Late Catch

* This article was originally published in the New London Times and Waterford Times on December 07, 2006

Driving the New London coastline this Fall you might notice an abnormal number of fishermen dotting the gentle coastline of the Thames River. People like Tom Kelly, who lives in New London and teaches at The Williams School, try their luck before the early sunset, when bluefish and striped bass typically feed.

“This is perfect weather for it,” Kelly said, looking out over the Thames River and reeling in a light plug. “Overcast, with a little chop in the water.”

Kelly, who converted to saltwater fishing a few years ago, has been fishing all fall after he finishes his school duties. He has caught fish consistently throughout November.

“This is the weirdest year I’ve seen,” he said, “You can still come out here and catch fish.”

This fall’s unusual stretch of warm and mild weather seems to have prolonged fishing in the lower Thames. Comfortable temperatures and light winds have allowed “fair weather” fishermen to continue to enjoy the outdoors. And warm temperatures have given fish reason to stay active and stick around.

Alan Banister, an avid fisherman in the area for thirty years and a former Oceanology teacher at Pine Point School in Stonington, sites high temperatures as the most obvious reason for the abnormal fishing conditions this year.

“Fish like blues and stripers are temperature sensitive,” Banister said. “Water temperature and air temperature are closely related. And this year they have both stayed relatively warm.”

Banister does not simply blame global warming for the warmer air and water.

“Global warming is certainly happening,” he said. “It’s bad, and it’s happening. But global warming is a temperature increase on a global level. Locally, we see seasonal variations each year…so the water temperature varies annually.”

Banister suggests that increased populations of adult baitfish this year might account for lingering blue fish and stripers in the Thames. Moratoriums on netting menhaden, baitfish for stripers and blues, have allowed more adults to thrive in local waters.

“I haven’t seen adult baitfish in rivers like I have this year in a long time,” Banister said.

Good fishing conditions in the Thames River, however, does not mean good fishing conditions everywhere in the area.

Zach Harvey, an editor at Fisherman Magazine, says that many area fishermen are hanging their rods up early this year. Abnormally warm temperatures failed to produce noticeable drops in water temperatures that usually cause fish to move en masse to winter locations. Many fishermen have been unable to time these movements, missing out on the bounteous days of fishing that the fall season usually provides.

“The Thames might be a different story,” he said. “Now we have the holdover population of fish in the Norwich basin [of the Thames]. And the last stop for many of these fish will be in the lower Thames. Because of the warm temperatures they may be hanging around longer, getting ready to push upriver toward Norwich.”

This does not mean that other local coastal areas, such as the beaches of Rhode Island, do not have fish to be caught. Surfcasters off of East Beach still pull in stripers and blue fish.

But fishing on the Thames this time of year might serve as a more feasible and relaxing option. As opposed to surfcasting off the windy beaches of Rhode Island, it does not require waders or heavy gear. You can still fish the waters off of Neptune Beach Park, next to Ocean Beach in New London, with light tackle.

Tom Kelly prefers this type of fishing. His plug jerks across the surface, ready for an aggressive striped bass or bluefish to gobble it up.

“It’s therapy for me,” he said. “When I get done with school in the Fall. Now is the perfect time, with the light the way it is. I fish for an hour, go home, do some school work, have dinner, and then fall asleep before seven.”

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