Merry Fishmas 2019

December 16th, 2019

December 15 was the last day of the official striped bass season in New York State. From here on, it’s officially the Fishmas Season. And what does any redoubtable surfcaster wish for and dream of during Fishmas?

Keepers, of course!

Herewith—offering suitable apologies to Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys—Big Brother Frank, cara sorella Chaweenee Cecchini, photog St. Toni of The Blitz, and a variety of additional beach accomplices, submit to you our annual Fishmas Card.

Jingle, jingle and tight lines, y’all!

The Keeper Striped Bass

(to the tune of The Little St. Nick)

Well way-out east near the Montauk Light

There’s a tale about some fish

That have eight long stripes

They’re long and they’re broad with a hefty weight

And their size in inches must be 28.

It’s the keeper striped bass (keeper striped bass)!

It’s the keeper striped bass (keeper striped bass)!

Flick a pencil popper out to hook a trophy bass

You’ll find them in the wash near the house of glass

They’re crashing on the bait right at Maidstone Beach

And when we catch ’em up we keep just one each.

Run run striper

Run run bluefish, whoa-oh-oh-oh

Run run albie

Run run striper….we don’t keep schoolies!

We’re castin’ to a blitz in a nor’east blow

With half a dozen sharpies in the undertow

We’re cinching our waders ’cause the surf’s real high

Then we land them on the shore in the blink of any eye.

Oooooooo….

Merry Fishmas, the fall run comes this time each year!

Oooooooo…..

Merry Fishmas, the fall run comes this time each year!

Westward Ho to the Finale

December 2nd, 2019

Cue the Fat Lady. It’s Over!

The pilgrims did it on the Mayflower.  American pioneers did it in covered wagons. Now Long Island surfcasters are doing it in their Patagonia waders. 

Moving west.

No one comes east to fish the Montauk fall striper run anymore.  Or at least, not by comparison to past years. The days of sustained weeks- or even months-long runs of migrating bass, slashing and attacking bait in the east-end surf, fattening up for their journey south, seem like a dream from the past. For most of this decade, bass blitzes of that sort have been more memory than reality.

This November, weary of reeling in dinks in the south fork surf, more and more, the Faithful plied the south shore beaches “up island.”  Robert Moses State Park, Fire Island National Seashore. Gilgo, Tobay and Jones beaches.

MISTER NOVEMBER: Verizon Charlie hooking up in the surf, “up island.”

One late November Monday—a mild, unseasonably temperate morning—Billy Black, Verizon Charlie and local sharpie, Big Babylon Bob converged for a surfcasting session at Robert Moses. It proved to be a fish-filled day. The tide was just beginning to ebb as the sun peeked above the horizon. The trio was into fish almost immediately. As the sun climbed higher, they  moved further west along the beach on a tip: Bigger fish and more fish in the waters closer to the Democrat Point inlet, which are more turbulent.  Better to stir up the sand eels that were breakfast to the schoolie bass they found.  

BIG MEN, LITTLE FISH: Babylon Bob and Billy Black nailing runts two at a time at Robert Moses State Park.

At first, the fish were in the 22 to 24 inch range.  With the move, they became more plentiful—Big Babylon Bob had three on successive casts initially—and larger.  They scored many doubles. The fish approached LeeBob size. Then VC nailed the holy grail, the fish we sought but was mostly absent this entire season. A 28-inch striper swallowed his homemade feather fly teaser.  An elusive keeper bass was his to savor.

KEEPER MEISTER: Said Verizon Charlie: “If keepers blitz in the surf, I will be there…” And he was.

VC doesn’t keep fish for the table. So you might think that to him, a keeper is no different than any other of the dozens—literally— of fish he had that day,  or the hundreds—yes, he counts them—he’s had all season.  But a keen observer knows the secret behind the smile on his usually stoic Teutonic face. As the fat lady warmed up her pipes, VC was perhaps the most entertained person on the beach.

Hats off to VC. Somebody had to catch one. Couldn’t have happened to a better fisherman.  They left them biting at 1030am.  Cue the fat lady…………..

