Season Opener: Fish Are Here Now

April 22nd, 2021

The first week of the 2021 New York striped bass season—opening day was April 15—arrived with good news in the chilly East End waters.  Fish are among us.

FIRST FISH: From the frigid frothy waters of Port Jefferson.

Considering our April-pretending-to-be-March weather, it seemed unlikely we’d see bass here in any reliable way this month.  And based on past performance, that would be enough to keep the Fishing Faithful tight to their indoor hearths until about Mother’s Day in any ordinary year.  But as you have heard ad naseum, it hasn’t been an ordinary year—for at least the last 14 months.

ON THE MOVE: Excitement loomed when bass were reported in New York waters.

Each week the migration maps, which track striped bass movement north from their winter resting grounds off the Carolina coast, whetted the fishing appetites of the cabin fevered Faithful. Tantalizing reports of slot fish in Raritan Bay off New Jersey’s highlands, eight-pound weakfish near Sag Harbor, and tons of bait everywhere—bunker in particular, and also spearing—finally took their toll.

To the beaches the surfcasters did rush. First, they went up island to Little Neck Bay where there was a decent schoolie bite of hold-over fish last spring to accompany the Covid-19 pandemic.  Surfcasting rule Number Two: Always return to the scene of the crime.

Billy Black, who took the 15 minute ride to LNB from his Manhasset home base, explained without a hint of irony, “Somebody has to catch the first fish.” And that honor went to Verizon Charlie. But VC didn’t score up island, or even out east. Sir Charles pulled his inaugural 22-inch striper from the frothy frigid waters of his Port Jefferson hometown on April 18.

LNB is the default fishing grounds of Manhattanite LeeBob. And it is literally on the weekday commuting route of Queens dweller Amazing Randy, who filed regular reports from his mobile Cross Island Parkway crows nest.  But when Verizon Charlie showed up, making a trip to the Nassau-Queens border from his deep seat in Suffolk, the pent up demand was as plain as a new moon tide at the perigee. 

BUNKER BUNKER: Bait is everywhere.

Which, of course, kicked fishaholic LeeBob into fish-finding high gear on the East End. He combed all his usual haunts on both the ocean and bay beaches from Amagansett to Montauk Point.  By Monday, LeeBob had zeroed in on a well structured patch of beach on the Napeague stretch. “On. The. Board,” he gloated to the Faithful.

Micro-bass fell to LeeBob’s, 4-inch paddle tail lure wiggling through the whitewater, attached to a 1/2-ounce jig head. Baby bass were feeding thick in the trough formed by the close-in sandbar, and LeeBob caught them by the dozen. Though not much bigger than the bunker bait that has inundated the East End beaches since winter, they proved to be good sport on light tackle and an impetus to do better.  

ON THE BOARD: LeeBob nails a LeeBob.

Which, after a couple of dozen stripers in diapers over two days, LeeBob managed to do. By midweek, switching to a chartreuse “Chuck’s Buck” bucktail lure, LeeBob began attracting 24- to 26-inch fish. Genuine LeeBobs for LeeBob.

From far far away Montecito, CA, Fishing Faithful Big Brother Frank issued his typical early season clarion call, albeit in absentia:  “Fish are coming now.”

Fact is, they are here.

Merry Fishmas 2020

December 25th, 2020

Are you ready for a happy New Year? Any kind of New Year will be an improvement, right? Surfcasting for striped bass was one of the few joys leading up to this crisis-tinged Christmas. And though the pandemic kept us apart, Big Brother Frank and I did our best to cast out our Christmas spirit and reel in this seasonal tradition. So with appropriate apologies to author Benjamin Hanby and singers Gene Autry and Kimberley Locke, we happily present the Fishmas Card of 2020. Wishing you all a safe and healthy and fishy new year. –Fred & Frank


(To the tune of Up On The Housetop)

Out on a sandbar, cast, cast, cast

Old Saint Nick is after bass.

Fishin’ with LeeBob and wearin’ a mask

Plugging for keepers is Santa’s task.

Ho ho ho, Fred wants to go

Ho ho ho, Frank wants to go.

Out to Camp Hero with a 10-foot stick

Fishing Turtle Cove with Good Saint Nick.

