New England Fall Fishing

New England Fall Fishing by Sean Obrien

Although not the last gasp of the fishing season, the first few weeks in September can be defined as the beginning of the end.  Tropical storm remnants can impact water temperature, migration patterns can be affected, and the fish are just plain confused.  The good news is, that in all of this confusion, we enter the opening of New England fall fishing , which I consider a separate season in itself.  Trout fishing picks back up as the water temperatures cool, and many states restock ponds and streams in the fall to create holdover trout for the winter anglers.  Saltwater fishing in New England also gets a boost, as the bottom dwelling species come to the forefront, and the albie, or false albacore bite becomes the target of choice.

The tropical storm Hermine blew up the New England Coast, and it seems to have locked some big stripers in to key areas in RI and MA.  There is a big push of 45 and 50 plus pound stripers being caught out at some of the usual spots around Cape Cod and Block Island, and the bluefish bite will be top water heavy and sustaining throughout the fall months.  In around the New England area, the sea bass and scup bite has been great all summer, and that streak continues.  Anglers can find sea bass anywhere, and the scup like structures, and underneath bridges and docks are also great spots to hit.  For stripers, the best bet as we advance through the calendar is to throw eels after dark, as this seems to be the most prevalent method that is garnering the big boys from shorelines on the East Coast.

While still chasing bonito, anglers will have a shot at the incoming deluge of the false albacore will be invading the coastal waters of the East Coast. Both the bonito and albies are great on the fly, they smash light tackle and put up a big fight.  A member of the tuna family, the false albacore is a fun fish to catch on light tackle, and can form up in a school of many many fish.  When they are hitting, you barely have time to reel in the catch, as they like to hit and run, and they also provide a pretty good fight. Albacore is a great time of the year for saltwater anglers, especially those who prefer light action or fly, but it also signals the beginning of the end.  Until lakes and ponds freeze up and we can get out there and ice fish!

New England fall fishing in freshwater is also going to be picking up, as the cooler water will lead to more aggressive and active bass and trout.  The freshwater bite has been pretty tough throughout the extremely hot July and August, but that should rebound quickly as temperatures continue to drop, interspersed with some great days of sun,and summer-like weather.  The carp bite has been down for a few weeks, but that will change with the seasons as well.  But the big game fish that is perhaps most affected by any temperature change is the trout population.  The cooler weather will create a comfortable environment for anglers to get some trout during this fall push, especially as many states restock in the fall.  So, it’s time to get those insulated waders out, because as the water temperature drops, the bite heats up.  No one wants to miss the end of summer fishing, or the start of the New England fall fishing fly season.

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Five Great Bass Lures for Fall

As the Waters Start to Cool, the Fishing Starts to Heat-up.

Great Bass Lures By Ben Team

After months spent trying to tempt stubborn summer bass into biting, the arrival of fall is well-received by most southern anglers. Whereas summer bass are content to keep a low profile and snatch up just enough food to remain healthy, autumn bass chase baitfish like it’s their last day on Earth.

Abandoning their finicky ways, fall bass begin feeding heavily in order to put on extra reserves to sustain them through the long, cold winter, when food is scarce and difficult to catch. Fish represent the most attractive food source for bass at this time, and a variety of minnow- or panfish-imitating lures work well for slaying salmoides.

Five Great Bass Lures

1.    Spinnerbaits

Spinnerbaits work in most water conditions and through most seasons, but they are especially effective in the autumn, when bass are actively chasing fish. The flash and vibration created by the spinning blades is simply irresistible for many bass and strikes often come in bunches.

Because you can fish them just under the surface or roll them along the bottom at a variety of speeds, spinnerbaits are great bass lures to use when trying to discern the best pattern for the day. Try a variety of speeds, cadences, depths and color combinations until you hit on the flavor of the day.

2.    Swimbaits

Few lures can match the lifelike movement of a quality paddle-tail swimbait, and few times of the year are better suited to their use than fall. “Match the hatch” when selecting a color and size, but don’t be afraid to add a little more color to the lure when working in low-visibility ponds and lakes.