A Keeper, a Keeper, My Season for a Keeper

November 21st, 2019

They were everywhere: East Hampton ocean beaches, Fort Pond Bay, Shagwong Point, Oyster Pond Cove, White Sands. From Montauk in the east to Jones Beach in the west. And everyone — newbie googans to veteran sharpies — was inundated with them. Verizon Charlie had 157 of them in about 6 sessions over two early November weekends. In Sandy Hook, NJ, UPS Richie had 26 of them on a recent Wednesday, then another 49 the following day.

We’re talking about shorts, schoolies, throw-backs; stripers in diapers. Less politely rats or dinks*. These are small, young striped bass you cannot keep; you can only catch and release them (full disclosure: most of the folks I fish with do that anyway, regardless of size. But neither do they cook). If this season was a movie it could easily be a horror flick titled “Attack of the Micro-Bass!”

When the Georgica Cut in Wainscott was cleaved open in early November, it seemed like the recess bell rang at a striped bass nursery school. Juvie fish were in the wash, literally swimming between our legs at times. They took swimming lures, bottom lures, teaser flies, you name it. We caught them on the incoming, the outgoing, the bottom and the top of the tides. Daytime, night time. No relief. But no keepers.

A keeper is a striped bass 28 inches or longer. The size rule is designed to make sure the young survive to propagate for the future. From the surf or from a boat, you only get to take home one keeper bass per day, if you’re fortunate enough to land one. But short bass all have to go back to swim another day.

So this a good thing, sustaining the fishery for the future, right? Sure; “if you like small fish,” quipped one of The Faithful. I have nothing against catching little fish, except for one very important matter. If not a legal keeper, I can’t bring a striper home to put a meal on the table. Thus far this season, I’ve had exactly zero keepers. And in the absence of any bluefish run (that’s a whole other mystery), there’s been a lot of roast chicken and clam chowder gracing my table this fall. My fish smoker is rusting from lack of use.

A lot of my friends and readers are beginning to weary of my whining this fall season. Hey, so am I! Fact is, no one really knows why boaters from Maryland to Cape Cod are slamming 20 and 30 pound fish with regularity since the summer, while keeper bass have clearly turned into an endangered species for surfcasters. There’s no shortage of theories: water too warm, weather too mild, too many storms, Hurricane Sandy altered the shoreline structure. There’s too much bait, there’s not enough bait. And on and on.

Pick your poison, but one thing is for sure: short bass is a trend. And I can’t merely attribute it up to how badly I suck as a fisherman, because I am not alone. Among my closest fishing companions, perhaps a couple of handful of keepers were caught the entire season. Nine that Billy Black nailed one early September evening accounted for the bulk of these. Beyond that happy anomaly, folks who could rightly be called experienced sharpies have been stymied as badly or nearly as much as me.

It wasn’t always thus (Okay, boomer. Here comes the part about the good old days). In 2011, the world’s record striped bass was caught:  81.8 pounds of trophy fish, boated in the Long Island Sound waters off of Connecticut. That fish surpassed the previous record holder, a 78.8 pound striper caught by a surfcaster from an Atlantic City NJ beach jetty on a stormy September night in 1982.

The keeper count on Striperonline is an ideal example. For the 2018 season (this season is technically not yet over), out of 59 striped bass caught, only one was a keeper. In 2017, it was one out of 21. In 2016, a very prolific year, 65 of 136 bass were keepers. And in 2011, while the total catch was smaller, the keeper yield was huge: 57 out of 67. For the record, Striperonline releases ALL fish.

In my case, the trend line has been equally dismal, though my fishing time and record keeping is not nearly as frequent or accurate. I had about a dozen keepers in 2016, a handful in 2017, 3 in 2018, and, as previously noted, a goose egg thus far in 2019.

But, I guess it remains to be said that it ain’t over until it is over. The striped bass season in New York officially ends on Dec. 15. Although the fat lady typically sings for me the weekend of Thanksgiving, I have indeed caught keeper bass in early December. So there’s hope, perhaps? Yeah, like a pink pony under my Christmas tree.

if you have no better way to spend your Christmas holiday, it’s still legal to catch and release fish that may hang around even into the early days of winter. And since the fish then will likely not be any larger than the ones we’re seeing now, you’ll hardly notice the difference so long as your fingers don’t freeze.

*Here’s my litany for the many names of different sized striped bass.

  SIZE MATTERS

RATS or DINKS: Fish that are 12 inches or smaller. More lovingly called micro-bass, juvies or, laughingly, stripers-in-diapers. These fish are only a year old.