First comes the lure bag of Billy Black

Santa fills it up when the tide goes slack.

Give him a lure that swims at night

One that’ll make the lunkers bite.

Ho ho ho, Randy wants to go

Ho ho ho, Charlie wants to go.

Up on the jetty with a Deadly Dick

Hooking up Alibes with good Saint Nick!

Lyrics by Fred & Frank Abatemarco; graphics by Chaweenie, Photos by St. Toni of the Blitz and The BW.

December Fishing–Present & Past

December 23rd, 2020

Visions of blitzes and Christmas Bass dance in my head

The striped bass season here officially ended last week. But I had hung up my rod and reel well before–about the same time I cooked down our Thanksgiving turkey carcass for a hearty winter stock. I did not invoke any of the “C Clause” options in my surfcasting ‘arrangement” with the BW. Those include the baking of Christmas Cookies and the existence of the Coronavirus, either of which is an excuse to fish on the beach without limitations.

However, by the end of November the weather turned frigid, even micro-bass were scarce in the surf, and I needed to move on with an overdue kitchen renovation. That added up to no December fishing for me. I’m off the East End for the rest of this calendar year.  

It was a great fall fishing season with more time in the surf than in any past year I can remember (thank you COVID-19). Still, I am nostalgic for some of the special moments that December surf fishing can bring.  I think especially of the famous 2006 fish call from Jack Yee that led to a keeper blitz on the beach at Cupsoque County Park as a full moon rose over Great South Bay in the east, and the sun set over the ocean to the west, late on an early December afternoon.

DECEMBER FISHING: I’ll also miss some off-the-beach extra-curricular activates like this bygone episode of the Captain Harvey Bennett Mobile Tackle Report, which we’re fortunate to have in the archives. (click photo for video)
BEACH RYDER: Gleaning and cleaning for treasures and trash.

I’ll regret not being on the beach for a chance to witness the legendary but rarely seen “Christmas Bass” experience. As the story goes, many young striped bass winter over in sheltered northern waters rather than migrate south to deeper, warmer ocean grounds off the Carolina coast. Some of these stay behinds are blind and you can identify them by their totally clouded eyes. I saw only one Christmas Bass landed on the beach–more than a decade ago–by the late “Lenny the Fish” of Amagansett. If any of these Christmas Bass are to be caught and released this year, I’m certain that LeeBob will hunt them down along the back bays beaches he’ll prowl throughout the hibernate months ahead. Neither wintry weather nor the dearth of fish keeps LeeBob and his trusty protégée–4-year-old son Ryder–from their appointed rounds: treasure hunting for stray lures, and cleaning up the beaches of assorted other flotsam in the process. Always, of course, with a rod and reel within their reach. 

What I surely won’t miss are finger-numbing moments trying to catch every last fish with a notion to swim along the beach during a snowstorm. I last did that in 2017. Brrrr; never again. Instead, with profound, miserly economy, I’ll be sneaking out of my freezer, filets of smoked bluefish or mackerel every few weeks, while dreaming of the the arrival of the 2021 spring run.  Until then, the Fat Lady will continue to croon her 2020 version of “It’s Over!”  And I’ll be putting finishing touches on this year’s soon to come Fishmas Card with Big Brother Frank.

November morning……
…… December song.

Size Matters: A Keeper Slot Fish in the Surf

November 26th, 2020

I was certain I was battling my best fish of the season. The fear at this point was this fish might be too big. 

For a large fish, it took my lure very softly. I was casting to an outgoing tide on a Napeague beach west of Montauk on a pleasant late November afternoon. I reeled ever so slowly. When my lure drifted through the trough where the waves rise before they curl and crash down on the inner sandbar, I felt the telltale chatter on my rod tip.  It was the slightest quivering vibration. I stopped cranking my line. It went taut. But there was barely any pull.  I flicked the rod tip up and got a serious response. I’m into a respectable schoolie, I thought. But that idea instantly evaporated the moment I saw it break water.

The tail of this fish came up and out of the white foam where a wave broke seconds earlier and slapped down with a showy splash.  This was no schoolie bass.  This fish had the makings of a keeper striped bass, which for me would prove a rarity this fall. Hurling towards the endgame of a surfcasting season dominated by fish mostly too small to take home for dinner, I was hankering for what my friend LeeBob’s son–Broadway Baby Ryder— calls ”an eater.” This, I was starting to think, could be one.

