Fishing for Albacore in Long Island Sound
After arriving home from my trip out west to New York State, Oregon and Denver Colorado I found a mountain of work waiting in the studio and at home, including over 700 E-mail's. I was home for just 42 hours. I then left Manchester airport for Boston with Birtle, Lancashire angler and fishery owner David Jones. We visited Long Island Sound in Connecticut USA where we had some exciting fly fishing for False Albacore with Captain Dixon Merkt of Lyme Connecticut. Author, writer, wildfowler, fisherman. Dixon is the author of 'Shang' a biography of Charles E Wheeler. Wheeler was the general manager of the Connecticut Oyster Farms. In his free time he carved and painted duck decoys which were to become very collectable. I have fished with Dixon on several occasions, each time he has put me on feeding fish. Striped bass, Bluefish or False Albacore, all three species can be caught from the same area. In fact, it's possible to catch all three species with just three casts. But you will have to strike lucky. David and I were on the first day of a five days fishing trip with Dixon. I suppose it was about eleven in the morning when we eventually got on the water, after having a leisurely breakfast and shopping for groceries.
Experienced guide and a seaworthy boat
Dixon's Surf Scoter is a 24 foot centre console Mako, designed with safety in mind and to cope with the rough waters of Long Island Sound. The boat is equipped with all the safety features you would expect on a charter boat, including ship to shore radio, telephone, echo sounder and fish finder. Though I haven't seen the latter used in all my trips, Dixon's experience, eyesight or sea birds often a combination of all three usually puts you on the feeding fish. Captain Dixon Merkt comes highly recommended with over fifty years of ocean sailing, including many years as a member of the prestigious New York Yacht Club. Once on board Merkt's Mako you certainly feel you're in safe hands.
False Albacore are tremendous fighters; I suppose like the bluefish, we can describe them as a feeding machine. Albacore have no swim bladder, they have to keep moving, or they sink to the bottom and die. Their heart is twice as big as other ocean fish, and they are all muscle. This non stop fighting fish of the ocean has a big sickle tail to propel it through the water. Without a shadow of a doubt they are a superb fighting machine. Hook a ten pound albie as they are known and you might not see that fish for twenty minutes.
The tackle - It has to be the best
You cannot compromise with these fish. We chose wisely, coming equipped with Thomas and Thomas Helix fly fishing rods, in nine and ten weights. To stay in contact with these fast swimming fish you need reels that will stand up to a lot of pressure and want burn out on a fast fifty to sixty yard run. David used the Swedish engineered Loop reels, while I had a choice from three models I had packed for the trip. My Gilmore, Tibor and Aaron models, all had stood the test of time. In fact my Aaron model has fought to a standstill, several hundred pound plus blue sharks. Between to two of us we had a range of Wulff, Teeny and Rio fly lines from floating, through to fast sink, then should the need arise. We had reels in reserve with extra fast sinking lines. Our big fly boxes contained dozens, of fly patterns. If you're planning to fish in the late summer or early autumn, I suggest you use the layer clothing system. It can get quite warm during the day, but the mornings and evenings can be very cold on the water. Make sure you have a good set of rain gear for those wet days.
Bozo's Can Be A Problem
After leaving our mooring at the mouth of the Connecticut River in Old Lyme we passed under the railway bridge then headed out into the sound, on the starboard side we passed Old Saybrook Point with its two lighthouses. On the port side I could see Griswold Point with its dangerous gravel bar. A good place for bass and bluefish early in the season of May and June. It was one of those delightful days of late summer with a light wind out of the west. We and a mainly blue sky and fluffy clouds. Dixon had marked some spots on the chart where he planned to fish Plum Island, Orient Point, Bartlett's Reef and Little Gull island, which is easily found by its tall lighthouse. If you ever want to photograph lighthouses then Long Island Sound is one of the good places to visit.
Nearing Plum Island I could see a large concentration of small fishing boats working the area. Getting closer I could see spin fishermen, fly rodders and some trollers. The latter group proved to be a troublesome, often motoring straight through the feeding fish. American anglers call them bozos. I call them idiots, who have no consideration for other anglers. I would rather watch the grass grow or watch the paint dry, than go trolling. Those who wish to do it, I say good luck, but please don't steam through a school of feeding fish. On one occasion I was playing an albie when a trolling boat went past lees than fifteen feet off the starboard side. I nearly lost the fish through that bozo.
