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Hudson River Almanac May 11 - May 17, 2004

OVERVIEW

The commercial shad season essentially ended. It was sporadic at best and disappointingly weak in numbers of fish. Given the downward trend in recent years and the offshore intercept fishery's effect, this was not unexpected. Striped bass numbers were peaking as their magic water temperature for spawning neared. Both shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon were also present in the freshwater reach of the river, but with no current fishery to provide a reality check, the sagas of their incredible size, strength, and notable encounters with anglers and commercial fishermen are taking on the aura of legends.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/13 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: The nest tree swayed in the driving rain. The storm had come up quickly and it was hard to see if the eaglet was alone in the roller coaster. There was a brief dose of hail. Then the air cleared a bit and I could see Mama in the nest with the eaglet snuggled close, waiting out the weather.
- Phyllis Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/11 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: I caught and released a 31½" shortnose sturgeon in my shad net today. This was the first sturgeon I had caught in a long time, due primarily to the configuration of my net. I am not fishing as close to the bottom as I used to.
- John Mylod

5/11 - Scarborough to Ossining, HRM 32-33: Coming home on the train and staring out the window at the river, it became obvious the shoreline was being cleared of broken wires and old electric poles. The view was unobstructed. I checked with Marjie Anders in the Public Relations Department at Metro-North and she confirmed they have a program to remove all the disused material that so clutters the view of the Hudson.
- Lyn Roessler

5/12 - Green Island, HRM 153: I arrived just after at dawn to fish the entire flood tide. There were already two dozen anglers along shore and at least 20 boats on the water from the Troy Lock south a half-mile to where the river went out of sight. While there were any number of fish I might catch, I had visions of shad. Casting a chartreuse shad dart, within a few minutes I had a nice fish on. I was thinking 5 pound shad until it surfaced ten feet out: a foul-hooked 31" shortnose sturgeon, a federally endangered species. As I released it I could hear fishermen nearby commenting, "Not another one of those!" In the Hudson, unlike other estuaries within their range, the shortnose population is doing well. Someone said that just before first light, an angler up the shore had caught a five-foot Atlantic sturgeon on a chunk of herring. He said the fish fought for a half an hour. (Atlantics are a threatened species; there is no open season for them.)

Over the next half hour I watched two anglers land striped bass weighing 25½ pounds and 30½ pounds using fresh cut herring. Still, I wanted shad. By now the tide was halfway up. Big schools of herring were in close, bouncing off our hip boots. We could see large swirls just a little farther out where schools of shad were moving upriver. In the next hour I landed six shad weighing 4-6 pounds (two roe, four bucks). Five went deep and stripped line. One leaped several times, swapping ends, and then ran off strongly. They all took at least ten minutes to land on my light outfit. Few fish are as pleasing as a large shad on a small lure with light line. Roy Kressner, to my left, and Scott Keith, to my right, each caught three. What a trick it was keeping the fish apart in the water! Without a landing net we would have lost half of them. Roy was having a couple of very good days. Yesterday he caught a 28" tiger musky here.
- Tom Lake

5/12 - Stuyvesant, HRM 127: This was to be my last drift of the shad season. Marking the moment, an adult bald eagle flew past as I slid my boat into the river. I caught quite a number of shad, many of them roe, but most were too close to spawning to make the roe marketable.
- John Mylod

5/12 - Tivoli North Bay, HRM 100.5: We were on a paddle to view marsh birds. Along with an assortment of smaller common marsh dwellers, we saw an osprey perched in a tree along Stony Creek, a black-crowned night heron on Magdalen Island, several great blue herons, a couple of large snapping turtles, and a dunlin. The dunlin landed on a partially-submerged branch as we watched from the canoes. It was still there 90 minutes later, taking advantage of one of the few good perches available at high tide, resting before continuing on its journey back to the Arctic.
- Laurie Fila, Jean McAvoy, Molly Shubert, Steve Stanne

5/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Ryan Barrella was striper fishing with bloodworms at Croton Point when something big took his bait. He brought his catch into my bait shop for identification. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. His fish weighed 18½ lbs. In 60 years on the river I had never seen this type of fish before.
- Tony Morbito

[We investigated and discovered that Ryan Barrella had caught a freshwater drum. While the New York State angling record is 24 pounds 7 ounces, caught in Ganargua Creek in 1995, there is little doubt that this was a Hudson River record. Freshwater drum are not native in the Hudson. They probably arrived in the last twenty years through the New York State canal system and the Mohawk River, connecting the Hudson with the Great Lakes. Freshwater drum are lovers of mollusks and in the Great Lakes are known to consume large quantities of zebra mussels.]

