Deep in the Slack Tide

The hunting strategy of many species involves hanging in a protected spot
On July 11, the Montauk Chamber of Commerce went offshore for its annual Take a Kid Fishing for Free program. There will be repeat trips in August. Kids fish free, parents or caregivers pay $10. Lea Braak

   The sloop Leilani ventured west out of Montauk Harbor on Sunday to the waters off Eastern Plains Point on Gardiner’s Island in search of the dinner plate-size porgies said to lurk in the area.
    A two-hook porgy rig, clam baits, bucket, fillet knife, cutting board — all the ingredients for a successful venture were on board. Leilani tacked into a weak west wind and a stronger outgoing tide — slow going.
    After an hour of motor sailing, her anchor was dropped at a spot just south of the point in about 40 feet of water, very slow-moving water. In fact, the boat had arrived just in time for slack tide. For fish, slack tide is like a submarine siesta.
    The predator-prey equation has resulted over millions of years in painting the underside of midwater species in light colors to allow them to melt into the lighted background of the surface to be less visible to predators swimming below. For the same reason, sharks, for instance, have darker dorsal sides that fade into the bottom murk, the better to hide from predators swimming above looking down.
    The hunting strategy of many species involves hanging in a protected spot and waiting for a tidal current to bring the food to them. It’s a classic bushwhack approach. Pick a place, a depression or an outcropping of rock or coral, and let the tide bring your dinner in the form of smaller fish, especially those that ride the tide, not strong enough to swim against it.
    A fish figures, why bother feeding if I have to swim after my food? I’ll just relax until the tide turns. An angler who knows this will do the same. Unfortunately, the sky on Sunday afternoon began to take on a bruised appearance. Time to hoist the anchor and skedaddle on a broad reach in the breeze that had stiffened to 17 knots just as the tide turned.
    David Blinken, a fly-fishing guide, was working a big school of bluefish off Gardiner’s Island on Monday. By cellphone he said his party was catching blues in the one-to-five-pound range with surface flies, poppers, with floating line on six-weight rods. “For the kind of sight fishing I do, I like when the tide is lowest, just before the ebb ends and just after the flow begins. Last week it was spectacular on either side of slack tide. My preference is for low water, better for concentrating fish and bait.”
    Chris Miller at the West Lake Marina in Montauk said the slowest tides of the month were about over. “The bite should start to increase. Fish are opportunists. Tide makes the bait congregate. Striped bass are very impressive. They can catch a porgy, and porgies are fast,” he said, but prefer not to expend the energy when the water is not moving.
    “They do feed at night when the tide is weak,” Miller said. But this could be because they have a stealth advantage in the dark, he suggested.
    The exceptional fluke fishing at the spot off Montauk known as Frisbees slowed in recent days, probably the result of a bluefish invasion scaring the prey away, Miller reported. West Lake has also been seeing boats returning from Block and Atlantis Canyons with bigeye and yellowfin tuna. Mahimahi have been taking trolled lures and should be coming closer to the beach in the warmer-than-usual ocean water.