SHORTS: The entire class of fish smaller than 28 inches, but generally reserved for those 18 inches or better. Two to 4 year old fish.

SCHOOLIES: In halcyon days of yore, school bass meant fish of legal size, at or slightly below 10 pounds. Today, it is a term used for short bass that are in the 22 to 26 inch range, and 4 or 5 years old.

LEEBOBS: A term that only this year came into the lexicon. It refers to those fish that are just a smidge shy of legal: a 27 incher or maybe one that’s 26-and-a fraction. Coined because our good surfcasting buddy LeeBob has a special talent for finding and hooking these. Estimated age of these fish is 6 years.

KEEPER: A legal striped bass at minimum 28-inches, perhap slightly larger, usually weighing 8 to 12 pounds and 7 to 9 years of age.

TEEN BASS: Indisputable keeper stripers that are usually well over 30 inches, weigh in at around 15 pounds give or take and are believed to be around 10 years old..

QUALITY FISH: A striper of noteworthy size and weight. Usually in the 20 pound range. These fish will be 36 inches or longer, 11 or 12 years old.

COW BASS: A large and heavy fish of 25 pounds or more. Usually fish of this size are 40-inch long females that are 13 to 15 years old.

TROPHY BASS: From the surf these days, a rarely in a lifetime fish 40 to 50 pounds or larger, which can be nearly five feet long, and be old enough to vote, drink and buy cigarettes.

DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT: Amazing Randy with an early November micro-bass at the Georgica cut.
FINGER FISH: Billy Black delicately catches and releases a dink near “the pocket.”
SHRINKING TRENDLINE: Billy Black seemingly catching the same tiny fish this year and last.
DON’T SWEAT THE LITTLE STUFF: LeeBob on an unseasonably temperate morning at Robert Moses State Park.
SNOW BASS: A flurry of shorts during a short flurry of snowflakes for Verizon Charlie.
HANDLE WITH CARE: Short bass in the wash, released to swim another day.
WHY WE FISH: Large fish or small, sunsets in the surf make the day worthwhile.

Whither October?

November 1st, 2019

September’s promise fizzled badly as we reached the shank of the surfcasting season. Is this to be the fall run that wasn’t?

OCTOBER BLOWS: Three vicious storms took their toll on East End beaches and the fishing prospects during surfcasting’s signature month (click here for video).

They came from afar.  Jeff from North Carolina, Big Brother Frank from California, Ken and Lisa, Steve and Dina from Delaware.  

Even the widely-scattered Red Hill Gang made the pilgrimage —Felix from Florida, Doc from Virginia, Bob from South Carolina. Representatives from Gotham were on hand too: Don Dolce from the upper east side, Broadway LeeBob from the UWS.  They came to this Mecca of surfcasting, Montauk, for the fall run of striped bass and bluefish.

But it never happened.

A small bass here, a rare bluefish there. Some one-and-done schoolie striper blitzes. Essentially, not a run of keepers or Albies to be found all through October, which should have been the shank of the season. Even the professional gill-netting crews working the beaches were flummoxed. With so few bass in their haul, they discarded dogfish and skate along the Napeague stretch in disgust.

NAPEAGUE BEACH MASSACRE: Sand sharks (dogfish) and skate abandoned by gillnet crews dismayed by a lack of more lucrative stripers for their efforts.

Things were so bad even “The Faithful” sought alternatives.  Verizon Charlie fished the North Shore from Port Jefferson to Orient Point. He struggled even there to catch stripers-in-diapers, though he reported sightings of an occasional keeper.  LeeBob hit Robert Moses State Park mid-Island where he had fun-filled sunny mornings catching micro-bass before going on stage. Billy Black fished his secret bay locations and scored some double digit evenings. Amazing Randy and I got well with some small bass early on.  Robo-arm Big Brother Frank returned to the east end with high hopes and his casting wing healed.  It was a good thing he caught fish in the summer, because this fall he only got clams.

PLAN B: Chicken mushrooms in the woods for North Carolina Jeff……..
……GIANT QUAHOGS in the mud for Big Brother Frank and me.