5/12 - Sandy Hook, New York Bight, NJ: We pulled a seine in a bay behind Sandy Hook with a bunch of eighth-graders. Six short pulls delivered only four fish, but they were four different species: Atlantic needlefish, little skate, Atlantic silverside and a blueback herring. In the back of the net we found mud snails, hermit crabs, calico crabs, grass shrimp, two paired-up horseshoe crabs, and one Asian shore crab. This non-native crab was introduced in southern New Jersey 20 years ago and is now common from Maine to Delaware.
- Dery Bennett

5/13 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: The fragrance of honeysuckle and Dame's rocket was made even more pungent by the heavy air. While I was checking our eel net, a screamer of a storm swept through with thunder, lightning, wind and a torrential downpour. We got 0.20" of rain in 15 minutes. As the pyrotechnics lit up the sky, I leaned on the steel re-bar that keeps the net open in the current, getting drenched under a huge box elder, knee-deep in water, nowhere to go, wondering if I was in any peril. A hundred feet away, where Hunter's Brook meets Wappinger Creek, an angler endured the deluge while fighting a big fish. Afterwards I asked him what it was. "Bigmouth bass, twenty-inches."
- Tom Lake

5/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Bluebirds arrived today and were checking out their abodes.
- Ellen Rathbone

5/14 - Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge to Turkey Point, HRM 96-99: The NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit haul-seining crew today netted dozens of striped bass, many in the 30-40 pound range. Each was measured, weighed, tagged, and - after providing a scale sample to determine age - released back to the river. The crew also caught a few American shad (most of these are further upriver now), and a handful of other species: smallmouth bass, white sucker, white catfish, freshwater drum, common carp, white perch, American eel, and gizzard shad. One of the surprises in a haul just south of Turkey Point was a common map turtle, a species which prefers large rivers and lakes.
- Steve Stanne

5/14 - Rondout Creek, HRM 87: While paddling the Rondout from High Falls to Rosendale, I noticed a large "fish" in the shallows. After taking a closer look, I realized the fish was really two lampreys that had built a spawning nest in the gravel river bottom 18" below the surface. The two lampreys held tight in their nest while I floated directly over them. After leaving the lamprey nest, we paddled downstream another quarter of a mile and noticed something tossing around in a large pool. The object was big enough to be a deer flailing about. After closer inspection, it turned out to be two very large snapping turtles tossing around on the surface. I suppose they were either mating or fighting to gain the territory of this deep pool.
- Scott Cuppett. Rich Shands

5/15 - Catskill, HRM 113: We thought they were cormorants until we saw the white rumps. It was a huge flock of brant, 150 of them, making a long takeoff run into the southwest breeze to get lift. Once in the air, the entire flock pivoted and headed north up the river toward their summer breeding territory in Canada.
- Tom Lake

5/16 - Catskill, HRM 113: We're seeing some shad now, but the season is about over. We caught 120 good roe today but there were many backrunners headed seaward. It was my last day on the water. Overall, it was not much of a season. The river temperature was 63°F.
- Jon Powell

5/17 - Saugerties, HRM 102: The mute swan population has finally stabilized, remaining at 36 for the last 9 days. The birds have an interesting feeding pattern. They ride the ebbing tide in neck-deep water, being carried away from shore in a sort of conveyor-belt fashion (the slope is very gradual in the cove). As the water comes back in they do likewise for about half the rising tide. Then they nap. Once high tide begins to ebb, virtually all of them come in very close to shore, or on shore. If the lighthouse path is not used, they'll stay there until the tide has ebbed for an hour or more and then they'll all move out into neck-deep water and start the cycle over again. There are many small sub-groupings in the population, ranging from immatures with pale bills and virtually no knob to pairs with fairly bright salmon bills and large black knobs. The two adults I watched in mating ritual last week still remain separate from the rest, preferring to move nearer the head of the cove. Canada geese, gulls, mallards, and the occasional grebe will interlope but are largely ignored by the swans.
- Dan Marazita

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