Summertime In The Canyons, In December

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I’m starting to think about considering maybe taking my surf rod off the roof of my truck. We’ll see, maybe next week.While I wait to give up hope that another run of stripers is going to come through, I’m going tuna fishing.

Not even a decade ago, the offshore sportfishing fleet from Long Island’s harbors would be long tucked away under shrink wrap by the first week of December, if not a month earlier than that.

Offshore fishing for the big tuna and swordfish that migrate past the South Fork had long been basically an exclusively summertime undertaking. Big boat owners could stretch their season out through the nice weekends of early October, and found some great fishing in doing so, but once the first couple of strong fronts had swept through and the first frosts of fall had settled on covering boards, most fishermen wrote off the likelihood of tuna still being accessible through the much tighter weather windows of late fall.

That is no longer the case, and it ain’t because of global warming.

This past weekend there were two dozen sportfishes in the Hudson Canyon, enjoying a rare occasion of glass-calm seas and fishing for bigeye tuna, swordfish and albacore that once would have been assumed long gone by early October.

Thanks to a number of advancements in technology, the craftiness of dedicated big game anglers and perhaps a boost from Mother Nature, this late fall and potentially early winter tuna fishery has gradually emerged in the recreational fishing community over the last five or six years.

The fist piece to the puzzle was the availability of satellite maps of sea temperatures. Websites offering glimpses of the information captured by weather satellites first popped up in the early 2000s to help big-game fishermen narrow their search for tuna in the summertime to the swaths of sea where pockets of warm and cooler waters abutting each other were most likely to concentrate fish.

But with the charts on their computers, web surfing fishermen would stumble upon them even after their fishing season was presumed over. And, lo and behold, what did they see? They saw big hunks of warm water still touching the canyon edges, even when air and sea temperatures close to shore had plummeted.

More fishermen started leaving their boats in the water for a few extra weeks, watching weather forecasts closely for an opportunity to do some prospecting. When they got out, they found tunas. The next year, they would wait a little longer. Next thing you know, half the boats at the best big game marinas were still in the water on November 1.

Each year, some hopeless fishing addict would push his haul-out appointment back a little further, resolved to be the one to venture forth and return triumphant when all his dockmates had thrown in the towel. It was not a quick progression, because fishing is fishing and in some years those show-offs would come home empty-handed or get their asses kicked by a sudden change in weather.

But gradually the end of the season has crept further ahead. Then came the bluefins. The rebound of stocks of bluefin, a more cold-water tolerant species, had fishermen on the prowl later and later into the year. But bluefin have always been considered an inshore species, with the most famous fishing grounds typically within 20 miles of shore. At some point in the last decade or so, someone discovered that bluefins also congregate in the Hudson Canyon—traditionally thought of as a warm-water species haunt—in the late fall as the schools of bunker and herring march south.

The final piece to the puzzle was the internet. It started with Jack Yee’s updates from the beach in Montauk, which then became the reports section on Noreast.com and has now mushroomed into a forest of online forums in which fishermen tell everyone everything they see, do and catch. In literally a matter of two years, the December migration of bluefins across the elbow of the Hudson was pop culture. Pictures of sporty boats with three, four or five big bluefins on their decks suddenly had Travel-Lifts working in reverse in December.

As the bluefin fishery has evolved, just over the last four years, fishermen dropping weighted baits down for deep-feeding bluefin have found that there are others there too that the old standby of trolling for tunas during the day had not revealed.

This year, throughout November and now into December, a daytime bite of bigeyes in the 150- to 250-pound range has kept a sizable fleet of recreational fishermen from Long Island and New Jersey on the hunt.

Mother Nature gave the anglers a substantial boost with three days of summer-like calm this past weekend, and the forecast for the next week or so looks promising as well.

Meanwhile Cape Cod anglers continue to catch bluefin far to the north, leaving the offshore gang muttering about whether they’ll be able to leave their boats at their marinas into January.

The calm weather has done bottom fishermen plenty of good too. The wrecks south of Long Island are still loaded with black sea bass and good numbers of cod too.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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