The Delaware crews came and then left town in record time this year. Scarce fish drove North Carolina Jeff to Plan B: ‘shrooming (mushroom hunting) in the East Hampton woods and Montauk dunes. Last I heard, he’s alive and well, but lacking any trophy fish. However, he did go home with a cooler filled with 4 pounds of bluefish filets and 10 pounds of chicken mushrooms.

All this was most puzzling because the ocean was alive with humpback whales, harbor seals, frolicking dolphins and sharks of a dozen varieties. All feasted on acres of bunker bait that had gulls and gannets hunting and diving furiously, and should have attracted the predatory migratory species that we surfcasters await the whole year long. However, the crescendo we all expected after a hopeful September simply did not materialize. The season to date has been an overture without the symphony.

TEEMING OCEAN: Bunker bait that should have attracted game species offered much to diving gulls and gannets, but little to fishermen on the beach (click here for video).

CAPOS GO SURFCASTING 2019

For a few days at least, as summer turned to fall, history happily attempted to repeat itself. The Red Hill Gang of Brooklyn came fishing earlier than usual this year. Good timing; we ran into a few days of small bass blitzing on the north and south side of Montauk.  Doc Charlie the Cat paid the price of a treble hook through his index finger for the short bass he connected wth at the Sewer Pipe, just hours off the plane from JFK. He winced at his wound, but smiled broadly at his catch and kept on casting. He notched one more milestone on his determined quest to be a local sharpie.

RED HILL REDUX: For one morning only, the glory days of the Brooklyn Capos’ annual fishing trip returned.
FISH AT ANY COST: Doc Charlie paid the price of a treble hook through his finger for this shortie bass. But he never lost his smile.

The next day, with a nearly full complement of the Red Hill googans aboard my truck, we chased a splashing school of stripers far into rock-strewn Oyster Pond Cove.  When we couldn’t travel any farther than the beach boulders allowed, we waiting hopefully for the fish to double back in our direction. And they did.  I knew if they came within reach of the water’s edge where we stood, we’d get only a single cast or two at them. So I demanded that everyone hold their cast.  Amazingly, my usually undisciplined buddies complied.  All was quiet. Without warning then, the fish boiled up in the shallow water among the rocks less than 50 yards out from where we stood.  “NOW!” I shouted.  In seconds, everyone of us was fast on a fish.  No keepers, but the nearly decade-long skunk was off for Felix, and Don Dolce.  Bob wouldn’t arrive until the next day. He had to settle for a tailgate lunch on the North Bar as we watched the fish bust water well out of reach.  They never came within range again for the rest of the weekend.

TAILGATE PARTY AT THE NORTHBAR: BBQ wings and cold beers on Montauk’s North Bar took the sting out of a fishless afternoon.

THE FISH TEXT ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

September’s promise carried over to the first Saturday in October. It was early evening, and I was deep into dinner prep with guests expected around 7pm. Suddenly, my phone came alive with a text alert from Verizon Charlie: “Fish blitzing here at Shagwong Point.” I answered with a non-commital, boilerplate message: “Good luck. Catch ‘em up, big guy,” then went back to my chopping and dicing. Five minutes later VC followed up: “Get here NOW!” his text demanded. When the fish text rings twice, woe to those who flout its call. I left instructions for the BW to keep an eye on the eggplant roasting on the grill, suited up in my waders, and took off to the east . “On my way,” I alerted VC.

For the next two hours, the fishing was epic. Thick schools of bass roved in the wash an easy cast off Gin Beach, Shagwong Point, and into Oyster Pond Cove. VC and I tossed bucktail lures at them—the fish eschewed any others—and caught schoolie after schoolie for nearly two hours. VC had 30 fish or more. I had about a baker’s dozen. Nothing large enough for the table, but an old time blitz of fat, feisty fish here, there, everywhere. We left them biting in the wash at dark.  When I returned home, the eggplant was a burnt mass of charcoal. Small price to pay.

“JUST LIKE THE GOOD OLD DAYS:” Perhaps an exaggeration, but two hours of non-stop schoolies at Shagwong was as good as it got this October (Click here for video).

OCTOBER’S BIG BLOWS

Before the 2nd week of October was gone, two massive nor’easters tore up the east end beaches.  And a third blow, a stormy, somber sou’wester on Halloween, shut down the fishing hard for two days or more each time. Times like these are why God invented clamming, I tell myself. 

