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

Tuesday, 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.

Albie Fever—The Only Game in Town

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

When there’s no Striped Bass or Bluefish to Catch, it’s Albies–or Golf.

October 19, 2017:  They call it Albie Fever.  Or, simply: The Fever.  Catching Albies–False Albacore–is an obsession for some anglers.  The sleek and football shaped Little Tunny, or Euthynnus alletteratus, are 40-mph speed demons more related to mackerel than to the tuna you are used to eating.  They are considered among the most challenging game fish in the Northern Hemisphere.  Right now, the East End of Long Island is lousy with them.

ALBIE KING: Verizon Charlie smiling with the home field advantage.

ALBIE ON THE ROCKS: They joy of jetty fishing.

Aficianados of Albie fishing are enamored with the finesse it takes to hook one even when they are blitzing within casting range.  If lucky or skilled enough to nail one, an Albie’s running fight defies its size and weight, typically 12 to 18 inches, 3 to 6 pounds.  Swift and stealthy, the wide-eyed Albie eschews the big boisterous popping plugs we usually throw to Bluefish and Striped Bass.  Delicate, shiny and fast-reeled lures are what’s required.  Even then, there’s no guarantee you’ll connect.  And if you encounter a pod of them, cast fast and don’t blink.  Because Albies can be gone as suddenly as they appear.

Despite the encouragement of my chum Verizon Charlie, one of The Faithful on the beach and the undisputed king of Albie surfcasting,  I’ve shunned chasing them for one main reason: Albies are not good table fare.  And by that, I’m being as kind as I can be.  I cooked one recently by doing my Anthony Bourdain best: Bleeding it, filleting it, marinating it, seasoning it and finally grilling it.  I had four lovely dark-meat loins. I was encouraged by a posting that said “If you like Bluefish, you’ll like Albie”.  Yet another case of someone who knows absolutely nothing about cooking or eating Bluefish.  Despite my best efforts, the Albie was putrid.  Sour and gloppy.  I wouldn’t feed it to YOUR cat. I should have cooked it on a plank–then thrown away the fish and eaten the plank.

ALBIE IN THE BAY: You always remember your first.

But having caught my first Albie this season, I can attest to the thrill of the fight and the satisfaction of getting the hook up.  You’ll feel like the best fisherman in the water when you manage to outsmart one into taking your lure.  And Albies offer a run like none other when you do get one on . However, more times than not you’ll feel like an incompetent fool when you pull right through a pod of them at your feet without so much as a tap.  Oh, the humiliation.

Yet, what choice have any of us had this season in the surf, but to chase Albies for better or worse?  Everyone on the beach is singing the blues—or lack thereof.  Especially hard to take is the near total absence of Striped Bass in the surf.  So, it’s Albies in the inlet; Albies at the North Bar; Albies on the jetty, the ocean beaches and in Turtle Cove where October striper blitzes were once the norm, but are now legendary memories.

ALBIE IN THE COVE: Where stripers and blues once reigned.

What’s it all about [Albie?], you ask?  I wish I had the answer.  Not that there’s a shortage of theories for this year’s dismal fall run.  “The fish are still in Rhode Island.” “The commercial gill netters have taken all the fish.” “There’s no bait.”  “There’s too much bait.” “The water is too warm.”  “We haven’t had any nor’easter storms.” “Nothing’s been the same since Sandy changed the beach structure.” Yada, yada, yada. Take your pick; mix and match.  Bottom line is the same no matter:  Albies and only Albies are what we have to fish for this season.

So it is very clear to me why they call it Albie Fever. Because it is sickening that Albies are the only game in town.

Season Opener 2017: Ranger Matt, Fish Whisperer

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017
No one ever accused Ranger Matt of quietude.  He put actions and words to good use cajoling boisterous blues to strike his lure time and again.

Sept. 13, 2017: A dramatic transformation occurs on Long Island’s East End comes the beginning of September.  Bikinis and board shorts disappear along the shore, replaced by anglers clad in neoprene waders. Mid-month, the beaches are fair game 24/7 to prowling SUVs laden with rods and reels. The locals even have a name for the day after Labor Day when the summer visitors purportedly desert the Hamptons: “Tumbleweed Tuesday”. Now, the surf belongs to the surfcasters in search of big bad bluefish and trophy striped bass.

RANGER MATT: Scoring a big blue on one of his gazillion yard casts.

My buddies have been strategically fishing the beaches since June.  I, on the other hand, engaged only in “transactional fishing” during the summer months: They gave me their bluefish catch, which I fed into my smoker. They got back hickory or applewood cured filets, and/or the breakfast of their choice (perfected my whole wheat blueberry muffins this season, I did). Win win.