I leaned back in earnest, pitting my rod against a fish that was hell bent to escape. The single hook of my lure had penetrated the translucent mouth flesh behind the fish’s lower lip. Shaking its head wildly, the fish did all in its power to spit the hook.  Any bit of slack in my line would give this fish a chance to swim free. The tidal current swept left to right in the shallow water on the sandbar. This hard running fish used its milieu to every advantage. It was desperate.  But I was hungry.

It was also smart. The age difference between a 24-inch schoolie and a 30-inch keeper is only about two years. But in that short time span, stripers seem to get more more clever and wily.  My fish was going to use all its weight and power to try and avoid my table.  

When the fish peeled line from my reel despite my efforts to keep it coming shoreward, I was certain I was battling my best fish of the season. The fear at this point was this fish might be too big.  Keepers used to mean a minimum length.  Way back in the dark days of striped bass decline, a 36-inch fish was the minimum take home size.  I remember catching one 33-inch fish after another on an October afternoon in the Montauk surf, each one released back to the sea.  I ate chicken that night. A few years later, when the rules were relaxed to a 33-inch minimum, I had a September evening with successive catches of 30-inch fish before finally getting one over the limit.

For the last few years, we’ve only been concerned about keepers being 28 inches. And, as nature would have it, we’ve had weeks and months of catching mostly 26- and 27-inch LeeBobs. As this season has worn on and the fish have gotten smaller—juvies, dinks, and micros from 12- to 20-inches—hope was diminishing for a late season keeper. I had only two this year, so the prospect of a quality fish was drool worthy. But for 2020 there was also a new wrinkle: a top limit to the keeper size: 35 inches. As the fish I was battling peeled line from my reel despite my efforts to keep it coming shoreward, I began to fear it could exceed the slot limit. And as much as I would have appreciated a trophy fish, I was not looking forward to another chicken dinner.

SLOT FISH: A genuine eater.

When I finally dragged it up on the beach, with a last flap of its broad and magnificent tail, I saw the fish had a head equal to that of a small dog. It was a wide and fat fish. I lifted it for a photo, put a tape measure to it, and dropped it in my cooler. 32.5 inches. A keeper right in the sweet spot of the slot. An eater for sure. 

Surprisingly, the fish autopsy revealed a fish equally hungry as me.  Instead of a belly stuffed with a whole bunker bait fish–or two or three–as its generous girth suggested, this fish’s stomach contained a single six-inch long sand eel, nearly pristine and undigested. Clearly it was inhaled intact just before the fish fell for my lure. I discarded the sand eel, trimmed up two sizable filets, and put the chicken dinner on hold for another day.

NOVEMBER SURF: LeeBob, Verizon Charlie and Billy Black keeping it honest in the whitewater.
A GOOD MORNING: And a better afternoon.

Breaking the Rules on Election Day

November 5th, 2020

Surfcasting rule number one says “never leave fish to find fish.” On Election Day, I recklessly violated this most sacrosanct axiom, but it paid off. It remains to be seen if our country emerges as fortunate.

ELECTION DAY KARMA: Virtually a fish on every cast.

On Election Day, typically the beginning of the end of my fall surfcasting season, I sat out the morning tide, fishing instead for votes in Georgia as a phone-bank volunteer. By noon, ready to do what I do best, I hit the beach at Two Mile Hollow Road, where I found a sand bar that was beginning to emerge from the afternoon’s descending tide. With fortune’s beneficent smile, the fish would be just on the other side of that bar. Indeed, I got a fish on my first cast. A respectable schoolie–nothing big–but it used the moving tide, the northwest-wind driven current, and the breaking waves beyond the bar to put up a worthy fight. I released it and another half dozen that followed.

LEGENDARY LEE-BOB: A keeper that went back to swim another day.

Surfcasting alone on such a beautiful afternoon was anathema in so many ways, not the least of which was too much time and space for thoughts about the day’s politics. So It was time to put a “fish-call” text out to Legendary LeeBob who I knew would be heading for White Sands Beach to the east.

