Big Bass Arrive

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Big striped bass showed up, all of a sudden, in our waters this week, which is just about right on time, even after the cold spring.The first 50-plus-pound fish came out of the Montauk surf on Saturday night, a 54-pounder for Matt McDermott. It came one night after Frank LaSalle and Ben McCarron had beached 48- and 43-pounders, respectively, to go with a handful of other nice fish taken in the shadow of the Montauk Lighthouse amid the stiff northeast winds and heavy storm surf. There also were some mid-30s fish taken from Shinnecock and Moriches inlets, both by boaters and surf fishermen.

This should be the start of a good run of the big breeder females. None of the aforementioned fish was thrown back. More should be.

There’s a somewhat disturbing dearth of mid-sized striped bass in our waters, overall. There are decent numbers of very small fish, 2- and 3-year-olds, mostly under 20 inches. But the medium- and large-sized schoolies, the 10-to-25-pound fish, are very scarce. There’s some being caught in the rips off Montauk, but that’s sort of the Grand Central Station of the striped bass world, so it’s to be expected.

But the inlets are only giving up a few fish. The Shelter Island Ferry Slip got a little better this week but has been very slow overall, and the surf zone, which should be flooded with stripers now that water temps are in the mid-60s, has been eerily quiet. The back bays, after a decent push of fish a few weeks ago, have not populated like they should. Even the pretty white water on Montauk’s south side this weekend didn’t produce much to speak of.

Whether this is the product of the overall slump in striped bass populations, an absence of baitfish in the bays (which is possibly even more disturbing than the absence of bass) or just a random anomaly is anybody’s guess, and everybody has a theory, it seems. I’ll reserve comment—but it ain’t good, whatever it is.

Reductions in striped bass limits are coming, that much we know. How quickly they will be coming and how drastic they will be remains to be seen. They are long overdue, and there are signs that fisheries managers are none too eager to make the sorts of cuts that are needed. Money and short-sighted self-interest is, as usual, corrupting the process of responsible management. If we’re lucky, or if the fish are lucky, actually, in three years we’ll get the sort of tweaks to regulations that we should have gotten three years ago.

Fishing tournaments for our local clubs are fun, but they have to go away. Slot limits are needed now. We also need to go back to one fish per person and possibly think about upping the minimum size. A 30-inch to 40-inch slot is a very generous range that will put plenty of fish in folks’ freezers in the fall and keep fresh fish on the grill in summer.

In the meantime, striped bass are not gone from the earth. They will show up, and we will catch them. Until then, there are some fluke to be caught, plenty of porgies and bluefish, and a blowfish here and there.

The big swell over the weekend put a major damper on the fluke fishing in the ocean off Montauk. The bays took up some of the slack, though things are definitely slowing down there.

Bluefish are easy to catch, and hard to avoid, just about anywhere. Try Shinnecock Inlet, Gerard Drive in Springs or the Shinnecock Canal. If you have a boat: Jessups Neck, the north end of Shinnecock Inlet or the ocean off Montauk. Crush the barbs on your hooks to save yourself the aggravation. Don’t be afraid to keep a bluefish or two—they make a great smoked fish, and the cheeks are as flaky and white as any piece of fluke or flounder you’ve ever eaten.

A few tunas have started popping up in our canyons, though the weather hasn’t let many boats make the long runs. First week of nice weather we get, and there should be some nice pelagics on the docks.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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