There is an absolutely astounding number of bait species in the nearshore waters of the South Fork these days. In the last week, I’ve seen anchovies, mullet, bunker and sandeels in enormous numbers.The bait is well spread out, too. Both Shinnecock Inlet and Montauk are carpeted with dense, dark clouds of bay anchovies, or rain minnows. The waters in between are chock-a-block with mullet and sandeels in the surf and bunker offshore.
The only thing we seem to be lacking is a commensurate abundance of predator fish.
False albacore have all but disappeared, putting in very fleeting appearances on only a couple of occasions in Shinnecock and off western Montauk in the last 10 days. There are plenty of bluefish, large and small, all along the shore and in the bays—an important ingredient to spurring good surf fishing—but without the bass, few will show much interest.
There actually were plenty of bass off Montauk this week, just not enough to accommodate the enormous fleet of boats out looking for them. To the west, they’re fewer and farther between, but they are there. Big blitzes of fish were exploding in and around Shinnecock Inlet, and there were sure to be some bass in those.
The blitzing fish in Montauk were scattered and hard to catch at times, but they were there. They seem to be torn between what to eat as well, with all the choices, and that can make them a little tricky to get to bite. When they’re feeding on the anchovies, they are thrashing with reckless abandon, and you need something that grabs their attention amid the melee. And then there are some that are just feeding on the sandeels in the surf, and you’d never know they were there unless you put a cast on them.
A lot of these baitfish are not going anywhere anytime soon, especially the most abundant, sandeels and anchovies. But the mullet are going to skeedaddle with the first frosty night, and its maddening to surf fishermen to watch those little redgills skitter and spray just feet from the sand with little more than a cocktail bluefish or micro-bass chasing them half-heartedly.
The presence of so many sandeels is a reason for hope. Many surf fishermen are disparaging of the fishing when the fish are feeding on sandeels, because it is “boring” fishing dominated by dragging skinny tins through the sand waiting for a subtle tap—hardly a skill-oriented task. But it’s hard to deny that when the sandeels are in residence, the fishing is good, steady and lasting. The big asparagus-sized lances in the surf right now are the primo type and could hang around all the way to December, if we’re lucky.
Sinker-bouncers are coming into their prime season now. Black sea bass are starting to school up more around the deeper structures. Triggerfish and porgies are also abundant around rock piles and buoy chains, especially in Shinnecock.
Blackfish season opens this weekend. Reports from all around is that the fishing should be fairly solid right out of the gate. The season runs until December 14. Bag limit is four fish per man, with a minimum size of 16 inches.
There are also plenty of snappers to be had still for young anglers.
So, catch ’em up, folks. See you out there.