SEPTEMBER is a wonderful month for us here on the New Hampshire Seacoast. Along with the summer-long occupation of our coastal waters by stripers, we usually have marauding schools of bluefish and a special resident Canada goose hunt that will keep us busy.
The bluefish are kind of difficult. Not difficult to catch when you find them but since they are so nomadic, they can be at the Isles of Shoals one day, well up into Great Bay the next day and in the Merrimack River the day after.
So it's more a job of keeping current with their location than fishing, although on our bluefish scouting adventures we'll usually catch a few nice stripers and maybe a flounder or two and sometimes we'll fill up a couple of buckets of mackerel to use for both chunk bait or to grind into chum, and occasionally we like to bone them out and fry. They surprise you with their quality, if they are fresh.
With the warmth of September waters, much of the striper fishing moves to the offshore areas, where the fish will zero in on mackerel schools to feed on.
The macs seem to like to hang on whatever small bottom structure will hold schools of small baitfish - small herring and silverside minnows. The key here is to fish your brains out and catch as many mackerel as you can to grind for chum. As chum is the very essence of catching offshore stripers and bluefish.
Finding an offshore hump within the inshore jurisdiction (the 3-mile limit) we'll set our anchor and start to lay out a nice chumline using five-pound blocks of ground mackerel (we grind them with a hand grinder and then freeze) in a net bag that when thawing starts to let out a great plume of mackerel. It usually doesn't take too long.
When we start to chum we'll also start to try to jig some live macs that respond to the chum line. We'll store the live macs in our floating bait tank, which is a great tool.
Sabiki rigs can usually help fill our live bait needs but at times the macs will ignore them and only take a single or pair of mackerel jigs, so we start out using both and end up with what is working on that particular day.
The first few live macs go onto our striper rods that are set at different depts. We also send out a couple under balloon bobbers. It can be hours or minutes before the stripers find the huge schools of mackerel we have in our chum lines. But usually they will come. Chum is key and lots of it and mackerel in the chum line are what pull in the stripers.
We mentioned bluefish, but they are actually not wanted as they'll chop up our live baits and leave. But when they come we've learned to deal with them and actually when it comes to eating, I'll take a fresh killed and bled bluefish to just about any other fish we catch. Key is bleed it and get it on ice immediately.
Why stripers will not take a fresh chunk of mackerel that has been hacked in half by a bluefish is beyond me. As they will take fresh mackerel chunks inshore or in Great Bay with no problem. But when this does happen if you drop your mackerel chunk down about 30 feet or so, some stripers will eat it but when it's floating under a balloon bobber, forget it.
So a bluefish blitz that happens in seconds will take you several minutes to get your lines straightened out and back fishing and you're hoping the bluefish don't come back. And if you're lucky, you'll have either a dead and bled bluefish on ice or if you've had time, bluefish fillets on ice.
It's frustrating to move as you've blown your hours of creating a chumline that is key to this whole fishing system. But sometimes you have to.
We haven't even mentioned dogfish! They can really spoil your picnic. They'll chew on and kill all of your live baits in no time and when they come they come in numbers.
We have a friend that lives, breaths and bleeds striper blood. He's stubborn beyond belief. When he starts seeing dogfish in his chum line he'll pull his live or chunk baits from the water but leave them rigged up for quick action.
Using Polaroid sunglasses he'll concentrate on the shady side of his boat where he can see fish coming in and out of the chum line. When a striper slides in alongside the dogfish he'll pick up a baited rod and dangle the bait right in front of the striper and chances are the striper will take it. Believe me you have to have great patience along with good eyesight to fish this method but it works, big time. So when everyone else out there has quit fishing, my buddy Stevie is slowly but surely filling hi
s box with stripers. He has a Massachusetts commercial hook and line striper license and over the years it's paid off in spades - and no fish.So that's the September fish tails. Did we mention the fluking fishing?
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.