He too was into fish.  We decided to meet at Indian Wells Beach.  We both left fish to find other fish. And we got well.   More respectable schoolies and quite a few dinks. LeeBob got one 28-inch bass–a keeper–but sent it back. After an hour of fun with these fish, talking about tides and tackle as we cast–anything but politics–we moved again; this time further east to the beach in front of Treasure island Drive, the street where I live.  More fish.  LeeBob was hooking up two fish for every one of mine.  He was throwing a green-tube tailed diamond jig with a pink teaser.  I was using my squiggly sand eel lure, also with a pink teaser.  Our teasers were feather clad hooks positioned about 8 inches ahead of the shiny metal lures at the end of our lines. They often produced doubles–two fish on one retrieve, one on the terminal lure and one on the teaser. Fun experience, but often it creates the illusion of a really big fish, when in fact it is two small fish: dinks on the teasers.

When we found the sweet spot–casting beyond the bar and making a slow retrieve into the whitewater trough–it was practically a fish on every cast.  LeeBob made a quick temporary exit to pick up his son from school.  When he returned, I was still catching. We moved again, to a sand bar that had good potential a quarter mile east. We caught fish there too. LeeBob and I began to question reality. 

LeeBob had a honey-do list to complete, so around 4pm, we both figured our day was a wrap.  We simultaneously hooked up to doubles and that seemed to be an appropriate end for an epic afternoon. But there’s another cardinal rule that says “never leave them biting.” So, alone, I moved further east to Napeague Lane just to see if anyone there was into bigger fish.  I found four surfcasters all doing what we’d been doing: having a ball catching and releasing small stripers. Nearby, however, was a cut in another sand bar where I had caught big fish in the past. I paid my respects by casting into the cresting waves, now turned golden by the magic light of the setting sun. At this point, it was virtually impossible not to catch fish.  No bait showing, no breaking fish blitzing, no birds diving. Hits, if not hook ups, on every cast.  Awesome.

By this time, I had racked my 11 foot rod and went to my smaller 8-foot rig. It was lighter, more flexible and sensitive, and I didn’t need to cast quite as far with the tide bottoming out. That’s when I got the best hit of the day. Or maybe it was the second best. Earlier, I hooked into a fish that pulled so hard I immediately knew it was a quality striper above and beyond the schoolies we had been catching. The problem was getting it up and over the sandbar which only had a few inches of water on it. The fish got some leverage on the wet sand, and was able to spit the hook. I was grateful for the hook up, but really pissed that I dropped that fish, figuring it was my best chance of the day to put a keeper in the cooler.

But now my drag was again screaming, line was peeling off my reel, and I imagined how to not make the same mistake as earlier. This time, I kept the fish in deeper water, approaching it without giving any slack. Eventually I saw I had another double, which was a disappointment–at first. When I approached the pair, however, it was clear they were both keepers!  One was 28, the other –the one on the teaser–was 28.5 inches!  They each weighed 10 to 11 pounds.

I jimmy-fucked with them for a while, releasing one, photographing the other, caught my breath, sent LeeBob a voice mail, got ready to leave the beach. Fifty six inch of fish at more than 20 pounds told me I was done for the day.  But then, I thought: what the hell, let’s see what happens with a few more casts.  Bang!  Fish on! The bite continued. Another half dozen hook ups!  Then, with the outgoing tide hitting bottom, and the sun disappeared, the action stopped as sudden as a heart attack. 

Election Day Epilogue: LeeBob and I probably had 80 fish combined, an epic afternoon in the surf. All that remained was for an equally epic turnout and turn of events in the election. And all we could do about that—as with our surfcasting—was remain ever optimistic and hopeful.

BIDEN BASS; KAMELA KEEPER: I don’t ordinarily name my fish, but this was no ordinary day.

Billy’s Bass Among The Blues

June 4th, 2020

Beneath a springtime evening rainbow, a striper for the ages emerged from a bonanza of bluefish.

GYOTAKU: The Japanese art of fish rub printing.

There’s a section of Billy’s wall at home that has been officially unadorned for years. It’s at the far end of his dining room where there’s a lovely painting hanging now. But that’s a mere stand-in. In truth, Billy’s longtime vision has been a Japanese style Gyotaku — an inked rubbing of a large striped bass — in that space. Original artwork based on a fish that Billy would catch himself. A keeper about 40 inches long would suit the location handsomely.

