Leaves are falling to the ground, there is a bite to the early morning air, the sky is dark before quitting time, and now there’s snow on the roof of my car. At least for me, the 2016 fishing season is over.
The season began on April 1 with flounder, and the results once again were dismal. Something radical has to be done to save this important local fishery.
The striped bass season opened with a bang, with many large fish caught around Sag Harbor and Shelter Island. An abundance of small bass were found around Jessup’s and throughout Peconic Bay. When waters to the east finally warmed, fish moved into Plum Gut and the Race. However, anglers found few large stripers in these prime fishing spots.
Boating anglers enjoyed great striper fishing around Montauk Point during the summer, with a huge number of fish over 30 pounds crashing the docks. Surfcasters, on the other hand, had a largely disappointing summer, with catches of large striped bass rare and way too many bluefish in the mix. While strong northeast winds at times plagued boaters, they delivered fish to Montauk surfcasters willing to brave nasty conditions.
The fall run has been disappointing for most surfcasters. The Montauk SurfMasters Fall Classic leaderboard has remained unchanged for nearly six weeks, which underscores the lack of large striped bass along our shores. Absent any last-minute heroics before the tourney’s end on Saturday, it looks like Ben McCarron will win the men’s wader division with a 55.14-pound fish, Mary Ellen Kane will win the women’s wader division with a 19.75-pound fish, and John Bruno will win the wetsuit division with a 37-pound fish.
Surf fishing has picked up lately, with schools of migrating bunker drawing stripers and bluefish close to the beach. Fish crashed the shore last weekend and there might be more arriving over the holiday from chilling waters to the west and north. Perhaps it’s wise to reserve a place next to the turkey for a platter of fresh striper.
Fluke fishing was spotty in the bay with favorite spots including Greenlawns, the Ruins, and Napeague producing fewer quality fish than usual. Anglers had better luck in the north rips off Montauk Point and south of the radar tower and Frisbees.
Weakfish angling was strong this year in Peconic Bay, which is great news for the fishery. Those targeting the species were rewarded with a robust bite and some large fish.
Porgy fishing has been exceptional in the bay and in the ocean. The fish have been huge and the action nonstop. It’s hard to imagine that any porgy angler has ended his or her day without a full cooler and a big grin.
Sea bass fishing has been excellent too. Those fishing in the sound and ocean have been able to efficiently reach their daily limit. Nice sea bass can still be landed around Block Island.
Tautog fishing has been great. Fish have been taken north of Plum Island, around Fishers Island, south of Montauk, and just about anywhere one can find a nice pile of rocks. As the temperature drops, anglers will find slimmer pickings in their favorite spots as fish migrate to deep water for the winter.
Bluefish, which remain the ocean’s toughest pound-for-pound fighter, were a consolation prize to surfcasters targeting stripers but a joy to light-tackle and fly fishermen looking for a brawl. Accabonac Harbor was the scene of some epic bluefish action for those casting for dinner.
Last but not least, the finicky false albacore came and uncharacteristically stayed through some terrible weather, though large schools rarely filled the waters surrounding Gardiner’s Island to one columnist’s dismay.
The offshore tuna and shark bite, from what I hear, has been relatively lackluster.
Blowfish continue their comeback, while snappers provided loads of fun to new anglers.
A few surprises came our way this season. A small humpback whale washed up between Promised Land and the Devon Yacht Club in Amagansett and a recreational fishing boat beached at Turtle Cove. We learned for better or worse that great white sharks breed just a short distance off Montauk, and were gifted a few deadly puffer fish by warm Gulf Stream waters. Bunker invaded our waters in numbers rarely seen in recent years and predators feasted upon them. A large black drum was caught at Hither Hills, and kingfish appeared in the bays. Blue claw crabs were plentiful along harbor shorelines, while the scallop harvest so far has been discouraging.
Those who are not ready to retire their fishing gear can continue to take striped bass until Dec. 15, blackfish until Dec. 14, and sea bass and porgy until Dec. 31 in New York State waters. Those intending to fish in federal waters, which begin three miles offshore, are subject to federal fishing regulations. These are available on the FishRules app for your mobile device and online.
This is the last “On the Water” column of the season. Thanks to all who provided me with fishing reports, pictures, and good conversation over the last seven months, including Paul Apostolides, Harvey Bennett, Sebastian Gorgone, Ken Morse, T.J., Capt. Ken Rafferty, Capt. Merritt White, Kelly Lester, and Tom McDonald.
It’s a long and quiet winter for our tackle shops. Please buy locally if you’re looking to buy or receive fishing equipment and gear this holiday season.
Have a great winter. Flounder season opens in 128 days.