But as summer dies, my most serious beach time comes to life. September is the official beginning of my fishing season. From now until Thanksgiving, I won’t be hard to find.  Head as far east as possible to Montauk Point. Then look left or right.  Chances are, you’ll find me waist deep in the surf, most likely casting as hard and as far as I can, hoping for a connection that delivers both sport and dinner.

NORTH BAR ROLLERS: Freaky waves rolled in from Block Island Sound leaving us wet, weary and contented.

VERIZON CHARLIE: Casting in the magic light at Montauk Point.

OUT OF UNIFORM: Amazing Randy hooking up from dry land at North Bar.

That was the scene on the northfacing beaches of Montauk Point this week, my first real fishing in the surf, after a number of…ahem…”equipment testing” sessions. I joined long caster Ranger Matt, the ever successful Amazing Randy and always persistent Verizon Charlie for a foray on the descending afternoon tide. VC left early but Ranger Matt picked a small handful of blues on the North Bar. Matt turned into a veritible fish whisperer, however, when we moved a couple of hundred yards west and walked out on the sandbar at Clark’s Cove. There, Matt literally talked the blues into striking. At first it seemed that his extra 15-20 yards of cast made the difference. Then Amazing Randy and I supposed his key was fishing off the left side of the bar.  But when Matt started slaying fish in close, and to the right as well as left, we knew it was simply his magical night. Over and over—Matt orating the action non-stop—fish followed his red and silver Yozuri popper like puppy dogs, lurching and missing and finally gulping it down after three or four tries. Randy made a gallant effort to keep up and landed a handful of 4-5 pound Tailor Blues.  I, however, was skunked.  After raising three “hi, goodbye” fish at North Bar, I couldn’t buy a strike for love or money at the Clark Bar. Otherwise, it was everything I could want from a season opener. The water and tide was perfect: the last half of clean, steady-moving, outgoing water. Freaky chest-high waves rolled over us, but the water was warm and the breeze was gentle.  Magic light bathed the scene turning the sky from gold to pink-and-gray and finally a deep dusky purple. We left at dark when the tide died–wet, weary and contented. Matt and Randy donated part of their bluefish catch to the “cause” (#feedthesmoker). Next up will be the High Holy Days of fall surfcasting. Perhaps there will be smoked bluefish pate for Rosh Hoshanah breakfast.

 

 

BILLY’S BASS: Evenings find Billy beating the backwaters of Three Mile Harbor for school bass.

 

MORNING BLUES: Gorilla choppers in September will bring Big Brother Frank back for more in October.

 

SECRET STRIPER: Ranger Matt with a 20-pounder caught earlier this year at an undisclosed location. Sometimes, fish just want to be alone.

Merry Fishmas 2016

Friday, December 16th, 2016

December 16, 2016: You don’t need a calendar to tell you that yesterday was the end of Striped Bass fishing season in NY.  The weather report is news enough.  But when the rods get stowed, the stockings get hung and that means it’s time for the annual Fishmas Card from me, Big Brother Frank and the able graphic assistance of sister Chaweenee.

Because it was quite a jolly season of blues and bass fishing in the surf, this year’s tune was an obvious choice.  So, with apologies to Burl Ives, Johnny Marks and the legendary Quinto Sisters (what, you never heard of the Quinto Sisters?  Well, then check them out: http://www.falalalala.com/the-quinto-sisters-first-to-sing-holly-jolly-christmas-even-before-burl-ives/), I am happy to wish you and yours a Holly Jolly Fishmas!
fishmas2016take6final

HOLLY JOLLY FISHMAS

Have a holly jolly Fishmas
It’s the best time of the year
Well I don’t know just where they’ll show
But keep your surf rod near

Have a holly jolly Fishmas
And when you do the southside walk
Say hello to Bubs you know
And every goog you meet.

Ho ho the nor’east blow
When bass are all you see
Some keeper waits for you
Kiss it once for me

Have a holly jolly Fishmas
And don’t forget Rough Riders’ pier
Oh, by golly
Have a holly jolly Fishmas
This year!

Photo by TK, Graphic Design by Chaweenee. Lyrics by Frank and Fred Abatemarco. With apologies to Johnny Marks and, of course, Burl Ives

The 2016 Rosh Hoshanah Blitz: Shofar, So Good

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

Not so much a blitz this year. Would you believe a steady “bite”?

October 9, 2016: My esteemed friend and colleague, Evelyn, roots for the fish.  Every time I post a fish pic, Ev gives me the thumbs down. I love that Ev keeps me on my toes (though I wonder where she gets her protein).  Surfcasting has never been as much fun since she started reading my posts. Ev should only know, however, that for every fish I take home, 10 others go back to the sea to swim another day. And for every 100 casts I make from the beach, maybe I hook one fish. The math doesn’t lie. Without doubt, the fish are winning.