First fish of the day
Realising we needed to find fish further a field; we passed the concentration of boats on the starboard side, then headed in a southerly direction. Once clear of the boats, Dixon opened the throttle wide. Three miles further out in the sound David spotted a concentration of feeding albies. While I recorded a programme for my, 'At The Water's Edge' series on BBC Radio Lancashire, David chucked a small anchovy fly on a circle hook, some sixty feet from the boat. On his second strip a fish hit, David set the hook with a strip strike, then the rod hooped over. The reel gave line to a fast swimming fish. For ten minutes it was a give and take scrap between David and fish. Eventually the pressure started to tire the fish, and David was able to slowly work the fish towards the boat. Another five minutes passed before Dixon had his hand on the leader. After a quick picture the fish was plunged head first into the water from a depth of about ten feet. You don't hold an albie in the water as you would a trout, striped bass or other fish. These albies have to be plunged into the water head first so they can get as much oxygen into their system as quickly as possible.
Spinning Rod and Plastic Baits
Being an all round angler fishing for everything that swims in fresh or saltwater. I decided to experience the use of spinning gear, using a seven foot rod designed for lines between eight and twelve pounds, fishing a white plastic lure known as a Zoom bait, first cast a hit, within sixty seconds it was gone. In the next five casts I had five hits losing every fish after a few seconds. The spinning gear was certainly out fishing the fly tackle as Dixon had suggested it would. On my sixth cast I hooked up to an albie that stayed hooked. After a good tussle, I had a fish about 8lbs at the side of the boat where it was unhooked by Dixon, then plunged head first back into the ocean. After recording a programme and catching a couple of more albies it was time to move. A large group of boats having seen our action were moving in on us.
As we neared Orient Point we could see feeding fish, so as not to put the fish down Dixon made a turn to the north so we could drift slowly down on the fish. With David in the stern making a long forward cast, I made a back cast from my position in the bows. Within seconds David was hooked up to a powerful fish,. I quickly followed seconds later with an albie. After a minute or so my fish had thrown the hook.
David was well down in his backing and still he had no control over his powerful fish. For the next fifteen minutes the fish controlled the fight David could only keep on the pressure and take a few feet of line now and again. As quickly as he gained line the fish took it back.
Suddenly the fish moved quickly towards David, who had to wind like a demented demon trying to keep in contact with a fast moving albie. The fly line appeared for the first time in this long fight, and we all thought David would be the winner. It was another five minutes before David eventually managed to pump the fish to the surface where Dixon was waiting to grab the trophy. It weighed 10lbs. In a months time that fish when it reaches Harkers Island in North Carolina will weight 15 pound or more. As David said "That was a tough work out"
Hooked Into A Bass
After catching three more fish between us, other boats arrived, the albies went down and Dixon said "Let's try for a bass along the shore line" The shoreline certainly looked attractive for bass fishing with its car sized boulders and kelp. Dixon moved us within sixty feet of the shoreline, on my second cast with a white and lime green deceiver I hooked up to a powerful fish, for several minutes it was a tug of war between myself and the bass. At one time the bass appeared close to the boat. It looked a twenty pound plus fish. Dixon then shouted "There's a real big fish behind your hooked fish." After another minute or so the line went slack. I was gutted. Reeling in I found the line was shredded where a fish had pulled the line over one of those car size boulders.
Ten minutes later I hooked into another good fish, from the way it went off, I quickly realised the fight wasn't from a striper, but a bluefish. I didn't expect it to stay on for long as they have a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. I got three super jumps from this fish which tried every trick in the book to get free. After some minutes I realised I might just get lucky and land the fish. A short while later Dixon had it safely in the landing net. The fish wasn't hooked in the scissors but right inside the mouth. It was amazing that fish stayed on the line. But I suppose we all have to have our share of luck. During the day we hooked about 20 albies landing eight. David had six while I had two. It was a day when I couldn't keep them on. David had a day like it two days later. I caught several bluefish and albies, while David lost out on every fish he hooked. Though we had some great days on the water, it could have been so much better without the bozo's. Still that's fishing. If you're interested in fishing with Dixon Merkt telephone Dixon on 001 860 227 3616 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org