This week, Billy may have caught the fish that could fill that void.

MOCK COVER: Real keeper.

Now Billy is no stranger to catching striped bass—large and small, day or night, spring, summer and fall. He didn’t get the reputation of Bucktailin’ Billy Black for nuthin. Billy took up surfcasting about 10 years ago with aplomb. In 2010, he was acclaimed on a mock cover of a national fishing magazine. His young son, shopping a local tackle shop for his dad’s Christmas gift, sought a suggestion for something suitable. “Who’s your Dad?” asked the tackle shop owner. Said the boy: “He’s Billy. You know. The Saltwater Sportsman Surfcasting Rookie of the Year. Don’t you know him?”

If there were real awards for surfcasters, Billy would deserve many. If only for his latest achievement. This year’s late spring bluefish run was in full glory on Montauk’s north side on a recent June evening. Billy was in the picket fence-line of surfcasters horsing in large-headed hungry racer blues from a rip on the outgoing tide. The pick was so steady, you could simply cast out your lure and a bluefish would pummel it in a split second. “The plug was like a fish-magnet,” said Billy. “It got silly after a while.”

The bite began as if someone threw a switch at 645pm. For an hour, poles bent in chorus line synchrony to hungry blues in the 5 to 12 pound range. The setting sun cast a golden sheen upon some two dozen anglers. A rainbow appeared to the east. Rain clouds moved in from the west. And the banzai bluefish bonanza played on. Everyone got well.

Just before sundown, Billy’s bass hit hard. After about a score of bluefish caught and released, Billy hooked into a fish unlike the others. It took the same lure he had been throwing all evening: a white 2 3/8 ounce Super Strike popping plug. The fish attacked about half way through Billy’s retrieve. “I didn’t do anything much different,” he confessed. I worked the lure slowly, and added a slight roll when I popped the plug.” At the strike, Billy knew immediately he was into something different. Something good. Something long-awaited.

THE RAINBOW BASS: A fish for the ages plucked from among a bluefish bonanza; released to swim another day. (pc: Verizon Charlie)

“I felt a thud and the fish took my plug straight down,” Billy recalled. His rod went parallel to the cold Montauk water as the fish used the current to fight hard against Billy’s retrieve. Billy struggled to keep the fish in front of him. Eventually, he saw the its dorsal fin and knew this was no monster bluefish. This was the holy grail. A springtime keeper bass.

The fish was landed, photographed and released. It was neither weighed or measured. But it was certainly 36 inches or more, and well above 20 pounds, likely 25 or more. “It was fat, with girth and a big head,” Billy said. He thinks it was the biggest fish he ever caught.

Legally, that fish had to go back in the drink. New slot rules make it mandatory this year to release any striper more than 35 inches. Billy ordinarily released all his catch, waiting only for that one fish whose imprint would look so good up on his dining room wall. The bad news is that catch will never come thanks to the new law. But the good news is that trophy rainbow bass swims another day to procreate, so that Billy and others can catch and release even more stripers in the seasons ahead. 

PICKET FENCE FISHERMEN: On an early June evening, everyone got well.
IN THE GLOAMING: Neither Montauk’s chilly waters, nor threatening storm clouds stayed these surfcasters from their appointed casts.
SPRINGTIME SUNSET: The fish bite began like someone threw a switch.  (pc: Verizon Charlie)

The Gershwin Breakout Quarantine Blues

May 26th, 2020

“I loves you Porgy.” If bluefish could sing, those would be their lyrics.

After a suffocatingly tedious shelter in place springtime, a month long invasion of tiny trashy sea-bream—baby porgies, in the vernacular— finally attracted big, marauding bluefish into the calm and pastoral tidal marshlands of Eastern Long Island. For surfcasters, May suddenly became a melodramma di mare.

Things got going right on time—Mother’s Day weekend—albeit slowly. Success came to The Faithful in the form of rat-size bass in the rolling surf at Montauk’s Ditch Plains, and 5 to 8 pounds chopper blues plucked out of the swift-moving tidal channel feeding Accabonac Harbor.

SMOKER CHOKER: LeeBob and Broadway Baby Ryder with the erstwhile pool fish of the month.

