September 12, 2003

Fall is in the air (and water)

Frank G. Dwyer
September 12, 2003

Fall is in the air, and the fish will soon be making their annual trip south, leaving all of us to either dream about fishing for six months, or migrate with them. That’s the bad news. The good news is that good fishing is still ahead of us as the fish start to fee aggressively prior to their departure.

Over the last week, fish have been seen feeding on bait on top of the water along the oceanfront and in the river—bird’s overhead—in a classic fall scene. On the other hand, there have been days lately with hundreds of cormorants, gulls and terns floating on the water waiting for the fish to show up, just like me.

Seals have been showing up in larger numbers in the Merrimack over the last few weeks, with some venturing up onto Joppa Flats in their search for food. While their presence indicates that fish are around—I saw one with a small striped bass in it’s mouth the other morning—it has never been a harbinger of good fishing to come in my experience.

Fishing up river has been hit or miss over the last few weeks. Anglers fishing near the Chain Bridge and Route 95 bridge have tallied some bass on both chunk bait as well as worms. Fishermen anchored in the fast moving current near the Gillis (Route 1) Bridge have also had success with the stripers in the 20”-30” range.

Joppa Flats has been home to some finicky fish over the last few weeks, but in my last two outings I’ve found fish willing to cooperate a bit more. Fish have been taking sluggo’s in both white and sand color, both floated on top and twitched, and dragged along the bottom. Fly fishermen have had good luck with sand eel and bunker imitation flies, as well as deceivers and clousers.

Bait fishermen have been anchoring in the vicinity of the Toothpick and Plum Island Point, providing fish with offerings of clams, worms and cut bait. In an hour spent in the vicinity the other morning, I was three keepers raised from the depths, and many other sub-legal fish landed. Angler’s drifting the same area have also landed nice fish near where the channel drops off.

Boat traffic has slowed a bit in the river, thus making drifts near the mouth more possible than at the height of the season. Drifting from the south jetty, across the sand bar on the rising tide produced some hefty bass over the past weekend. We were jigging 2-ounce lead-heads with 6-inch rubber shad’s to entice the bass. Fishermen drifting whole and chunk herring were also seen with bent rods.

Outside the mouth, bluefish remain, with dogfish in the mix as well.


Kay Moulton at Surfland Bait and Tackle reports sporadic fishing as well, but did mention that the 4x4 crowd was doing well off the beaches of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Earlier in the week, bluefish were thick at the mouth of the river, with any and all offerings being hit by the toothy critters.

It’s a smart bet to stop in for the latest information on any trip to Plum Island. Kay’s fall hours are 6am to 7pm.

George at Captain’s Fishing Parties on Plum Island reports good cod and haddock fishing on the last few trips, as well as decent amounts of pollock landings.
Full day trips are running on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with ½ day trips on a more limited schedule. It’s best to call in advance for schedules and the latest fishing conditions.


It’s time for my annual mention of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, which runs this year from September 14th to October 18th. This is the 58th year for the Derby and it is an event that I have participated in many times over the last 16 years.

As the name implies, the Derby includes striped bass and bluefish, but also includes false albacore and bonito. There are award categories for both boat and shore fishermen, as well as a fly fishing only category. Awards are offered for adults and juniors, as well as special prize categories.

This is an event every fisherman should experience at least once, so visit for more information.

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