout the summer using similar tactics, a flounder rig with sea-worms fished on a mud or sandy bottom.

Battling Bluefish
While working on a lobster boat a couple of summers ago, I was able to take a break during lunch to throw a line in the water.  It was one of those beautiful August days with just a slight sea breeze.  I laced a dead sea herring on a hook and threw it out into the crystal clear waters near the Isles of Shoals.  Within minutes, I had a good-sized bluefish on the hook.  This thing fought like no other fish I had ever caught.  I could see the fish 20 feet deep, vivid as day.  It was vigorously swimming back and forth trying to “throw” the hook.  I felt like I was on one of those fishing shows catching marlin in the Gulf of Mexico! 

Bluefish typically show up on the coast in July and August, feeding on a variety of forage fish such as menhaden.  Fishermen have reported catching bluefish by trolling lures at different depths through flocks of terns and diving cormorants.  It’s a relatively simple tactic in theory, just drive around looking for birds working the surface, and troll a lure in the general area.  Another approach that shows good results is to use a balloon as a bobber and attach a live fish (mackerel or pollock) approximately 10 feet from the balloon.  The baitfish will swim around near the surface attracting bluefish and stripers.  Just make sure to watch the balloon, because once it takes off, you’re in for quite a fight.

Since moving to the seacoast my eyes have been opened up to a whole new world.  The New Hampshire seacoast is chock full of wonderful fish, great weather and so much potential for fun.  My true nature still lies in the silence of traversing a mountain stream in search of wilderness, and the occasional brook trout sizzling over the fire.  However, if I am looking for a great fight and unmatched excitement, I need look no further than the New Hampshire seacoast.

P.S.  Striped Bass Anglers Wanted! The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is looking for striped bass anglers of all skill levels and experience to participate in our annual Striped Bass Volunteer Angler Survey.  Logbooks as well as measuring tapes are sent to interested anglers, who in return supply individual trip and length information through the mail or electronically.  If you would like to help us monitor New Hampshire’s top saltwater sportfish -- and keep its story a success -- then please contact Kevin Sullivan at the N.H. Fish and Game Marine Division office, (603) 868-1095 or email kevin.sullivan@wildlife.nh.gov.

 
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