As the month waned and new moon tides surged, there was no sign of a recovery.  October was for all practical purposes a bust on the east end. Interestingly, water temperatures remained above normal, leading some pundits to theorize that we’re still in a summer bite.  The big fish are simply not sufficiently incentivized to furiously feed for their winter journey south. That’s fishologist-speak for break out the golf clubs.

So, is November the new October? Is the fall run moving to December?  Or are the good old days gone for good? I guess anything is possible in these times of climate chaos. Even the forecast for the coming scallop season is morose. . Let me get another look at that clam rake.

WHO’S THAT GUY WITH THE SCHOOLIE? “Hey, mister, leave that fish alone!”
SECRET BEACH: In secluded bays, Billy Black has been known to have double-digit catches in the dark of night.
BEHOLD THE RARE BLUEFISH: A gorilla the likes of which we seldom saw this October. The fish, I mean; not the fisherman.
BROADWAY BASS MAN: LeeBob and company have more fun per fish-pound than anyone else on the beach.
WHO SAYS THERE’S NO KEEPERS IN MONTAUK? A couple of 30-plus pounders kept hopes alive for stalwart surfrats.
JUNE SWOON: Before he left the beach for the injured reserved list, BBF was a cocktail bluefish’s worst nightmare.


FishTales 2019: So It Begins

September 16th, 2019
The Fall Surfcasting season ticks towards its onset as a Good News/Bad News story.
SEASON’S GREETINGS: Amazing Randy and I got well in an “old time religion” blitz of schoolie bass under the Montauk Lighthouse.

GOOD NEWS: The weather is fair, mild and dry. Perfect for wading in the surf in a bathing suit or light waders.

BAD NEWS: The weather is fair, mild and dry; Stripers like it tumultuous.  We need a snotty storm to perk up the bite.

GOOD NEWS: Plenty of bait in the waters, bayside and in the ocean.

BAD NEWS: So far, not much on that bait except big ass seals, dolphins, sharks and blue whales.

GOOD NEWS:  Hurricane Dorian didn’t cause much beach erosion.

BAD NEWS: Hurricane Dorian didn’t lower the water temperature much, delaying the bite.

GOOD NEWS: Getting lots and lots of “fish reports” to chase.

BAD NEWS: Most of those chases turn out to be fools’ errands.

GOOD NEWS: At least we haven’t missed the bite yet.

BAD NEWS: The bite hasn’t started yet.

GOOD NEWS: Montauk is not that crowded with fishermen so far.

BAD NEWS: There’s a season opener Surfcasting Tournament this weekend, which means combat fishing conditions if the bite breaks loose.

GOOD NEWS: Amazing Randy and I got into an “old time religion” bass blitz under the bluffs at Montauk Point at dusk this evening. 

BAD NEWS:  There ain’t no bad news in this case.

VC and Billy the Priest searched mostly in vain for the fish—including elusive albes—all weekend long.  Big Brother Frank is out of the game this year, nursing a busted wing back to health on the West Coast by charting LA Dodgers pitch counts. He’ll be missed.

GOOD NEWS FOR BBF: Big Brother Frank teaching bluefish the meaning of life in the surf at Shagwong, before his busted wing took him out for the season.

Amazing Randy, who sat out most of the weekend follies dining on porterhouse medium rare, responded early on Monday to the fish reports touting hard hitting bass at Turtle Cove.  The morning was a disappointment, but the afternoon shined.  Randy got a head start on me arriving at the Sewer Pipe around 430pm. He scored about a half dozen blues and bass there, reporting: “All the fish you want at Camp Hero.” He had one striper to 30 inches. Meanwhile, I was en route, fielding and retweeting fish reports from LeeBob, who was first at home on the UWS, but continued to relay and receive reports while onstage on Broadway.  Talk about multitasking. 

I arrived at Turtle Cove—the gates are finally open to the approach road—at 530pm, only to watch the blitzing bass pass me by. Around the Lighthouse Jetty they went.  So did we. Randy and I intercepted the blitz under the bluff near Scott’s Hole

It was old time religion: fish busting in the rolling waves, finning in the rocks as the tide began to build. We each brought in a half dozen schoolies and had many many more strikes and drops. A rock jockey swam out to a boulder right in front of us. We had to cast left and right of him, so the fish we nailed played us into and around the rock piles, which didn’t do our braid line much good. Randy had one quality fish. My biggest was only about 25 inches. All our fish were over 22 inches. I had some on a green teaser fly—and one “duble!!!” All the rest, to my visual delight, exploded on top, hitting a blue Super Strike. We left them biting at dusk.