HARBOR SUNSET: Amazing Randy sets forth a cast in Napeague Harbor at sundown

HARBOR LIGHT: Amazing Randy sets forth a cast in Napeague Harbor at sundown

But it is a historic fact that come the Jewish High Holy Days, the needle tips a bit in the direction of the fishermen—if only just slightly. We count on the renowned “Rosh Hoshana Blitz”, for example, to produce the most fruitful days of the fall surf fishing season. This year, however, not so much a blitz.  But, would you believe it was a steady bite? No complaints here. What with the fast start of September, Shofar, so good.

UNEXPECTED STRIKE: I stepped away from a coffee klatch to nail this keeper bass

UNEXPECTED STRIKE: I stepped away from a coffee klatch to nail this keeper bass

The weekend preceding Rosh Hoshanah, opened on a hard weather note: a stiff ENE wind turned the beach wet and snotty enough to erase the memory of September’s recent Indian Summer days. But we know the worse the weather, the better the fishing.  Anglers may not be comfortable. But as Amazing Randy astutely pointed out: “Don’t make no difference to the fish. They’re already wet.”

Fog and rain shrouded the first sunrise of October as The Faithful convened on the beach west of Hither Hills. There, Verizon Charlie (VC) took the time to school his fisherman friend, “Sweet Lou”.

“Look at that guy,” said VC, referring to a surfcaster 1/4-mile to our west. “He stepped out of his truck, made a cast and caught a fish”.  “Hmmm,” I thought silently.  “I want to be that guy.” So I slinked away from the coffee klatch. On my second cast, a keeper bass crusing the white water exploded on my lure. Dinner. Seeing my bent rod, one of Sweet Lou’s buddies exclaimed, “Hey, look, that guy is on a fish.”  Answerd VC: “That ain’t some guy. That’s Fred.”  All hands joined me at the shoreline. In the spirit of sweetness and prosperity, the unexpected strike was the sweetest.

"HERE!" Billy saw the bait in the wash and in a flash he had this 28-inch striper on the beach

“HERE!” Billy saw the bait in the wash and in a flash he had this 28-inch striper on the beach

The sun came out just ahead of Sunday’s sundown start of the holiday and I was optimistic that good fishing lie ahead for the morning. Back at the Hither Hills scene of the crime, Bucktailin’ Billy Black pointed to a patch of water behind the inner sand bar and said:  “Here!” as baitfish popped in the wash. Instantly, he was fast to a 28-inch striper.  VC, then landed a 26-inch schoolie.  We watched a nearby walk-on fisherman pick up a couple of bass and some cocktail blues. Large schools of bunker rode the waves far out beyond the 2nd bar. But there was nothing for me.

Said Ev:  “Good! Sorry for you; happy for the fish. You are supposed to repent today and throw your sins of the past year in the water. Maybe the fish stayed away for fear of being swallowed up by past sins!”

“Sometimes,” I answered, “a fish is just a fish”. But Ev disagreed.

BIG BLUE: A bloody battle at Fort Pond Bay, Montauk. Click here for extended video

BIG BLUE: A bloody battle at Fort Pond Bay, Montauk. Click here for extended video

I retired to my desk and vowed to perform good deeds until the tide changed.  My respite did not last long. A very urgent but abbreviated “fish call” came from VC at 1pm:  “15-pound blues at Fort Pond Bay. Gotta Go”.  Among the hallowed rules of surfcasting is to never ignore a fish call or text from a reliable source. Sources don’t get anymore reliable than VC. So I hustled to Montauk and got in on the action. It was bathing-trunks fishing on an unseasonably warm and sunny afternoon. But these bluefish were anything but placid. They erupted from an otherwise tranquil sea, pouncing vengefully on our surface lures. They fought with three times the power of a similarly sized striped bass. These bluefish stealthily chased 7-inch menhaden bunker, swallowing them nearly whole after one viselike chomp (Click here for extended video). Two vicious blues bit off my line and lures. But I managed to land two other gorillas, weighing 12.5 and 14.5 pounds. Feed the smoker!

FEED THE SMOKER: Transforming big blues into a great meal

FEED THE SMOKER: Transforming big bluefish into a tasty meal low and slow

On the second day of Rosh Hoshanah, came the big wind. VC and I returned to the sandy ocean beach where we each had a short bass that we returned to sea. The honking NE wind sent me hunting to Montauk’s North Bar, even though the incoming tide was wrong. There, finally, I found the proverbial Rosh Hoshanah Blitz.

GET AWAY FISH: Verizon Charlie with a Rosh Hoshanah striper

GET AWAY FISH: Verizon Charlie with a Rosh Hoshanah striper

Only one problem. The fish—busting, boiling and accompanied by squawking gulls diving on the bait the bass had trapped in the rip—were beyond anyone’s reach. Later that day, nearing sundown, the outgoing tide was just right for fishing the North Bar. Sure enough, the fish were in same place. We could see them. But we couldn’t reach them.