Then came a rogue snow squall. The action shut down for a few days, leaving the boys with plenty of nuthin.  But by mid-month, they were back in the high cotton. The blues fed relentlessly on those bony little bottom fish. They hit on all tides, and all times of the day and night.  “We could see them finning and if you didn’t get a blow up on your plug on every cast, it was operator error,” said Shubert Alley exile, LeeBob. LeeBob fished different sessions with his Broadway Babies Ryder and Avery. He laid claim to the pool fish of the month—an 11 pounder that nearly choked my smoker box—until Verizon Charlie horsed in a 12 pounder in Montauk on Memorial Day weekend.

VERIZON CHARLIE GETS THE BLUES: Sometimes within 10 fit of shore.

The fish were keen to just about anything thrown at them. But large, loud surface plugs scored the alligators size blues with the most fanfare. It was easy to get their attention with a fast moving pencil popper, which they’d swipe with their tail and then turn a 180 to bite down hard on the lure. You didn’t even need to set the hook; the fish did it all themselves. The blues erupted on the water surface sometimes as close as within 10 feet, according to Verizon Charile.

On a few days Bucktailing Billy Black fished the pre-dawn tide, through brunch, and returned for a late afternoon to sunset session.  Fish-on the whole day through.  “It was classic,” he said with a touch of disbelief.  “You could catch more fish with a metal lure, but I wanted the thrill of the top-water hit.”

BUCKTAILIN’ BILLY BLACK: Chopper blue to the right, extraction pliers to the left.

On—and sometimes off—throughout the month’s schizo weather of summer-like days interspersed with stormy, windy, cold ones, the porgy-gorging blues provided much appreciated quarantine relief on the beach. I even joined in one evening for a bit of “equipment testing (this not being my official fishing season).”  I brought enough treats to trade The Faithful for donations to my fish smoker.  Blueberry cake by the BW, and a few eggplant sandwiches fulfilled my side of the bargain. The season’s first batch of smoked bluefish filets turned out smokey-dokey, if I say so myself. Thank you, gentlemen.

Late May and early June is not exactly summertime, so the fishing is not easy.  And we all know that bluefish and bass are a sometimes thing.  So for the rest of this springtime, I am keeping my distance from the surf as usual, but remain always on the alert for a fish call from the beach. And when it comes, I will respond with no hesitation: “Oh, Lawd, I’m on my way.”

SMOKEY DOKEY: First fresh batch of the season.
FISH ON! Broadway Baby Avery lands an Accabonac bluefish. Click here for video.
SPRINGTIME SURPRISE: Surfcasters, paddle boarders and chopper blues turned pastoral waters into a melodramma di mare.

Alaskan Silver Salmon: The Bellies of the Feast

May 8th, 2020

A repurposed pandemic repast (say that three times fast).

SALMON QUEST: The Florette C. out of Seward Harbor, Alaska.

These days of home quarantine, I suspect I’m not alone in my new favorite pastime: freezer diving. I’m digging down deep past all BW’s frozen pastry crusts in search of protein goodies to thaw for dinner. The time for home cooking is now.

Last week, I found some special treats I nearly forgot were in there. In fact, the two packages of flash-frozen silver-salmon bellies that I re-discovered, were originally earmarked for my smoker. Bucktailin’ Billy Black brought them to me from his fishing trip last summer out of Seward Harbor, on the Kenai Penninsula of Alaska. Fish bellies of all sorts usually get relegated to the compost heap in deference to the choice filet or loin parts we mostly favor. But smoking these salmon bellies was a tip Billy picked up at J-Dock Seafood Company, the processor that packaged the fish for his return trip.  And so he thought of me.

SILVER SALMON: A haul from the deep cold waters of Resurrection Bay.

Billy and his wife caught a mess of these 10 to 15 pound beauties trolling for them in deep water. The fishing technique aboard the Florette C. that he described is plainly counterintuitive compared to the type of surfcasting or boat trolling we typically do here in the Northeast. But it’s typical for deep water salmon fishing in Alaska’s Resurrection Bay, and apparently works like a charm.  

