A lot has been going on in the life of Matt Shutta since the last time we talked to him about his fishing. In this interview, we catch up with Matt and talk in detail about Massachusetts Connecticut River fishing.
Congratulations on the birth of your daughter. I see that you already having her watch football. Will she be fishing with you in the spring?
Thank you! When my daughter Evelyn gets fussy, sometimes she just wants to be held and watch the TV. I think it’s the flashing colors and movement that gets her attention. This has worked out wonderfully for me, as I’ve been able to spend time with her, watch some football, and catch up on fishing shows on the DVR. I’m a 49ers fan, so snuggling with her through the tough season has made things a lot easier on me!
As far as fishing goes, next year I’m sure we will get her out on the boat to cruise around a bit so she can get comfortable on a boat. Our dog Paisley loves being on the boat with me, so we could get the whole family out on the water! I would absolutely love it if Evelyn becomes interested in fishing and the outdoors, but if she doesn’t, that’s OK. I won’t push her into anything. It’s all about her now. I’ll follow her wherever she decides to go.
How has your fishing been in 2017?
The year has gone by so fast, I can’t believe it has pretty much come to a close already in Western Massachusetts! I didn’t get to fish in the fall as much as I’d like, but my weekends have been spent at home with my family, and doing some renovations on the boat so it’s ready to go first thing next spring.
The highlights of the year would probably have to be spending a long weekend with my father fishing Lake Champlain out of Ticonderoga, and having success fishing completely new bodies of water. I hadn’t ever been to Champlain before, so being able to spend 3 and a half days fishing a huge body of water like that was fantastic!
We didn’t venture up north all that far for smallies, but there’s so much to fish down south for largemouth that I don’t feel like I missed out. We were able to do fairly well and catch a few solid fish when the locals said it wasn’t fishing like normal, so that was good. We also beached the boat for a bit to eat lunch, and I scoured the shoreline and found some pretty awesome driftwood sticks to bring back for my dog Paisley. She will fetch a stick on land or water for hours! I left her home for this trip, so I had to bring her back a souvenir!
The other highlight for me would be having some success fishing new places and having good success. Champlain ties into that, but I also explored some new spots in Central and Eastern Massachusetts and had some good success. One spot in particular had a tournament going on and there was a lot of shared water. I caught the end of the weigh-in as I was leaving, and my 5 best beat the winner by 2 lbs! That was certainly a confidence builder!
I don’t currently fish any derbies, but going into 2018 I hope to fish a few small ones. Although the 2017 fishing season had some great times, I don’t think I spent as many hours on the water as previous years. I hope to change that for 2018!
How has the Connecticut River fished this year in comparison to previous years?
I didn’t get on the Connecticut River as much as usual since I started fishing other places more often this year, but it seemed to fish pretty much like normal the times I was out. I used to fish the river further north out of Hinsdale New Hampshire, Brattleboro Vermont, Northfield Massachusetts, and Gill Massachusetts because my work was nearby. But I switched jobs last year and I’ve been fishing further south out of Easthampton and Holyoke Massachusetts closer to my home in Chicopee. So it’s not quite an even comparison to previous years.
What is the section of the river that you have fished the most?
The section of the Connectiuct I fish most is probably Barton Cove in Gill, MA, and just north of it. I keep coming back to this section because it’s really where my bass fishing addiction started and close to where my parents live.
I used to fish from the bank there a lot with my brother and dad when I was young. After a long phase of extreme sports, BMX, taking over as my hobby of choice, I started fishing there again from shore. Pretty early back into it I caught a couple really nice largemouth and got completely hooked!
I started fishing there a lot with my dad from a canoe, then he upgraded to a johnboat, and then a 17’ bass boat. I’ve made a lot of great memories there, and I’ve got a lot of great fish from there! I’ve got my own boat now, but I still like coming back to fish during the day and visit family afterwards.
This section can be stingy, but it can also produce big time, and that’s another reason why I love fishing it! One day before I had a boat, I fished it from shore, and within about 100 yard stretch I caught about three dozen largemouth between 3 and 6 and a half pounds. My 5 best fish went a little over 28 pounds!
A few years after that, I fished from shore with my wife, girlfriend at the time, and we had a similar experience, catching countless 3 to 5 pounders on what was her first time freshwater fishing since she was 6. She caught a 5-6! The next day we went out with my father and slayed them some more. My last cast produced my personal best 7-4! I think I went over this in the last interview we did, but I never get tired of talking about it!