And for this, Ev had the perfect explanation: “They knew that it is the day that our sins are tossed into the water so most of them stayed away. They did not want to get swallowed up by so many sins. They are smart. Why do you think they are called a school of fish?”

No argument there. I am the first to admit the fish are far wiser than I.  It’s the main reason we call it fishing—and not catching. So, Ev, my dear friend and fish monitor, I look forward to your future comments as we approach the next fall surfcasting milestone:  The lesser-known, but up-and-coming, and sometimes equally-satisfying “Yom Kippur Blitz”.  Here’s looking at you Ev.

OCTOBER DAWN: Because you can never have too many sunrise photos.

OCTOBER DAWN: Because casting at sunrise never gets old

Season Opener 2016: Never Better September

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Let there be no debate. The fall run is on!

Sept. 29, 2016: Fish slamming our lures just beyond the breakers curling over the inner sandbar. Casting barefoot in shorts along a sandy beach on a sunny Indian Summer morning.  Keeper striped bass and cocktail bluefish in the cooler. A scenic ocean drive turns into a poetic dance of fishermen versus fish and culminates in a tasty seafood dinner.  September has never been better. Fall surfcasting season has arrived on Long Island’s East End.

THE FAITHFUL: Amazing Randy, Verizon Charlie, Bucktailin' Billy Black at Ditch Plains

THE FAITHFUL: Amazing Randy, Verizon Charlie, Bucktailin’ Billy Black at Ditch Plains

The Faithful—and shortly we’ll get to who they are—have been fishing the beach for some time; Essentially, since the official mid-April opening of striper season.  First weekend in May, for example, Verizon Charlie, Bucktailin’ Billy Black and Amazing Randy (there; now you know who are The Faithful), caught one micro-bass after another on a pleasent spring Sunday at the Ditch Plains jetty in Montauk.

As is my custom under the terms of my spousal contract (more on that another time), however, I sat out an entire summer of action

LORETTA LEXUS: Queen of Surfcasters

LORETTA LEXUS: Queen of Surfcasters

until my own personal opening curtain: Labor Day. I idled away the summer days, instead, with an invention born of my recently acquired smoker box.  The Faithful caught the bluefish, which none of them keep under ordinary circumstances. I retrieved them without dangling a line in the water—perfectly legal according to my contract with the BW. In exchange, The Faithful got a generous portion of their catch returned in the form of smoked bluefish. I called it transactional fishing. Everyone was happy.

NAPEAGUE BASS: Reeling for stripers

NAPEAGUE BASS: Reeling for Stripers

NAPEAGUE BASS: Reeling for Stripers. Click here for video

A season start like this one–one of the best Septembers for Long Island surfcasting that I can remember–will spoil you.  Tends to make you forget the barren, bone-chilling Autumns of the past, when the mere hint of a fish would have been welcome. There have been far too many Septembers when you couldn’t be sure if the fall run hadn’t begun, if you missed it, or if it just wasn’t going to happen at all. I’ve lived through all three.

BILLY ON A BASS: Napeague Madness. Click here for video.

BILLY ON A BASS: Napeague Madness. Click here for video.

Not this month. Let there be no debate (oops, too late on that idea); The fall run is on! There have been big blues on the North Bar and other Block Island Sound-facing beaches near the Montauk Lighthouse.  A few early striper blitzes on the rocky shoreline south of the lighthouse, And a persistent run or schoolie bass and cocktail blues along the sandy ocean beaches from Montauk to East Hampton. And now, reports of cow bass being taken on the beaches of Napeague and from the jetty under Montauk light.

CAN"T MISS DAN: Putting it to blues and bass Tarzan on the beach style

CAN”T MISS DAN: Putting it to blues and bass Tarzan on the beach style

The sandy beaches of Amagansett and Napeague State Park mid-month is where we join this episode. First up, Can’t Miss Dan got them bathing suit-cum-Tarzan style right in front of our house in Amagansett:  A throwback 24-inch striper along with a couple of tasty cocktail blues that he turned into bluefish hash to accompany our morning eggs.  The next day, we scored more cocktail blues and a keeper 32-inch striper near Hither Hills.

With the weekend gone, came the rains.  Once the Monday morning soaker passed through, Napeague State Park lit up with fish for Loretta Lexus, Queen of Surfcasters, who had them all to her lonesome. Big Brother Frank and I made sure Loretta had company the next morning.  We loaded up on cocktail blues–Feed the Smoker!–and our share of schoolie bass with a few keepers for the table.  We went back to the scene of the crime in the afternoon. Different tide, same great action.

PAN ROASTED STRIPER: on a bed of mixed mushrooms and greens

PAN ROASTED STRIPER: on a bed of mixed mushrooms and greens

At dark, BBF and his wife, St. Toni of the Blitz, sat down with me to a dinner of pan-roasted striper with mixed mushrooms over a bed of greens.