A straight retrieve is often the most effective approach, but you can also use a vertical presentation to target isolated cover. If you rig the bait with a jig-head, it will drop in a nose-down manner; if you rig it with a weighted swimbait hook, it will tend to fall while sitting horizontally.

If you are looking to land a leviathan-sized fish, larger, joint-bodied swimbaits can also be effective during this time of year.

3.    Crankbaits

A variety of crankbait styles, sizes and colors work in the fall, but the wide, erratic wobble of a square billed crankbait is often the best bet. Rattling, lipless styles are also effective, particularly if the water is muddy, and you need some help attracting bass through the soup.

If you’ve been using deep-diving models to target bass in the Summer, consider switching to shallower-diving models as the weather cools. Because shad tend to move out of the main lake or channel and back into the feeder creeks and rivers, you should concentrate working such areas.

4.    Buzz Baits

The dropping water temperatures and shifting feeding habits of fall largemouth often combine to improve the surface bite, which is often tentative at best during the summer heat. Bluegill and shad color schemes work most effectively in clear or stained waters, whereas the superior silhouette provided by dark blue or black models provides the bass with a good target in muddy water.

Experiment with the speed of your retrieve when trying to pattern the fish. If you are having trouble keeping the lure at the surface while retrieving it slowly, experiment with different trailers. Bulky trailers create more resistance (drag) and the added plastic helps to increase the lures buoyancy.

5.    Swim Jigs

Most jig designs – casting, flipping, football and finesse – work for catching fall bass (when don’t jigs work?), but given their tendency to feast upon fish at this time, swim jigs are definitely worthy of special consideration. Swim jigs feature slightly “pinched” or cone-shaped noses, they have thinner weed guards and they are often constructed to produce a slightly subtler profile than other jigs do – all of which help to better mimic a baitfish or bluegill.

Standard jig colors – black, blue and combinations thereof – work, but try to mimic whatever species the bass are chasing if these old standbys don’t elicit strikes. Pumpkinseed, watermelon and bluegill patterns are great if the bass are chasing panfish, while whites, grays, silvers and blues help to mimic shad.

Try out some of these great bass lures over the next few weeks and let us know how they work for you. Did we leave anything off the list? Let us know in the comments below. We’d also love to see what you’ve landed lately, so tweet us (or me) your best catch photos!



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How the Steelhead Gene Bank Program Works (part 3 of 3)

Steelhead Gene Bank by Debbie Kay

Gene Bank Streams in Washington State are the Nisqually and Elwha Rivers. They have been officially named to Washington’s new Steelhead Gene Bank program.  These streams will no longer take any stocked hatchery fish, and measures will be taken to remove hatchery fish and to better preserve the area for wild fish.  These two streams are just the beginning of a program designed to try and help these threatened fish to survive and replenish in the state’s Puget Lowlands.

Steelhead in Washington State

Steelhead are a native, sea-run subspecies of rainbow trout, or Oncorhynchus mykiss.  Steelhead are one of the species known to survive multiple spawns, unlike West Coast salmon.  They have two runs, a summer run and a winter run.  Summer runs are typically in the Puget Sound lowlands, while winter runs are closer to the Pacific Ocean.  The fish emerge from the gravel and rear in freshwater from two to four years, depending on the amount of food and cool water available.  The longer that the fish rear, the higher survival rate they tend to have. Returning steelhead spawn between 8 and 11 pounds, and they can grow to sizes up to 40lbs.

