Bite Is On, But Hit or Miss

A solid run of very, very small but hungry bass have hit the ocean beaches
Two fishermen took a pause from casting to talk at Gerard Point on Monday evening. Reports were that big bluefish have been landed there and at other bay beaches since Saturday. David E. Rattray

The shadbush are blooming, and the dogwoods and lilacs are, too, which means that there should be fish around. And so there are. 

A solid run of very, very small but hungry bass have hit the ocean beaches, rewarding surfcasters using teasers with double-headers. Bigger bass have been lurking around Sag Harbor. And long and skinny “runner” bluefish were reported at several Gardiner’s Bay inlets. Wire leaders are advised.

This time of the year can be hit or miss, probably due to still-cold water, so to satisfy a fishing-crazed 7-year-old this columnist suggested dip-netting for tadpoles in a Northwest Woods pond as an alternative. Birds chirped, tadpoles were plentiful, and there were ticks about, too, so be forewarned.

Spring also means that it is time to check that your permits are in order. New York State requires that anyone 16 and older who is fishing in marine waters obtain a free registry card. Reports are spotty about how strictly Department of Environmental Conservation police check for these, but anecdotally there have been stories of officers checking fall-run bass anglers on the beaches.

There are several ways to sign up for the registry: by phone, 866-933-2257, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday; online at decals.dec.ny.gov/decalscitizenweb (which allows for the permit to be printed on the fly), and at some of the larger sporting goods stores. The East Hampton Town Clerk’s office on Pantigo Road in East Hampton and Southampton Town Hall on Hampton Street also issue state fishing and hunting licenses, including the marine registry card, which is valid for a year from the date of issue. 

Having a marine registry card in hand is a prerequisite for a state beach driving permit, which is valid for a year at Napeague State Park, Hither Hills, and Robert Moses. It goes on sale on Sept. 5 this year for $65.

The state stirred up a bit of outrage after moving up the spring cutoff date for beach driving permits to March 31. Would-be permit buyers accustomed to the old April 30 deadline were left in the cold.

Annual freshwater licenses cost $25, $5 for those 70 and older. East Hampton Town residents who want to fish in Hook Pond via the Sea Spray Cottages access are required to stop at Village Hall on Main Street for a free annual access permit.

Harvey Bennett at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett said that big bluefish had arrived at Gerard Drive in Springs on Saturday and Sunday. Customers were running into the shop all weekend grabbing popping plugs. 

Sebastian Gorgone of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle on Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton caught his first bluefish of the year on a half-ounce bucktail at Sammy’s Beach on Monday night. He said that over the weekend they had “come in like crazy from Lazy Point to Three Mile Harbor.” He recommended tossing anything shiny and strong to the passing blues; soft-plastic shad lures were just going to get torn to bits, he said.

That same evening at Accabonac Harbor, the pick appeared slow. Only a single bump on a slow-retrieved Yo Zuri minnow answered an hour of casting on a fast incoming tide, and most of the half-dozen anglers left by dark.

Recent storms pounding the Napeague ocean shoreline had created bait-holding structures that, in turn, drew in some small bass, Gorgone said. This squared with what other sources reported.

“They’ve been catching striped bass at White Sands, Ditch, and down at the Point,” Bennett said. A customer told him that midweek last week, he was landing 20-to-24-inch bass on nearly every cast.

Freshwater activity has been on the upswing. “Guys have been just killing those walleye down in Fort Pond in Montauk,” Bennett said. A couple of largemouth bass have taken a lure at Hook Pond. But an angler there targeting carp on Sunday said he’d had no action.

“The neat thing about this is that there are a lot of fish around but there are not a lot of fishermen,” he said.

Ken Morse of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor said that there were a lot of striped bass in and around the coves, mostly on the shorter side, but with a couple of keepers, that is, 28 inches or longer, mixed in.

“The bite seems to be best after dark or into darkness,” he said, with fish taking a liking to subsurface swimmers, minnows, darters, small bucktails, and jig heads with soft plastics.

There were reports of weakfish in Shinnecock Bay very early in the morning or at dusk, and a few bluefish at Three Mile Harbor, Morse said. Porgy season is on now, but fish were, for the most part, being boated west in the Peconic, he said.

Action at Montauk’s marinas was mostly limited to getting boats into the water and ready to go. But with fluke fishing opening up for recreational anglers on Wednesday, that is likely to change. The limits this year in New York waters are expected to be three fish per angler per day with 19 inches the minimum length, but that had not been finalized, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation office in Setauket. A word of warning: Last year’s recreational limits were still posted on the D.E.C. website as of earlier this week; try telling that to the officers in green, though, if they stop to check your cooler.

Boaters, especially those with children, in need of a course in the safety basics, can sign up for a May 20 class at Gardiner’s Marina on Three Mile Harbor. The eight-hour course is presented by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and costs $50. Topics will include legal requirements, safety and equipment, navigation and rules of the “road,” how to deal with emergencies, trailering, and storage. Rick Drew, the dock master at Harbor Marina, can be phoned to sign up, 631-324-5666.

Drew emailed a report on Monday confirming that the first bluefish of the season have been hitting along Gerard Drive. Schoolie stripers are in the creeks and harbors, too. “They have been finicky, with small bait presentations and fly patterns working best. A nice keeper bass was caught near Shelter Island this week,” he said. 

There were reports of a few weakfish being in Peconic Bay as well, Drew said.

Offshore, recreationally, things still are all about the planning. The Star Island Yacht Club has announced that its 2017 shark tournament will be on June 16 and 17. Following a new state law, all participating boats will have to use non-stainless circle hooks in an effort to decrease catch-and-release mortality. Montauk Marine Basin’s shark tournament is on June 22. The entry fee per boat for each tournament is $1,250.

No one picked up the phone in two days of calling Paulie’s Tackle in Montauk, which can be understood as meaning that things are s-l-o-w slow out east so far.