Another balmy weekend brought Big Bob Wilsusen off his boat and back into the surf where he scored a keeper like he’d never been away.  Dan and I chipped away at short bass and blues while The Faithful all showed up and everyone got well.

By Sunday afternoon we were putting on a show for beach walking tourists.  If it was a prize fight, they would have stopped it.

On and on it continued. Through a SW blow one night and a nor’easter

the next day.  Billy and I fished morning, afternoon and well past dusk.  As long as the fish kept hitting, we kept casting. And catching. Word eventually got out and by midweek, the sandy beaches of Napeague were crawling with rod-racked 4-wheelers in search of stripers.  And in the wake of these early storms, came reports of bigger fish from 30 to 50 pounds.

So, what could be better?  More, that’s what.  October looms and if last year is the gauge, that’s when we’ll see the bulk of the fall-run bass move through our waters.  October starts out with a bonus this year: the Jewish High Holy Days, known to produce the proverbial Rosh Hoshanah Blitz. A very sacred time for surf fishermen. I’m off to pray now.

 

KEEPER BASS: 32-inches of excellent sport and dining

KEEPER BASS: 32-inches of excellent sport and dining

COCKTAIL BLUES: Tasty fodder for the smoker box

PAPA BASS AND THE COCKTAIL BLUES: Tasty fodder for the smoker box

Big Brother Frank

Big Brother Frank

Can't Miss Dan

Can’t Miss Dan

Me

Me

BAROQUE BASS: Big Bob and the foreshortened striper

Big Bob W.

randyvertical

Amazing Randy

VERIZON CHARLIE

Verizon Charlie

wetbilly

Bucktailin’ Billy Black

lexusbass

Loretta’s Lexus Bass

 

MERRY FISHMAS 2015

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

December 24, 2015: Stripers were missing in action. Blues turned out to be the new bass. Less intrepid surfcasters would have been down in their cups this 2015 season. To be sure, I was. But NOT Charlie R.

“Verizon Charlie”, as we know him on the beach, simply set his sights elsewhere: on False Albacore—those sleek and swift swimming little tunny known to anglers as “Albies”.  They don’t make good eating, and they don’t weigh a whole lot.  But Albies kick up quite a commotion when they’re around and they run and fight like nothing else if you’re skilled enough to hook one. Verizon Charlie chased them in Montauk, Southampton, and the Long Island Sound waters near his Port Jefferson home. In his honor, Big Brother Frank and I present this year’s Fishmas Card: “Albie Home For Christmas”. Jingle, Jingle, y’all!

ALBIE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

(To the tune of I’ll Be Home for Christmas, with apologies to Kim Gannon, Walter Kent, Buck Ram and Bing Crosby) 

Albie home for Christmas

But you will not catch me.

Cast ‘til dawn, but I’ll be gone

Opening presents under the tree.

Northeast wind will find me

But I will never bite.

Keep your blues, and fishing news

I’ll tease you just for spite.

Albie in the Weed Bowl

Water deep, deep blue.

Stripers here, that bunker fear

I’m here, just not for you.

Albie in Port Jefferson

My blitz, a sight to see.

Many try, most I defy

Except Verizon Charlie.

Albie home for Christmas

When the baitfish gleams.

Sharpies try to hook me

But only in their dreams.

Missing Link: Surfcasting’s Fall Striper Run

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

We’re perilously close to season’s end. But maybe we’ve only just begun.

Nov. 10, 2015:  “What if this is the start of the fall run?”, wondered Big Brother Frank (BBF) on an uncharacteristically mild JulVember morning. Bummer for him if so. Mere hours before he boarded a plane home to the west coast, we devastated a marauding school of gangster bluefish. We found these bigg’uns devouring bait in the wash at Montauk Town Beach, and then chased them for miles west to the Napeague stretch. There was frost on the truck’s windshield before first light, but a warm, glowing sunrise revealed the blitz of squawking birds, splashing bait, and bad-ass bluefish.

BBF and I were searching Amagansett beaches and Tenacious Bucktailin’ Billy Black had Georgica and East Hampton in his sights when the fish call that got us in position came from Verizon Charlie. He was patrolling Montauk with good reason.  The evening before, he and Amazing Randy hooked into schoolie bass feeding in the surf on small pods of baitfish. The new day dawned even better than the previous evening ended and we converged on the fish from points east and west.