What is the mix of smallmouth and largemouth on this section of the river?
The mix of smallmouth and largemouth in this area of the river is pretty well mixed, because the habitat is mixed as well. There’s plenty of main river channel to fish, and plenty of backwater areas. That’s another reason why I like this section, the diversity.
My biggest Largemouth on this section is my personal best 7-4, and the biggest smallmouth was probably 3-8. My personal best smallmouth was a 4-6 caught from a power canal, from shore, that bypasses the dam at the bottom of this section of river. This canal is a good spot for smallmouth. I’ve caught a lot of 3 to 4 pounders from there.
What are your favorite techniques and baits for this section of the river for smallmouth bass?
I’m going to be honest here. I need to get better at fishing for smallmouth! I spend a lot of my time searching for largemouth, and I catch probably half of my smallmouth in this section of the river, in areas where largemouth and smallmouth habitat come together. There are shallow grass flats that drop off into the main river channel quickly, and at times smallmouth will come up and mix with the largemouth in the grass.
With that being said, the techniques I use for largemouth apply to smallmouth as well, but I know they are not the ideal presentation if you’re targeting just smallmouth. When I am fishing for just smallmouth in this section of the river, I’ll have a dropshot tied on to pitch at shoreline laydowns in deeper water if they aren’t pulling a lot of water through the dam. If the current is moderate to fast, a jerkbait around the current seams can produce.
Another technique that has produced some good numbers for me is throwing a weightless Yamamoto Swim Senko down the current past wood laydowns. The Swim senko is full of salt so it will sink well and still look natural in the current. If the current is a little more brisk, I’ll add a small weight to the shaft of the hook to get down quicker, but still have a horizontal fall when I pause the retrieve. We have stupid lead laws here, so I can’t use a regular weighted hook. I’ll crimp on a non-lead split-shot or two, or I make my own belly weighted hooks with non-lead solder, and heat shrink tubing.
What are your favorite techniques and baits for this section of the river for largemouth bass?
My favorite techniques in this section of the river for largemouth would be ones that focus on shallow water vegetation. My hands down favorite is a vibrating jig. I started catching bass on them years ago and started to get addicted. It shines in the pre-spawn, but it’ll produce year round for the most part. I find that it works better with wind. If the sun gets high and winds die down I can switch to a scrounger head with a curl tail grub and continue to catch them. The scrounger has a more subtle vibration.
I focus on areas where there is submergent grass with an edge, with holes, or that intersects with other cover like wood. Let the bait hang up in the grass before the edge/hole/cover, pop it free, and get ready. I also try to have a few different weights to fish different depths when I’m fishing a vibrating jig. You’ll need to cover a lot of water sometimes, and having the right weight will allow you to effectively fish the grass. If the bass want it moving fast and the grass is down 4 feet, you won’t be able to fish it with ¼ oz jig.
Another favorite technique would be fishing topwater baits like a buzz toad, frog, and the Whopper Plopper. They’re fun, they work very well over grass, and the bass in this section love them! I’ll fish the toads in the same areas as I threw the vibrating jig once the grass starts to top out, with a similar retrieve.
The Whopper Plopper gets thrown mostly around grasslines, but I’ve also had a lot of success throwing the small model in scattered grass, near larger grass beds. If the treble hooks catch grass, a quick snap of the rod will break the lure free and can trigger bites. A steady retrieve can work as well, but sometimes working it like a prop bait with small pulls and pauses can work great.
The frog can be very productive on this section of river since there’s a large dam just below it, and the water level can fluctuate a lot when they start/stop generating power. When the water gets high you can put them in the boat by fishing the isolated grass or the shoreline with that or the buzzbait. I ALWAYS have a follow up bait when fishing any of these topwater baits…a texas or wacky rig usually…because 2nd chances with the topwater aren’t very common. I’ve been places they will keep hitting a topwater after a missed strike, but I haven’t found that to be the case on this body of water.
Are there pike in this section of the river?
There are pike in this section of the river, not a lot, but there are a lot of pickerel. You can find the northern pike mostly up near the Rod & Gun club. That area is also good for largemouth. So you’re definitely going to lose a lure here and there.
