On Sunday, just when it seemed the surfcasting season was over, boaters began finding striped bass feeding on schools of herring as desperate surfcasters, watching from shore, thrilled to the aerial assault on the herring by gannets.
A strange fall indeed. Here it is well into November and the ocean temperature remains above 50 degrees. It seems that larger striped bass time their southern migration so they can feed from the herring bounty en route to the Chesapeake Bay.
Speaking of which, both Virginia and Maryland have posted near-record totals in their respective young-of-the-year surveys of striped bass in the giant estuary. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources recently announced the fourth highest totals, well above the long-term average in the survey’s 58-year history.
The survey also showed an increase in the abundance of the juvenile blueback herring population, the bass’s favorite forage food. Virginia’s survey results were similar. The 2011 young-of-the-year bass should be fishable in three or four years.
Bob Otter told Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett that he was off Watch Hill, R.I., last Thursday, where boats were drifting through schools of herring and hauling up striped bass from their midst in the 25 to 28-inch range. Watch Hill is north of Montauk so if there’s any justice, predator and prey should arrive before week’s end.
And, sure enough, Chris Miller of the West Lake Marina said on Monday that the herring were thick right outside the Montauk Harbor Inlet, and the Lazy Bones party boat has reported more consistent bassing.
Michael Potts said: “If you’re heading over to Block Island to do a little bottom fishing you could see sea gulls picking up bunker and trying to eat them. They were being chased up to the top.” It would seem there’s plenty of bait around for a strong striped bass finale.
And, as if further evidence of a strong late fall sportfishing season were necessary, the angling for bottom dwellers including blackfish, sea bass, jumbo porgies, and cod has been excellent, according to boaters.
Miller said blackfish seemed to be moving east from their late summer Fishers Island feeding ground to Cartwright Shoals, Southwest Ledge, and south of Block Island. He confirmed that a healthy number of cod were mixed in with the blackfish catch. Lots of sea bass and jumbo porgies, too. He added that West Lake Marina had plenty of hermit crab blackfish ammunition on hand at the Marina.
Bennett reported the best sea duck hunting in years, flocks of 20 to 50 birds each. “There’s probably 10,000 ducks around Gardiner’s Island. They fly on the falling tide to get to the shallows, so that’s when you put your decoys out. I had marinated coot breast for Saturday night dinner on the grill,” he said, using the local name for sea scoter. “It was out of this world.”