FEED THE SMOKER: A Cooler filled with fat finny bluefish

FAT & FINNY: Catch and release when the cooler was filled with blues

Bellies bloated with bait disfigured these 15-pound-plus choppers. They chomped 6-inch adult bunker in half and swallowed the baby peanut bunker whole. The baitfish’s only alternative to death by gorging bluefish was a suicidal beaching. Mayhem reigned for 2 hours; a fish on every cast if you could keep up with the blues’ high-speed feeding frenzy. I rarely—no, make that never—declare “catch and release” when it comes to bluefish. With a 10 per person limit, and long stretches of barren days this season, my fish smoker yearns for all we can keep. But this was breakaway day–BBF departing for the season, and the rest of us due back in civilization by midday. “No mas”, I declared after the cooler was stuffed with nearly 100 pounds of fat, finny choppers.

BOARD LEADER: Mary Ellen Kane nailed this 26-plus bass during a raging nor-easter.

BOARD LEADER: Marvelous Mary Ellen Kane nailed this 26-plus bass during a raging nor-easter.

This blitz couldn’t have been more timely. A week earlier, BBF and Bucktailin’ Billy Black, found the same fish-at-your-feet action near Hither Hills State Park. I was a day late for that session. And though we religiously returned to the scene of the crime day after day, all we caught for our efforts was a stray short bass here and there.

Indeed, stripers have been few and far between for most Montauk surfcasters this fall. Early in JunTober, with a hurricane raging down south, and a wicked nor’easter banging us here on Long Island, Montauk lit up for a few days with bait and quality bass. Mary Ellen Kane had a 26-plus pounder.

STORMY STRIPER: Nicky B. hauled a 35-pounder from the roaring Montauk surf

STORMY STRIPER: Nicky B. hauled a 35-pounder from the roaring Montauk surf

Nicky B., had one at 35 pounds, only to be topped the next day by a 42 pound fish. And from high atop a boulder on the northside, Matt Broderick took a quality fish that seemed to dwarf him. One morning during the blow, Bucktailin’ Billy Black nailed 10 keepers in a row near the weed bowl.

On that stormy weekend, I had one keeper bass and some shorts. Mostly I lost at poker in between the meals I prepared for the few members of the Capos Club of New York who managed to make it to Montauk for our annual surfcasting weekend. The last good striper morning came as the storm was subsiding. A school of  quality fish blitzed Turtle Cove after sunrise. I got there in time to land the last fish of the morning. Prophetically, it was a bluefish.

All went quiet again until a stiff wind on Columbus Day weekend pushed gorilla bluefish inside the bar at Town Beach. A bunch of us got well, including Can’t Miss Dan, who kept his season percentage high. He only shows up on the beach those few days when there are fish to be caught.

Or do the fish only show up when Dan does? Either way, I wish he’d get back here. Surfishing has been so disappointing on the East End this year that Verizon Charlie resorted to chasing Albies (False Albacore) and schoolie bass on the north shore near his Port Jefferson home most of JuneTober.

ALBIE DARNED: Verizon Charlie and his little tunny in Fort Pond Bay

ALBIE DARNED: Verizon Charlie and his false albacore at Fort Pond Bay

So where are the Montauk stripers? There’s few clear answers but no shortage of theories and opinions. The bait is depleted; The habitat is destroyed; They are overfished. The fish never left the bay. They didn’t show up in the bay. Don’t forget climate change: The water is too warm; The weather is too mild; Not enough storms; Too many storms. Whatever. One thing for sure, says Bucktailin’ Billy: “bluefish are the new bass” this season.

Unless, of course, BBF is right and this is the beginning of the fall striper run. Can you say AugCember? Wait; I think I see some gannets diving beyond the rip near White Sands. Let me get back to you.

FEED THE SMOKER: The best thing to happen to bluefish since marinara sauce

FEED THE SMOKER: The best thing to happen to bluefish since marinara sauce

A Sweet and Prosperous New Year of Fishing

Friday, September 18th, 2015

The Rosh Hoshanah Blitz did not disappoint. If you like bluefish, that is.

FABigBlue091615Sept. 15, 2015: It’s in all the literature. You don’t have to take my word for it. You can look it up.  Fact is, the Jewish New Year traditionally is the best fishing days of the early fall surfcasting season. The dates vary from year to year. But whether September or October,  I always try to be on the beach, anticipating the time-honored Rosh Hoshana Blitz.

A blitz, for those of you new to this space, occurs when a school of game fish feeds voraciously on a hapless pod of smaller bait fish, creating a tumultuous boil in the water.  If the blitz happens near enough to shore for a cast to reach, it makes for a high holy day of surfcasting.

In my lifetime, there have been numerous such Rosh Hoshana blitzes.  September and October, after all, are prime surfcasting months. I’ve had big fish, little fish–and sometimes NO fish. Over the long haul, however, I’ve mostly prospered sweetly on Rosh Hoshana. When Rosh Hoshana fishing is good, it is very, very good–bluefish, stripers, and even weakfish in the mix in some past years. And a Rosh Hoshana Blitz often foretells a good surfcasting season ahead.