The Concern with Hatchery Steelhead

Rainbows are one of the original hatchery fish, with successful stocking programs dating back to the 1800’s.  This made a switch to steelhead a natural and logical choice. Local steelhead stocking programs are known to take the fish directly from a spawn, trying to preserve the in-stream gene bank. They have been successful in upping raw numbers in streams, but this has not slowed population decline for wild fish.  A 2009 study from Oregon State showed some of the problems with hatchery steelhead.  In the wild, a hatchery fish is not just unconditioned for life in the wild, it is actually genetically less likely to survive.  A fish born in the wild from two hatchery parents has only a 37% chance of survival compared to a wild fish.  A fish with one wild parent has only an 80% chance of survival.  This reduced survival rate was proven to pass on to the next generation, and was assumed to continue for several more generations as well.  For a fish that is struggling already due to habitat concerns, to put breeding fish into the system that are known to reduce the chance of survival for the population as a whole, while taking food resources from those who need it was considered to be contributing to the extinction of wild steelhead strains.

How the Steelhead Gene Bank Program Works

There are three designated areas in the Puget Sound lowlands that are designated for steelhead recovery plans, like the gene bank streams.  Within each, streams will be chosen where hatchery fish will no longer be added.  Fishing will be encouraged for hatchery fish with mandatory take, and release-only for wild fish.  No winter fishing (during the winter run) will be allowed.  The Nisqually and Elwha were chosen for the massive restoration efforts on behalf of both streams, including the dam removal in the Elwha river, and the moratorium on hatchery steelhead in the Nisqually dating back to 1982.  More streams will be given the Steelhead Gene Bank classification moving forward.

See Part One and Part Two

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Five Reasons Steelhead Numbers Dwindling (part 2 of 3)


Steelhead Numbers Dwindling By Debbie Kay

The sea-run rainbow trout known as the steelhead has a problem.  Steelhead numbers dwindling though declines have slowed their rate, the numbers continue to slip.  There are half a dozen different unique steelhead populations. Steelhead numbers dwindling, and despite the things that are being done to save their cousins the salmon, none of them seem to be working well for these native fish.   Steelhead populations declines have slowed their rate, but numbers continue to slip.  There are half a dozen different unique steelhead populations that are gaining attention for their threatened status, and NOAA is in the process of developing recovery plans for many of these regions.  Though some of the individual regions will have unique reasons for population declines, there are also a number of reasons that all regions have in common.  Here is a look at five top reasons that steelhead are disappearing:


Many of the most threatened steelhead populations are on waterways with one or more dams.  Fish passage designs are not built into older dams, and only capture a portion of the population in newer dams. Dammed waters often cut off hundreds of miles of breeding grounds for large populations of anadromous fish, and leave thousands to millions of fish trying to get upstream to spawn without success.


Drought years are rough on fish who count on headwater streams for their rearing grounds.  Low water reduces the available area for fish to live, hurts streamside plants which provide food through their leaf litter and reduces available stream insects.  This can cause a drop in the number of fish returning to sea after their time in fresh water.

Climate Change

Increased water temperatures, drought cycles, disappearing snowpack from snow-fed streams and ocean acidification all play a toll on these fish in different ways.  Steelhead need cool water because they require high levels of oxygen to survive, and water loses oxygen as it is heated.  Ocean acidification can prevent the survival of plankton because it can dissolve their shells.  This is the base food for all ocean life, and can cause drastic drops in population up the entire food chain.

Land Use Choices

Shade, clear water without sedimentation and access to leafy vegetation are all needed for steelhead populations to thrive.  However, urban and residential development, timber harvest and agricultural practices that are done too close to streams can take a large toll on the in-stream fish habitat.  Buffers are prescribed for each of the land use types, but many believe that they are currently not sufficient to protect steelhead, particularly with some of the loopholes in the rules that exist.  In addition, there is a lot of unpermitted harvest of streamside vegetation and in-stream modifications with heavy equipment that can cause damage to fish habitat by well-meaning but uninformed landowners.


Hatcheries have long been the main solution proposed for steelhead and salmon populations.  While they have made it possible to have a continued recreational (and sometimes commercial) population of salmon and steelhead, the genetics of a hatchery group are significantly less varied than their fully wild counterparts.  In the case of steelhead, the genes of hatchery fish appear to be somewhat compromised, as they show a reduced rate of survival even one generation after being raised in a hatchery.   As this is becoming better understood, hatchery steelhead are being re-thought as a recovery technique, and some stocked steelhead are genetically modified to be triploid or otherwise sterile, to avoid depressing the wild populations.

