I’m telling you, it’s not over. Or, at least, maybe not.
I know that a couple quiet weeks on the beaches and the cold weather mean that most East End sportsmen have switched their focus to waterfowl hunting, but I think the fish are still out there, and we are going to get another shot at them. Maybe I’m being a hopeless optimist. It wouldn’t be the first time when it comes to the prospects for December (and January) striper fishing, but there is good reason to be hopeful. Here’s the evidence:
The herring and mackerel are still stacked up outside Montauk Harbor, and there hasn’t been any sign of stripers harassing them. The bass bite in the rips last week was still good, and the fish were stuffed with great big sand eels. They were also mostly small, moderately fat fish—not the round-bellied gluttons that you’d find gorging on herring.
Over the weekend, the bite in the rips seemed to peter out, but I’m betting that was just because the sand eels finally escaped the gantlet and took those small fish with them down the beach (I hope someone was keeping them honest during the big south blow this week).
So, what’s left?
Ed Miller told me that the Montauk boats hunting blackfish off Rhode Island are reporting that there are huge masses of gannets bombing on schools of herring up there. Since herring are primarily a bottom dwelling species, that can only mean one thing: there’s fish chasing them up to the surface.
This leaves our prospects for a good bass bite on the north side or along the beaches at an uncertain juncture. Tuesday and Wednesday are gale blows from the south, which will mean muddy waters but not cold temperatures. How the herring and whatever bass are still around to the east will react to this will be the determining factor in whether we get a last chance or not. I think if there is no sign of the fish feeding on herring either in Block Island Sound or off Napeague and Amagansett by Saturday we can pretty much call out the fat lady. Water temperatures are well below the point that should put the stripers on the move south.
It’s certainly possible for the fish to still be here now. They’ve stayed well later than this in the past. Remember the winter of 2001-2002? There were
massive blitzes of bass off Shagwong until Christmas Eve and scattered shots along the sand well into January (even one report of a lone crusader getting into fish on the beach in Montauk in February). In 2007 Montauk had good bass fishing straight through the December 15 season closure. But some years it just doesn’t happen and, alas, this may end up being one of those years. We’ll see soon enough, I guess.
If you didn’t catch The New York Times editorial in Monday’s paper on the plight of bluefin tuna in the wake of the ICCAT’s deplorable quota management, it’s worth tracking down online, as is the story they did about the recent study that says harvests even a fraction of what ICCAT is going to allow—to say nothing of what is really being killed in light of the nearly non-existent fisheries enforcement in the Mediterranean—will likely lead to a collapse of Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks, both east and west.
It’s nothing new to anyone who has followed the bluefin’s plight in the last 20 years, but The Times points out what fishermen in Spain and Italy don’t seem to fathom: that they will go extinct right along with the tunas. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anyone of any authority who has the same clarity of mind in Europe.
So, catch ’em up, amigos and amigas! We won’t be seeing you out there for long.