STRIPER BLITZ: What we hope for to produce the High Holy Days of

STRIPER BLITZ: What we hope for to produce the High Holy Days of surfcasting.

This year, the weather was more summery than fall-like as 5776 came earlyish.  So the cold water loving striped bass were not to be found.  But hungry slobs of gorilla bluefish were prowling the northside beaches of Montauk. I prayed for a strong bite to feed my smoker.

Amazing Randy: Sharpshooting a gangster bluefish in a placid sea.

AMAZING RANDY: Sharpshooting a gangster bluefish in a placid sea.

On the last ebb tide Rosh Hoshana, I was blessed by the fish gods. It didn’t hurt that I fished the beach with “Amazing” Randy T., a veritable “rabbi” of surfcasting, capable of putting deaf, blind and crippled people into fish.  Between the hours of 3pm and 6pm, Randy hooked about a dozen gloriously theatrical bluefish. They burst through the water’s placid surface, whacking his lure with violent gulps and urgent tail splashes, the white water spray of their lunges contrasting dramatically with the deep blue water and the cloudless azure sky Randy kept a small handful of his catch–including one amazing musclehead that weighed 15 pounds and measured 36 inches. The others ranged from 8 to 12 pounds. Each fish ran and fought and tail danced in their struggle to be free. And some managed to get away. I landed three fish, dropped as many, and raised a half dozen others.  Most of these fish attacked us at the end of long casts, so we were as happy for the showy performance of missed strikes as we were for the arm wrenching hook ups. Hauling in gorilla blues that work the tide and the current over 100 yards is a great upper and lower body workout.  But it gets old fast after an hour or more. Even in a calm sea, these bigg’uns let you know you were in a fight (click for the video courtesy of Lou Barba).

ROSH HOSHANA EBB TIDE: Amazing Randy nailed bluefish up to 15 pounds.

ROSH HOSHANA EBB TIDE: The amazing one  nailed bluefish up to 15 pounds.

I’ve been fishing Montauk for a couple of decades.  And I always learn something new from the sharpies I meet there.  Randy, for example, works a pencil popper lure unconventionally.  Most anglers here hold their rod almost perpendicular to the water and wag the tip convulsively with a hand high up about the reel to give the lure its action.  Randy however, keeps his rod and hands low. “This way,” he schooled me, “when the fish strikes, I can easily raise my rod tip to set the hook.” Made sense. I tried it.  It worked.

Minutes before sunset, the action died when the tide went slack. We returned the next day for a repeat performance, but it was not to be.  I was lucky enough to nail one of only five fish I saw caught all afternoon. Conditions were even more summerlike than the previous day, with nary a rip or current or breeze. Returning yet again, this time with jet-lagged big brother in tow, the action picked up again and Randy and I had another handful of fish to our credit. Just a little bit of wind at our backs, enough to stir the water and create the rip that the fish crave, made all the difference on day 3.

BLUES ON BOARD: Choppers and gorilla blues start the New surfcasting year right.

BLUES ON BOARD: Choppers and gorilla blues start the New surfcasting year right.

All our action took place at the North Bar, just around the corner, west of the Montauk Lighthouse.

SWEET CATCH: Bluefish for Jimmy Meeks on the high holy days of surfcasting.

SWEET CATCH: Bluefish for Jimmy Meeks on the high holy days of surfcasting.

Fishing in bathing shorts and water shoes is a September treat that doesn’t last long. But with the cooler temperatures will come even better fishing. Perhaps the weather front predicted for the upcoming weekend will wake up the stripers in time for the next key calendar date: the lesser known but up and coming Yom Kippur Blitz. After all, what is written on Rosh Hoshanah, is sealed on Yom Kippur. Nu? L’shanah Tovah!

Season Opener 2015: Choppers And Tailors

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Timely fish calls put us into early September bluefish large and small

CLARK'S COVE: AT sunSET voracious blues voracious attacked our surface plugs with explosive hits.

CLARK’S COVE: At sunset, voracious blues attacked our surface plugs with explosive hits.

September 10, 2015: Come Labor Day, the weather typically is still beachy, and my fall surfcasting season officially opens. This makes for a late-summer opportunity to combine a fresh catch of the day with farm-fresh tomatoes, basil, corn and more. Can you say Long Island BLT (Bluefish, Lettuce and Tomato)?

Bonus: my son, “Can’t Miss Dan” was arriving on the bullet train to spend the weekend.  In anticipation, a fish report from Verizon Charlie (VC) told of a slow afternoon pick of bluefish earlier in the week at Shagwong Point, which escalated  to bunker-fueled mayhem by evening on a dropping tide.

CAN'T MISS DAN: Scored early and often with gorilla bluefish

CAN’T MISS DAN: Scored early and often with gorilla bluefish.