The Red Hill Capos are due here in a few days and they will appreciate the Good News about the weather. Most are not here for the fishing, anyway. But for those who are, hopefully, the Good News about the bite will continue to improve.

Bad News? LeeBob! Where are you?

LET IT BE WRITTEN: Move over Alabama. Time for the Montauk “sharpie” fishing forecast.

MERRY FISHMAS 2018

December 25th, 2018

With the joy of the Christmas season, comes the end of the striped bass fishing season. And so, too, our annual “Fishmas Card”. Tight lines, y’all. #Fishtales2018

DONDE ESTA STRIPER BLITZ?
(to the tune of “Donde Esta Santa Claus?”)

Mamacita, donde esta Striper Blitz?
Donde esta Striper Blitz?
I want a keeper to retrieve.
Mamacita, oh where is Striper Blitz?
I look for them because, 
It’s Christmas Eve.

I know that I should still be casting,
Cause maybe they’re up on the beach.
Out of the truck I’m now leaping,
Hoping they’ll come within my reach.
I fish for them all night, and when I find the bite,
I’ll call my friends and say:
“Oh Charlie! Oh Billy! Oh Randy! Oh Frankie! Oh Freddie”
Ole, ole, ole! Ba-ca-la!

Mamacita, donde esta Striper Blitz?
Oh where’s the Striper Blitz?
It’s Christmas Eve.

Alright, Mamacita. I’ll keep casting now.
It’s Christmas Eve…

Lyrics by Fred & Frank Abatemarco; Graphic Design by Chaweenee Cecchini (With kudos and apologies to vocalist Augie Rios, the Mark Jeffrey Orchestra, writers George Scheck, Rod Parker, and Al Greiner).

FishTales 2018: The Rosh Hashanah Schvitz

September 12th, 2018

A soggy nor’easter inaugurates the Days of Awe

RITUAL FISHING: LeeBob casts a line upon the moving waters

September 12, 2018: For Montauk surfcasters, the Jewish High Holy Days are the ceremonial start of the fall surfcasting season.  So, I ask you: this you call a beginning? What kind of chosen people choose wet, windy and wild weekends? Instead of the celebrated Rosh Hashanah “blitz”, we got a veritable Rosh Hashanah “schvitz”!

Not that we surfcasters haven’t suffered during past Jewish New Years: 2013, for example.  However, over the course of many, many years, Rosh Hashanah is the surfcasting season’s better than even chance at many, many fish.  So why, for heaven’s sake, is this year different than this one, or that one, or any other in the recent past?

STORMY MONDAY: What should have been a surfcasting slam dunk turned out for me to be a no fish “skunk”. Click here for video

But perhaps it was to be expected after the somewhat tepid summer in the surf experienced by The Faithful. Despite their best efforts to feed my smoked bluefish fetish, from May to August their take was lots of short bass, only a handful of keepers, and not nearly the bumper crop of bluefish compared to previous years. Certainly no “fourties or fiddies” for us daytimers.

Now, with September not nearly halfway done, and Labor Day weekend’s hot, hazy and humid heat wave only recently behind us, a gnarly nor’easter blew in for the Jewish Holiday weekend.  It should have brought God’s good grace and forgiveness in the form of cooperative, blitzing fish. Instead, the storm turned the beaches, and all who dared venture onto them, soggy and sad.

GNARLY FISHING: LeeBob tasting the fruits of his Rosh Hoshanah enthusiasm on Montauk’s North Bar

All, that is, save LeeBob N. He greeted the wind and the rain as if they were apples dipped in honey. LeeBob is truly one of God’s chosen people to judge by his hard-won results. As the storm enveloped the East End on Sunday, LeeBob gleefully fought the incoming tide from a slippery perch bathed in whitewater among Montauk’s south side rock pile.  Just before the sundown Shofar blew, LeeBob hooked into a short striper that he landed and then cast back upon the rushing waters to wash away his sins.  LeeBob would have stuck around to sweeten his lot—as in more and bigger fish—but the ocean rose ominously around him. Heeding the will of heaven, LeeBob returned home for the evening blessings.

