It’s hard to find an avid fisherman who would say that fishing on the South Fork is good right now. There are some sure-fire opportunities and some good trips being had, but, for the most part, prospects are pretty unexciting for catching fish these days.Much of the glum is because of the shocking shortage of striped bass throughout the region. This should be the heart of the spring push of stripers, and prime time for catching some trophy-sized fish. But, short of the little pulse of cows through Montauk two weekends ago, there has been little to speak of. A few solid fish in Shinnecock Inlet, a couple in the Ferry Slip and a very scattered few along the ocean beaches has pretty much been the story. The back bays, which should be teeming with schoolies and the toddler-year classes, are hit-and-miss at best.
It seems that at least some of the stripers that should be populating our waters came right on time, just not that many. Commercial netters in Gardiners and the Peconics should be seeing their traps filled with hundreds of striped bass (which all have to be released, until July 1) on most days the last few weeks, but they rarely saw more than a couple of dozen this year. And now even those have vanished.
Some are pointing to the gloomy stock assessments of Atlantic striped bass in general. But the numbers show about a one-third reduction from the gangbuster years of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Observationally, at least, we certainly seem to be missing more than one-in-three of the fish we would normally have. And the trend seems to be the same across the island and throughout the New York Bight region. There are stripers coming out of the Chesapeake and the Hudson—they’re just not moving into the nearshore waters of Long Island like they traditionally have.
This leads me to believe the culprit is a bait issue, be it a shortage here or a glut somewhere else that we haven’t discovered yet. On my forays to the marshes in search of stripers, I have seen none of the little killies and shiners that should be scrambling out of the marsh grass with each step. That is very worrisome in itself. It’s the second year that there has been markedly lower numbers of the estuarine species in our area. Coming in the wake of Sandy disturbance, it could be anomalous, or it could be a bellwether of a bigger issue.
But as far as the bass go, there was plenty of big bait in the area early in the year, from bunker and alewives to squid and butterfish, and I did see some terns picking big, fat sandeels out of the water in the Peconics yesterday morning. It seems as though some striped bass moved into the area on the heels of that bait and spread out across the region, as could be expected. The problem is that the next migration wave doesn’t seem to have come.
Perhaps the Chesapeake fish just haven’t gotten here. We’re all well aware there is a massive biomass of sandeels somewhere offshore of New York and New Jersey. We’ve seen it in years past: a big body of stripers runs into a pile of big bait and just stops dead in the water for weeks at a time. It happened last fall off Fire Island with the sandeels, and it happened several years ago with the bunker off the Rockaways. If such is the case, stripers could come flooding into the area all of a sudden, and all this depression will be wiped away by fish dinners.
While we wait with bated breath, there are some places to fill coolers. Porgies are the only sure thing—in the Peconics and Cherry Harbor, they’re chock-a-block and as big as dinner plates.
Fluke fishing has flagged off Montauk somewhat. There are some big fish being taken, and it seems that some boat stumbles onto a big body of fish every day while the rest of the fleet scratches away to put a few keepers on ice. Sag Harbor and Gardiners Bay have had some off-and-on good fishing as well.
Cue the clichés about fishing and catching. As Captain Hank on the Viking used to say, “You have to go fishing all the time to catch fish some of the time.”
So go fishing.
Catch ’em up. See you out there.
The Shinnecock Marlin & Tuna Club will host its first-ever blessing of the fleet for the boats of the Shinnecock Canal and Inlet on June 22 in the waters near the inlet.
All boat owners are invited to gather and queue up on that Sunday morning off Oakland’s Marina. The blessing will begin at 11 a.m. Afterward, there will be a barbecue and fishing tackle swap meet sponsored by the SMTC and the Hampton Bays Fire Department on the docks at Oakland’s until 2:30 p.m.
Ducks Unlimited will host its annual Family Day at the DU Center for Wetlands and Waterfowl at Hubbard County Park in Flanders on June 28, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
This is a great way to get your young waterfowler out in the field in the warm months to learn about a wide variety of sporting activities and wildlife, and to help out the future generations of waterfowl populations.
The event is free to all comers—and this is a spectacularly beautiful property to go and see in itself. There will be archery lessons, decoy painting, dog demonstrations, duck and turkey calling instruction, fly casting and fly tying instruction, and a pellet gun range. DU Sponsor Print artist Michael Byrne will be there to give instructions in waterfowl painting, and there will be pheasant and duck eggs hatching for youngsters to watch. Waterfowl identification contests and simulated field hunting experiences will round out an activity-filled day in the outdoors.
If you have any questions about the event, drop an email to DU Regional Director Wayne Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hopefully, we’ll see you all out there.