Dan and I conspired for an early supper tailgate party at Gin Beach, complete with grilled sausage-and-peppers, black bean salad, beer and wine. The BW and her Uncle Tono came along for the ride. So called because it was a surreptitious landing spot for illegal Canadian whisky during prohibition, Gin Beach is a 2 mile stretch facing Block Island, within striking distance of Shagwong, the scene of the previous day’s crime. If all else failed, we’d at least be well wined, dined and tanned.

Not to worry. A late breaking fish call from VC reached us en route: gangster blues were hitting at Clark’s Cove, in Montauk State Park.  “Change of plans”, I announced to my passengers. The BW immediately protested: “let me out”.  “You’ll love it”, I promised, “Clark’s Cove has it all: sandy beach with a view, benign waters and sunshine galore.” Hopefully there also would be a bounty of fish for us to catch.

The BW remained skeptical.

BIG & NASTY: Blues to 12 pounds made sure we knew we were in a fight.

BIG & NASTY: Blues to 12 pounds made sure we knew we were in a fight.

Negotiating the dusty, rutted dirt road and soft sandy dune-grass lined beach trail to Clark’s Cove, I was itchy for those first casts of the season. Was my gear ready?  Was I ready? Would the fish still be there? It became noticeably hotter inside my truck. That was the BW’s temper.

At Clark’s, VC was already in the water, along with his sidekick, the Amazing Randy. Billy the Boot, as he shall be known this season in honor of his injured Achilles tendon, was off his crutches and casting into the kill zone from the shoreline. Further out on the bar, casting about a gazillion yards with every throw, was the perpetrator of this fish fest: “Ranger” Matt, who had put in the original fish call to VC.

BLOODY LOG: Field filleting chopper bluefish on the beach

BLOODY LOG: Field filleting chopper bluefish on the beach.

The bait was abundant–we could see it as we waded in ankle deep water–but the hits were few and far between at first.  Still, Dan and I got our first fish of the season–big, ornery, chopper blues that let you know you were in a fight. No others keep bluefish, so we were the benefactors of one gorilla from Matt and another chunky 8-pounder from VC.  Without a cooler on hand, I field filleted this catch on what shall ever now be known as “bloody log”.

After an hour or so, most of the boys drifted away. When we finished our picnic, Dan and I got up to cast again.  The bait was even thicker: tiny bunker, chased by full size bunker, preyed upon by bluefish.

Multiple hits.  Hits on every cast. Tail dancing head shaking, snarling hits.  The fish hit deep at the end of the cast, and close in, just before the pick up.  They’d come once, twice, three times at the lure until they gulped it down to their gills.  When the fish came to shore, they’d have an eight inch bunker sheared in half already in their guts and another in their throats.

All fish were at minimum, six pounds, with most in the 8 to 12 pound class.  And they fought to the last curl at the shoreline. Perfect candidates for the new electric smoker back home. It grew dark. We were happy.  And the BW wasn’t furious.  A very successful day.

Epilogue

RANGER MATT: Scoring a big blue on one of his gazillion yard casts.

RANGER MATT: Scoring a big blue on one of his gazillion yard casts.

Montauk Surfcasting Rule #2 says “Always return to the scene of the crime”.  Problem is, the fish don’t read the rules.  We returned to Clark’s the next afternoon after a luncheon on my deck of grilled bluefish with farm fresh tomato and basil salsa and grilled eggplant. The usual suspects were already on the beach.  Ranger Matt hooked up only three times in more than an hour with his here-to-the-moon casts.  VC dropped a pair of fish. Zilch for the rest of us. After a couple of beers and a few casts, we were gone.

For our last session of the weekend, VC said he’d be on station at Gin Beach the next afternoon, so Dan and I patrolled Montauk from North Bar to Oyster Pond Cove.  We saw some  bait fishermen casting from the rocks, but all they were getting was suntanned.  We cast a dozen or so times just to keep it honest and then left to meet Charlie at the appointed time.  We were greeted at the entrance to Gin Beach by squawking gulls hovering above serious splashage from medium size fish, half a cast out.  A quick fish text to VC, then Dan and I sprang from the truck to toss plugs and metal to the school, which was feeding on peanut bunker.  Dan and I hooked up once, then again, and yet a third time.

Tailor Blues: A September seafood treat, grilled with fresh oregano and served with local corn salsa.

Tailor Blues: A September seafood treat, grilled with fresh oregano and served with local corn salsa.

But these little tailor blues kept spitting the hook. We chased the fast moving pod east and finally landed a few.  Back and forth went this action for another hour before the fish moved off to deeper water with the tide. At that, we headed home to one more tasty September grilled bluefish dinner–with fresh corn salsa, asparagus, spinach and sweet potato fries in the supporting roles. A little bluefish crudo started it all off.

Next challenge:  An inaugural batch of bluefish fillets in the electric smoker.