Lines went out from the boat weighted down with cannon size lead balls.  The lines had flasher plates attached to attract the fish, “and the lures resembled spiders,” recalled Billy.  The “downrigged” rod stays bent constantly from the weight. When the fish strikes, the rod straightens as the main line pulls free from the clip holding it to the weighted line.  Once that happens “you reel like hell,” says Billy. “These fish fight very well.”

DOWNRIGGER: Counterintuitive trolling.

The crew of the Florette C., is all female, but the fishing party Billy was part of comprised three men and three women who rotated on the rods at predetermined times.  Billy’s wife caught the first fish and they had action for nearly the entire charter.  

Since I haven’t been spending a lot of time with my smoker of late—the bluefish haven’t shown up as yet—the salmon bellies needed to be repurposed.  I found an Asian inspired, pan-roasting recipe that turned out to be easy and delicious. Once thawed, rinsed and dried, I dusted the bellies with some seasoned almond flour, and cooked them skin side down for about 8 minutes in a stainless skillet coated with sesame oil. When the filets got a golden brown crust on the skin side, I flipped them to cook for just one or two minutes more, depending upon the size. 

FLASH FROZEN: When the processors at J-Dock tipped Billy salmon bellies were as worthwhile as filets, he had a bunch packed up and brought them home to me.
FIRST FISH: Mrs. Billy gets things going in Alaska.

I served up the salmon bellies over steamed brown rice, accompanied by a spicy soy-based dipping sauce, with char-roasted broccoli on the side. The sauce had fresh ginger, minced garlic and onion, rice vinegar and dried hot red pepper flakes. Once the fish was plated, I hit it with a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of Thai basil, and called it dinner. Yum. Can striped bass bellies be far behind?

Thanks, Billy (and Mrs. Billy).  Now; how about catching up some of those springtime bluefish so the smoker can come out of storage?  My freezer is just about empty.


Wash, rinse and pat the fish dry. Trim off any remaining fins. Dust the fish with corn, almond or any other flour you choose. I seasoned mine with salt, pepper and some five spice powder. Shake off the excess.

In a hot pan or skillet primed with oil — I used sesame oil, but any vegetable, coconut or olive oil will do nicely–sear the fish on the skin side to attain a golden brown crust. Takes about 8 minutes, depending upon the size. Don’t overcook. Flip the fish and cook another two minutes, then remove from the pan.

For the Asian-style dipping sauce, I minced up garlic, onion, ginger and crumbled a hot red pepper. Mix these with soy sauce with a teaspoon or so of rice wine vinegar. You can use any type of vinegar or even lemon or lime instead.

Voila! Dinner is served, garnished with basil, lemon, steamed rice and charred broccoli on the side. And don’t forget the ceramic salmon chopstick rests as well as a favorite cocktail.

OPENING DAY: Spring Stripers Arrive in New York

April 15th, 2020

The double-edged sword of April 15.

TEASERS ARE PLEASERS: Fish rose on Easter Sunday to Billy Black’s white flies.

APRIL 15, 2020: This used to be a double-edged calendar date.  It always reminded me of how my good friend Deb L. used to tease her dog Wooty.  Wooty loved taking rides in Deb’s car.  Wooty absolutely hated being washed in the bathtub.  For fun, Deb would say to Wooty: “ Wanna go for a ride….in the bathtub?”

Wooty howled and pranced in clrcles, as flummoxed as a dog could get.

As the traditional IRS tax deadline, as well as the opening date of New York’s marine waters striped bass season, April 15 has sent many a local angler into similar convulsions.  But not this year.  The tax deadline has been pushed well into the future.  And small but hungry bass have arrived in Long Island waters. Grasping desperately for any good news, I hearby declare today is a good April 15.

Last week, a handful of socially distanced surfcasters (they were born that way) waited out high winds and muddy, choppy surf for a crack at the fish which have been making their way up the Atlantic coastline. In a brief window of decent weather on Easter Sunday, just before the Northeast got whacked hard by a Category 1 tropical blow gusting to 75 mph, a pair of the faithful got well.  

FAMILY FISH: Avery (left) reeled in a bunch of bass before the family LeeBob quit for lunch.

Broadway bass man LeeBob had a particularly good day: 9 fish in two sessions. On a south facing ocean beach somewhere west of Montauk, he scored 3 fish in less than an hour at the top of the early tide. Using a 1-ounce buck tail with white otter tail, he had several more morning hits but no hook ups.  His daughter Avery reeled them all in before they quit for lunch at noon.

