Missing Link: Surfcasting’s Fall Striper Run

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

3 Responses to “Missing Link: Surfcasting’s Fall Striper Run”

  1. Peter Miller says:

    I love Blue Fish!

    Peter Miller, Literary Lion

  2. Big Cee says:

    Great story Fred, somehow I missed this one, just read it today.
    C

  3. Kathy says:

    Merry Fishmas to you too Fred.
    It sounds like you had a very unusual but productive season. Love the new names of the months of the year. I too like bluefish! We don’t get any bluefish in Florida.
    Also, love your new Christmas post “Albie Home For Christmas”.
    Thanks for the fishtales. I really enjoy reading them. Kathy

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