NOAA’s recovery plans, to be successful, will need to address all of these puzzle pieces in the steelhead numbers dwindling conundrum.  As they continue to move forward with recommendations, the help of land use and fishing groups have become a very important part in helping to bring this popular game fish back to the West Coast streams.

See Part One and Part Three


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Steelhead Fishing, An Introduction (Part 1 of 3)

Steelhead Fishing by Debbie Kay

The fabled Northwest was known for its vast natural resources, and was a staging ground for those headed to California or Alaska to seek gold when settlers rushed across in the mid-1800’s searching for riches.  Today, one of its most iconic riches is not gold, but silver.  The sea-run subspecies of the rainbow trout, Oncorhyncus mykiss, continues to be a treasure for ecologists and sport fishermen alike.

About Steelhead

Steelhead are sea-run salmonids that are distributed up and down the West Coast of the US.  There are many unique subspecies of these fish as there are streams, as each fish is conditioned to return to its birth waters to spawn.  Unlike salmon, which have a similar life cycle, steelhead survive after spawning and can return to their stream homes year after year between their sexual maturity at age 2 or 3 (and occasionally four) to the end of their lifespan around age 11.   The older, larger fish can reach 45 inches and 55 lbs, though they average between 8 and 11 lbs.

Steelhead come in two different populations with slightly different spawn strategies, summer steelhead and winter steelhead.  A stream may have one or both kinds of populations in their waters.  Winter steelhead tends to show up around the first of December and are already sexually mature.  They spawn soon afterward, in late summer/early spring.  Summer steelhead can begin to migrate to their birth streams as early as May and as late as November.  They will spend much longer in fresh water before spawning, and will undergo their entire spawn transformation while in fresh water.  They will then return to sea, leaving their eggs in gravel beds to hatch on their own.  As eggs hatch, they will spend between one and three years in fresh water before returning to sea for their first spawn.  They will then spend one to four years at sea before spawning, earning them the names 1-salt, 2-salt, 3-salt, etc.  The larger their salt number, the bigger their typical size.

Steelhead Fishing

Steelhead are typically fly-fished for in rivers or along beaches at the mouth of their streams.   Flies can be presented downstream on a floating or sinking line, though some instead will swear by some of the nymphing methods popular in trout fishing.  They are most commonly fished for during winter runs, which draw the most hardcore fishermen.  Though the Northwest weather is temperate, flashy storms and rainy days can mean rivers that go from clear to rushing and muddy within a few hours, and that you need good rain wear and water-wicking clothes to stay comfortable. Steelhead run in groups, which often means a lot of waiting with pockets of great steelhead fishing throughout a day.  Often, a good day can mean a single large snag.  Attractor patterns are the most popular choice for standard steelhead flies, though nymph and egg patterns are also used.

Steelhead fishing is a place where many people can converge on the same pools, and it is important to remember the proper fishing etiquette when sharing a pool.  Start upstream, follow to the bottom of the pool, and then head on shore to the top once again.   This allows everyone a chance at the pool, and is easier on the habitat (and the tempers of other fishermen who know the rules) than many fishers in the same pool not moving for hours.

The populations of steelhead are considered threatened in many waters along the West Coast.  Because of this, the rules regarding steelhead fishing vary in different areas.  Some streams will have rules that allow catch and release only.  Others will allow take of stocked hatchery fish.  Some streams who are trying to remove hatchery populations in favor of hardier, better-surviving wild stocks are encouraging take of hatchery fish to try and help encourage repopulation.  The threats to the species are many fold, and come at every stage in their life cycle.  The strategies to save them are also very different depending on where they live.  The details of the problems and proposed solutions will be addressed in a follow-up article in this series on steelhead fishing.

See Part Two and Part Three




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