BABY BLUEFISH- More commonly known as snappers or snapper blues show up in August and grow through the month of September at a phenomenal speed. They are fun to catch, delicious to eat and for years capped off summer vacations for hundreds of Westport anglers ranging in age from 8 to 80. That's the good news.
On the flip side, what was once a thriving sport fishery, has been over-regulated to the point that snapper fishermen are getting hard to find.
Back n the 60's and 70's, before cell phones, when a fun afternoon consisted of catching the dropping tide at a favorite snapper spot, the Post Road Bridge in the center of town was lined with anglers of all ages, fishing the first couple of hours of the drop and loading buckets with baby bluefish to be taken home, cleaned, some set aside for the evening dinner and on the good days, some frozen for dinners throughout the winter. Weekends in August and September showed the bridge lined from one end to the other.
Mary Eliason one of Westport's longest serving school crossing guards fished the creek at Burying Hill on a daily basis, feeding her pet cats at home and releasing the fish she caught after the cats were fed.
Legendary Westport fisherman and conservationist, William, "Doc" Skerlick, lived in the trailer park on the Post Road and didn't have a freezer, but every year he found someone willing to share some freezer space, caught a daily tally of snapper blues
An old photo from the creek at Burial Hill. Note the long bamboo poles - were a popular choice for catching snappers without investing in more expensive fishing outfits.
and later in the fall put on a snapper feast for one or another of the conservation organizations he belonged to.
SNAPPERS are easy to catch. A light spinning rod and reel, artificial lures and/or frozen shiners provide a sure path to a successful fishing day -and that is the flip side of the story. The current 3-fish per day limit on bluefish includes snapper blues.
I caught my first snapper yesterday. I found them at the creek at Burying Hill. First cast with the popular SNAPPA-POPPER produced a hit. Next cast, a bluefish about 3 or 4 inches in length (released of course) and a couple more hits followed. As the heat index was in the triple figures, I packed the rod back in the car and enjoyed the air-conditioning on the ride home, convinced that there should be some good snapper fishing over the next few weeks.
By the time these little guys pull out ahead of a cold snap or a Nor'easter, many fish will average 8 to 12 inches in length. Right now, even a 3-fish limit couldn't provide a meal.
I am sure these biologists are well educated and highly qualified and are convinced that the baby blues need to be preserved. However, sometimes common sense has to enter into the picture. Snappers have always been a favorite bait for fluke fishermen. Indeed, the fluke population consumes thousands of these baby bluefish a day, far more than recreational anglers. Many additional species are predators that consume snappers. Three fish a day is a reasonable limit for adult bluefish. Not for snappers!
Recreational anglers who enjoy snapper fishing also like to eat their catch. In these inflationary times, senior citizens, jobless and low-wage workers look for ways to put food on the table. For people who fish for more than fun, snappers head the list.
Snappers also have very sharp teeth. They must be handled carefully as simply brushing a finger along those teeth will draw blood. Handling them safely also can injure the fish so that many of those that are released don't live anyhow. Better they be consumed by those folks who appreciate them.
They are found close to shore. Tidal creeks, coves and shallows are the hot spots. In Westport, the Old Mill, Sherwood Mill Pond, New Creek and dozens of spots along the Saugatuck River are snapper locations.
Take your choice. Depending on the tide, either side of the bridges at the Old Mill can be productive.
Looking downstream at Pasacreta Park, numerous areas are potential snapper spots. The Post Road Bridge is best at change of tide and the first hour or so on the drop.
Unrealistic limits and our high-tech world have robbed a generation of one of nature's greatest gifts. Fishing is one of the safest and best activities for youngsters adults and families in these crazy Covid times.