In the section of river between Easthampton/Holyoke, I’ve seen a bigger northern pike population. About 5 years ago I caught my first northern pike flipping grass. I set the hook at thought I had a 10 plus, but it turned out to be a 39 inch Northern estimated at 17 pounds. More recently, the last fishing trip I was able to put in before my daughter was born I caught a 33 incher on a Whopper Plopper, and a 28 incher on a Rage Toad. The strikes were savage. It was a blast!
How is boat navigation on the river?
For the most part navigation is pretty easy on the river, but it can get hairy at times. The river gets swollen in the spring and during the rainy season. A lot of timber and debris flow down and can ruin your day if you aren’t careful.
Further north, a few miles below the Hinsdale New Hampshire dam, there are a few sections that get really shallow in areas that don’t necessarily look like they would be. This section also doesn’t have buoys to mark these hazards. As with any body of water, if you don’t have a good map, take your time and learn the river before you mash the throttle.
Fishing near Easthampton on the river, you should be very cautious of other boaters during the summer months. There’s a lot of partying happening on any given summer afternoon, and I’ve had a few close calls with some negligent boaters.
What advice do you have for anyone fishing this section of the river for the first time?
- Keep moving until you find the fish, and then slow down. When targeting largemouth here, there’s a lot of different stuff for them to be on, so if you commit to one thing because that’s what they “should” be doing, you’re wasting time.
- Pay attention to the water level. There was a time I was fishing grass flats and the bite shut down on me when I didn’t realize the water was dropping out slowly, because they opened up the dam. Fishing near the dam has taught me that it doesn’t take much of a fluctuation to change the fish. In that scenario you could either stay on the flats to look for depressions/holes where largemouth might relocate, or you can move toward the main river channel where there current might make the smallmouth for active. Alternatively, If the water starts rising above normal levels, it might be worth it to head toward the bank. Check the National Weather Service webpage for information about water levels, at the dam, the predictions of their release schedule.
- Bring your patience, or get off the main river section after 10 to 11 AM. In the summer this section of river gets heavy boat traffic, and unless you’re used to it, getting wakes thrown at you can ruin your time on the water. I used to let it get to me, but I don’t have control over it. What I do have control over is my boat now that I bought a 52” shaft trolling motor!
- Fish the thick grass. In recent years, the company that controls the dam has been keeping the water level lower than years past. This can cause the grass flats to turn into very dense mats. I choose a lot of topwater baits to fish these areas, but like I mentioned earlier, always have a follow-up bait ready to go!
- Consider bringing your kids here to fish from shore, or rent a kayak on the river if you don’t have a boat to fish from. There are multiple areas in this section of the river to park safely and fish from shore. Barton’s Cove has a picnic area with lots of shore fishing spots, shade, porta-potties, and places for children to play. There are plenty of bluegill to be caught, and if I didn’t mention before, this is the spot I caught a 28 lb limit from, so your kids definitely will have a shot at catching a good one! There’s a tackle shop across the bridge in Turners Falls that sells tackle and live bait, and you can also find live crawlers at most gas stations nearby.
I saw some pics of you fishing with your dad. What do you love about your time on the water with him?
Being on the water with my dad is great in so many ways, where do I begin? Just spending time with him… I live about an hour away from my parents now so it’s a gift when we spend all day in the boat together. Most of our conversations are about fishing, but we do have a few life talks here and there. That was especially true this year with my daughter on the way. She’s the first grandchild in the family so everyone was excited to finally meet her. It was good to get some one on one time with my dad and talk about how my life was about to flip upside down.
On the fishing side of things, I sometimes over think what I should be throwing, and then my dad starts filling the boat with a jerkbait from 20 years ago, or something so simple. It levels me back out a bit. I still learn from him all the time, and I think I teach him something once in a while too!
We occasionally butt heads when we disagree on a location, but that’s life. Every fisherman thinks they know where the fish will be biting. We generally try to give a time limit for one scenario to pan out and then switch to the other if it doesn’t work out. There have been a couple times where we met at a location and fished from our own boats, because we knew we were going to want to fish differently than one another. We still stay close to each other and have a good time trash talking until we weigh for big bass of the day. My dad is definitely my best friend. I’m glad we have something like fishing that can help keep us close.
Thank you Matt. The information about your favorite sections of the Connecticut River is fantastic. But maybe more importantly there is also a theme of the value of family that weaves its way through the interview. A great reminder for all of us that fishing is even more special with family and friends, even the four legged kind.