The following day, I joined LeeBob to fish the outgoing tide on the North Bar of Montauk.  Wind and rain honked in our faces but did not deter LeeBob’s optimism or enthusiasm.  “It’s ON,” he howled above the wailing windswept waters as a schoolie striper inhaled his 1.5 ounce white bucktail lure.  Later, a bluefish with a confused look on it’s devilish face chomped on LeeBob’s line like a pervert on a pomegranate.  Both of the fish–and LeeBob–however, were home before it was time to share the fruit and challah.

I was skunked the the entire two day holiday. Clearly, repentance is called for in my immediate future.

Admittedly, FishTales ain’t no Book of Life.  But for my money, LeeBob is destined for a very prosperous future—on the north and the south side of Montauk—this season and beyond.

And y’all know what’s next, right?  Yom Kipper….come hither!

Shanah Tovah, baby!

SPRING STRIPER: Verizon Charlie near Accabonac Harbor

GANGSTER BLUEFISH: Heading for the smoker

FISHY HANDFUL: Amazing Randy with an early season keeper bass

OCEAN COCKTAILS: June bluefish for BBF on the town beaches of Montauk

BASS FOR BILLY: Stripers in the summer surf

STRIPER on the sand…..

….GRILLED BLUEFISH on the platter…

…#feedthesmoker

LET THE FISHING BEGIN: FishTales 2018 has commenced

YELLOW EYED DEVIL: I’m keeping an eye out for bluefish

Merry Fishmas 2017

December 23rd, 2017

Because there’s No Fish Like Bass for the Surfcaster

December 23, 2017: Christmas eternally evokes the comfort and joy of family, friends and home. For some, surfcasting for striped bass does all that and more. As you enjoy some of your favorite things this holiday season, BBF and I have the pleasure, once again, to offer a glimpse at ours, in the form of our annual Fishmas Card.  Jingle jingle, y’all.  Fred & Frank & Sister Chaweenee.

Graphic Design by Chaweenee; Photo by Verizon Charlie; Lyrics by Frank and Fred Abatemarco (with apologies to Al Stillman and, of course, Perry Como).

Oh, there’s no fish like bass for the fisherman,
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam,
When you pine for a top-hit in the suds at dawn,
Nothing beats a keeper striper in the foam.
I met a man who lives in Delaware,
He was headin’ for,
Montauk’s Rathole and the full-moon outbound tide.
From Santa Barbara, bubs are travelin’
Down to Shagwong’s wave-swept shores,
From North Bar to the Southside,
Gee, the big cows are the best ride.
Oh there’s no catch like bass for the holidays,
‘Cause no matter how many fish you land,
If you want to be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays,
You can’t beat bass at home.

Snow Bass: A Visit From St. Striper*

December 12th, 2017

‘Twas mere days before striped bass season’s end, and all along the beach, not a keeper was stirring—only some rats. 

December 12, 2017: Late autumn transformed into early winter. Wind, sleet and snow whipped the East End beaches. The fall striped bass run never materialized. Still, surfcasters hurled on, in hopes that St. Striper would soon hit their lures.

November proved to be a festival of tiny bass; “rats”, say the unkind; schoolies or “juvies” those more forgiving call them.

THE DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES: A 2016 keeper for Amazing Randy, and a juvie in 2017.

Keepers, those bass 28-inches and larger, had been virtually nonexistent since Halloween, except for anglers tossing live eels into the nighttime surf.  Not exactly my cup of tea of late. Yet, from sun up to sundown, The Faithful— my rod-and-reel surf companions–persevered, despite the absence of anything large enough to seriously bend their rods, or to bring home for the table. And I too, one raw and fateful December morning, suited up in pursuit of late season Christmas bass. It would be my last call before the final curtain rang down for the year. Striped bass season officially ends on December 15.

CHRISTMAS COOKIE CLAUSE: it sent me dashing to the beach.

The more astute among you might wonder, how it is that I was fishing well beyond the cutoff of my Labor Day to Thanksgiving contract term with the BW? Good question. Allow me to explain the little known, rarely invoked, but totally legal “Christmas Cookie Clause”. The fine print implicitly allows that, should the BW overwhelm all horizontal surfaces of the kitchen, dining room and adjacent living room, with materiel and accoutrement of baking, including but not limited to flour, sugar, butter, chocolate, sprinkles of red, green or various other colors, etc., the aforementioned surfcaster is free to abandon the premises and ply his avocation at the beach.