“Winds were still pretty calm then, SE at only 10mph; 1 to 2 feet of surf, not much white water,  fish in the lip,”  said the man who traded his musical axe for a 10-foot surf stick until the lights come back on Broadway. Later that afternoon, on the outgoing, under blue skies and high wispy cirrus clouds, LeeBob nailed another half dozen hungry juvies.  

AFTERNOON DELIGHT: More hungry juvies before the afternoon turned snotty.

Bucktailin’ Billy Black got a much earlier start, fishing in a light choppy wind starting at daybreak.  The tide was low and so were the air temps, around 32 degrees. But the fish bit hard.  He scored two fish east of Montauk village on teasers; a 17-inch shortie took his white fly trailing a 3/4 ounce buck tail lure.  Then a 24-incher took the fly when he threw a 1 ounce Hogy Paddle Tail soft bait.

As the sun rose, Billy moved west of Montauk and scored a 24-inch fattie with a Mag Darter. “Really hit hard,” he said economically.   Later Sunday afternoon, Billy nailed two more around 22 inches on a 1 ounce buck tail. “The weather got real snotty.” Moving to the north side beaches that evening didn’t produce a bump.

So what of today, the official opener, when every New York angler has a chance to be a legal beagle should a 28-inch keeper fall for his offering? Not to be denied on such an auspicious occasion, LeeBob worked hard, yet for naught. “Been fishing all day but still waiting on my opening day fish. The blow really screwed everything up,” he said as the light faded.

“I fished this AM, reported Verizon Charlie from Up Island. “Zip.”

And you wonder why I don’t wet a line until fall. April 15 is a good day to get my taxes done.

SOCIALLY DISTANCED SURFCASTER: “I got zip,” reported Verizon Charlie.

THE HOLDOVERS: Striped Bass Sheltering In Place

March 20th, 2020

For some, it’s never too soon to fish.  For us all, it’s later than it’s ever been.

March 20, 2020: The first full day of spring came early. So did the bass. Here on Long Island, pursuit of stripers doesn’t get going until around Mother’s Day, ordinarily. But these are not ordinary times.

And these weren’t ordinary fish. I can’t reveal where it happened, but it wasn’t on the east end, though there have been a few reports of small fish in the back bays near Sag Harbor and even along the ocean surf near Jones Beach.  

And I cannot tell you who is our hero, but it certainly wasn’t me. What I can report is this morning, under warm overcast skies, just about the time the New York City commuter rush should’ve provided bumper-to-bumper background noise, three healthy striped bass tooted the horn of a Broadway trumpeter who’s been off the boards since the Great White Way went dark a week ago.

The largest fish was a 26-incher, two fingers short of a legit keeper. It hit the treble hook on his first cast with a Redfin swimming plug. Rubber shads, false minnows, even shiny metal lures glinting in the unseasonably warm morning sunshine failed to get the job done. But two more bass, a 22- and a 24-incher came up for the Redfin, before the rising-tide shut down the bite. Nearby, two kayakers and a fly fishing boat were on hand to witness the surfside action.

These fish are the holdovers. Striped bass sheltering in place, if you will. They’re 4 to five year old young adults that did not seek winter refuge offshore. They simply stuck around since last year.

Morone Saxatilis are anadromous, meaning they live in salt water but spawn in freshwater river estuaries, like those of the Chesapeake and the Hudson. Older stripers like those caught and released today, have an elaborate migration path–something we grounded humans have good reason to envy these days. They swim away from their cozy upstream spawning grounds in late spring, and travel to summer feeding locations all along the northeast Atlantic coast.  I usually encounter them in the waters near Montauk in the fall, when they start to bulk up for their return trip south to deepwater winter grounds around Cape Hatteras. Then, each spring, they start all over again. Beginning to long for that kind of mobility, are you? 

But some, like these holdover schoolies, simply never leave our local sheltered waters, especially with the recent milder winters.

Officially, striped bass season south of the George Washington Bridge doesn’t open until April 15.  But for some, like our angling horn player, it’s never too soon to fish. And in these strange and troubled times, who knows what will be what three weeks from now.