GET AWAY FISH: Billy Black’s 22-inch fish was King Rat of the day.

Thus, spurred further by Billy Black’s Friday evening report of his 21-inch striper—“best fish I’ve had in weeks!!!”, he text bragged—I whipped up a couple of steak-and-eggs breakfast burritos, fortified a mug of hot coffee with Scotch whiskey, and away to the shore I flew like a flash.

On a favorite beach just west of the East Hampton town line, Billy in sneakers, and I in my waders, settled our brains for some early winter’s casts. Sea and sky were nearly indistinguishable in cold and gloomy alternating shades of gray. Wind chills were in the low 30s. But in short order, what to my wondering eyes should appear, Billy’s rod all aflutter. I knew in a moment it must be a bass. Indeed, there were fish. Not many; Not big by any means—12 to 20 inches on average.  But enough that we could ignore the freezing rain stinging our cheeks, and the weird looks we got from dog walkers parading by bundled in fleece and down.

LAST CALL: The thrill of which will have to last long into 2018.

And then, in a twinkling, came a fish call from World Famous Mel, she, always so lively and quick. We were lured east to the Georgica cut where a rat patrol of six other stalwarts was casting as hard and far as their 11-foot rods would allow, as visions of big bass danced in their heads.

Alas, the best any of us could do was a 22-inch fish.  This schoolie proved to be Billy’s getaway fish, topping off a half dozen for his morning. I stuck around for a few frigid minutes more, vowing not to end my season on an empty cast, but to go out with a catch—no matter how small. I was using some of my lightest gear, so all my fish this morning came inside the sandbar, sometimes as close as the last curl of the wave. My third fish hit with a jerk and I laughed when it did, in spite of myself. I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work: silently savoring the subtle chatter of my rod tip.  As it gently twerked. I reeled slowly, lightly, encouraging the feeble vibrations of this tiny fish to radiate up my arms as long as possible.  This “fish on” feeling, subdued though it was, would have to last me deep into 2018. Then I released this juvie to dash away, dash away, and swim out of sight. Into the leaden December sea it disappeared.

Happy fishing to all, and to all a good bite.

*(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

IT WAS A REALLY REALLY BIG FISH—I’M SURE

October 24th, 2017

Talk about the ones that got away.  This one never got got.

October 24, 2017: It was a really big fish. Really. Certainly my biggest of the season. I don’t know exactly how big. I didn’t measure it or weigh it. Fact is I didn’t land it. But I didn’t have to. I know it was a bigg’un. There’s other ways to tell, you know. The fight of the fish, or the bend in the rod, or the pull on the line. But that wasn’t my measure. Not that I lost it or dropped it or had it break off. This really big fish, I mean. No, that wasn’t it, because I didn’t ever have the fish on the line.

MY REALLY BIG FISH: If I drew a picture, it would look like this.

You see, I never really hooked this really really big fish. But I saw it. It came up for my plug. It bumped my lure. It came out of the water. Almost. Its tail did. Its really big tail. I didn’t literally see this really big fish’s big tail. But I saw the splash that it made. It was a really big splash, from a really big fish that I didn’t see or hook or catch.

I was with two fishing mates at Shagwong Point when I didn’t catch this really big fish.  They didn’t see it.  They were busy casting in a different direction.  But I called out to them as soon as it happened.  “I just had a really big fish come up!”  They nodded their heads in acknowledgement.  We all kept casting in hopes that it would come back.  Or that this really big fish was swimming with other really big fish nearby.  But, it was gone.  That happens. Especially with really big fish.

My buddy Verizon Charlie had a really big fish that he didn’t land or see earlier this year.  Talks about it all the time.  Knows exactly what it was and almost precisely what it weighed.  VC is a really really good surfcaster. Now we exchange stories about our really big fish in ways not too many others understand.  You’d have had to be there. Nothing personal.  But it’s really really something special to not catch a really really big fish. An exclusive club, sort of.

Wow. I’m gonna remember this fish for a very very long time. It was really big. Really.